Bonus: December 9 – December 23, 2020 Story Prompt “Christmas Lovers”

Theme: A Christmas Conundrum

Word Count: 1,200

It’s Christmas Eve.

Somehow two enemies end up lovers by Christmas morning.

The rest is up to you.

(The intimacy does not have to be graphic, and may be implied if you are uncomfortable writing sex scenes like me.)


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111 thoughts on “Bonus: December 9 – December 23, 2020 Story Prompt “Christmas Lovers”

  • December 9, 2020 at 8:05 am
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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
  • December 9, 2020 at 9:27 am
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    Sounds like an interesting prompt. Might give this a shot.

    Roy

    Reply
  • December 10, 2020 at 9:07 am
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    STOCKHOLM SYNDROME
    by Ken Miles
    (1,200 words)

    The ticking of the clock pounds like a drum as 10 o’clock gets closer. The silence shrouding the wooden lodge buried deep in Carney Woods too pierces Jackson’s ears.

    Jackson can’t take his eyes off Michelle. Her auburn hair glows red in the flickering candlelight, the silhouette of her face must have been made in heaven. Her lips tremble as the horrific moment approaches. Jackson can’t help thinking that a girl like that is all he could have ever wanted. Not money, not any riches. Certainly not the riches he could be laying his hands on by having kidnapped her. And, now, by dismembering her.

    Marco unnerves him, constantly sharpening his knife on some bark, eager to sink its blade in Michelle’s skin. The phone on the table remains silent. Only that can save her. But it’s now ten already, the ultimatum is up. Her father’s call hasn’t come.

    Marco rises and slips his large hand inside a padded envelope with Michelle’s dad’s address pasted on it in letters cut out of magazines, widening it, ready to receive Michelle’s severed ear.

    “Hold her head down,” he commands Jackson, “don’t let her move.”

    Marco stuffs a moist handkerchief inside Michelle’s mouth so she won’t scream or bite Jackson’s hand and drags an aluminum tray closer to her right ear. Cutting off an ear lets out a lot of blood. This was Jackson’s idea. Jackson somehow convinced him to slash off an ear, instead of one of her breasts, as Marco had originally conceived, to mail to her dad if the asking price of $5 million isn’t met by tonight’s deadline.

    Marco plans to raise the bounty to $7 million and threaten to kill her if Michelle’s dad isn’t moved when he receives the parcel. It might be harder to keep her alive if they removed a breast, Jackson argued. Or – it did cross Marco’s mind – that sissy’s feeling for her.

    Jackson douses a ball of cotton in surgical spirit to dab on the wound, and stop Michelle from hemorrhaging, once Marco has separated the ear from the rest of her. Jackson knows the spirit’s going to sting awfully, but it’s the right thing to do.

    “Let’s wait a little, shall we?” Jackson stops Marco in his tracks. “It’s Christmas Eve, the lines must be busy. Perhaps he is trying to reach us.”

    “We’ve waited a week. Long enough already.”

    “Just a little more. Won’t hurt…”

    “If you must know, I’m dying to have a shit, once we’re done with this…”

    “Then go, have your shit. I’ll keep an eye on the phone. We’ll give him another ten minutes.”

    Marco agrees. His nature’s call’s genuinely urgent.

    “Ten minutes. Brother.” He points a finger menacingly at Jackson, hops to the toilet cabin outside and locks himself in it.

    “Ten minutes…,” mumbles Jackson, “that’s gonna be a whole lotta shit.”

    He hurriedly unties Michelle, grabs the phone, and the girl in his arms, and dashes out of the lodge, vanishing in no time in the dense woods.

    “You might as well kill me,” Michelle tells Jackson when they reach a clearing, and he puts her down on the grass and sits beside her, “my dad won’t call. He loves his money. Too much. He won’t pay you a dime. Especially not after I’ve told him what I really think of him the other day…”

    Jackson’s still catching his breath, but he finally pieces some words together.

    “I’m… not gonna… kill you. I’ll take you back to town. Then you can go home. You’re free… I can’t… bear with this anymore…”

    “You’re a good guy, deep down, aren’t you?” Michelle inspects her kidnapper at close range. There was something intriguing about him. Like when he tied her up each night, these past days, he always ran his hand between the rope and her skin to make sure it didn’t hurt her.

    “Good guy? Dunno. I screwed up badly. I don’t know who I am anymore.”

    “Your brother’s the bad guy. You’re not like him,” she tries to configure Jackson.

    “He’s not my brother. He just calls me that. He’s someone I met in jail.”

    “Why did they put you in?”

    “Robbed a jeweller’s, got caught. Just needed to pay up for this damn stupid tattoo of Lady Gaga I don’t even want anymore,” he recounts as he unbuttons his jacket and rolls up his jumper to shows her the tattoo on his chest. “They said they’ll skin my chest neat with a mower blade, if I didn’t pay for it.” There’s palpable fear in his words.

    She stretches out an arm and places a hand on his shoulder. He’s really not a bad guy.

    They both jolt when the phone rings. Michelle snatches it.

    “You might’s well keep your money! They’d’ve slashed my ear by now! They’d’ve killed me, too, for all you care! Just keep your precious money, okay?…”

    “What the fuck!” the incensed voice at the other end wasn’t her dad’s. “Where the fuck’s Jackson! He let you escape? I’m gonna find him, carve his head out into a fuck’n ladies’ bedside lampshade…”

    Jackson grabs the phone from her and hurls it into the bushes.

    “Let’s keep going, he might trace us!”

    “I often dream,” Michelle says, as they run deeper into the woods, now holding hands not to lose each other in the pitch darkness, “to hitchhike all the way down to Miami, one day, with some guy I hardly know. I hate the Great Lakes, it gets so cold and miserable and scary here; don’t like my home, dad either…”

    “You don’t have a mom?”

    “She died soon after having me. Dad made her have an unnecessary cesarean, I was born fourteen days premature. Just for King Xmas’s obsession to both have a baby and open a brand new mall on Christmas Day, like he’d done before with my half-sister. He miscalculated with me, but he wasn’t going to miss out on all the bloody hype in the papers. Then mom passed away when all the fanfare died out…”

    “Fuck! And I thought I came from a bad tree! And a boyfriend?”

    “Boyfriend! You really don’t know my father.”

    “So much the better!”

    “Will you hitchhike with me to Miami?”

    “And then what? The second someone looks us in the face, I’ll get arrested for kidnapping you…? As much as I’d love to, babe, I don’t wanna get back inside. We just can’t be seen together…”

    “Can.”

    “Can? You mean?”

    “It’s Christmas and I’m a Christmas baby!” she grabs his wrist and looks at his watch. It’s a minute to midnight. “I’m eighteen in a jiffy! I’m my own person now. And I want to be with you! No-one can tell you anything anymore!”

    Jackson instinctively looks around, for the last few seconds he’s still technically breaking the law, even though he’s sure there’s no-one, just trees.

    The seconds roll by quickly.

    “Happy Birthday, Michelle!”

    They entangle into each other’s arms and it’s a while after midnight when their first kiss is over.

    “Let’s get out of this damp thicket from hell,” Jackson’s voice’s now charged with enthusiasm, “get on the first road, put our thumbs out…”

    “Miami, here we come!”

    Reply
    • December 22, 2020 at 4:49 am
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      I really like you story, Ken. An imaginative angle on what I found to be a tough prompt to crack. I mean, enemies is a rather radical term. I ain’t got enemies, not really, and can’t imagine any of us do. Sure, we may harbor some resentment towards bosses, mothers in law and the likes, but I wouldn’t go as far as defining those relationships as animosity, which also requires mutuality. So, I looked up famous enemies, from Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots to Al Capone and Bugs Moran, but was then left with the question of how to turn those into love affairs overnight, particularly due to the fact that both parties are of the same gender. Anyhow, you came up with exactly the right scenario for this prompt that, unlike Ken C., didn’t even cross my mind. Good job, Ken 🙂

      Reply
      • December 23, 2020 at 4:28 am
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        Thanks for your appreciation and nice words, Sarig. And it’s good to see you back, too. Well, it didn’t have to be a love affair between members of the opposite sex. Who knows what could have really gone on between QEI and Mary Bloody Mary, things they didn’t quite understand themselves back in those days, the stuff the historians opted to omit? Hmmm, this now sort of wants to be written…! I see that in spite of your initial difficulty with this prompt, you have indeed written and posted a story – I’m going to read it right away and let you know what I think of it. You don’t usually disappoint me 🙂

        Cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 6:06 am
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      I like the emotional conflictions at the heart of your story, Ken. There’s Jackson wrestling with his conscience but also spurred by desire, and maybe hope. And Michelle, whose desire to survive is tied up emotionally in being the agent for Jackson’s redemption. There’s a lot that could be made of this in a longer story, so the “good guy/bad guy” exchange perhaps doesn’t do justice to the possibilities.

      But in the end, it’s kind of a double escape. Jackson in his own way is trapped in circumstances he has made for himself. I wonder if a relationship that starts like this can last? I mean it’s one thing to fall for your kidnapper. But a kidnapper with a tattoo of Lady Gaga on his chest might be a bit much to cope with once the adrenalin has subsided? it would be for me 🙂

      Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 12:32 pm
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      Hey Ken (M.),

      Once again, as often happens, I’m entertained by the stories themselves, as well as enlightened by the comments and observations of the other writers. I did not fully appreciate it until Andy commented on the ‘life-changing, Lady Gaga tattoo debt.’ (Let’s stop and appreciate that for a moment.) I would say you were injecting a bit of whimsy into an otherwise horribly gruesome story. But one with a happy ending.

      (Oh, so you want a whimsically gruesome story with a happy ending? You’re looking for Ken Miles then. Down the hall, take a right at the open-air corridor, third zoom monitor on your left. Keep your mask on, he’s easily distracted by moving lips. Next please.)

      This may be the secret ingredient in your writing, Master Miles. The uncanny ability to inject very subtle (some would say ‘classy’) humor into otherwise grisly tales. The kabob story is a perfect case in point. (A fucking masterpiece in my opinion.) That was the magic in that story, the horror was the backdrop for your irony and dark humor.

      That having been said, this ‘old re-tread’ is good, it’s you. But it only hints at that dichotomy(?) of humor and pathos that you have learned to do so well.

      In other words, this story is pretty good, but what you wrote yesterday (in your comments) is better than this writing. (But this is a story, so it has intrinsic advantages.) And it’s still pretty good.

      BTW, I was totally kidding about you having taken my idea, done it first I should say. That was complete bullshit. (Yes, I was bullshitting. Amazing, I know. In a place like this, too. You would think… Well, whatever. I was entertaining the massless.) I had my idea from the start, which is nothing like yours, although it morphed into something totally different from my own original intent. (If you can believe that.) No that’s actually true.

      My opinions about your stories, on the other hand, (Bernie Sanders voice over) ‘let’s be cleah…, are not, bullshit.’ You can believe that, too. (I’ll tell you when I’m bullshitting. If I have to.)

      Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 6:40 pm
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      Really enjoyed this, KenM. The plot is slick, the pace is good, the romance believable. ‘Bad boy comes good’ … and it works. The only thing that pulled me up a bit is the perfectly coherent conversation they have after this point: ‘ “I often dream,” Michelle says, as they run deeper into the woods …’ They’re running – conversation would be limited to the very minimum, I’d have thought. But that’s the only thing I can find wrong with a very good story.

      Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 6:11 am
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      Hi Ken,

      I have been busy the last few days and the note to “vote now” caught me out. Luckily, I can just about squeeze in another reading of all the stories and then a quick comment.

      So many interesting comments from the other writers about this piece, Ken. You certainly do seem to have cornered the market with some grim scenarios tempered by some clever and subtle touches. You know, it really pays off to wait until the others have read and commented ( not only about your writing) as, collectively, little escapes the combined scrutiny of so many fine writers. I often see things that they have written and then have to go back to the original story as I had not picked up on that point. ……Lady Gaga tattoo is a case in point.

