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Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “Memories Conjured”

Theme: Memories Conjured

The protagonist is painting an image of what he/she thought was fictional, but it suddenly triggers forgotten childhood memories.

Required Elements:

  • A child’s toy
  • The child must either go outside or be outside at some point in the memory

Word Count: 1,200

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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

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The writing prompt for September 17, 2020, will be chosen by Ken Cartisano.

139 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Memories Conjured”

  • Read the stories here:

    The Masterstrokes by Rathin Bhattacharjee
    Beyond Waverton by Phil Town
    Resonance by Jack McDaniel
    Portraiture by Ken Cartisano
    The Invisible thread by Ken Miles
    The Glen by Roy York

    OF DANCERS AND DOLLS by Marien Oommen

    (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.)

    *Carrie’s on vacation, so I’ll (Alice) be here to post stories and try and answer questions. Have a great weekend

    • Trish
      Signing in for stories.
    • Hi Alice,

      Signing in for comments although I may not have a story ready this time around.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

    • I’m plain crazy, Carrie. Forgive me. Here’s my story.

      The Masterstrokes :

      Suneil’s working furiously at the canvass. If Mr. Acharyya’s to be believed the best time was 6.20 p.m. Suneil looked back at the face again. He brooded critically over what looked like the forgotten yet familiar figure of a girl.

      Having admired the strikingly beautiful face, his seasoned eyes examined the eyes, eyes that’d stop a person passing by. They’re as calm and transparent as the sea, and what about the dark, big lashes? They looked so real that even Suneil for a second, thought he saw them fluttering.

      Suneil stared over the edge of the woods at the horizon. The crimson sun’s already on its descent downhill. He could also see a group of mynahs flying across for their annual retreat.

      He hurriedly glanced at his wristwatch. The time was 5.49 p.m. That gave him a little over half hour to give the finishing touches. And then? What’s going to happen then?

      “This’ll be my greatest creation for posterity to remember me by. Whenever someone talks about the masterpieces, the name of Anita… .. ANITA?” Suneil heard himself exclaiming as he cast a hurried look back at the canvass again.

      “God Gracious!” How could he draw the figure of his only child so unconsciously? Did he really make her painting unconsciouly or was it a work of his subconscious mind? But time was at a premium. He’d to finish it before the sundown and have Suparna, his long ailing wife, brought out here in the garden before the canvass. If his masterpiece could represent a girl with the beauty, the vivacity of Anita, Banerjee Babu, the family priest would bring the child back to,..back to life. He promised Suneil that!

      Thinking about this improbable possibility, Suneil picked up his brush and with painstaking patience, dabbed it in the bluish white paint in the, box. With small, careful strokes, he let his brush caress the area around the right pupil. If he could only do a flawless job, once he’s done with Anita, Banerjee Babu’d do the rest.

      Suneil again looked at the portrait. He’d taken a great deal of care to make her wear the same dress she’d on that day, as far as he could remember. That magnificent white frock with sequins making a tartan pattern all over. She looked like a Princess wearing it that day.

      Suneil stopped in the middle of polishing the area around the left eye softly. How could he know that his angel, his hope, his everything was to be snatched away from him so mercilessly that night? He wiped a tear rolling down his left eye with the back of his left hand before looking down at her shoes in the canvass. She’s wearing a silvery pair of high heels that fatal afternoon, the afternoon he remembered Suparna shrieking for the last time before they brought the dripping, lifeless body of their only child fished out of the pond. The pond that Anita loved frequenting ‘for its tranquility’.

      “I want my daughter back,” Suparna’s screaming hysterically in his arms, pounding his chest with her fists one moment and going inert the next. When she finally came to, the last thing she uttered was what Anita liked squealing, throwing the ball with all her might, at her mother.


      Suparna opened her eyes for a brief moment in Suneil’s arms and mumbled out the same words. But they were not as loud as Anita would cry out normally. The words coming out of Suparna’s mouth were a mere whisper.

      “Catch the ball, Ma… ” and that was that. The family physician, called in hastily, administered an injection, prescribing some medicine hurriedly. But when Suparna utterd what sounded like an incomprehensible blabber, the doctor told Suneil that she’d damaged her vocal cord for good due to the extreme shock and unless some miracle happened, she’s not likely to regain the ability to speak again.

      Now, having completed his artwork, Suneil looked at it for one more time. For anyone who’d seen the lively child, it would have been difficult to say that the canvass was the handiwork of an artist. Anita, with the ball in her hands, looked so lifelike that even Suneil stood open-mouthed before it.

      The lose ends on the sides were done purposefully giving the spectators the impression that the child, standing on the concrete steps holding the red, rubber ball, was expecting someone to come out of their palatial house.

      A noise behind brought Suneil out of his stupor. After a year almost, Suparna would be out of the house on a wheelchair. She’s reduced to a skeleton of her former self and the physician’d passed his verdict that if she didn’t will herself to live, life would be ebbing out of her by the onset of winter at the most. He even suggested that Suneil take his wife on a pilgrimage or something as her days were numbered.

      Panicky, Suneil consulted the priest, Banerjee Babu and the astrologer, Achayya Babu, for a miracle. It’s the priest who put the idea into Suneil’s head. He asked Suneil to try to draw the painting of a look-alike of his deceased daughter as realistically as possible. If his request was carried perfectly, Mukherjee Babu’d try to work out a miracle. He’s no magician, mind you, but things like what was going to happen in the backyard that evening, had happened at a few places in the past. Wouldn’t it be nice ( the possiblity of the priest bringing the dead child back for a brief moment looked very bleak though) if Anita’s brought back to life for a surreal moment and cried out her last words to her mother? Anita screeching those words, might make Suparna do something for a miraculous recovery.

      On turning his head back, Suneil saw his trusted servants pushing the wheelchair gently from behind. All her reports were normal that day, including the one of her heart condition. Suneil looked down at his watch for the last time. 6.18 p.m. Two more minutes to go before the auspicious moment as per the priest’s calculations.

      Everything’s quiet when Suparna’s halted a few yards away from the painting. The sun’d long vanished behind the hills leaving the sky overhead a dusky hue. Suparna opened her eyes from a nap precisely at that moment as Anita looked down at the bent figure on the wheelchair. The leaves of the trees behind, stopped rustling as darkness engulped the compound. There’s an eerie silence prevailing over the pond.

      The scream “CATCH THE BALL, MA…” broke the silence. Next moment, Suparna Devi’s crying as Mr. Sen, the physician was seen rushing out.

      “Anita, my baby, my baby… . ” She muttered.

      Suneil, nonplussed, dashed back to his wife, with his head still turned back to the canvass. Murmuring concernedly and happily at the same time.

      Banerjee Babu, the priest, picked up Acharyya Babu’s daughter from the shadows behind the canvass and implanted a kiss on her forehead. The child’d kept his honour and surprised even him uttering the long-rehearsed words in a miraculous way, to say the least.

      • Certainly an interesting read. Well done Rath,
      • RNB,

        This is a beautiful story, brilliantly conceived, outstanding prose, but the contorted contractions make it sound like a long beautiful prayer, told by a priest with a case of the hiccups.

        A devotion to petty concerns, places unfortunate limits on vision.

        Both of these sentences are grammatically ‘non compos’. (Unsound.) He’d to finish it before the sundown…
        He’d taken a great deal of care to make her wear the same dress she’d on that day,…

        Other than these….. things, there are only two or three errors in the entire story. (That I saw.)

        Lovely writing otherwise all over the place. The first three paragraphs are masterful in and of themselves. And then those goddamned contractions took me completely out of the story. Instead of succumbing to an enchantment, I found myself cursing the author, and then, by accident, humanity itself. What have I done? and how am I supposed to undo it? do you know any real magicians?

        Bah, I wouldn’t trust him. He’d probably use a contraction in one of his spells, and then the planet would be half it’s normal size. There are certain things, you just -=\ shouldn’t fuck with. That ‘s all there is to it.

        do you understand the problem now?

        • Dear Ken,
          This is the best I’ve received from you till date. I’m getting so much of negative vibes about using contractions that I’ve started despairing. To top it all, the bottom places happening with such regularity, aren’t helping my cause much. To tell you frankly, I thought of leaving this side permanently under the impression that you people are against the very idea of an Indian taking the top honors. Childish, those notions! But what to do? I can’t control my thought-process.
          I thought of writing here for the last time. Comment on every story with just a few words like : Thanks for the story. Stay happy. I thought of taking my leave quietly in that manner.
          You know what happened then, Ken? The result of the last contest was out. I looked at the list, starting with the winners of the First, Second, Third, Fourth… position holders. By the time, I scrolled down to the Tenth Place, I had made up my mind. This site is not for me, I muttered to myself.
          I didn’t even want to look at the Winners of the Oscars for The Best Character ( for the second time) and Dialogue. My eyes fell upon the name of the winner for The Best Chatacter by chance.
          NEIL by RNB! ! !
          Are my eyes playing some tricks again? I asked myself. The size of the letters in the name got enlarged by miles. If some people voted for me regarding The Best Character, they will surely vote for me if the story is really worth it. And then this note from you, Ken. I can’t even tell you what it really means, leaving aside the words regarding contractions.
          My fingers are numb after writing nearly four thousand words today for different news outlets and platforms. But as I hold you in high esteem, your words are the balm I require right now. So, thanks for the kind words.
          Just one thing, for the first time I believe, I have caught Ken the Original wrong-footed :
          What have I done? and how am I supposed to undo it? do you know any real magicians?
          Is this really Ken writing? Or, has my use of contractions so perplexed him that he has lost his self-control, (today that was my topic for my Facebook Sunday Discussions Page) equanimity, poise? If that be the case, let me warn you my friend that I’ll be devoting all my energy towards writing a book with those seemingly uproarious contractions.
          God bless you, Ken. Stay safe and healthy.
          • Rath,

            If you can invent you’re own rules for contractions, in a language not your own, then who is to say I’m not God’s right hand man? Hmmm? Let me put it this way. Who’s to say I’m not a long lost descendant of Moses? The Messiah? Or just an ordinary guy from Flatbush who has learned that his wishes always come true?