      I am a person who likes to read something and then comment upon how I felt rather than go into an intellectual analysis….and I don’t think I have that mental capacity in any case, or perhaps I have not read widely enough.

      Thus, the appalling prospect of slicing off a woman’s breast is toned down ( a tad) by the plan to cut off cut her ear instead. The possible redemption of Jackson by Michelle’s imminent 18th birthday and their “escape” to Miami rescues the couple from the dire situation they find themselves in as Jackson is not really the bad guy. Of course, it would be great to develop this story into a chase whereby Marco tries to find Jackson and Michelle. I would probably plump for a happy ending. You might not! Who knows?

      The whole notion of the Stockholm Syndrome is fascinating. Something in the back of my memory says it first came to prominence with the kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst but I could be wrong. It’s really hard to know how one would react to a situation in which someone has complete power of life and death over you and then shows kindness.

      As ever, your writing is really sharp and I, for one, have no pointers for improvement. I’ll leave that to others.

      Kind regards,

      Ken F

      Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 9:27 am
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      Ken M.,

      Stockholm Syndrome explained. Nice take on the prompt, good characterization and you make them likable and unlikeable at the same time. Neat trick. No real problems with the writing, except a few minor things that I think are editing errors more than anything else. Good Job, Ken.

      Roy

      Reply
  • December 11, 2020 at 2:28 pm
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    Signing in.

    Reply
  • December 13, 2020 at 2:12 pm
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    To clarify – this is NOT a last line prompt. I cloned a previous prompt and forgot to take it out of the title!

    Reply
  • December 13, 2020 at 2:40 pm
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    Ok so how ridiculous is it that I came up with this prompt and I can’t decide which way to go?
    Is it the Prosecuter vs Defense Attorney stuck in an elevator on Christmas Eve?
    Is it the Prince and Princess from two warring countries who have to get married on Christmas Eve to prevent war?
    Is it the Witch Hunter who brings a Witch to trial and falls in love with her on the way?
    The possibilities are endless….and yet I can’t decide on a one of them….. *sigh*

    Reply
    • December 14, 2020 at 12:17 am
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      Oh my… you’re certainly not short of brilliant ideas there, Carrie… now that you brought them up, I want them all!

      Reply
    • December 15, 2020 at 1:37 am
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      Yeah, those are three great ideas, Carrie. That’s ten times more than I have. (I only have one-third of an idea so far.)
      ‘Two enemies end up lovers, by Christmas morning.’
      This isn’t a story, this is the definition of marriage after twenty years. Plus, I already read Ken’s story, and it’s exactly what I was going to write. Maybe I could do a sequel to Ken’s story. (That would shake him up. Get those eyes seeing different colors again, or whatever the hell they’re balking at.)

      I was kind of excited about this idea, until I read the fine print in the prompt. NO VULGARITY OR PORNOGRAPHY, THE INTIMACY MAY BE IMPLIED. Too bad. (Do we have nuns in the group now?) I could see Ken’s almost naked characters fleeing through the streets of Miami on a tandem bicycle, at high tide, in a hurricane, so everything is wet. What’s her name’s dress is stuck to every nook on her cranny, and half of her cranny is showing anyway. But it’s pitch dark, almost midnight and all the electricity has been knocked out. Our two characters who are really working for the Screen Actors Guild and are paying back a favor they owe to William Barr, are being chased by the agents of several massive bureaucracies. The ICE are chasing the ATF who’re chasing some fellows from DHS, but then the MBPD and Dade County’s MPD’s get involved, but it’s too late because the Tsunami is expected to hit in the middle of a category 5 hurricane and there’s too much salt in the mechanism to turn the handle to get the key to open the gate and release the nano-bats and still make it to the top floor before the center of the worst of the storm arrives, and then it does.
      They’re in the eye.
      Everything’s calm, they look up and they see stars between a circular wall of clouds. It’s cool, but muggy. Everything looks black and white or silver. It all has a dream-like quality.

      And then they hear this roaring sound, in the distance, but it’s getting louder. They sprint back to the rusted handle and take turns trying to break it loose… no luck, the roaring is closer now. Is it the hurricane or the Tsunami? Either way. They start to push and pull on the handle together, with twice the effort at once, it starts to move, but not far. They have to work together, to keep banging it back and forth until it will make one full turn.

      But no profanity. WTF? Forget it. Why not just change the prompt to: ‘Titillate us.’

      As for your ideas, Carrie. I like the second two. Anything with lawyers in it will probably sound obscene no matter how you write it. (And I have nothing against lawyers.).

      Reply
      • December 15, 2020 at 7:04 am
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        Remember how I told everybody I had a hard time writing sex scenes? Apparently that flows over into writing prompts…..😂😂😂😂😂 I just didn’t want this to be turn into being pornhub.

        And it says “may be implied” not “must be implied”.
        Actually I think I will take that part out, y’all can be as vulgar as you want 😂

        Reply
      • December 15, 2020 at 7:07 am
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        Ok I changed it!I firmly expect something from you!

        Reply
        • December 18, 2020 at 1:10 pm
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          It won’t help me, personally (I’ve already posted my story, and I didn’t wish to include any sex in it, anyway). But, we’ll see what the others will come up with now that the Clean Christmas Ban has been lifted.

          I also find it quite hard to write sex scenes; the line is very fine between literary erotica and plain vulgar porn. I had to stop in my tracks, the one time I tried to write a novel, because the sex that was needed to move it forward just wasn’t coming right. Yes, that thing happens…

          I read up a little, on the subject, and I sort of found the answer. Great erotica is about exploring human vulnerabilities through sex. It’s not about the sex itself. If it’s about the sex per se, removed from the human condition, then it’s porn, for all its worth.

          So the key word is vulnerability, as it is indeed for all other genres of writing. Just that in erotica the device is sexual fears and desires (just as much as in SF the vulnerability is often concerned with the fears of the unknown and the desire to understand and master the underlying physical forces of our universe or in social comedy the key vulnerabilty consists of fears of social incompetence while at the same time still desiring social contact and acceptance, and so on and so forth across genres).

          Even after I armed myself with this knowledge, I still felt ill-equipped to proceed with that novel. One adapted chapter from it appeared here for the Halloween (“The Not So Haunted Home for Sale”) prompt of 2019 under the title “The Zombies of Belleur”, but with only a minor sexual element in it, if I remember well.

          In the meantime I purchased a book called “Naughty Words for Nice Writers”, which promises to help in dealing with writing sex scenes, when, as Ken Cartisano puts it, they are necessary to advance the plot. But this book, although it does contain some useful advice, consists mostly of lists of words that can come in handy – when their thesaurus equivalents may be too vulgar, or too cheesy, or too mild, or too whatever. Most times, however, no word sort of fits. It’s probably more of a matter of skilful writing than what words or expressions are actually applied.

          Reply
      • December 18, 2020 at 1:35 pm
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        So sorry, Ken to nick your idea from your head. At least you’ve got your hands on the sequel there (although you lost me a little. I’ve never been to Florida, you see, so some things didn’t quite strike a chord…) This story I wrote here is actually an old one I’d written a long time ago. Yes, it’s another one from my extensive back-catalog(ue), from my school days, actually. It was originally in Italian, “Mio Caro Sequestratore” (My Dear Kidnapper” for the unitiated). At that time I used to watch so much Italian TV, that it used to come to me quite naturally to write in Italian. Anyway, I adapted it a little to fit our Christmas prompt here, gave it a new title, Miami replaced Milano, and there you have it.

        Reply
        • December 21, 2020 at 9:03 am
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          Ken Miles,

          I like to think of myself as a pretty interesting person, (some would say weird) but there are times when you make me feel absolutely normal, if not boring. I appreciate that. Amazing that you have a backlog of stories to adapt and post, even more amazing that some were written in Italian.

          I just got a shirt for my birthday that says, “Ken Cartisano, American made from genuine Italian parts.”

          It’s just a shirt, though. I have much more pride in my Irish heritage.

          I think it was my mother who told me once, only once, that her mother, a fiery Irish woman, was looked down on with abject disdain by her husband’s Italian family. So one year, with her daughter in tow, (my mother) she brought them a home-made spaghetti dinner as a peace offering to celebrate some family tradition, and they were so rude and disrespectful, that she cursed them, threw the bowl of spaghetti at the whole seated family, took her daughter by the hand and left. As far as I know, she never spoke to them again.

          That’s what love has to overcome. People.

          Reply
          • December 22, 2020 at 8:08 am
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            You had one Irish grandma with a temper there, Ken! But to offer Italians spaghetti is never a good idea. It’s like gifting Jeff Bezos with an Amazon gift-card. A bit w.t.f.-ish. Make Italians a mean shepherd’s pie, instead, then let them revel loudly about the kind of shit foreigners eat. But at least you get to keep your reputation. It’s the concept of a shepherd’s pie that’s in question. Not your cooking abilities. Italians are so proud of their cooking talents, they might have been slighted by your gran’s grand gesture. If the spaghetti was horrible, then too bad. If the spaghetti was great, even better than theirs, then lo and behold.

            Of course, your grandma must’ve done that with a good dose of wicked Irish humor, which the Italians don’t and won’t ever possibly understand. Not even if you doused them in Bailey’s. That was a colossal culture clash there, Ken. I found this story particularly amusing. Perhaps because I’m myself personally familiar with both Irish and Italian cultures and their diverse sense of pride and pickiness. The country I was brought up in is actually a mishmash of the two. Like you also are. Perhaps that’s why you’re an interesting chap. And why you find me interesting, too. But, still, pity that spaghetti got wasted.

            A similar story, now: years ago, while holidaying in Rome, my wife and I felt like a good sweet and sour and went to this nice Chinese restaurant. We speak English to each other, and two Italian ladies sitting close by couldn’t resist commenting (very loudly, of course) on how these tourists come to Rome and then eat Chinese food. They didn’t know we understood every word they said in Italian. Then they themselves (remember: Italians) ordered… guess what? Peking duck? Springrolls in a bed of bamboo shoots? No – pizza! Fuck’n Chinese pizza. And they had the cheek to deride us for eating good Chinese food made by good Chinese hands. Go figure!

            “Ken Cartisano, American made from genuine Italian parts.” Good one! Fiat or Ferrari? Rather Guinness than Martini, uh? Ok… both rock. The world needs to see a pic of you in that tee now!

  • December 18, 2020 at 11:50 am
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    Ken Miles,

    Regarding the flying spaghetti: You were probably kidding, but I think you may have solved a 90 year-old mystery. Your insight into Irish pride and Italian hubris sounds perfectly plausible.

    All of my grandparents and great-grandparents either died or disappeared before I was four. One of them resurfaced at the age of 90, but died before I met him. By all relevant accounts, he was a son-of-a-bitch anyway, and his absence was deliberate, so, I don’t know much about my own personal heritage. I tried tracking the rest of them down with the computer, ancestry.com, New York’s Bureau of Records. No dice. They lived, they had jobs, showed up in the census a few times, rented apartments, signed up for the draft, (the men) and disappeared. No record of their deaths can be located. Except Nana, my grandmother. I met her, but I don’t remember her either.

    But I like your theory, Ken.

    Reply
  • December 19, 2020 at 6:29 pm
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    AND IN THE MORNING, LOVERS

    At dusk, the two deadly enemies faced off on the snow in front of the house. Behind the snake were twisty lines, behind the hawk three sets of footprints, made as he’d hopped to a landing.

    The bird gave the snake hawk-eyes, as threatening as he could make them, glinting the same colours as the lights flashing on an off in the house’s windows. The reptile returned the glare with snake-eyes as poisonous as the venom that oozed from her fangs.

    Each knew that a false move now would mean certain death, but neither thought of backing off. Millennia upon millennia had taught them the danger of this particular foe, and those same millennia had provided them with tactics to beat that danger, and beat the foe.

    The snake raised her head and tipped it to the right, suggesting an attack from that side. The hawk was not fooled and stayed focussed; indeed, it had been a ruse and the snake returned to her original position.

    Now the hawk hopped back a couple of inches, feigning retreat and inviting the snake to advance, at which point he would counter. The snake remained as focussed as the hawk and refused to be drawn in.

    The moon beamed down, sparkling off the blanket of snow, a rainbow of shifting colours in the lights from the windows. All was still, as if nature were holding its breath – a moment of calm beauty before the battle proper.

    After the preliminary dance a burst of movement, and the two were entwined. The hawk clamped the snake’s jaws shut with one set of talons, the other set digging into her neck to help him keep balance. He readied himself to take out the snake’s eyes, but she was quicker, whipping her body round to encircle the hawk’s wings, breast and throat, holding off the razor-sharp hook of his beak and preventing flight.

    They writhed as one in the snow, sending up puffs of coloured powder. Their instinctive moves had rendered harmless their foe’s most lethal weapon, and neither made the mistake of relinquishing their grip; that would spell suicide. When they tired – and they tired often – they lay, drawing breath and glaring into each other’s eyes with ancient hatred.

    As the night drew on, so the temperature fell. The snake could sense it, despite the closeness of the hawk, and knew she should be back in the hole under the house, which she’d made her winter shelter. The hawk, too, felt the sharp edge of the cold and part of his brain was thinking about his nest and his mate there. But the main part of his focus remained with the snake.

    The thoughts of home became fuzzy in both their minds as fatigue and the cold took their toll. It was pure instinct that kept them clinging together, telling them that any relaxation would give their enemy the upper hand.

    Perhaps they passed out together, at precisely the same moment, for in the morning, when the well-wrapped children came out to play with their new sleds and found them, they were still rolled up into a frosty ball.

    The children brought their parents out to see.

    “Look, daddy!” the youngest said, pointing a mitten.

    The father found a stick and prodded the hard mass. His wife slipped an arm through her husband’s and leaned in to him.

    “They look like lovers, don’t they?” she whispered.

    .

    Reply
    • December 22, 2020 at 5:09 am
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      Nice one, Phil. A primordial showdown between two eternal enemies, well-written and nicely made to fit the prompt. I also thought about mortal enemies from the animal kingdom as the subjects of my own tale, but couldn’t quite figure out how to deal with the ‘lovers by morning’ bit as artfully as you did, without sliding into bestiality. Just wondering about the ‘coloured powder’ bit in the middle. If we’re talking snow, then technical speaking, white is not a color but a shade 😉

      Reply
      • December 23, 2020 at 8:09 pm
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        Thanks, Sarig! Yes … the powder … well, it was supposed to be reflecting the lights from the windows, but as I’d already mentioned them twice, I thought it might be more obvious. Obviously not! 😉

        Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 1:02 am
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      Splendid story, wonderful writing, Philip. I could picture the battle vividly. The mutual predicament of the entwined creatures is beautifully and tragically rendered. I would change one word. ‘coloured’ to ‘sparkling.’ Snow sparkles and reflects a rainbow of colors. By all measures, this is an outstanding story

      Reply
      • December 23, 2020 at 8:11 pm
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        Thanks very much, KenC. Yes – Sarig also mentioend the ‘coloured’. I’d already used ‘sparkle’ for the moon, so I’d have to play around with that. I agree, ‘coloured’ is weak.

        Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 6:30 am
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      Great take on the prompt, Phil A dramatic tussle that captivates the reader, and a good twist on a difficult prompt.

      Wildlife note: I would expect the snake, being an ectotherm, to peg out some time before the hawk. If it’s come out of brumation to forage, it can’t last very long in freezing temperatures, whereas hawks are more built for that.

      Reply
      • December 23, 2020 at 8:13 pm
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        Thanks, Andy! As you can guess, my research for this was next to zero. I’d have to plead ‘suspension of disbelief’, I suppose, or fable status. 😉

        Reply
        • December 24, 2020 at 4:02 am
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          I happily suspended my disbelief, because the imagery is great.

          Probably the snake, with it’s last breaths, got in a sneaky bite which did for the hawk, so they froze there together in close embrace.
          Kind of like the Owl and the Pussycat, with a 2020 edge 🙂

          Reply
        • December 24, 2020 at 10:27 am
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          Phil,
          And you criticized me for assuming that a nod is universal in my ‘Primitives’ story. (What goes around, turns upside down.) I still thought your story was the best.

          Reply
      • December 24, 2020 at 10:24 am
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        Andy,

        Your knowledge is so impressive it can be (oh, help me with a word here, God. Please?) exasperational? I’ve never even heard of the word ‘brumation.’ But I didn’t doubt its existence for a second. (Still haven’t looked it up. I assume it has something to do with sleep, or hibernation.) It’s a nit-picky observation, but still probably valid. I’m amazed at how birds, as small and fragile as they are, can survive the frigid winters. (Those that do, obviously.) I’m not chiding you for pointing this out, it’s a valid observation. And doesn’t really detract from what is, after all, a fictional story with astonishingly good writing.

        Cheers buddy.

        Reply
        • December 24, 2020 at 11:01 am
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          No, I agree, sir – the writing is top-notch.
          Just an observation for next time – and the kind of thing an editor would need to point out before publication.
          But no points lost in my scoring of the story, as it were – very much in my top 5 🙂

          Brumation – good word, isn’t it? So next time someone says to you “snakes hibernate in winter”, you can say: “Well actually, it’s brumation.”
          It’s a good way to make friends and influence people, impress at dinner parties …. or, more plausibly, maybe win a million $ on a quiz show.

          Who knows when it might come in useful, e.g. “I didn’t get to vote in time because I was brumating” 🙂

          Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 6:26 am
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      Hi Phil,

      It’s so good to see a batch of stories and all the old, familiar names. This story of yours absolutely hits the prompt especially when we get to that lovely last line. That seems to be the bow on the package, the final touch.

      I know you commented that your research was nil but the realism is still there in your writing. The way the two creatures fight and the insight into their behaviour, seems absolutely right to me, the reader.

      I can see snow / powder as reflecting a range of colours so that worked for me and, as you say, you did mention it previously.

      This is a lovely piece of writing and exactly what we have all become used to from you.

      Kind regards,

      Ken F

      Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 9:38 am
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      Phil,

      You paint a gruesome, yet clear vision of the struggle of all of Mother Nature’s creatures. Enemies or lovers? Maybe it just depends on the situation. Loved this line: All was still, as if nature were holding its breath. Says it perfectly. Nice job, creative use of the prompt and, as always, enjoyed the story.

      Roy

      Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 10:07 am
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      Hi Phil,

      You paint with words here, I could see the two animals in full Discovery Channel High Definition quality.

      The drama is intense, and I’d like to draw parallels between this and human conflicts: the worst you can get in a conflict is a long drawn tie, like the Iran-Iraq war way back when each side knew its struggle was futile but neither side wanted to give in first; or a married couple in distress with enough troubles to suffocate, but not quite enough to draw the line.

      Throughout the story I wondered how love was ever going to surface between those two. I thought some third party animal might intervene, a wolf, let’s say, and the hawk and the snake disengage for their own good and cooperate against the common enemy. Okay, the third party came in the form of people, and your ending was cuter than anything I was expecting!

      Cheers and all the best!
      Ken

      Reply
  • December 21, 2020 at 9:45 am
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    Cold palaces, warm hearts.

    by Ken Frape

    1200 words, without titles.

    Palaces are cold places, especially for the guards on duty on the battlements. They stamp their feet but the cold seeps into their bones as they watch with eager eyes for the first weak shafts of dawn light and shift’s end.

    However, there are warm places in palaces, even in Winter, if you are high enough in the hierarchy. Prince Theobald, only son of King Felix and heir to the kingdom of Japhna, is luxuriating in the warmth of the layers of fine silks and satins in his bedchamber. The roaring fire of the night before has dimmed now to glowing embers, its light flickering in the half darkness of dawn. As he stretches and yawns, not yet fully awake, his leg slides between those of Princess Allura, his hands sliding across her smooth stomach and, almost before he is aware, they caress her warm breasts. In a moment, he is fully awake, his eyes springing open as he rises up on one elbow.

    “Good morning, my Prince,” she says in her soft and enticing voice. She lowers her eyes in mock deference to her new husband, the warrior prince who has killed so many in battle but who, last night, had the gentlest of hands and the most insistent lips.

    “Have you been awake long?” he asks, remembering only too well the never-ending wedding banquet, the wine and then the lovemaking late into the night.

    “Not long but I didn’t want to wake you……..I was enjoying just looking at you, my husband. But now that you are awake…”

    She giggles as she runs a delicate hand across the rippled muscles of his stomach and then on downwards into foreign territory where the guard on duty instantly springs to attention.

    Some time later, there is a discreet coughing from outside the Prince’s bedchamber as the servants prepare to meet the Crown Prince’s every need once more and, hopefully, to catch a furtive glimpse of the beautiful Princess Allura.

    —————————————————-

    Deep within the bowels of the palace, in a windowless, smoke blackened cell-like room, Lord Orrion, Master of the Prophecies, is waiting impatiently for news of the consummation. Only then can the prophecy come to fruition. A small bed, barely sufficient for a man of his great height, occupies half the room. A simple stool and small, carved wooden table, covered with open books, make up the remaining space. A weak, spluttering fire in the grate does little to take the chill from the air.
    He spins as he hears a light tap on the door and with surprising speed for a man of his age, drags open the heavy wooden door, his long, black cloak sweeping the dust off the floor.

    Before him stands Lefric, his black-robed apprentice, small, roundbacked and with quick, intelligent eyes that shine with pleasure as he holds out a small folded piece of parchment to his master.

    He already knows what is written on the parchment, one of very few people in the Palace who can read and he fails to conceal his joy… joy that ends abruptly as Lord Orrion’s large left hand swings through a mighty arc and makes contact with Lefric’s right ear with a resounding “thwack.”

    “How many times must I tell you not to read what is not intended for you, lad?”

    “Sorry, my Lord,” Lefric replies, his grin undiminished, his hand rubbing his ear as his head rings.

    Lord Orrion studies the parchment and smiles as he strokes his long, whispy beard. The news is good.

    —————————————————————————-

    A marriage between Prince Theobald Princess Allura would unite the warring kingdoms of Japhna and Astrala. Since as far back as any living person can recall, the two countries have been sworn enemies. Over the generations, their armies and their wealth dwindled until both knew that they were too weak to wage another war. So they hated each other from afar.

    As several centuries of peace followed each new generation heard only hand-me-down stories of their enemy, spoken quietly over smoking fires and by flickering candleflame.

    “Their soldiers are weaklings, with legs like sticks,” some said. “The women are like witches,” others said,” flying only at night to perform their evil deeds,” and mothers would draw their children close as they huddled under their warm shawls. And thus rumour became fact.

    The Prophecy changed all that on the day Lord Orrion uncovered a previously unseen parchment scroll on the dusty shelves in the library. It stated;

    “The Prince of Japhna shall marry the Princess of Astrala and the two countries will be united in strength and prosperity for all time. The marriage must take place on the Eve of the Christ Mass and be consummated by the morning of the Day of the Christ Mass.”

    Much debate ensued. How could sworn enemies ever be united? And yet, Japhna was becoming increasingly impoverished with little rain and poor harvests. Prince Theobald was aghast at the prospect of marrying a witch from Astrala, even a Princess Witch. Sadly, for him, he knew that if the King was set upon a course of action, he had no option but to obey.

    Initial contacts with Astrala were rebuffed out of hand but their situation was no better than that in Japhna. Lengthy negotiations regarding a suitable dowry were eventually concluded and a furious Princess Allura was dispatched, like a caged cat, in Astrala’s most spectacular royal carriage, with her most favoured ladies in waiting and a hundred of her father’s most trusted soldiers in attendance.

    Strangely, both Princess Allura and Prince Theobald were given similar instructions by their fathers, the Kings.