            What should not be lost in this discussion, is that your writing is way above average, the opening paragraphs of your latest story are wonderful, even if only to me, (and I find that hard to believe.) The beauty of your writing should not be saddled, weighted, constrained or otherwise afflicted, with silly, simple and easy to correct burdens of elementary errors in grammar. (That you understand.)

            To shoot yourself in the foot once is funny. To do it twice is forgivable. To do it over and over, claiming that your foot is an excellent stand-in for short distance target practice is — oh, I don’t know. What does it sound like to you?

            It is like buying beautiful alloy rims for your car, and securing them with only one lug nut each, while your mechanic friend and neighbor is advising you that this is a very bad move on your part. You reasonably insist, with lug nuts lying about all around you, that you will use only one lug nut, because that is the literal translation of the owner’s manual, written by a man who is himself, an engineer, not a linguistic expert.

            I wish you would be more mindful, of ordinary common usage, than what you think are the actual rules. What you are doing, is accusing the darkness of trying to make you waste your candles. The darkness is not just indifferent, it does not hear your accusations.

            Happy, happy. Joy, joy.

      • Phil Town
        That’s a lovely story, Rathin, a mixture of magic and psychology used to get Suparna back from the brink. The facts are introduced steadily to give us the background, then the suspense to see how the whole thing would play out, then the reveal of the trick (though what Suparna will do when she finds out that Anita hasn’t actually returned I don’t know …)

        There seems to have been some controversy about how you contract verbs? Perhaps I can help. The past tense ‘was’ can’t be contracted (e.g. you can’t say “I’s”) … at least, it’s not standard. You might get away with using it for a character’s ‘idiolect’, but I’d suggest you avoid it because it becomes a bit confusing. ‘Had’ can’t be contracted when it’s the main verb (e.g. “He’d to finish” > ‘He had to finish’). I’d (here ‘would’ is an auxiliary verb and CAN be contracted) avoid making those contractions if I were you, just for the sake of clarity.

        Very nice story!

        • Dear Phil,
          This is the most lengthy letter I’ve had the good fortune of receiving from you. Thank you for the positive feedback. It means a lot to me as you are normally known for your reticience.
          Regarding what you had to say about “The Contractions Controversy” ( I’ve already started visualizing a story, an article or an essay at least on the topic). Let me reproduce your exact words for my own benefit. Otherwise, scrolling back up and down, may affect the rhythm. This is what you had to say ( See, Phil? I’ve already got your point) that when ‘had’ is used as a verb, it can’t be contracted. I didn’t know that. So, my sincerest apologies)

          There seems to have been some controversy about how you contract verbs? Perhaps I can help. The past tense ‘was’ can’t be contracted (e.g. you can’t say “I’s”) … at least, it’s not standard. You might get away with using it for a character’s ‘idiolect’, but I’d suggest you avoid it because it becomes a bit confusing. ‘Had’ can’t be contracted when it’s the main verb (e.g. “He’d to finish” > ‘He had to finish’). I’d (here ‘would’ is an auxiliary verb and CAN be contracted) avoid making those contractions if I were you, just for the sake of clarity.

          Now, let me present a pair of sentences here, based on your observation :
          I’d love to meet you someday, Phil. ( Here ‘would’ has been contracted after I)
          I’d to lie to all of you to save my face. ( In this example, ‘would’ hasn’t been contracted but ‘had’ has been.) Can anyone think of the auxiliary ‘would’ here resulting in some confusion? No, Phil. No one familiar with the basics of grammar, is likely to mistake ‘had’ for ‘would’ here simply for the reason that I would to lie’ doesn’t make much sense, right?
          Now, the problem with me has always been when everyone gloats about the Rules, I try to look for the loopholes. In Spoken English, we seldom say, ‘We had to lie. ‘. We’d rather prefer the contracted form of ‘We’d to lie’ instead. Am I right, Phil? Because, no one thought of it earlier or tried using it, is no reason why I can’t do so as well. The reason English is such a living language, Phil, and you may be aware of it, that to use a new word, a new form or structure in English, we don’t need any written/verbal consent from The French Acade’mie francaise or whatever it is called like it happens in case of French,

          So far as one of the past tense forms of the verb ‘to be’, that is, the verb ‘was’ is concerned, you have remarked that it can’t be contracted. But I grew up having learnt the contractions from my grammar book “s/he’s’ for ‘she was’ and ‘he was’ respectively. The books were written by Brit grammarians only, if my memory serves me right.
          She’s the cynosure of all eyes.
          He’s desperate to prove his point.
          These sentences do not look all that confusing to me unless you are hell-bent on proving me wrong. Whether they are being used in The Past or Present Tense, the reader has to make out from the context.
          Anyway, I did write to a couple of people in The States regarding the issue but both of them haven’t replied yet. I have a gut feeling that I am not going to hear from either of them.
          Thank you for taking the trouble of reforming my English. I really appreciate that. Please don’t take me for an incorrigible man. Take care of yourself for you are a dear. Keep writing and winning accolodes. God bless.

          • * Hi again, Rathin

            * Thanks for your long response. I know this is a subject close to your heart, so I don’t want to disappoint you … but I think I’ll have to! 😉

            * I’m an English teacher, and while I don’t know everything there is to know about the language, I know enough, I think, to be able to respond to some of your doubts below.

            – Now, let me present a pair of sentences here, based on your observation :
            I’d love to meet you someday, Phil. ( Here ‘would’ has been contracted after I)
            I’d to lie to all of you to save my face. ( In this example, ‘would’ hasn’t been contracted but ‘had’ has been.) Can anyone think of the auxiliary ‘would’ here resulting in some confusion? No, Phil. No one familiar with the basics of grammar, is likely to mistake ‘had’ for ‘would’ here simply for the reason that I would to lie’ doesn’t make much sense, right?

            * You can contract what we call ‘auxiliary verbs’ (verbs which help meaning), but not normally verbs that carry meaning (except the verb ‘to be’, and then only in some tenses). So in your first examples:

            – I’d love to meet you someday, Phil. ( Here ‘would’ has been contracted after I) CORRECT – ‘would’ is an auxiliary verb.
            I’d to lie to all of you to save my face. WRONG – ‘had’ here carries meaning and can’t be contracted, so “I had to lie …” is correct.

            – Now, the problem with me has always been when everyone gloats about the Rules, I try to look for the loopholes. In Spoken English, we seldom say, ‘We had to lie. ‘. We’d rather prefer the contracted form of ‘We’d to lie’ instead. Am I right, Phil?

            * Sorry, no. “We’d to lie” is WRONG (see above).

            – Because, no one thought of it earlier or tried using it, is no reason why I can’t do so as well. The reason English is such a living language, Phil, and you may be aware of it, that to use a new word, a new form or structure in English, we don’t need any written/verbal consent from The French Acade’mie francaise or whatever it is called like it happens in case of French,

            * Yes, English is a ‘living language’, which accepts new terms on a daily basis, and grammar changes over time, but you can’t just invent grammatical rules and expect everyone to understand them. Think I not do would that an idea good be. (I’ve just invented some new word order in that last sentence. Can I now say that it’s acceptable because I invented it?) As I said in my comment to your story, you could MAYBE use “I’s” in dialogue as a character’s idiolect, but never in the main body of your story (unless the narrator also has that idiolect … but ‘idiolect’ means the language choices of one particular person/character.)

            – So far as one of the past tense forms of the verb ‘to be’, that is, the verb ‘was’ is concerned, you have remarked that it can’t be contracted. But I grew up having learnt the contractions from my grammar book “s/he’s’ for ‘she was’ and ‘he was’ respectively. The books were written by Brit grammarians only, if my memory serves me right.
            She’s the cynosure of all eyes.
            He’s desperate to prove his point.

            * No – ‘was’ CANNOT be contracted to ” ‘s” (I don’t know where you got that grammar book! Tell me their address and I’ll pay them a visit with some friends of mine who have large sledgehammers.) Those examples seem to be in the present tense, and if they come in a narrative text that’s (= that is) predominanlty in the past tense, it’ll just confuse the reader (as in your story this time).

            – These sentences do not look all that confusing to me unless you are hell-bent on proving me wrong. Whether they are being used in The Past or Present Tense, the reader has to make out from the context.

            * See my note above.

            – Anyway, I did write to a couple of people in The States regarding the issue but both of them haven’t replied yet. I have a gut feeling that I am not going to hear from either of them.

            * Ah, the Americans. Don’t ask them. They can’t speak English properly. (Joke! Joke!)

            – Thank you for taking the trouble of reforming my English. I really appreciate that. Please don’t take me for an incorrigible man. Take care of yourself for you are a dear. Keep writing and winning accolodes. God bless.

            * It’s no trouble, Rathin. I think you’ve had enough resistance to some of your contractions to now think twice about using them (the ones I’ve mentioned).