    “Endure the wedding and the wedding night. Appear on the balcony on the Day of the Christ Mass and let the people see you. Once this charade is over, find out all you can about their armies, their weapony and their wealth. In good time, when we invade, you will be brought home in triumph.”

    As the Princess’s procession from Astrala wound through the streets of Japhna there was much surprise and joy as the people of Japhna saw the handsome blond coachmen , the tall, muscular Astralan soldiers in their finest uniforms, their armour shining in the December sunlight. And then they saw the Princess and their mouths dropped open. “These people are beautiful,” they cried.

    And as the Princess and her entourage looked out and saw handsome, smiling faces, they were happy too.

    As Prince Theobald lifted the veil from Princess Allura’s face and saw her beauty for the first time as they knelt before the altar, his heart sang and a broad smile spread across his handsome face.

    “Do you take this woman, Princess Allura of Astrala to be your lawful wedded wife?” the priest asked.

    “Yes, with all my heart,” Prince Theobald replied and that night, in the marriage bed, the prophecy came true. All thoughts of treachery were forever abandoned. In the years that followed, the lands of Japhna and Astrala prospered under the reign of King Theobald and Queen Allura and their many children.

    Reply
    • December 22, 2020 at 5:31 am
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      A fine tale, Ken, and an excellent opening for a much longer piece of writing, in my opinion. The characters are intriguing, sort of generic but with great potential for twists and turns (particularly Lefric and Lord Orrion), and the language is rich and graphic. Might get a bit overladen in places, e.g. ‘In its wake, down those long corridors, curtains sway gently and candles gutter in their sconces, sending elongated shadows to dance and flicker across the walls hung with fine tapestries and ceilings decorated with magnificent murals’, a misdemeanor I myself am often guilty of as well.

      Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 11:03 am
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      Very fine and visual writing, Ken, taking us into a legendary world, but with a message for our time as well. And the relationship is nicely handled with a combination of description and metaphor.

      I wonder how relations – both personal and inter-kingdom – would have fared had one of the couple indeed been fearsomely ugly?

      Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 6:56 pm
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      Lovely stuff, KenF. You set the scene beautifully, and the decision to start in the morning (very nicely handled sex scene, and “the guard on duty instantly springs to attention” …) and then flash back is a very good one. It was surprising and very refreshing to get to the end and find that there is no gruesome twist: they’re in love, and their lands prosper. Two picked nits: ‘murals’ are for walls, and wouldn’t the light from embers be orange, not yellow? (Yes, I agree. Who cares?!)

      Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 11:56 pm
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      The story is great, Ken. Lovely. I can never keep straight my metaphors and my semaphores from my scimitars and scrimshaws, but, whatever it is, the essence and moral of the story, the plot, the arrangement and composition are all fabulous. As the story progresses, your writing gets leaner and cleaner. And the whole thing, the entire story, has that magical, or mystical quality that you do so well.

      The first paragraph (the whole first section, really) could use fewer words, but especially the first paragraph. You also make the mistake of telling us the ‘air is insistent’ and then showing us. I do this too and hate it. But I’m getting better at seeing it in re-writes. (‘He stepped out into the lonely street. It was dark, deserted and as still as death.’ I tell you it’s lonely, and then I show you.)

      This is not your best writing, but it’s an excellent story, and I think, along with the other Ken Miles’ story, it most faithfully conforms to the prompt.

      Here is how I would ‘harden’ or clean up that first paragraph.

      Palaces are unnaturally frigid places, especially in the winter. The cold air seeps through every nook, every ill-fitting door, spreading its chilling fingers down the long, stone corridors, into every gilded room. It makes curtains sway gently and candles gutter in their sconces. Elongated shadows dance and flicker, even in the grand hall, with its massive tapestries and magnificent murals.

      Still and all, it’s a very fine story Ken. But the writing could be better. You’re as good a writer as me, so if I could make it better, YOU could make it better. Demand more from your talent.

      I should add, that much of what is fabulous about this story is addressed by everyone else. Just because I didn’t mention the good parts, doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy them too.

      Reply
      • December 24, 2020 at 6:42 am
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        Hi All,

        Thanks for all your comments. You really are a most discerning bunch, aren’t you? Nothing, or very little, escapes your attention. I certainly recognise my weakness in showing AND telling and in being a bit flowery in my descriptive prose. When is enough? That is the question.

        I would love to develop this into a longer piece especially regarding Lord Orrion and Lefric and there was little space to develop the folklore regarding the characteristics of the people from the two countries and the way stories, myths and legends get told around the hearth or at bedtime.

        I noticed that I had put a mural on the ceiling and was going to edit that but missed it in the final edit so well spotted.

        Yes Ken, you are right in that I could have written this more effectively.

        Yes, I wonder how things would have been, Andy, if Prince Theobald had lifted Princess Allura’s veil and seen a face that was not quite so attractive, or, as you say, “fearsomely ugly.” It’s “Beauty and the Beast” or The Beauty and the Beauty” or even “The Beast and the Beast.”

        Kind regards to you all,

        Ken Frape.

        Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 9:54 am
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      Ken F.,

      Royalty and their unwillingness to lose power, and who will do anything to gain even more power runs rampant in this well told tale of conniving Kings, handsome princes and beautiful princesses. Kept my interest throughout and I enjoyed this venture into Fairytale land over this holiday. Nice job, Ken F.

      Roy

      Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 4:25 pm
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      Hi Ken,

      It was interesting reading this fabulous (also literally fable-ous) story today, the very day the Kingdom of Japhna and the Empire of Astrala struck their Brexit deal for future prosperity and unity for both sides.

      If only Boris and Ursula were as lavish and attractive as Theobald and Allura! But in essence, Lord Orrion’s prophecy did come true today in the real world and on Christ Mass Eve.

      Are you a prophet, too, Lord Frape?

      Happy Christmas!
      Ken

      Reply
  • December 21, 2020 at 1:45 pm
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    A post-Modern Christmas Miracle
    By Sarig Levin

    ‘Happy people are all alike,’ a wise old Russian once said, ‘but every miserable person is miserable in his own way.’ Well, there’s plenty of misery to go around in this town, I can tell you that, and every last one of these unique flakes of melancholy and despair ends up melting against the gloomy backdrop of the Broken Wheelbarrow on 27th Street sooner or later, particularly on an evening like this – the 24th eve of the month of December.

    And here I am, sitting alone at the bar, trying to keep clear of the rest of the gunk the Grinch must have dragged in; 27 years of age, wearing enough makeup for an aging whore, which, let’s face it, I practically am. An occasion like this, which normies spend in the company of family and friends, singing Christmas carols and exchanging gifts, is the hardest time of the year for us misfits; the downtown junkies and street hustlers, hoboes and hoes.

    “What’ll it be, Paulie?” asks John the bartender, who must have drawn the Xmas Eve straw.

    “A vodka martini on the rocks,” I say, without shifting my gaze from the heavy brass doors to the outside world, “and keep ‘em coming.”

    Just then, those doors slide open and in walks Shirley, at long last, shaking the snow off her double-breasted trench coat and short Cupid curls.

    Shirley Mancini and Dan Ackerman used to be my best friends when I was growing up. We were practically inseparable, even though we went to different schools. Together, we’d come up with new and inventive ways of terrorizing the old neighborhood, nowadays nothing but a crumbling down assortment of pawn shops, liquor stores and office space for rent.

    Shirley waves to me from across the room, her army boots tracking mud across the Wheelbarrow as she approaches and plants a soggy kiss on my cheek. She has grown more dykie since I saw her last, several months back, which, knowing the old-country mindset of the Mancini’s, might explain why she’s spending Christmas with me instead of them.

    “I still can’t get used to these…” she says, cupping my boobs in a not altogether non-suggestive manner, “and you’re wearing way too much makeup, by the way.”

    “Thanks a lot, bitch. And a merry fucking Christmas to you too.”

    Dan, I haven’t seen in five years. Not since he divorced Shirley back in 2013 and moved to Portugal. It was a nasty divorce alright, which I bet drove her at least halfway to Lesbos, or it could have been the other way around, who knows. Anyhow, two days ago, he calls me out of the blue; says he’ll be in town for Christmas and would like to meet up for a drink.

    “Got a Christmas present for me?” Shirley asks, taking a sip from my martini.

    “Oh, it’s coming…” I purr, signaling for John to come over and take her order; knowing Shirley wouldn’t think twice about emptying my drink before ordering her own.

    “What are you doing here?” I hear a familiar voice all of a sudden.

    I turn around and, sure enough, Dan Ackerman is standing right behind me, slightly taller than I remembered and somewhat rounder around the edges, dressed in a red sweater his mom must have knitted for him for Hanukkah.

    I open my mouth to speak, but he’s glaring right past me at poor Shirley, who’s turned as white as a ghost, my martini glass frozen halfway to her lips.

    “And where’s Pau…?” he manages to spit with obvious disdain, before his eyes finally focus on my face. The nicely wrapped gift he was holding drops to the floor like a ton of bricks and it’s now Dan’s turn to turn even a shade whiter than Shirley.

    “I’ll have the strongest thing you’ve got,” says Shirley, turning to the bartender.

    “Make that two,” mumbles Dan.

    “And keep ‘em coming,” I add, planting a soggy kiss on poor Dan’s cheek.

    * * *

    Several hours and countless absinthes later, and it seems that Shirley and Dan have finally used up their entire arsenal of ethnic, gender and sexual performance related insults. Dan has finally stopped calling me Paul, shaking his head in disbelief while Shirley’s screaming that it’s Pauline now and that he’d better get it into his thick skull or drop dead trying.

    God, I missed these two, even though all that screaming and yelling got us thrown out of the Wheelbarrow eventually (a development practically unheard of in the history of that establishment), and none of us has any money left for a cab, or any place to go with said cab in our condition, for that matter.

    That’s when I start sobbing uncontrollably, the three of us flopped on a soggy park bench, going on and on about what good friends they are, and how I ain’t got no friends like them no more, just a whole bunch of hoes who wouldn’t think twice about screwing me over for a fix. And about how my life sucks even more than I do, and the way my own mom and dad don’t want nothin’ to do with me no more; not since I went ahead and had the operation.

    Thinking of my folks makes my stomach turn, so Shirley holds my hair back while I barf and Dan wipes my face clean with the sleeve of his sweater afterwards. Then he decides that we must pay my parents a visit and straighten the whole thing out once and for all, so we do.

    We always do what Dan tells us to do, and luckily, my folks live just on the other side of the park. But by the time we get to their neat little house, with its white fence and snow-covered lawn, I don’t feel like straightening anything out no more.

    “Fuck ‘em” I say, my finger still hovering over the buzzer, and instead I pull down my pants and take a steaming shit right on their doorstep.

    Dan and Shirley are loving it, so they squat beside me and are just about to take their own protestation dumps when red and blue lights start flashing all around. I shit you not, I mean, what are the odds that a patrol car would be driving through the neighborhood at the exact same moment we happen to be extracting revenge on my disownerable kin?

    There’s a couple-of-minute-long police chase, as we try to make our getaway with our pants around our ankles, and even then it seems most likely that the amused policemen would let us off with but a slap on the wrist, if not for Shirley punching one of them in the face for making a sniggering remark about Dan’s circumcised penis.

    And here we all are, sharing a cell at the local police station. Dan and Shirley are out cold, lovingly cuddled up together on the bunk next to mine, and I’m feeling so proud of myself for making that happen. I’ve missed my old friends, I truly have.

    Then again, didn’t I like them much better before they got married and all that?

    Hang on! What the Hell did I just do!?

    Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 2:08 pm
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      This is such a well told story, Sarig; very convincing, with the all-important rough edges pertaining to the context in which it takes place left intact. You didn’t fall into the trap of intellectualizing your tale and style, as often happens with many of us writers when recounting life in the gutters.

      The Russian saying in the beginning “happy people are all alike, but every miserable person is miserable in his own way’ is as amusing as it is unfortunately true. One to keep! Are you of Russian origins, Sarig? I thought I noticed some other subtle possible connection with Russia, in another story of yours too, although right now I can’t remember which one it was.

      Cheers!
      Ken

      Reply
      • December 24, 2020 at 5:09 am
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        The first sentence of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina is: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Was looking for a strong opening sentence, so I decided to nick one from the great Russians. True, I’ve used a Russian themes for the Ancestors prompt back in June, as well as in a story I named The Misplaced Heart of last Christmas. Nevertheless, I am not of Russian origin but of Israeli one (Dutch-Polish grandparents), but have been around the globe enough to absorb some of the essence of various cultures, which I incorporate in my writing.

        Reply
        • December 24, 2020 at 10:26 am
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          Ah, okay, you nicked that from Tolstoy. But yours is even better. Or better tailored for our more individual rather than family based age.

          Thanks for letting me in on your background. I know that DH Lawrence (I think it was him) once famously said “trust the tale, not the teller”, but still, it would be nice to get to know each other a little better in here, the tellers behind the tales.

          Israeli of Dutch-Polish roots – that’s as interesting as it gets, isn’t it? Do you live in Israel? I sort of sense an American slant to your writing, though. I was born not too far from there (Israel), in the former British colony of Malta, of Italian-Greek lineage, but like you, life took me far and wide (and I have no regrets about it). I live in Luxembourg right now.

          Cheers!
          Ken

          Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 2:55 pm
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      Fun story, Sarig, incorporating three gender identities with a dysfunctional relationship, the seamier side of life, and some squalid revenge, starting off with an adaptation of the opening lines of Anna Karenina to throw a literary reference into the mix. And a groanworthy pun with “I shit you not” …
      Original and enjoyable, and an unexpected take on the prompt

      Reply
      • December 24, 2020 at 6:04 am
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        Thanks, Andy. Originally, in my head, the story was meant to take much seamier turns – drug dealers, a scuffle and some other stuff that would have brought the lovers closer together, but the story pulled in a different direction. Besides, 1200 words don’t really allow for too many plot twists.

        Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 7:19 pm
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      This is a great story, Sarig. It reminds me a little (in tone) of The Pogues’ ‘The Fairy Tale of New York’. The reveal of Paulie’s new gender, and the implication of Shirley’s army boots, are very nice details. I like the choice of characters, and they really feel like friends. I like the echo of the ‘soggy kiss’ (but can a park bench be ‘soggy’? Maybe ‘damp’?) I also like very much that by the end, all recriminations are believably forgotten (thanks to what seems to be vast amounts of alcohol), but there’s a nice little twist at the end there – the evening may drive a wedge between the friends again. Great stuff!

      Reply
      • December 24, 2020 at 5:51 am
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        Thanks, Phil. i didn’t know ‘The Fairy Tale of New York’. That’s a song, right? Just watched the music video on Youtube. Good stuff. You are right, ‘damp’ is better for the bench. I did not spend as much time polishing this story as I normally do, so as to keep it more raw, or avoid intellectualizing my tale, as Ken M. put it.

        Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 12:23 am
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      Sarig,

      Your story is a hoot. Wonderfully well-written: A flamboyant, extravagant homage to alternative lifestyles. It reminded me of a time in my ‘own’ distant past that I don’t actually remember.

      It reminded me of the movie, ‘Looking to Get Out.’ A lot of action, you never know what’s going to happen next, the main characters are hopelessly flawed and damaged, but resilient, and surprisingly susceptible to the same emotional triggers as everyone else. The title is perfect. Funny ending.
      What’s not to like?

      Reply
      • December 24, 2020 at 6:12 am
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        Thanks, Ken. I’m glad you like it. I like your oxymoronic remembrance of that which you don’t remember. I haven’t seen ‘Looking to Get Out’, but I’ll add it to my ‘getting through the holiday season’ watch list 😉

        Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 6:51 am
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      Hi Sarig,

      It’s nice to see all the other comments about your story, as I have not been able to follow during the past few days. Where does the time go when one is retired and should have more of it?

      You meet the prompt really well as revealed right at the end.

      Even though our 1200 word limit can be….well….limiting…. you do manage to describe these three characters in detail and fill in the back story really well.

      Great writing and a joy to read.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 10:07 am
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      Sarig,

      First, welcome back, and in fine Sarig style, you don’t disappoint in being completely off the wall, which is totally delicious. Probably too many commas there, so feel free to remove any offenders. Enjoyed your story more than I can probably convey. You had me at the Russian proverb and it just got better after that. Good job, and having the two divorcees cuddling at the end fulfills the prompt. No quibbles with the writing, although the ending is a bit ‘now that the story is done, how do I write the last line?’ Loved the line about the bartender drawing the Xmas Eve straw. I’m going to steal that at some time or another. Fair warning.

      Roy York

      Reply
  • December 22, 2020 at 9:26 am
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    Prompted by a “where are you?” note from Ken M, I’ve popped in to see what you’re all up to. (My life has been hectic and a little challenging recently.)

    Now, I fear this may be ill-advised, but I’ve taken to heart Carrie’s comment “y’all can be as vulgar as you want” in this prompt!

    Hopefully what follows is not too over-the-top – I see it as carrying messages of hope for a polarised world …

    Reply
    • December 22, 2020 at 7:50 pm
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      Andy, good to see you back. I’ve had a fair amount of challenges myself. Glad you’re up to writing something. The old ticker still giving you a bit of a fit? I’ll drop you a note. Enjoy the holidays (as well as we can under the current conditions). That’s one thing about Christmas. It still comes every year, ready or not.

      Roy

      Reply
      • December 23, 2020 at 2:58 pm
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        Thanks, Roy. Whether you’ll be glad I’m back after reading my story might be another matter 🙂

        I’m OK all things considered. How are you faring with your health challenges?

        Best wishes to you also – and to everyone here!

        Reply
  • December 22, 2020 at 9:27 am
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    Pandemic of the Apes
    (A Christmas Message of Hope. Perhaps.)

    I first realised something was up in last February when I turned from my PowerPoint slide and saw Angie, our Chief Technology Officer, sprawling back across the boardroom table and Geoff, our Marketing Director, with his head between her legs.

    I raised an eyebrow, tilting my head slightly to one side, and fixed them with a meaningful stare.

    “Carry on, Mike,” said Angie, looking at me upside down from the far end of the table. “I can multitask.’

    “Um, OK,” I said, mustering cheeriness as best I could. “But Geoff, could you turn down the volume on the slurping?”

    He nodded his tousled head agreeably.

    Then I noticed our CEO was gently caressing my thigh. “You looked tense,” he explained.

    Despite that being one of my more inspiring PowerPoint decks, I remember the occasion more for this moment of revelation: we’d succumbed to the new virus.

    As Director of Strategy and Performance, business continuity was one of my key responsibilities. The action plan we’d developed in the last pandemic two years ago had to be put into place.

    After some preliminaries on top of the multi-function printer with Ellen, our Head of Employee Relations, I convened our pandemic taskforce.

    First up, we needed an alternative approach to facilities management. We’d stockpiled hand sanitizer, hygienic wipes, face masks and antimicrobial coverings for surfaces. But looking around the office, it seemed we’d be needing ready supplies of Kleenex too.

    ‘And condom machines,’ suggested Ellen. ‘How many do you think we’ll need on each floor?’

    Self-isolation and social distancing were going to be problematic, as the virus itself promoted entirely contrary behaviours. We’d heard that the lockdown in Paris was proving to be a particularly chaotic affair.

    This so-called Bonobovirus was a completely different kettle of fish from anything encountered before. As a drug company, we were catapulted to the forefront of analysing the virus, developing treatments and, if possible, a vaccine.

    At an early stage we’d identified it as a new DNA adenovirus. We know bonobos share 98.7% of their DNA with humans – they’re amongst our closest relatives. The virus was either altering human genes or, perhaps more probably, altering gene expression. That was producing both behavioural changes, and, in some people, physiological change to their brains.

    Our virologists were sure that the virus had emerged through random mutation, and hadn’t jumped species. By chance it was bringing out, as it were, our inner bonobo.

    We know that sexual activity plays a major bonding role in bonobo society, in greetings, conflict resolution, and post-conflict reconciliation. And now homo sapiens was heading down this route too. It made some scientists wonder what role viruses might have played in the divergence of species, and indeed whether it was right to stand in the way of evolution.

    At a practical level, saying “Good morning” to colleagues had taken on different rituals, and who could say that these were less desirable than the ones they replaced? And I could see all kinds of possibilities for new approaches to teambuilding.

    The virus raged and rapidly spread across the world throughout 2022. A former president felt vindicated, tweeting that his pussy-grabbing was just a sign he was, as always, ahead of his time. “First Bonoman President!!! Docs tell me I have biglier connection between my amygdalana and cerberus cortex! Way2Go!”

    While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was enjoying himself much more in this pandemic than in the last, a sufficient number of world leaders maintained strict isolation protocols and worked (from home) 24/7 for a solution. A permanently masked President Biden now governed entirely by Zoom from inside a sealed bunker, avoiding not only the virus but any suggestion of being too touchy-feely.

    Meanwhile, family life took a new turn. I was dumbfounded one day to find my wife in naked embrace with our neighbour in the tree at the bottom our garden. I really had no idea she could climb trees.

    And when I went inside and found my neighbour’s girlfriend waiting for me, I realised this had to stop (…but not just yet).

    Lockdown for some, endless distractions for others, the economy was in freefall. And quite frankly, it was getting exhausting.

    One area of the economy suffered more than most. The sex industry. Porn and prostitution suffered a sharp fall-off in demand, except for more niche services. And the industry had the financial reserves that impoverished governments did not to fund the search for treatments and vaccine. Our company was in the vanguard, sponsored by a consortium of companies I’d never heard of, and I was one of the first volunteers when a prototype treatment was developed.

    It worked. However, for hundreds of thousands of infected people the results of the virus were irreversible. That left us with the question, what to do with these incurable Bonomans*? Behavioural rehabilitation centres were set up across the country. But for those who preferred their new way of life, islands were cleared to allow them to live their own way.

    (*Note: feminists objected that both parts of the portmanteau neologism “Bono-man” were inappropriately patriarchal. ‘Humobos’ was their preferred term. It didn’t catch on with the headline writers.)

    But there is an upside to all of this. We survivors are, I believe, building a more empathetic society. Unique bonds with friends, neighbours and colleagues have survived.

    So it was, on Christmas Eve, after two years of deadlock over the US budget, that Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi went into a closed session for last-ditch negotiations. They emerged, somewhat dishevelled, with an agreement and vowing “an eternal friendship with benefits” on Christmas morning.

    Meanwhile, back here in the UK, my wife and I agreed to be co-parenting birth partners for my colleague Ellen’s twins, a very emotional experience.

    One of the twins was covered head to toe in dark hair. “Don’t worry,” said the midwife. ‘It’s quite common. She’ll lose all that hair in a few weeks ….”

    Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 7:33 pm
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      A very funny take on this, Andy. You bring your scientific know-how to the story to make it all feel actually not so far-fetched. It doesn’t seem that bad a pandemic, if you ask me. What are the chances of something like that actually happening? Some real LOL lines: “I can multitask”; “(…but not just yet).”; “Docs tell me I have biglier connection between my amygdalana and cerberus cortex! Way2Go!” I want to get the image of McConnell and Pelosi ‘negotiating’ out of my head. Any suggestions? Great fun! (And great to see you back!)

      Reply
        • December 24, 2020 at 5:58 am
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          Not monkeys, strictly speaking, Ilana 😉

          More generically, you might call it a shaggy primate story …

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      • December 24, 2020 at 5:52 am
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        Thank you, Phil

        Not sure how to get Mitch and Nancy out of your head. Videos of puppies and kittens being cute?
        Of course, it could have been worse, like Nigel Farage and Jacques Delors finding common cause …

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    • December 24, 2020 at 7:03 am
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      Hi Andy,

      It’s good to see you back. Your absence has been noticed.