            • Dear Phil,

              If you think that I didn’t know about you being an English Teacher teaching in Portugal, you are mistaken. Like you, I too taught English to high schoolers for the last twenty years of my teaching career and superannuated in December, 2018.
              Anyway, to refute your laim that I’s inventing some grammer rules, let me just remind you that I wasn’t inventing any rules. Now, what is meant by a grammar rule? I’m sure that I don’t need to explain that to you. Let me give you an example:

              If the Reporting Verb is in the Past Tense, the tenses of the Reported Speech should be changed to any of their corresponding Past Tense forms.

              So, I wasn’t inventing any grammar rules, my friend. So far as the example you have cited, ( Think I not do would that an idea good be. (I’ve just invented some new word order in that last sentence. Can I now say that it’s acceptable because I invented it?) let me tell you that if you equate your use of the crazy word order with my use of the contractions, the best thing for me to do will be not to take part in any further discussions regarding the matter.

              Now, let me come to your next point :

              No, ‘was’ CANNOT be contracted to “‘s”. ( I do not know where you got the grammar book. .. etc). If you think Phil that I’s acting smart by mentioning that grammar book, the least I talk about the subject, the best. And if you think I made the whole thing up and tried to put it on the Brit grammarians, all I can tell you right now is how do you expect me to tell you the names of the grammarians of a book I must have read some fifty years back?

              Regarding the last part of your letter ( Ah, the Americans. They can’t speak English properly ….etc, ) I’d request you to go through a book called “The Autobiography of An Unknown Indian” written by an Indian author called Nirode Choudhury. You will come to know what this Indian, staying in the heart of London, had to say about the kind of English that the Britishers use! ( Joking, of course)

              Thanks again, dear friend, for trying to teach me a thing or two about your native tongue. I’ll go on using the contractions (Of course, I appreciate what you had to tell about the contractions of the auxiliary verbs and avoidance of the contractions in case of the main verbs) no matter what, unless someone comes out with some more valid reasons, even at the risk of losng my membership of such an esteemed platform.

              Keep writing those wonderful stories for you are a gifted author and better at it. Stay safe and healthy.


              • Rathin, you will never lose your membership in this group as long as you adhere to the rules laid down about racism, profanity and so on. You could lose readership, however, as people may not want to read and have to wade through all those hit or miss contractions.

                It’s obvious, to me at least, that you aren’t going to change, and I’m fairly sure I’m not going to change my mind about the errors I see when you write your beloved contractions. Just keep in mind what I said. I don’t write for others, I write for myself. But, I will do my best to be the best writer I can be. And using contractions in an illogical and ill advised manner is not one of the things I will use as a tool in my writing. You do how you see fit.


            • Thank you, Phil and I laughed out loud when you said don’t ask the Americans. I think you’re probably more right than wrong, and I took it in the spirit you presented it. Thanks for the laugh. And thanks for taking the time to explain what several of us were trying to explain to Rathin. I hope he listens, learns and stays with the site, because lately his stories have been excellent.


          • Phil Town
            ‘ “The Autobiography of An Unknown Indian” written by an Indian author called Nirode Choudhury. ‘ sounds interesting, Rathin! But anyone knows that we British invented the language, so we are always right!*


            • Dear Phil,

              Despite my poor academic credentials, I could only get by in a ruthlessly cut-throat world because of English only. Whatever little I picked up of it on Life’s Journey was enough to feed my family and myself. So, I remain eternally indebted to this greatest gift of the English to India. So, you are absolutely right that you are always right as the Brits invented the language.
              Talking about N. Choudhury and the book, ( I didn’t read the book. I just wanted you to have the idea that I did!) which brought him instant fame in England and back home, what I liked about the man was his gutsy statement that the English, of all people, didn’t know any English!
              Jokes apart, I will try to keep all yours and Roy’s and Ken C’s and Ken F’s friendly suggestions in mind. Not to forget Andrew, who took the trouble of finding the link to Contractions for my enlightenment.
              Keep smiling, my friend. Stay for ever blessed.

      • Hi RNB,

        As ever, you write beautifully descriptive prose that takes us / me to another place. As that place is unfamiliar to me it is like opening a gate into a lovely garden. I wander along the pathway in this garden and follow the turns and twists. However, every now and then I come across a rock in the way that slows me down and causes me to make a slight detour.

        I like to read people’s stories and stand back to see what emotions are invoked. In this story you tell us about a sad death of a beloved daughter and the parents’ desperate desire to have her back if only for a moment. This is all very well done my friend and I cannot begin to even think about writing a story in any language but my own English. I doff my cap to you.

        So, there are some points to pick up on.

        I know Roy has been offering you very detailed advice upon the use of contractions and I see that Ken C has also made a comment about these. I agree with both of them, the contractions are a real distraction to me as the reader. An example; she’s could be she is, she was and you might be using it to say she has. We don’t know which one you mean so we slow down to work it out and this spoils the flow of your otherwise great prose.

        Why not try to write something, just for yourself, with no contractions in it at all? See how it feels.

        A couple of other points.

        The use of unconsciously twice in a row followed by subconscious is a bit heavy. The second one is missing an s
        Incomprehensible blabber…don’t think you need both words as they mean the same thing
        Loose ends not lose ends

        Keep writing, we will keep reading.

        Kind regards,

        Ken Frape

        • Dear Ken F,
          Thank you very much for your honest and detailed feedback. I like the way you have expressed your feelings while going through the story. It was like opening the gate, so you have written, to a garden. Then you write about the rocks. Did you use the rocks metaphorically for the contractions? I think slowly I am beginning to understand the problems you all seem to be talking about. Let me read again what I copied from your letter. I am going to paste the lines here :

          . .. the contractions are a real distraction to me as a reader. An example, she’s could be she is, she was, and you might be using it to say she has. We don’t know which one you mean so we begin to slow down to work it out and this spoils the flow…

          Thank you, my friend for driving home the point to me. Let me try to see if this is what you’ve in mind.

          I’s born a slow learner. At school, I’s always the back-bencher. My teachers detested the very sight of me. As luck would have it, I’s expelled from school finally.

          Here the whole thing is written in the Past Tense. I hope that is clear. Now let me use it for a Third Person Pronoun like she or he.

          Laksmi’s the brightest among her friends. She’s a topper all her life. She’s, to quote the Principal’s words, The Pride of CHS.

          A paragraph like the above may slow down the reader who may not know if it is written in the past or the present tense. I’ll try to keep it in mind from now on, Ken F. Question is whether this confusion should stop me from using the contractions altogether. You suggested it very nicely.

          Why not try to write something .. with no contractions in it at all? See how it feels. Why don’t I try it out here in a few sentences to see how it feels?

          As I stopped at the mouth of the tunnel and gaped inside its dark interior, I knew there was no hope for me – for there was not even a distant possiblity of finding any light at the end of it. Exhausted, defeated, darned, I sat down in front of it holding its circular side for support. The cresent moon overhead, emerged from behind the dark clouds just at that precise moment..

          After the second reading, I agree with you, my friend, that writing without contractions may be a good idea at times. Whether is a good idea always, please let me find out for myself.

          Thank you so much, Ken F, for letting me see what I didn’t want to till now. By the way, I’s expecting to read another stunner from you. Looks like you are going to let us down in this round.

          Take care, my friend. Keep writing for I enjoy reading your stories. Stay happy and blessed. All the very best.

      • Rathin, probably the best story you have ever written. Good start, good syntax, good flow, good everything, good ending, great middle. You kept me interested except when I had to figure out contractions, that you, my dear man, seem to think is God’s gift to you to drive the rest of us crazy. You are a lone figure crying in the wilderness, a man on a mission to prove to the rest of us that you can change the literary landscape and we are just flat earthers believing in ‘the old ways’.

        Here’s an example of where I had to stop to figure out which tense we were in:

        She’s wearing a silvery pair of high heels that fatal afternoon, (She is or She was?)

        and here:

        She’s reduced to a skeleton of her former self and the physician’d passed his verdict

        (She is or She was or She has? / physician had or physician did or physician would?)

        Do you not see the incongruity of your action regarding contraction? No rhyming pun intended.

        Otherwise I only found a couple of small errors: one I think you meant “Good Gracious” not “God Gracious”, although I cannot be sure. And, an ellipse was written ,.. and without spaces. Otherwise I thought your story was excellent.

        I told you I would call you out for your continued use of ‘irregular’ contractions, but that is just my personal opinion. I am not a literary scholar, have no college experience in the English language, or in English as a subject, have never taken a writing class, and only began my writing career very late in life. But, I do know an improper use of contractions when I see one. In addition, you aren’t consistent. It seems you sometimes use contractions and sometimes not. Get it together man, you’ve got talent, don’t piss away an opportunity to refine your craft by sticking your head in the sand and ignoring well meaning people who are only trying to help you become a better writer.

        Seriously, a great story that you trampled all over, because of your obstinate and continued use of irregular contractions. There’s nothing wrong with contractions, nothing at all, but there is a time and place for them. If you want your stories taken seriously, try finding the right time and place.


        • Dear Roy,
          Thank you for trying to make a horse out of a donkey. I liked it when you wrote that I might think Contractions may be God’s gift to me for making a difference. Dear Roy, you have any idea about how we live in this part of the world? Had you known, you’d (here you can’t use ‘did’, ‘had’ or MIGHT) have realized that I have stories aplenty in my head right now to be spending the rest of my days worrying about some small, nsignificant things!