      A wonderful take on the prompt and a piece of writing that highlights your skill and knowledge.

      Some great lines, as mentioned by others and I loved the line, “I didn’t know she could climb trees.” The mental imagery, especially in the first few paragraphs is great. Powerpoint has a lot to answer for!

      Really amusing and thought-provoking.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

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      • December 24, 2020 at 11:08 am
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        Many thanks, Ken.
        Glad you also find it thought-provoking. Underneath the romping there was indeed meant to be a little speculative fiction-type reflection on the way we are, and how we could be with a little more empathy and indeed, intimacy.

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    • December 24, 2020 at 10:47 am
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      Andy, I see you haven’t lost any of your subtle (Or not so subtle) touch while writing tongue in cheek. I think you missed a perfect opportunity for Mike Pence to be alone in a group of women (without Mother present) and for him to show his true nature in his willingness to screw people that he doesn’t agree with.

      Well told tale of future possibilities. Viruses running wild may be a portent of our future and could very well be the beginning of the end for humankind. We provide the perfect set up for them. Our complete unwillingness to stop something (it’s not even really alive) we know can be easily stopped because it ‘interrupts’ our freedoms and our lifestyles is beyond my comprehension. If people can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. If humankind lives long enough, perhaps one day, it will understand and do the right thing.

      Well written story. Welcome back, and I hope to see more of you in the future.

      Roy York

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      • December 24, 2020 at 11:12 am
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        Thanks, Roy.

        Ah, Mike Pence. Won’t you miss him? I could have had a field day with politicians, celebrities, the royal family (though for some of them it might not be so different from the present day-to-day) …

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    • December 24, 2020 at 1:51 pm
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      Hi Andy, it’s nice to see you back (and I’m especially pleased I had something to do with it!). I got your email and I’ll get back to you there, too, once it’s quietened down in here.

      The bonobos, yes, I had read something about them, our lucky cousins. A grey curtain must’ve descended upon our unfortunate species, somewhere along the evolutive way from bonoboshood to Homo sapiens. And this virus of yours undoes it completely, for those who want it (Just what’s wrong with Biden?). This virus is quite like the stuff one gets, and gets to do, on hot Ibiza nights. It has the same effect, your virus, but without the side-effects, the hangovers and the withdrawal symptoms… (unless you have a Part Two coming up with that).

      It’s a very humorous tale, there, Andy. Most of the humour, for me, arises from the way the story is told in such a matter of fact manner, with all those regular formal-sounding job titles, while your colleagues are multitasking wonderfully, as normal.

      Life will never be perfect. Inhibitions finally gone, the sounds of oral sex can be disorientating in the office. That kind of thing – that’s the sort of humour I like. Of course, then there are also all those precious funny bits listed by Phil.

      This story has a lot to do with Carrie lifting the vulgarity ban. As you nearly admitted, you took the ban-removal as part of the prompt…

      After such a treat (reading this story), we have to sadly return to our predicament with the current virus. One that is more obsessed with messing up our breathing apparatus rather than our more southerly equipment…

      In 2022, you say?

      Happy Christmas!
      Ken

      Reply
  • December 22, 2020 at 7:46 pm
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    Snowbound
    by Roy York
    1199 words

    The two taillights, barely visible in the swirling snow, almost eluded him. He pressed his brakes and felt the truck start to skid, but got it under control. The taillights were on a car that had slid into the ditch alongside the road.

    He stopped and put his truck in park. Opening the window on the passenger side he could see the car’s outline. He saw a silhouette suddenly sit up. It looked like a young woman. She looked in his direction.

    He cranked his hand in a circle indicating she needed to roll down her window. He could barely see her. “Are you alright?” he shouted.

    “Do I look like I’m alright?” Her words were lost on the wind.

    “What?” he shouted back.

    “No, I’m not alright,” she said strangling out the words between sobs.

    “Just a minute.” he shouted and rolled up his window. He left his truck, pulled up his parka and tightened it as he got near her window. He could see the woman was distraught.

    With his back to the wind and his head down, he asked, “Can you start the car?”

    “It won’t start.”

    “We need to get you out of this storm. There’s not much we can do until it dies down.” He held out a gloved hand to introduce himself. “I live close by. My name is Chris. Chris Walker.”

    She had been reaching for his hand and suddenly jerked it back when she heard his name. “No, no, no, no, no. Of all the people to stop, it’s YOU. I don’t want your help.”

    “Do I know you?” he asked, taken aback by her remark.

    “It’s been years, but it’s me, Hanna. Hanna Olson.”

    The girl he left standing at the altar. He got closer to the window. It was Hanna, all right. He hesitated … then smiled grimly. “Sorry, I didn’t recognize you.”

    “I didn’t know it was you, either. You know it’s been a few years.”

    “What the hell are you doing out here anyway?”

    She pointed to her dash video display. “My GPS. This is the way it said to go. You can just go on home and please call someone to tell them where I am. I’ll wait here.“

    “Why haven’t you called them yourself?”

    “No service on my phone. So, if you’ll be kind enough to call the authorities and tell them where I am, I’ll be waiting right here.”

    Chris took out his phone. It also indicated no service. “The cell tower must be out. You’re going to be here a long time. Just get in the damn truck and stop being an idiot.”

    He reached out and pulled her door open. “Come on,” he said. “This is only going to get worse. Grab your coat.”

    “I don’t have a coat.” She grabbed her purse. “Don’t touch me.” She opened the door on the passenger side of his pickup and climbed up. He couldn’t help but notice she was only wearing a silk blouse and a short skirt as she got in the truck.

    “You’d have frozen your rear end off with that skimpy skirt you have on. Women, honest to God, I will never figure you out.”

    As he climbed in the truck she sat close to the door and said, “Don’t get any ideas. I’ll only be at your house long enough to call someone to help me.”

    He didn’t reply, put the truck in gear, and drove slowly until they reached the long driveway to his farm house. He pulled close to the house, parked the truck, and reached past Hanna toward the glove compartment. She screamed a short scream and pressed back into the seat.

    “Relax,” he said. “I’m just getting a flashlight. We don’t have any power at the house.”

    He climbed out of the truck and walked around to her side. Taking off his jacket, he put it around her as she got out of the truck. “I don’t need that,” she said, and pushed it away.

    “Quit acting like a four year old and put this on. You’ll freeze to death in that outfit before I can unlock the door.” Grudgingly she pulled the jacket around her shoulders. She couldn’t help but smell his cologne on the jacket. Despite herself she breathed deeply. It was still a favorite of hers. The jacket was warm and she gripped it tightly.

    Chris unlocked the door and shined the light toward an overstuffed chair. “This should be comfortable for a few minutes until you get warm, while I get the generator going.”

    The lights came on moments later, and he asked, “Some way to spend Christmas Eve, huh? Can I get you a drink? How about a nice glass of merlot? Then I’ll rustle up something for us to eat.”

    She hesitated, “I won’t be here that long.”

    “You’ll be here. There’s no dial tone on my land line and I don’t have any cell service either. Even if someone could get our here, it won’t be until tomorrow, and that’s Christmas Day. Fat chance then.”

    Merlot in hand, and still wrapped in his jacket, she sat curled up in the chair. He sat close by. “We need to talk Hanna. Ever since that day … the day I didn’t show up … you never returned my calls.”

    “It’s not something I want to discuss Chris. You had your reasons to not marry me, and although it took me a few years to get over it. I did.”

    “No, You need to hear this. The reason I wasn’t at the church was because of your father.”

    “I know. He told me he gave you money and you got on a train.”

    “Well, that’s partially true. The true story is he spiked my drink at my bachelor’s party and he and your brother loaded me on a train to Kansas City where I woke up the next morning.”

    “He wouldn’t have done that.”

    “He would and did. I tried to reach you as soon as I could, but no one would put you on the phone. I was five hundred miles away, Since you would never take my call, you never learned the truth. I even sent you several letters which were returned. The day I came to your house, your dad showed up with a gun, and you called the police. I quit trying after that.”

    Hanna started to cry. “You’re telling me that my father lied to me?”

    “Hanna, I won’t speak ill of the dead. But, the truth is what I just told you. When you can, confront your brother. Here’s another truth, Hanna. I love you. I always have and I always will.”

    “All these years I wouldn’t listen to you. All wasted.” Hanna looked up, tears in her eyes, mascara running down her face. “There’s never been anyone else but you, Chris.”

    * * * * *

    The next morning Chris woke, turned over and looked at Hanna who was smiling at him, while wearing nothing. She shrugged. “Sorry, I didn’t bring anything to wear.” She smiled.

    “You know,” he said, “I never thought I would wake up this morning to the best Christmas present ever.”

    “Just think,” she said. “It’s already unwrapped.”

    Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 6:57 pm
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      That’s a sweet Christmassy story, Roy, of true love restored. Very well-written, as always.

      You know, there’s a bit of a motif in this group of stories of bad dads/parents, isn’t there? But all play out in different ways.

      Great last line.

      I think the line that sets it up isn’t quite right though: “looked at Hanna who was smiling at him, while wearing nothing”. Maybe it could be something like “and looked at Hanna’s naked body as she lay there smiling at him.”

      Reply
      • December 24, 2020 at 12:14 pm
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        Thanks Andy,

        A point well taken regarding setting up the last line. Originally, it was ‘She didn’t have anything on but the radio’, but I thought that was a bit worn, so I wrote it as it was printed. In retrospect I’m sure I could have said it better.

        My wife didn’t like my ending at all, and in fact, thought it was ‘trite’. I think that’s what she said. I was surprised because, as last lines go, I thought it was great. It summed things up and was in the Christmas spirit of ‘giving and receiving’ gifts. So I pointed out some of the things others said. Then she said, ‘Who said that? A woman or a man?” I had to admit to her it was all men who loved the ending. Maybe there’s something to that.

        One of my beta readers told me she thought I was like a ‘Hallmark writer’ at one point. I think I know what she meant because I tend to write more real life stories with poignantcy, if there is such a word. You know happy, schmaltzy endings.

        I wish I could write like you do in many instances, but I start out that way and then end up traveling down a familiar road.

        Merry Christmas and stay safe.

        Roy York

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    • December 23, 2020 at 7:47 pm
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      Nice one, Roy. The set-up is very well done – the vehicles in the road and moment of recognition (But I would have had Hanna say merely “It’s me.” and then Chris recognizes her and the narrator tells us her name.) I wonder where Hanna was going in just a silk blouse? We have to suspend disbelief a little about the impossibility of Chris contacting Hanna; if he loved her that much he’d have moved heaven and earth to speak to her, wouldn’t he? But this is being too picky maybe. It’s a very smoothly-told story with a good, bright, promising ending.

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      • December 24, 2020 at 2:10 pm
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        Phil,

        Yeah, you’re right. “It’s me.” is way better than her telling him her name. You know, it’s funny. I kept looking at that line wondering what was nagging at me about it., and you look at it and say, here, this would be better. That’s why you get the big bucks, boyo.

        Unfortunately, we only have 1200 words, so I had to take out the paragraph about her explaining she was just ran into the city on Christmas Eve, to pick something up and they deliver directly to the car, so she didn’t need to worry about even getting out of the car. Nice warm garage at home, they put the stuff in the trunk, she never has to get out. Never mind the fact she could have car trouble, or be in an accident.

        I once met friends for a hike in a rugged area of Nevada called Red Rock Canyon, where the trails are narrow, involve climbing over large rocks and in narrow canyons with cactus and unfriendly plants. One of them showed up in a silk blouse, tight skirt and 4 inch heels. Needless to say, the hike was canceled after about the first thirty feet. So, I know women are capable of these kinds of decisions.

        And, refer to ‘we only have 1200 words, which also prevented me from going into great detail about what Chris did to move heaven and earth, but I thought calls, letters, showing up in person in a short sentence covered it enough. I’ll take it might be ‘too picky’ as a fact and run with that.