          I found the next part of your letter even more frustrating. Here it goes :

          She’s reduced to a skeleton of her former self and the physician’d passed his verdict

          (She is or She was or She has? / physician had or physician did or physician would?). Any student of English Language, would have told you that the only verb you can use here is – had. Why? For the simple reason that ‘the physician dis pass/ed’ is wrong. So is, ‘the physician would passed’ the verdict. Are you getting me? Dear Roy, I take you like Ken C for a good human. I also know as long as you are there, I may never win the coveted trophy for you’d always find something wrong with my English. Either there are some spelling errors or errors of grammar. Do you think I should really care? I write for the pleasure it provides me. If some people find my English erroneous, there is not much I can do about it. I never staked a claim to being the best in the business otherwise, I would never have written “The Autobiography of CU’s Worst Student” ( please refer to – )
          For some reason, I have made a little space in my heart for you, old man. Please don’t let me dislodge you from the pedetral for nothing.

          And finally, this may be the height of your letter. Let me go through it once more to be able to comment properly on it.

          I am not a literary scholar, have no college experience in the English language, or in English as a subject, have never taken a writing class, and only began my writing career very late in life ….

          Dear Roy, is this you writing? Who bothers about your English Classes or the degrees you might not have had? You are one of the best writers I’ve read in my life, (I did study English till the university level despite my poor academic performances). But even that is secondary, what really drew me to you from the time I joined this platform, is the fact that you have a good heart. You care for each and every single member of this site. Tell me, Roy, am I right or am I right?

          Let me conclude by quoting your last sentence : If you want your stories taken seriously, trying finding the right time and place. I know that the time is not right for me. Most probably, it will never be during my lifetime. The way things get manipulated all over the world, how much can a small fry like me do? Regarding the right place, I have this firm belief that I’ll find the right place sooner than I’d like to believe. I fervently want the people I really care for, to be there to celebrate my success at that time.
          God bless you, my well-wisher. If anything I’ve penned, hurts you, please forgive me. Take care for you mean a lot me, to many. Love and regards.

      • Good story!

        That’s quite an unusual turn of events, Rathin.
        I got all of it with my second read.

        The magician priest,( don’t really care for those) the painting, a dead one comes to life, grabbed from a lifelike painting…a man who loves his wife very much- quite gripping I say.

        ‘loose ends’ you meant to say instead of ‘lose ends’??
        utterd… engulped …..the errors I noticed.

        And then the contractions.. 🙂 The sun’d long vanished.. child’d kept … unacceptable!

        All the best,

      • Hi Rathin,

        This is such a tenderly told story of the sort of miracles we so often hope could happen in real life (and I want to believe you when you say that they sometimes do happen!).

        Well, art can actually transcend life and go further than life’s reach. But it, alas, doesn’t have the potential to replicate life. Not even science has that (yet). But it’s nice to ponder on the what-ifs that your story builds itself upon.

        The idea that art can get so close to life that it can bring it back is eloquent in and of itself. In some religions, (realistic) art is actually banned because it can so closely resemble God’s creation that it can pretentiously “compete” with it or even mock it. You turned it the other way round (or is this an actual belief in some parts of India?), with art serving life and helping it return to this otherwise hapless couple.

        Your writing is beautifully woven and the descriptive element is as elegant as it gets. I’d usually prefer more dialogue, but with your style, I’m perfectly fine as I very much enjoy the way you put your words together.

        I only have a bit of an aversion towards throwing in questions in the text. Like when you wrote:

        “And then? What’s going to happen then?”

        I just don’t like this technique of eliciting the reader’s sense of wonder of what’s going to happen next. I find it a bit too direct, almost like asking the reader what he or she certainly wouldn’t know at that point in the story. Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer it when the writer implies that there is an unexplained phenonomenon through the texture of the narrative itself rather than by asking direct questions. But again, some readers may actually like this way of writing, and maybe this dislike for questions thingy is just something to do only with me. Like some people don’t like the excessive use of contractions and there are others who don’t like cabbage.

        One more thing: “Did he really make her painting unconsciouly or was it a work of his subconscious mind?” (again, it’s a question, but I’m not going to talk about that now!) – I know that for Freud et al, the unconscious and the subconscious are different things. But does it really matter here, for this story? I found this distinction, here, rather superfluous,

        Don’t focus on my criticism, though, Rathin. The story is very nicely told and those two little points I picked out for you are just minor details, relatively speaking, to think about if you wish to.


        • Dear Ken M,
          This is the best letter critiquing my story that I have received so far. I like your letter for the way you have written it – a concerned, well-meaning friend writing to another about his plus points rather than solely focussing on his drawbacks.
          Let me tell you something in this connection, dear friend. You are the first person to hear it from me and most probably, you are going to be the last. I have received so much flakes from my other friends, including Ken C, that I have decided to withdraw from this for good. You know, dear friend, that I was a teacher till recently. As the HoD, I had to observe the Lessons of my colleagues once in a while. During the post conference, when I started sharing my views with the Lesson of the concerned teacher, even if I had some netive points to share, I had to start with the positive points of the Lesson first. That’s a common point even while critiquing others works, right?
          I have this habit of throwing questions to the reader in the middle of the text and you are very correct about it. I understand your stance regarding the matter quite well. The fact is I have many pages where I have to ask for the reader’s opinion regarding my views, beliefs, ideas, and a lot of other things. Things have come to such a state that if I don’t hear from a reader, colleague, student or relative, I feel my labour wasted. I must have incorporated this habit of communicating directly with the readers through the texts in my other works as well. You are the first to point it out and I’ll be more aware of it from now on.
          Though I made a mistake using the word ‘unconsciously’, the painting was more a work of his subconscious mind, but you are right again, my dear friend, the difference here between the use of the two words is rather superfluous.
          I also like the way you ended your letter, my friend.

          Don’t focus on my criticism, though, Rathin. The story is very nicely told and those two little points I picked out for you are just minor details, relatively speaking, to think about if you wish to.

          When you have someone pointing out your mistakes in this manner, you should know that s/he is a friend. The two points you have picked on, will go a long way in helping me improve my style of writing more than all the flakes about contractions I have received in the last two weeks or so.
          Let me conclude with something about me, dear Ken M. I was never a sporty, graceful loser. I could never accept my defeats easily. I still remember how, with tears running down my cheeks, I’d make some elders play another round of chess with me every time I lost a game. I was in class seven at that time but I’d not budge an inch till I won against the relatives (often though, I realize now, they’d lose a match as a giveaway!).

          I have written with the disturbed mind. Things in my life, haven’t been all smooth-sailing recently. So, I am not going to read my reply once more to check if it makes sense or not. Forgive me for the mistakes. Now, let me tell you what I have decided to do. I am not going to participate in the contest henceforth. I know that I’ll be the only one losing out on so much ( Is that correct? ). But possibly God didn’t design a writing career for me. Please ask Carrie and Alice to forgive me for not informing them properly.
          I will be missing my friends, Roy, Ken C, Phil, Andrew and you.
          Take care. Stay happy and healthy, dear friend. Keep shining and spreading happiness all around.
          Bye for now.

          • Oh Rathin, yes I could sense the fighter in you ever since I read your first comments (and your first story since your return, too – the Tina one). Your battle is actually bigger than you. It’s not about contractions, or this or that. I can see at least two other larger-than-life battles (wars) you’re waging here…

            1. The creative artist in you vs the rules of the game. You used the contractions argument as your battle banner for this one, but it’s probably only the tip of the iceberg. The people who attacked you on your contractions brought up the rule book against you. I’m not convinced by that. That’s the way the Academie Francaise kills the French language by trying to protect it (as you also said). Although, ‘We The People’, don’t really care. I live in a French-speaking country and we see “atrocities” like “Sandwicherie”, “Hot-chocolaterie” and so on all around us, no matter what the Academie has to say. They even tried to make such things illegal (yes, that you’d have to pay a fine if the language is not used correctly! That idea died in its cradle, of course, and Jacques Chirac took it with him to the grave).

            Luckily, English has no “Academy” presiding over it. There are ‘friendly’ rule books, of course. If you don’t already have it, obtain a copy of Strunk and White (“The Elements of Style”). It’s a little, inexpensive book. I read it over and over from time to time. It’s placed itself as the most classic rule books of English writing, I think, but even this “Bible of English” quite often throws in a little skepticism here and there in the interpretation of the very rules it promotes. Mr. Strunk and Mr. White accept that language changes, and that the writer is a creative person. Having said that, they give us the established rules as a means to keep the comunicative power of the language intact. And comunication doesn’t happen just through the meaning of words and word formations, but through the ‘aura’ that they carry.

            If, let’s say, your “I’s” carries an aura of rebellion, than I’m with you there (But why would you need to imply rebellion with a character or a storyline that is not rebellious? I leave that question for you to ponder upon). If those “I’s”, instead, carried an aura of ignorance (of the language) – which I know it’s not the case – then I’d raise an eyebrow. But, still, if it’s to express the linguistic ignorance of a character, or even of a writer climbing up the linguistic ladder, then it’s a literary device. If your ‘I’s’ confuse your readers (and it’s not your intention to confuse them), then I suppose you agree you’ve got some trouble. It’s a plain communication issue. If I suddenly, and unilaterally, start calling cows ‘horses’, and I write at length about horses and pretend my readers understand ‘cows’, then I’m quite sure I’m not going to be on the same wavelength as my readers. I can write a note on top, that as far as I’m concerned cows are called horses, from now on. That can serve as a key, and solve the communication problem. But then again, people will ask why I did that. There might be something important for my story that requires cows being labeled horses. After all Cervantes wrote one of the best ever works of literature having his character calling windmills, warriors. But he had a reason for that. And I know your reason (because you’ve been telling us throughout): to emulate in your writing the way words are contracted in speech. You’ve got a point there. But you’re up against the visual conventions of the English language and might confuse some people (like me) and annoy some others (like some of your other critics).

            With enough exposure to your writing, your readers might get used to your style, and love it too. But till you get there and have this dedicated readership at your disposal, you may want to go the conventional way first. Picasso took the world by storm with cubism (which most people wouldn’t get, at first – totally against the conventions of art of his times). But his early works were pretty regular and conventional, until he established himself on the art scene. Once he mastered the rules, and earned eyes that wouldn’t look away no matter what he did, then he safely broke those same rules. And good for him that he did! You may be already there, for all I know. You’re the one to judge, not me. Just make sure, at least, that communication is happening with your readers and if you’re writing ‘he’s’ with the meaning of ‘he was’, throw in enough material around it to make it clear that it’s in the past (words like yesterday, last year, the month before, whatever). Or else anyone who sees it and has been for his whole lifetime seeing “he’s” with the meaning of ‘he is’ is either going to get confused or think you don’t know the language or both. Other than that, well, let your poetic/artistic license thrive. But if you’re going to be a cubist painter (so to speak) don’t expect everyone to like your paintings. Not even Cervantes is everyone’s cup of tea. I personally try to be more “commercial” in my writing, for a wider reach. But that’s me. Simply because I’d like to be popular. Which might even be a defect.

            (2) The other thing that got to you, I think, is a more deep-rooted cultural, and, let’s not mince words about it, even racist issue, about the ownership of the English language. (It’s about other things too, I’m sure, but it’s manifesting itself here on the theme of language, so let’s stick to just that).

            I had the honor of attending an in-person course with the greatest living English language linguist, David Crystal. We have no “Academie” in English (and Strunk and White sadly passed away long ago), but if there is a ‘linguistic authority’ for the English language, it’s him, Mr. Crystal. Not the Queen, not Trump (of course not!). His books on the English language are staples for the serious student of English and his BBC programmes the stuff of legends. And he’s not even a native speaker of the language (he’s Welsh).

            In the session I attended with him, called “Whose English?”, he discussed in detail the idea of ownership of the language. Usually it’s pretty straightforward. Who owns Italian? The people of Italy, of course, the Italians. True, there are some more of them in Switzerland, Malta, Monaco and San Marino and the Italian diaspora in America and elsewhere. But that’s it, a somewhat extended but still rather uniform and well-connected family. With English it’s more complicated, of course, because like Latin before it, this language has put itself at the service (but also at the mercy) of the whole world and has become an/the international language. Some linguists even suggested a new more politically correct name for it, Globish.

            A lot of the greatness of English lies in its role as “Globish” and its uncontested top position as the first second-language of the world. Although we should not discount the massive economic and cultural power of the U.S., the formidable legacy of the former British Empire and the might of the titans of English literature. But what’s most fascinating about this language is that a Japanese guy visiting Moscow has two options: speak in English or speak to no-one. That has nothing to do with the U.S., the Commonwealth or Shakespeare. Neither Japan nor Russia were ever under the sway of Britain or America. But they do have English as their common second-language.

            Anyway, Mr. Crystal (jokingly) said that English should mostly belong to the English (duh!). The word ‘English’ itself demands that. But then the English form only a small minority of speakers of English worldwide (under 4%). So English should belong to the Indians, that constitute by far the biggest chunk of English speakers. Every school in the world should be teaching Indian-English. But still, someone said, the language should belong to England because that’s where it was ‘invented’. Crystal begged to differ. In that case, it should belong to the Lithuanians, because apparently that’s where the language really originated, in that desolate swamp-infested strip of land between northern Poland and Lithuania where Anglo-Saxon was originally spoken. But why doesnt it also belong to our Japanese guy in Moscow? His life might depend on his knowledge (=‘ownership’?) of English, for all we know! So Crystal made his point crystal-clear (in his usual hilarious style) that English is a common heritage of humanity in the times we’re living in – and it belongs to all of us (except for the French, who refuse to take part in all this), and every form and variation of English is valid and acceptable.

            Having said that, there is still a cultural element to this argument. For some of us, at least, English is not just “Globish” but a mother-tongue (maybe the only mother-tongue) and the affinity with it is somewhat more personal and intimate. If, as a writer, you want to write with such an audience in mind, you’ve got to somehow get under your audience’s skin (and in their shoes and underwear) and write in the form of English which is dear to them. I personally chose an American audience for my writing efforts (and I’m still working on it it, since I don’t live in America). That’s why I wrote ‘honor’, further up. I know it’s ‘honour’ for you (and Phil, and Andy and Ken Frape), but I made a deliberate choice to use American English in order to have a focus (a target audience) in my writing.

            It’s not just about the spelling of honor or color, but also about sentence structure (I’m still working on that, and appreciate any feedback from our American friends here, whenever my wording doesn’t sound American enough).

            And it’s not just that either. It’s also about knowing what the Americans usually know and don’t know in their lives (that thing commonly called ‘culture’, with a small ‘c’), so that when I’m talking about what they know I don’t elaborate unnecessarily and when I write about what they don’t know I afford them a bit more exposition than usual. Like when I had a story about a reincarnated snake (incidentally, my first ever story here): I sold it to my American audience by explaining just enough for them to get it while still retaining an element of mystery. If I wrote it for an Indian audience, I could have gone straight to the point. Or maybe it’s not even a suitable story for an Indian audience, too clichè, failing on the “so what?” factor, or maybe too stupid too (given my relative ignorance of reincarnation).

            So, what I mean here is that in spite of English being an international language (for practical Globish ends), it still is a personal/intimate language connected to the everyday culture of wherever it is spoken, in its various forms, from Samoa to Sheffield to Singapore. Althoug great writing can transcend these barriers, most people who read prefer to read in their own linguistic (and cultural) comfort zone. (The really great transcending works are only forced down our throats at school!). So, it’s easier to write for the people you know best. (My literature professor used to say it more eloquently: “write in the same language you fart with”).

            I personally chose an American audience because, although I don’t live in America, I’ve been there, I have connections with that country, and more importanly I’ve been culturally raised in an Americanized world and sort of primed for that country (through what I watch, read, overall mentality, etc.). I also see an advantage in America being the large demographic that it is and (a best possible scenario that might never materialize) a potential springboard for my writings to eventually end up elsewhere in the world in an original or translated form, or in film. (Given, also, that American intellectual property is well positioned for global outreach, and that a good chunk of the world is exposed to America’s culture). Because ideally I want everyone in the world to read what I write, of course, not just the Americans! (I’m only using them Yankees for my own personal ends… Shhhhh!).

            Ok, Rathin, my friend, I went a long way there to interpret what I thought was your problem with this site. With some input from my experience too. You’re talking of leaving us (would you, really?), so I had to say good-bye to you in style. But listen, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, you know? Leave for some time perhaps, if you must, but it doesn’t hurt paying us a visit from time to time. Write a comment or a “hi” or a story whenever you spot a prompt of your liking.

            One thing is sure, you should not abandon writing altogether – you can’t let your vindictive ego waste your talent. Find other platforms, in India or elsewhere, if we’re not good enough. But don’t drop your pen. You’re too good to do that. And, anyway, you can’t. For you’re too passionate about writing and the English language.

            So good-bye, hoping it’s not a permanent farewell!

          • Roy York

            I hope you read this. I’m not surprised you feel the way you do, seeming, as you put, under ‘scathing’ attacks from yours truly. I’m not going to apologize for ‘critiqing’ your work. However, I never meant to hurt your feeling. Having said that, I also don’t take back what I have said.

            I have no control over how you feel. My efforts were to try to make you see what I was saying. Reading one of your stories was like watching an exciting TV show or movie, only to have the screen suddenly flip and roll up. Once, a person can handle. Continuous flipping and pretty soon, no matter how good the show is, most people change channels.

            I stuck it out hoping it would get better. It didn’t. In fact, I discovered it was never going to stop. That causes me to wonder if I would bother to turn the show on and continue to watch.

            Your writing on its own was really, very good. And, I thought had improved.

            Your choices in life are yours. I, for one, will miss your take on the writing prompts. What I won’t miss is made up contractions. And, surprisingly, I will miss your replies usually overflowing with praise, but always from the heart.

            Write well, and, good luck.


  • I’ve raised my hand, Carrie. I’ll start working on the prompt from tonight itself, first in my dream and then on my mobile.
    Here is wishing everyone all the very best. Stay blessed, ye all.
    • trish
      Rathin – your story was wonderfully lyrical and had an almost musical quality to it as you incorporated the sounds of the surrounding area into your story. The focus on the sounds of the surroundings served nicely to emphasize the importance of the daughter’s last cry in bringing the mother back to health. Words do matter! What a lovely story!
  • Gippy Goats Alpines
    Signing in
  • Alyssa,

    Congrats on your first first place finish. I thought you had won one once already, went back through the posted stories all the way back to May, 2015 and it appears that, although you often finished higher up in the contest than me, this is your first verified, certified, confirmed win.

    I must have dredged up some confused memory about you while doodling on a notepad. Weird. Enjoy the win. As a confirmed winner, you don’t qualify for sympathy anymore. Hope you can live without it. We’re all gunning for you now.


  • Phil Town


    Sarah has encouraged me to try another style. She told me she likes my landscapes, but now that I’ve ‘mastered’ them (thanks Sarah!) I need to flex my artistic muscles and move on. I’m not sure I can, or even want to. Whatever, it’s not going to be today; I have a landscape to finish: ‘Meadow and Bridge at Waverton’ I’m calling it. I just have to fill in some detail and touch up the background – a few more hours.