        I did enjoy writing it. It was one of those stories of mine that simply write themselves as soon as I sit down and allow the characters to reveal themselves to me. I kind of liked the ending too, and I’m glad they shared it with me.

        Roy

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    • December 24, 2020 at 5:36 am
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      Love this story Roy. Mine was going to be much more grim with a happy ending but too busy to write it. I like the plot and very good build up.

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    • December 24, 2020 at 7:12 am
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      Hi Roy,

      Great story, so readable and believable. I wonder how many weddings have been railroaded by angry parents or siblings?

      You have a really nice touch in the way that you reveal the story as slowly as is possible in 1200 words.

      I think the ending, especially the last line, is just right.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • December 24, 2020 at 2:23 pm
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        Thanks for the nice words, Ken F.,

        The incident in the story is a true incident that had a better outcome. A friend of mine, while in the Navy, got drunk at his bachelor party (I mean to the pass out stage), and a group of friends, (I say that with tongue in cheek) actually put him on a train, took his clothes off of him, and sent him on his way to a town about 300 miles away. Fortunately, when he came to, a friendly railroad attendant got him a pair of pants and a shirt and he was able to get into a station and make a reverse charges call to us back at the barracks. We were able to get him picked up and back for a slightly postponed wedding.

        I should write that story one day. I don’t know how the marriage ended up, as I only keep in contact with a couple of people that I served in the Navy with, and the one who would know about what happened to this guy has something like Alzheimers and doesn’t even recognize his wife half the time. And of those buddies, none of them are still married to their first wives. Just me and that’s been for 55 years.

        I always like reading your reviews. They make me all warm and fuzzy.

        Roy

        Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 4:02 pm
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      Hi Roy,

      It’s a nice well-rounded story. It does seem like a big coincidence, at first, when Chris happens to meet Hanna, but then we realize it’s somewhere rural, we’re in small-town USA, where people may often meet people they know (although these two somehow hadn’t bumped into one another since that fateful wedding day, but we can concede that too).

      A lot of the protagonists’ lives is told in such few words, that it seems a bit rushed at the end, but the word count is what it is. There’s some good foreshadowing, though: we already know that Hanna has no change of clothes with her, which makes her morning nakedness come rather naturally. In spite of her initial disgust with Chris, we knew well ahead of the ending that Hanna still harbored something of a warm feeling towards him, when she felt nostalgic about his cologne. That was an excellent “breadcrumb” there, making the ending more believable when we got to it.

      In real life, though, a woman would have needed more time to recompose herself emotionally, to absorb and assimilate Chris’s explanation in her broken emotional makeup. She’d have cried and bashed herself emotionally for longer, and bash Chris a little more, before moving on to accepting what she now learned had really happened, and only then totally surrender herself emotionally and sexually to Chris.

      For us men, the explanation, as long as it’s valid and true, is enough. We’d take it on board quickly, for all its worth. I think that’s why your wife was taken a little aback by the sudden nakedness and sexual allusions. It all happens too soon. The “woman” in me was a little shocked too. Other than that, there’s some brilliant play with words in the story ending (but now it’s the man in me talking).

      So that’s what the apparent rushed ending was all about. It’s not the word count. It’s that Hanna’s “conversion” is not a typical woman’s reaction.

      I felt you struggling, Roy, in making it believable that in this day and age, Chris couldn’t reach anyone, all cellphones and landlines being cut off in the area. But it’s not your fault. Indeed, the way we’re so well connected nowadays, makes such plots more challenging to put together credibly. Take Homer writing The Odyssey in 2020. Why didn’t Ulysses radio the port of Ithaca? Couldn’t he be traced on InMarSat?

      It must have been quite a challenging story to write, after all, in spite of its apparent surface simplicity. It would have been, even for Homer. He wouldn’t get away with it all in 2020AD as he did on 2020BC…

      Merry Christmas, Roy! (I hope that’s still meaningful to you after last week’s story!)

      Ken

      Reply
  • December 22, 2020 at 9:46 pm
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    HOT CHOCOLATE.
    12/22/2020
    by ken cartisano

    Snow was already blanketing the tarmac, falling in thick, wet clumps. The plane was long gone and the entire campaign team with it. She lingered at the plate-glass window, soaking up the silence of the deserted terminal.

    A man’s voice broke the spell. “I’m surprised they chose to leave you behind, of all people.”

    “It was my choice,” she said. “Overweight plane, snow, ice…”

    “Yeah, that’s the first rule in campaign management, don’t kill your candidate.” He smiled.

    “My thinking exactly,” she said. “What’s your excuse?”

    They were top managers for opposing candidates who had never met face to face, but had exchanged dozens of terse messages through their respective minions.

    “I dunno, I like small towns. They remind me of home.”

    It was an evasive answer. “I’ve got some calls to make, Mr. Toag, if you don’t mind. I’d like to find a room before they roll up the sidewalks.” Among her colleagues she often referred to him as ‘the Toad.’ It was just a joke, nothing personal.

    Toag followed as she returned to her seat. He felt like he knew Susan Talbot, but wouldn’t say that he liked her. She was a stickler for integrity and didn’t pull any punches, but there was no shortage of witnesses that claimed she was gruff and rude. “May I call you Susan?”

    “I need to find a hotel,” she said, with an edge to her voice, “if you’ll excuse me…”

    “You won’t find one,” he said, “in this mess? I checked, hours ago.”

    She ignored him. This was like one of those made-for-TV movies. Stranded in an airport on Christmas Eve, during a blizzard, with her nemesis, Frank ‘the Toad.’ Okay, he was a brilliant political strategist, but a man with questionable ethics. The Senator himself had accused Toag of hitting on young, gullible interns and firing those that snubbed his advances. Despite his looks, the man was a pig.

    Her internal dialogue was interrupted by the object of her derision, Mr. Toag himself, offering her a cup of steaming hot chocolate. “Here, it’s on me,” he said. “It’s very hot,” he added. Setting it down on a table next to her chair. “Mind if I sit… somewhere nearby?” He scanned the area around her while she rolled her eyes: Nothing but empty seats. She indicated the seats across the aisle.

    He picked one, sat down and pulled some papers from a folder and began reading, clucking occasionally.

    At some point, he got up and discarded whatever he was reading in a trash can, then remained on his feet, watching news of the blizzard on one of the TV’s. “That might’ve been a mistake,” he said, from several yards away.

    She couldn’t concentrate, or find a hotel room. She looked up from her phone. “What?”

    “Well…if the power goes out, we may need it for kindling.”

    “Need what?”

    “Those resumes.”

    His attempt at humor failed and he returned to his seat under Susan’s searing scrutiny.

    “Where’s your wedding ring?” She asked.

    “My wedding ring?”

    “Yeah, aren’t you married?” She was sure it was in his bio.

    He shook his head. “Divorced. A couple of years ago.”

    “Yeah? She didn’t like sharing you with others?”

    “Sharing? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    “She take you to the cleaners?”

    He shook his head. “You wanna play twenty questions? No, I took her to the cleaners. My turn. Why are you working for Senator Lutz?”

    “Why shouldn’t I?”

    “I thought you had scruples.”

    “Well, in this business…” she paused. “I do have scruples.”

    “Then why would you work for…” He began, but she held up her hand.

    “My turn,” she said.

    “Okay.”

    “You divorced your wife?”

    “Yeah.”

    “For?”

    “Infidelity.”

    “She cheated on you?”

    “That’s the word for it. Yeah.”

    “In retaliation?” She guessed.

    He held up his hand. “Retaliation? No. My turn. Isn’t Senator Lutz married?”

    “Very,” Sue said. “Forty years.”

    “But he plays around. He’s unfaithful.”

    “No. I don’t know. I doubt it.”

    “Don’t.”

    “Don’t what?” She asked.

    “Doubt it.”

    They stared at each other, their eyes like the headlights of two oversized trucks on a narrow country road.

    “Did you leave yourself stranded here on purpose?”

    He nodded. “I did.”

    “Why?” Her suspicion was plain to see. “Are you trying to compromise me, Mr. Toad?”

    “That depends,” he said. “The name is Toag, Miss Talbot. My turn.”

    She blushed, and laughed self-consciously.

    Toag said, “Have you ever seen the Senator with a petite, red-haired woman?”

    Sue hesitated.

    “It’s a simple yes or no question. You’re his campaign manager.”

    “I think I have,” she admitted. “Briefly.”

    “I thought so. She avoids publicity, obviously, but as his campaign manager…”

    “I have.” She confessed. “Why? Who is she?”

    “You really want to know?”

    “Who is she?”

    “My ex-wife.”

    Sue sighed. This was bad. No one likes surprises in the middle of a campaign. “I’m sorry, Frank. About your wife, I mean.”

    “Ex-wife, and the Senator’s going to be even sorrier.”

    Sue carefully placed her phone back into her purse. Zipped it shut. All pretenses abandoned, she said, “Are you going public with this?”

    “I am.”

    “Why?”

    “Wouldn’t you?”

    “Not if I had your reputation.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “I’m not really comfortable with this conversation, Mr. Toag.”

    “You can call me Frank, Susan. And since this is an interview, your candor is not optional.”

    Sue’s face flushed again, but from anger this time. “I’m not looking for a job, Mr. Toag. But I appreciate your…”

    “You will be, when the video surfaces.” He leaned forward. “Audio too.”

    Her features froze in horror.

    Very quietly, almost gently, he said, “Your name is mentioned too, and it isn’t flattering.”

    The horror turned to anguish, then anger. “Why should I believe you, of all people? With your reputation as a faithless fuck?”

    “I don’t know what you heard, or from whom, Miss Talbot, but I can assure you that my reputation was quite intact the last time I checked.”

    She recalled that the source of the rumors was none other than ‘the good Senator’ himself, and, (she felt like kicking herself,) she never got around to double-checking his claims. That was the second rule in politics, always check your sources, especially if the candidate is the source. She knew better.

    Toag clasped his hands together. “I’ll be honest with you Susan, I stayed behind to gloat at your misfortune. The scandal will hit the news in the morning. I’m well aware of your ‘penchant’ for referring to me as ‘the toad.’ And uh, well, watching you fall from your lofty perch was a moment I’ve been savoring.”

    She experienced that feeling you get when you’ve just lost your footing, that sudden sickening vertigo.

    “But—as crazy as it seems, I like you. You’re hardworking, sober, unselfish. Attractive. Come work with me, Miss Talbot. You won’t regret it. You’ll be well-paid. By this time tomorrow, any name associated with the Senator will be toxic. He’s going down, Susan. Don’t let him drag you down with him. You deserve better.”

    He had a car waiting. They left the terminal hand-in-hand, in a blizzard, on Christmas Eve.

    The rest is fucking history.

    Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 12:11 pm
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      Alrighty folks! You know the drill!

      Here is the link to vote:
      http://fictionwritersgroup.com/Christmas2020

      remember, you must vote in order for your story to count, you cannot vote for yourself, and you cannot vote twice.

      Good luck!

      Reply
      • December 23, 2020 at 1:48 pm
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        Carrie,

        Once I translated ‘storage count’ into ‘story to count’, and ‘you kind of vote for yourself’ as ‘you cannot vote for yourself’ I figured out what to do. Whatever you’re drinking over the holidays, I think I would like some.

        Roy

        Reply
        • December 23, 2020 at 1:52 pm
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          OMG wtf autocorrect 😂😂😂😂😂😂

          Every time I try to update anything from my phone it gets all wonky!!

          Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 7:11 pm
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      Nice bit of cat and mouse dialogue here, Ken, as the story works itself out and the relationship moves from non-existent to something else. That’s all very nicely constructed and well-written.

      I can see how Mr Toad might win Sue over to his camp. The leaving together hand in hand seems a bit of an abrupt and unexplained shift, even more so the subsequent “fucking history” – I’m guessing you ran out of time or wordcount?