    Waverton was where my grandmother worked. She was ‘in service’, meaning she kept house for a wealthy family – cleaning, cooking. My parents, my brother and I went there to visit one Sunday when my Gran had the afternoon off. We went for a picnic by the river. They were simpler times; my brother and I played ‘war’ with our toy guns, the whole family played ‘catch’ and ‘tag’ in the long grass, we swam in the river to cool down, ate the delicious sandwiches my Gran had prepared (I can still taste them), drank cherry pop to wash them down, lay together finding faces in the clouds, laughed a lot. ‘Meadow and Bridge’ is that day. A few more touches to the painting this evening.

    I’ve finished and Sarah says she likes it, as she always does; not the most critical of critics, Sarah, but I welcome the encouragement. So now I have a new blank canvas. My first urge is to paint a subject I’ve had in mind for some time: ‘The Woods at Fernbank’ – a place near my childhood home. But I’ll put that on the back burner, as they say, and try what Sarah suggested: a different style. It will be hard; we always tend towards our comfort zone. But she says it’s important, so what I did today was prime the canvas by giving it a coat of thick white; I’m using oils.

    I spent the day staring at the white on the canvas, with its lines, ridges and valleys of thick primer. It was really quite pleasing; I’ve never done meditation, but I imagine you end up feeling the same way – calm, free of concerns. However, inspiration for a subject … came there none. What am I going to do with this white space? I’ll sleep on it, I think.

    I know that I dreamed – vivid, troubling dreams. I woke up and went about my normal morning chores – showering, tidying my room. Then I tried to remember the dreams, and it was like trying to catch mist. When I thought I had a detail, it squirmed away from me and was irretrievably lost. I should have written in my dream journal straight away, but it’s too late now. Sarah will be disappointed in me, but what can I do? Anyway, I set to contemplating the whiteness again, and with much the same productivity as yesterday, until … just before lunch, a brief flurry of activity: I squeezed some black onto my palette, picked up one of my stiff-bristle brushes and applied a thick black line down the middle of the canvas. Why a line, I don’t know, and why I chose black, I don’t know either. In the afternoon, I sat at the window, enjoying the sunshine on the roses and wishing I were outside, but always looking back at the canvas, and the black line. I didn’t do any more today. I hope tomorrow brings some inspiration.

    I didn’t dream last night – or rather, I probably did, but I don’t remember it. Once again, nothing for the journal. In the morning we went out to visit a local museum – not my favourite thing, and I was impatient to return to my painting. This time I got straight down to it, adding three thick black lines to either side of the first one, parallel to it. So I have a stripy canvas now, like a very regular zebra. Sarah came in to see what I was up to and said it was interesting. It doesn’t really seem that way to me; perhaps she was just being kind again.

    Seven black stripes on white. Where to go from here? Or maybe it’s finished? If I squint and look at it, the stripes blur and my eye floaters dance along the white spaces, which is fun. Still, I feel there’s something missing. Yes, it’s not finished yet.

    Another night of intense dreams, and this time I remembered the main scenes and put them in the journal. It’ll give Sarah and me something to talk about. In fact I can’t wait to talk to her about them because some of the scenes were very worrying, and as I was writing my hands started shaking again. I took a pill and dozed until lunch. In the afternoon, another excursion, this time to a local shoe factory. Fascinating (I don’t think). No painting today.

    The same dreams, and after I’d put them in the journal, I got down to painting. I played the squinting game for a short time, enjoying following the floaters up and down the white strips. Then I grabbed a tube from the dozen or so I have, without looking, and squeezed a generous amount onto my palette. When I did look, it was scarlet; I’ve only ever used it once before, for the bus going over the bridge in the Waverton painting. I applied it to the bottom right of the canvas, between two black stripes – a ragged scarlet oval, maybe three inches long. I had my brush poised to apply the colour elsewhere on the canvas but stopped; it was finished. A painter always knows when a work is done.

    I met with Sarah today. I took my painting. This time she didn’t say she liked it. We talked – about the painting, about my dreams. I told her things about my childhood I’d never thought about since; they just seemed to tumble out. At the end of the session she asked me to sum up what we’d talked about and I admitted something that made me unimaginably sad.

    That Waverton must have been an exception.


    • Dear Phil,
      I am yet to recover from letting the feeling of having just read a good story, sink in. I must have told you many times that I am a big fan of yours.
      To start with, I like the sad, sombre tone of the story. I look at your photo at the top, the title and the tone of the story gets set from the first paragraph itself. But more than the tone, what kept me occupied or preoccupied rather, were the characters of both Sarah and that of the narrator.
      “Who is Sarah?” I find myself asking this question. Is she a child spending her leisure time with an aged granny/grandpa? ( The gender of the narrator is a question mark as well!) Is she a nurse, trying to take care of her patient, or is she a psychiatrist trying to restore some kind of normalcy to the patient’s life?
      The last question comes to my mind because of the word ‘session’ being used somewhere in the narrative.
      What about the narrator? S/he doesn’t seem to be a normal human being. S/he knows that Sarah is more than kind in praising her/his artwork. But then s/he is taken out to different places, detests the museum as the painting has become more important, and spends her/his time drawing lines in black against the white backdrop!
      The dreams also seem quite important in the context of the story. The narrator forgets them more often than not and writes down whatever s/he can remember of the dreams. What is the significance of the dreams? I find myself pondering over the question again for the writer is no mere mortal but the great Phil Town.
      I would have liked the story to end more conclusively, Phil. I would have been happier if I had grasped your story more effortlessly. Simplicity, remember Phil? That’s what defines your stories. That’s what appeals to most of us. In a lot of ways, it defines you as well, Phil. A great philosopher of a wordsmith, known for his brilliant writings.
      Take care and stay happy. Did you ever think of bringing out a collection of your priceless stories? I will be surprised if you didn’t!

      P. S: At the time of posting, I chance upon the last line and there my mind goes again, wondering about its significance!

      • Phil Town
        Thanks for your very kind comments, Rathin. I think all of your ideas are good and valid (except perhaps the gender of the narrator – I imagined it was a man since he played ‘war’ with his brother in (now) Waverton. Of course a girl can play war, but they don’t normally have toy guns as kids … at least they didn’t in my time. Yes, the story could have been simpler, but I like how it got you thinking – it may not always be satisfying, but the opposite – having everything handed to the reader on a plate – is maybe just a bit too easy? It’s always a balancing act!

        Thanks once again!

    • Phil,

      Once again your subtlety exceeds my powers of divination.

      This is the only subject I ever failed, ‘Reading the Symbolism of Crazy-assed Artists’.

      The black stripes resemble metal bars.
      The narration hints at traumatic stress, the character would seem to be under Sarah’s care. They don’t live together. He has a room, which he keeps tidy. He can come and go as he pleases. But she compels him to do things he thinks are boring, (calming?)

      The Marlow Meadow and Bridge painting, included a bus going over the bridge. But this is not revealed until later in the story, they are the details yet to be filled in. And the background has to be touched up, this could be a hint, a change so dramatic it requires touching up? or it could mean nothing. (just touching up the background.)

      The final sentence doesn’t tell me whether that day at Marlow was the exception in his/her life, or whether the quality of the painting whose subject was Marlow, is the exception. I suppose, knowing you, you would say, ‘why not both.’

      My initial, and final impression, is the story is partly tongue in cheek. The mc is crazy, and may have surely suffered some profound tragedy or trauma, and whatever his more pressing problems are, such as his/or her, loose hold on reality, he is more disappointed in the realization that he is not that good a painter after all.

      • Phil Town
        Thanks, KenC, for your patience once again. I’m not doing so well in that regard recently!

        You have some good ideas – most valid.

        The black stripes resemble metal bars. (They do.)

        The narration hints at traumatic stress. (It does)

        … the character would seem to be under Sarah’s care. (He would.)

        They don’t live together. (Not as man and wife, no.)

        He has a room, which he keeps tidy. (Yes, he does.)

        He can come and go as he pleases. (Can he?)

        But she compels him to do things he thinks are boring. (Is it her?)

        The (now) Waverton Meadow and Bridge painting, included a bus going over the bridge. But this is not revealed until later in the story, they are the details yet to be filled in. And the background has to be touched up, this could be a hint, a change so dramatic it requires touching up? or it could mean nothing. (just touching up the background.) (It could.)

        The final sentence doesn’t tell me whether that day at Waverton was the exception in his/her life, or whether the quality of the painting whose subject was Waverton, is the exception. I suppose, knowing you, you would say, ‘why not both.’ (It could be the painting, but that would be a little superficial perhaps?)

        My initial, and final impression, is the story is partly tongue in cheek. The mc is crazy, and may have surely suffered some profound tragedy or trauma, and whatever his more pressing problems are, such as his/or her, loose hold on reality, he is more disappointed in the realization that he is not that good a painter after all. (Not tongue in cheek – at least not intended … and again, the paintings are symbolic, not the ‘raison d’être’ of the story – at least, again, not what I intended.)

        I do appreciate your time to try to figure it all out!


        • Phil,

          I’ve decided to begin billing you for my time. (All I need is your address.) Your hyper-psychoanalytical stories are depriving me of my usual 4 hours of sleep a night. (Plus, I find your stories keeping me awake during the daytime too, which is even worse.) But enough with the compliments.

          So back to your story. You’ve left me very little to sink my incisors into Phil. I asked you fourteen and one-half questions, and you responded with:
          Not really.
          He does?
          Not necessarily.
          You underestimate me.
          If so, it was unintentional.

          Now, First, let me just say, – Are you a diplomat? Have you ever wanted to be one? Maybe do a little spying on the side? Would you consider it, if it paid you half of what you’re making now to keep your plots a secret?

          That was a joke. What I meant to say was, I would love to take your answers to the questions I already asked you, and come up with different, better questions for the answers that you’ve already given. I’ll bet that could be really funny. And best of all, it wouldn’t involve symbolism, or contractionism.

          I get to pick the next prompt. And I think these eleven answers would be an outstanding basis for a prompt. They need not be sequential, but they must be in order. (That’s just to fuck everybody up for a couple of days… Keep ‘em scratching their heads while I get a headstart.) The story must take place in the future, but told in past-tense, under an assumed name, and end with the following sentence: ‘Nevermore’ quoth the frigate bird, then the cock rowed three times before the bell tolled, for thee.

          Okay, all kidding aside, I know the paintings are symbolic Phil. We all know that. Don’t we guys? Gals? See? They’re all nodding their heads, Phil. We all know that. We allllllllllll know, that the paintings are symbolic. But of what? What are they symbolic of, Phil? What do they represent? An escaped bus, skinny-dipping in the middle of a family picnic? The bus gets arrested, goes to jail. I get it. Your character was the bus driver. (Ooops. Is that it? Shit. Total accident there.) Bah! That can’t be right. No. No, no, no, no, no. I keep forgetting, I’m American. And a not particularly bright one, at that.

          I’ll just have to hope that someone with more perspicacity comes along, and enlightens me.

          • Phil Town
            Very possibly, Ken (but only when they’re yellow).
    • Phil Town
      Hi, Alice/Carrie

      I needed to change the title of my story. Could you please change it in the index at the top of the page? (And it doesn’t need to be in caps in the index.) Thanks, and sorry for the extra work.


        • Phil Town
          Thanks, Alice! 🙂
        • Phil Town
          (Sorry, Ken C!)
          • Hi Phil and Ken C by association,

            Thanks guys for asking and answering all the questions and more that I was considering asking.

            A super piece of writing Phil that really pays off giving it a second or even a third reading.

            The story was a great read and the follow-up Q and A session was pure entertainment.

            Kind regards,

            Ken Frape

          • Phil Town
            Thanks for the kind words, KenF! (as always)
    • Phil, If one was to give an example of ‘how to write’, your story would be chosen. As always, not a lot to pick on, although, I may have used a colon instead of a semi colon in this paragraph:

      They were simpler times; my brother and I played ‘war’ with our toy guns, the whole family played ‘catch’ and ‘tag’ in the long grass, we swam in the river to cool down, ate the delicious sandwiches my Gran had prepared (I can still taste them), drank cherry pop to wash them down, lay together finding faces in the clouds, laughed a lot. ‘Meadow and Bridge’ is that day. A few more touches to the painting this evening.

      Because, in essence, you are making a list of things that happened during those simpler times. It was one of the few times I was paying attention in Mrs. Rothermel’s English class my sophomore year.

      Bill Perring and I get into mild sparring matches over this occasionally, as we communicate fairly regularly, and one of us is always pointing out the differences in semi colons and colons. However, as I told Ken Cartisano recently, I am now, following my cancer surgery, an expert in colons and semi colons. Since I have both with me at all times. (A little humor there,hopefully).

      Loved the use of Monday, Tuesday and so on, and you kept me reading effortlessly, as a good writer should. While I was a bit disappointed you didn’t have a big, bang up ending, in thinking about it, well written stories don’t always have to end with a twist, do they?

      Excellent writing and enjoyable reading.


      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Roy! I think I agree with you about the semi-colon. I love using them and my story is littered with them; they’re very elegant punctuation marks. (There, used another one!) But it’s used wrongly in the sample you’ve identified.
    • So, this is a rather ambiguous one, I don’t quite get what it’s about. But wait, THAT’S what it’s about! The elusively ambiguous nature of our inner workings (our dreams, memories, feelings, melancholy, (dis)satisfaction, mental stability,…).

      I’m thinking of this week-and-a-half in your character’s life as a tour inside the human brain of a person who’s troubled by something (or by everything). Only his paintings take him out of the dark alleys and dead-end roads inside his head, to externalize his traumas and substantiate his existence.

      A bit like our stories do for us here, sometimes. We also start with a blank page, then try to catch an idea, throw some paint at it and then sleep over it. The prompt is Sarah, telling us to try something different each time. This story is almost a rewrite of that piece of advice you gave Peter Holmes the other day, Phil, on how to catch a story out of thin air, and then write it. Like your artist tries to catch the mist (his dreams) and then ends up with black lines on a chunky layer of white paint. Just that you changed art-form, this time.

      I understood the ending as a nostalgic comment on the good old days at Waverton; days that never came back again and never will (“an exception”). But I may be wrong. I may be wrong in my whole interpretation of this story. Maybe I turned the whole thing on its head. But, probably that was your intention. To get your readers to do precisely that…

      Btw., the “intertitles” – once you bashed me for using them (I had the changing age of my narrator as intertitles, remember?). You gave us the days of the week in your narrator’s life, this time. I’m devilishly pleased that YOU used them now!


      • Phil Town
        Thanks, KenM! … you always take great care with your critiques, and I appreciate that.

        (My intention) The first painting (and the ones that came before it probably, and the one he wanted to paint afterwards – ‘The Woods at Fernbank’) is the narrator’s idyllic idea of his childhood, a single day with the family by the river (and other idyllic scenes) representing the whole. But then Sarah (his therapist) suggests he changes style, and the new painting, abstract, brings out darker memories, helped by some bad dreams (the painting and the dreams impacting on each other) – the bars (as KenC identified) and the scarlet blotch (= blood). He realises that the idyllic day by the river was an exception (held on to by him because it was warm and fluffy), while his subconscious harbours an altogether more sinister reality. Others and you have had different theories, and that’s good I think.

        Yes, the intertitles … I KNEW you’d come back at me for those, but in my defence, my use of them is a little different here: these are diary entries, and the days are what we would see on the narrator’s page. Yours were the writer using titles to organise his timeline for the benefit of the reader (and to cut corners, given the word limit), therefore not authentic (but often used, so in no way an absolute no-no).

        I’ll have to watch out what I say in future – it may be taken down and used in evidence against me subsequently! – re your memory of my note to Peter … (though your memory is used in a complimentary way on this occasion 🙂 ).


    • So this Sarah is someone the painter is in love with. She lives in the grand big home where his granma is working-
      Uptown girl in love with a down street boy. That’s what I choose to think. A bit of the Bollywood formula.
      I maybe terribly wrong.

      He sees everything in black and white. That’s it. He has floaters- his vision ain’t that great.
      She indulges him. And he is comfortable with her.

      I am so lost…
      But I do like the idea of those titled paragraphs. It does make it easier to read. Will try that formula sometime.

      Would like you to unravel the mystery.


      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Marien! Sorry you got lost … and I don’t blame you really – I was being deliberately (and excessively probably) obscure. My intention was as outlined in my comment to KenM above. But I really like that others, including you, had different interpretations – it showed that you gave it some thought.
  • Ilana Leeds
    Great writing as usual Phil and very precise descriptive phrases. I like the realism of your stories. You have me believing in them. Very few ambiguities usually. This is an exception. Did you paint a zebra? I was not sure at the end. There is a first for everything.
    However your writing is always very readable and enjoyable.
    • Phil Town
      Thanks, Ilana! Yes, all a bit ambiguous … ah well – it’s got people thinking!

      “Did you paint a zebra?” No … “So I have a stripy canvas now, LIKE a very regular zebra.”


      • trish
        Phil – your story was so unimaginably sad and bittersweet. Oddly enough, I really enjoyed savoring the downtrodden mood you evoked so well. I thought it was a great story. I’m super impressed with the variety of stories that have been imagined with this prompt. I find overly prescriptive prompts very confining and much prefer the more open prompts. I suppose that is what separates me from the great writers on this site- great writers can write about anything and do it well.
        • Phil Town
          Thanks very much, Trish. It seems you might have interpreted the story as I intended.

          (I think you’re underplaying your talents a bit there!)

          • (Phil, my comment to your story got buried somewhere in the middle. I suspect that Trish and Ilana have written their critiques in separate comment-boxes under your story. We should use the “Reply” button with the little arrow, when we critique a story, so that everything remains in the right order. Maybe Alice and Carrie can word this instruction better than I have just done…And contemplate on what harsh punishments any one of us will get for not complying lol).

    “‘The sky was filled with people, twisted metal, splintered wood and obliterated dreams. The explosive concussion rippled through the atmosphere and engaged everyone along the shore. Those still remaining on the small pier were bucked off into the water as the wood planks rippled, lost coherence and then collapsed into the river. A child’s toy was launched on an angle that took it over the water and onto the bank. Its pieces were scattered and eventually forgotten in the mud and chaotic aftermath.’”

    “‘In the blink of an eye the Gregory’s boiler had exploded and left a void in the river. Water rushed to fill the void and a large wave pushed outward toward the shore on either side. Most of those watching the great steamer cast off for its journey screamed at the sight and sound of the explosion. The others ducked or stared slack-jawed. The river quickly swallowed up the bits of the Gregory that hadn’t been ejected or reduced to incoherent matter. In seconds all was lost, vapor to history.’”

    “Sarah, is this a work of fiction?”

    “Of course it is, Tyler.”

    Tyler regarded her quizzically. “Go on, then. Read some more.”