      Reply
      • December 24, 2020 at 9:41 am
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        Hi Ken,

        This is one of those stories that if it were in book form would be a page-turner (what’s the equivalent term for someone reading an exciting short story on an iPhone? A “screen scroller”?) I forgot my surroundings, got completely absorbed in the well-set deserted airport scenario, very curious to see how this was going to evolve. Unfortunately, and it’s because it was required by the prompt, I knew the two were going to somehow end up on good terms with each other, so my curiosity was more about how (it was gonna happen), then the what (was gonna happen). But that’s not your fault. The prompts often act as both inspiration and part-spoilers.

        I read Andy’s, Phil’s and Ken F.’s comments after I read the story, and I agree with Andy’s thoughts that the cuddly exit was a bit too abrupt. Now, if Toag put something in her drink, that’s another story and would need a leap of faith on the part of the reader (and a risk of not complying with the prompt’s requirements). Not much indicates to that.

        I sometimes criticized you for cutting your stories out too short. With this story, I think (and here I disagree with Ken F.’s appreciation of your ending) you kept going longer than you ought to and should have stopped earlier. Perhaps with Toag’s car waiting and Talbot’s thanking the good Lord for it. Leaving the airport hand in hand was a bit too much too soon for this Ken. That the rest was fucking history (double entendre apart), I would have deduced that much if you left me to my own devices.

        Now, I know, I had a gal snogging her kidnapper, at the end of my story. So I shouldn’t be saying anything. But my guy had just saved her from literally getting mutilated, so perhaps he deserved a kiss. Your couple, those kinds of political and politically correct people, I’d imagine them somehow more measured.

        “Yup, I can see what you guys are saying. The story creates a sense of anticipation, but doesn’t appear to deliver anything. Everyone else posted complete stories. I gave both Ken’s rather critical critiques but both of their stories are better than mine. (Great, two more intelligent people who’ll never speak to me again.)”

        No, it’s a complete story, I think. A bit too complete, actually, with a coda that ought to go.

        You criticized my story rather critically? I’ll need to read your critique again. I think it was mostly positive (generally, about my writing talents and the subtle black humor I often throw in) and a little negative about my current story not being as good as some others I wrote before. That’s how I took it, or was there more for me to read between the lines? Explain please!

        The bi-racial thing, I only got it from your comment. Hot chocolate and vanilla shake could perhaps have made me think along those lines… But this, really, wasn’t the point of your story.

        Happy Christmas!
        Ken

        Reply
        • December 24, 2020 at 11:49 am
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          Hey Ken (M.),

          I really appreciate your feedback. Especially when you give feedback on the feedback. This is one of those stories that could be much improved, if only I’d had a few more days to let it simmer on the backburner of my subconscious. I think the last line was too flippant for the story. And the consensus would eliminate the hand-holding. There was absolutely no room or place for ‘roofies’ in this story as Andy playfully suggests.

          Sometimes, I complicate a story unnecessarily, adding details that, realistically, don’t add anything to the story. It’s a literary form of ‘balancing the books.’ As the author, I feel the need to justify certain aspects of the plot that, frankly, the reader finds totally irrelevant. Yet I get so submerged in perfecting certain sections of the story, that I reject the idea of slashing half of it to develop some other more intriguing, or essential section of the story.

          As for your critique, I kind of lumped you and Ken F. together in my comment, so, no, there’s nothing between the lines of my comments. And I thought both stories were excellent, (and they were completely different) they simply could have been better. Mine falls into the same category.

          In fact, I thought all of the stories were excellent this time around. I moved your story to the bottom of the list ONLY because you admitted it was not a fresh creation. I don’t want LAST MONTH’S FISH. I WANT FRESH FISH!

          I know it goes against your hopelessly honest nature, but you don’t have to always admit that a story isn’t new. When you revive an older story, clean it up and post it. Omit the disclaimer, and see if anyone can tell. Especially me.

          Cheers.
          Hope you have a fabulous, virus-free Christmas, Ken.

          Reply
    • December 23, 2020 at 8:00 pm
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      Really brisk, KenC. Great intrigue and political shenanigans. The setting, too, is very nicely established – the deserted airport terminal building – very atmospheric. Great dialogue as always, though this little jump is too sudden, I think. ‘ “Where’s your wedding ring?” She asked.’ – maybe the ‘searing scrutiny’ could have taken in other details of Toag before getting to the ring finger (?). But very slick and enjoyable.

      Reply
      • December 24, 2020 at 1:24 am
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        Andy and Phil,

        Yup, I can see what you guys are saying. The story creates a sense of anticipation, but doesn’t appear to deliver anything. Everyone else posted complete stories. I gave both Ken’s rather critical critiques but both of their stories are better than mine. (Great, two more intelligent people who’ll never speak to me again.)

        Andy,
        I couldn’t really figure out how to approach this prompt until I came up with the two political camps and their respective managers getting stranded together. (Sound familiar? What was the name of that book you made me read? (I mean buy. You made me buy it.) Green Acres or something?) Originally, the dialogue was going to be a clash of political ideologies, but it quickly became personal, and finally, all too typical.

        By the final re-write (I know this is going to sound weird,) by the final re-write, I was convinced that this was an inter-racial ‘detent.’ And the title was a double-entendre, that no one would get. (And I was right!) I didn’t think it was relevant enough to make it more obvious because it wasn’t a bi-racial story, it was bi-political. Still, I coulda…

        I read it to Kim and asked her if it was believable, she said, ‘Are you kidding? It happens all the time.’ (She’s a wild one, that Kim of mine. Don’t let her fool you.)

        In conclusion: Writing about toads and hot babes is way more difficult than writing about apes, hawks and copperheads. Next time, if there is a next time, my story will be about two trains, and one set of tracks. Playin’ it safe.

        BTW, your story is really funny Andy. I want to read it one more time and leave a comment on it. (I’ll try not to gush.)

        Merry Christmas guys.

        Reply
        • December 24, 2020 at 4:32 am
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          Greenacres, Ken! Yes, I think that’s the place to be. That brought back some distant memories. I feel YouTube calling.

          About the Hot Chocolate. I just assumed it refers to the hot chocolate he gave her, with the Rohypnol in. That puts a different slant on the story, doesn’t it? He just keeps her talking until it takes effect and he can walk off with her, hand in hand. And the rest is …

          Glad you found my story funny, and look forward to the comments. What – you’ve gone to sleep? My story put you to sleep …. 🙁

          Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 7:23 am
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      Hi Ken,

      Sorry I have taken so long to get to reading your story and writing a comment. Where does the time go?

      This is a very good premise for a story, empty terminal building, heavy snow at Christmas and two “enemies” thrown together and thus, having to communicate with each other directly for the first time. What happens next could easily go in a number of different directions and the notion that they are enemies could be confirmed or shown to be untrue.

      Having seen enough US TV shows that features elections of all types, the campaign managers generally don’t come out as very nice people but they “get the job done,” regardless of how and who gets hurt. It’s a dirty business, campaigning.

      Lovely last line, Ken. So classy! It fits in so well with the mood of the piece.

      Thanks for your very detailed comments on my piece. Duly noted.

      Kind Christmas thoughts,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • December 24, 2020 at 9:44 am
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        (Ken C. – pls see my comment further up, between Andy’s and Phil’s. I don’t know why it didn’t appear down here!)

        Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 10:24 am
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      Ken C.,

      Great dialogue, and a nice take on the prompt, using political enemies (which these days may be the worst enemies of all) to then end up lovers, which gives us hope people can change their mind when confronted with facts. The problem is getting them to listen to the real facts, not alternative facts and made up facts, that aren’t really facts at all.

      Don’t think you need the last line at all. In fact, think it’s better without that rather gratuitous last line.Well written and laid out story, Mr. Cartisano. Easy to read and follow.

      Roy York

      Reply
  • December 24, 2020 at 9:59 am
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    All… I have to run an unexpected last minute Christmas errand. 🎄

    So I’ll be tallying the votes 2 hours late.
    In case anyone needs a little extra time for voting!

    Reply
  • December 24, 2020 at 10:31 am
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    As it turns out I don’t need it, but thanks, Carrie, and Merry Christmas to you and all the writers on this site. Hope everyone is safe and sane. Ilana, I know, it’s Chanuka for you, but I already wished you that, earlier. If I’ve missed anyone, then Happy Kwanza, or Midwinter Druid’s Day or whatever you would like to celebrate at the end of this rather tumultuous year.

    Roy

    Reply
  • December 24, 2020 at 11:22 am
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    I noticed a notice on the group home page, “We will be migrating all content and comments to “fictionwritersgroup.com“.”

    Sounds interesting – did I miss something when I was away?

    Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 11:55 am
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      Yeah, bots trying to crack our admin passwords, and an easier to bookmark website URL.

      Reply
    • December 24, 2020 at 11:56 am
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      Other then a different URL you will not notice anything different.

      Reply
      • December 24, 2020 at 3:00 pm
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        Without further ado here are your winners!!!!

        1st Place: And In The Morning Lovers by Phil Town
        2nd Place: A post Modern Christmas Miracle by Sarig Levin
        3rd Place: Cold palaces warm hearts by Ken Frape
        4th Place: Hot Chocolate by Ken Cartisano
        5th Place: Snowbound by Roy York
        6th Place: Stockholm Syndrome by Ken Miles
        7th Place: Pandemic of the Apes by Andy Lake

        Story with Favorite Character: Pauline from “A post Modern Christmas Miracle by Sarig Levin”
        Story with Best Use of Dialogue: “Hot Chocolate” by Ken Cartisano

        Congrats to all!

        Reply
        • December 24, 2020 at 4:41 pm
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          Congrats Phil!

          Well done too to runners-up Sarig (my personal top vote) and Lord Frape (who prophesied today’s Brexit deal well ahead of the news channels. Just that he got Boris’s rippled chest TOTALLY wrong and greatly exaggerated Ursula’s allure).

          And well done to Sarig again for Paul(ine) and Ken C. for the best dialogue Oscar.

          I noticed that for almost all the stories this week someone or another commented that what we have here is material for a longer piece. Did this prompt spawn some top-selling still-to-be-written novels?

          Happy whatever you’re celebrating and certainly a happy new (pandemic free?) year to all!

          See ya at the new URL next year!

          (btw I have by now commented on all the stories, just in case anyone didn’t receive the notification)

          Ken

          Reply
        • December 24, 2020 at 7:23 pm
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          What a smashing Christmas present! Thanks, all!

          (I personally thought Sarig’s was the best of a great bunch of stories, but I won’t be handing back the prize!)

          Happy Christmas to everyone! (if you celebrate it)

          Reply
        • December 25, 2020 at 10:55 am
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          Hi All,
          Well done Phil and so nice to see so many familiar names. Really enjoyed this prompt.’Happy seasonal greetings wherever you are and however you celebrate at this time of year.
          Kind regards,
          Ken Frape

          Reply
  • December 24, 2020 at 4:56 pm
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    Congratulations Phil – you were my top choice, as it happens.
    And Sarig and Ken C were my choices for the category awards

    So Merry Christmas to all, keep safe, and wishing you all a healthy, happy and wonderful New Year.

    I’ll look forward to seeing you in a year that’s not 2020!

    Reply
  • December 24, 2020 at 5:32 pm
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    Congrats Phil 🙂

    Reply
    • December 25, 2020 at 7:10 am
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      Congratulations everyone. And Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 2021 get ready.

      Roy

      Reply
  • December 24, 2020 at 6:49 pm
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    Question Admins please, how do we find the new site. I now have time to do some writing and it directs me to a facebook site which is the wrong one apparently??????
    Will it be a wordpress site too?

    Reply
  • December 24, 2020 at 6:51 pm
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    Sorry and Phil congratulations. I voted but perhaps too late. LOL no time to write and barely time to read stories.

    Reply
  • December 24, 2020 at 8:53 pm
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    Congratulations Phil. A well deserved win. No characters, no sex, no car chase, two lines of dialogue and you pull off the win. No small feat either, since all of the stories were top-notch. And I’m not complaining, I’m amazed. I voted for it too. I thought it was excellent. Way to go.

    Reply

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