    “‘Dark clouds rolled in, as if in response to the tragedy. Hard waves slapped the shores and splashed a mist of water upon those looking on. Then moments later the dark clouds unloaded and drops of rain fell, large and hard at first, like bullets from the sky. Then the rain came in sheets. Those on the shore ran, some from the rain, most from the tragedy.’”

    Tyler shook his head. Something was amiss, something was too familiar, but he wasn’t certain what.

    “Sarah, where did this story come from?”

    “Where did it come from? I’m not certain. Why?”

    He couldn’t say, really. Something about it struck a chord, resonated. But he couldn’t identify why. There was a nagging in the back of his mind, like a piece of yarn that was being pulled and starting a great unravelling.

    Sarah looked doubtful, almost hurt. Tyler realized his mistake. His question had raised an alarm in Sarah and put her on the defensive.

    “There is nothing wrong with your writing,” he said. “You paint beautiful imagery. It simply sparks something in me I can’t explain.”

    Sarah was his favorite student. They had met at a writer’s workshop where he was teaching and had immediately got on well. In fact, they agreed after the workshop had finished to meet at a cafe once a week between where they each lived. He liked her and they had developed a comfortable relationship over the past few weeks. She was a good writer with an unusual perspective. She was older than most who had attended the workshop and Tyler felt that had helped them connect. Tyler guessed she was near his age.

    “If it helps,” she said, “it feels as though this story has been in my head forever. It pops up at odd times. You might say it haunts me. To be honest, I was hoping to write it out of my head.”

    Tyler smiled. He understood what she meant. Sometimes they are demons, sometimes anxiety, others are ghosts from our past that lay in wait to resurface briefly as a reminder they still exist. And the best way to silence them and move on is to write them out of your head, clear the air and bring them to the surface. At least that was true for people like him and Sarah.

    As she read on Tyler became more and more uneasy, shifting in his chair and staring off into the distance. Sarah’s words painted a vibrant picture in his head, to the point he asked himself whose ghosts were these?

    In her story she wrote of several of the people who had witnessed the sinking of the Gregory and how the explosion had changed and shaped their lives. Tyler had trouble focusing on them. In his mind the child’s toy made an arc over the river and landed in the mud on the shore. He watched it travel the curvature in slow-motion, the glint of light off its surface, its texture and the graceful path it took was a song to him, poetry.

    One woman on the shore was killed from the explosion in Sarah’s story. That seemed right to Tyler, though he couldn’t say why.

    Tyler stopped her reading by putting a hand on her arm. “You’re missing something.”


    “There was a girl on the shore opposite the pier. She was quite young, barely walking. I remember her quite clearly now. There may have been someone with her, as well, a teenager, perhaps.”

    “How? How can you know that?”

    Tyler didn’t answer. Images raced through his mind—incongruous and disjointed. The images forced themselves to the surface, as if bubbling up from unknown depths. He shook his head. The images persisted. The hair on his arms raised. He became light-headed.

    Finally, he looked at Sarah. “There was also a boy on the other side of the river, near the pier. He isn’t in your story. You didn’t write about him.”

    Sarah shook her head. “He wore a red shirt and carried something.”

    “Yes, a red shirt.”

    Sarah was speechless, only able to stare. How had this man gotten inside her head? She had carried this story in her mind forever. How could he know about it? It wasn’t possible.

    In a quiet voice, barely above a whisper, Tyler said, “I need to ask you something. Some might think it quite personal.”

    “I don’t mind.”

    He sighed and still stared off into space. “Are you an orphan?”

    “Tyler, how can you know that? I didn’t even know for decades.”

    Tyler had too many words and thoughts trying to get out at once. It stifled him. His heart raced faster than it ever had. He could feel it beating in his arms and hands. His throat went dry. Still, he gathered his thoughts and focused.

    “I, too, am an orphan. I was told my parents had died in an accident, an explosion. I wasn’t told until I was older. It was a different world then, smaller but less connected. I was told they didn’t even know my name and that I wouldn’t speak for a long time after the explosion. The boat was actually called Electric Current. She exploded in 1918, nearly fifty years ago. You were just two years old, I believe. I was nearly three.”

    “Impossible! It was real?”

    “More than real, Sarah. Unless I’m grossly mistaken, and I don’t think I am, I was the boy in the red shirt. I had been taken on the ferry across the river to where the boat was docked.”

    Sarah was dumbfounded.

    Tyler stirred with emotion and stared at his hands in his lap, shaking his head over and over.

    “I remember it all now,” he said.

    He looked at Sarah, disbelief in his eyes. In his mind he pulled the yarn just a bit more until it had all unravelled before him.

    “Our parents were on that boat,” he said. “Hello, sister.”

    • Wonderful story Jack. So nicely composed and crafted. Wonderful opening, exquisite phrasing in the first few paragraphs that really grabbed my attention. A most auspicious offering.
    • Dear Mr. Jack M,
      I have read your story for the first time and I am left speechless. To say that it is an amazing, impactful story, will be an understatement. I have rarely seen someone using the prompt to such a good effect.
      Where do I start? Starting with the introductory paragraphs to the setting, to the dialogue and characterization, everything is tailor-made, made to perfection.
      The characters of both Sarah and Tyler are marvelously delineated. As I’s coming to the end, something was racing ahead. Something kept telling me, “Oh, God! Let this not be one of those cheap, sentimental love stories again where the lovers take one another in their arms and all is well with the world.”
      Thank God and let me thank you as well especially for the last line. It simply delighted my heart to know that they were brother and sister. The mood, the style, almost everything about your story is near perfect. I noticed a mistake somewhere and wanted to ask you about it, but on scrolling up all I can is :
      There are all kinds of crazy.
      The first sentence of your comment on Ken C’s story. So, I will leave it there. Thanks for sharing your story. Stay safe and all the very best.
        • trish
          Jack – I loved the original and imaginative nature of your story. I thought that the two speakers must be linked but you surprised me by making them relatives. I enjoyed your story a lot, but the heavy emphasis on description at the beginning was a teensy bit off-putting to me as it made it more difficult to enter the story for me. I wonder how readers might feel if you had inserted more dialogue a litter sooner into the description at the beginning. Nice piece!
    • Phil Town
      Great stuff, Jack! (and welcome!) That first image … “The sky was filled with people” … is an absolute … killer. The whole thing plays out like an eerie ghost story until the (possibly too on-the-nose?) reveal (if there could have been a way for us to come to that final conclusion without you telling us?). Also … this is a life-shattering revelation, so “Hello, sister.” might just be a little too subdued? Having said that, the build-up and the tone of the whole thing are really good.
    • Hi Jack,

      Great story and, for me, the descriptive element was wonderful. I think we do have a shortage of good dialogue in many of our stories on this site although there are notable exceptions. In this case, you simply set the scene and planted vivid images in my head. If I was reading this as a book in my hand, I would have been holding a pencil to mark some of your great prose.
      Those first two paragraphs are beautifully written.

      In terms of comments about the ending, you can never please all of the people all the time. A friend of mine who is a very successful short story writer, is always banging on about endings and he seems to have a gift for the right ending. i am still struggling with this. I liked your ending, by the way.

      Looking forward to reading more of your work.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

    • Jack,

      Welcome to the group. I do have a question though. Maybe I’m just a literalist, (as in taking things literally) but I’m not sure reading a story is painting a picture as the prompt suggests. Literary license, of course, can be taken as in ‘painting a picture’ with words, which you did, (very well, I might add). So, I’m going to give you a pass on not following the prompt, although that isn’t my call.

      Good story and you kept me reading. I did however, figure out early on, (I mean, really early) the total ending of the story. I also think you could have ended it even more dramatically, because, surely by now, Sarah, had to be thinking the exact same thing he was. Something along the lines of: Sarah gazed at him, her eyes seeming to smile as she says, “you don’t mean … you don’t think …”

      “That we’re brother and sister? That’s exactly what I think.”

      Loved this next line, (really, really loved it): In his mind he pulled the yarn just a bit more until it had all unravelled before him.

      Excellent. Hope you stick around and write some more. I don’t have a lot more to pick on, and I think the story could be condensed and cleaned up a tad, but nothing major and I think you have some talent.

      The only other thing I might have changed are their ages. Two and three seem a little young for suppressed memories, and then to be so vivid. I’m not an expert in that field, but research might have helped with that.

      In fact there’s a whole school of thought that repressed or suppressed memories are extremely rare, if at all true memories, but rather wishful thinking. But, that would kinda mess up your story, now wouldn’t it? Make the characters 5 or 6 and I’m all in.

      Roy York

      • Thanks, Roy. I severely burned both hands at age 3 and I remember doing it and the cotton swabs around my hands–probably because it was so traumatic. Fortunately, I was real young and it left no permanent damage.
        • Jack,

          I, too, had a couple of traumatic events early in childhood. One, I fell out of a car, and two, I severely cut my hand, a major scar which I carry to this day (about 75 years). I ‘think’ I remember bits and pieces of the events. It seems to me that the bits I do remember, are vivid, but only in brief snatches, like watching one of those movies where the protagonist is trying to remember something and you get 2 seconds of a screen shot, then back to reality. I remember the bandages (as do you) and I remember my step mother changing them as I sat on the counter in the kitchen, my legs dangling over the cabinets and my father having a conniption fit over her doing that. But, only in pieces.

          Perhaps a skilled professional could bring that out, but the horror stories I have read regarding that makes the memories out to be implanted. My theory is that by my parents telling these two tales in my presence so many times over the years, I believe these memories are implanted.

          I was thinking of that when I wrote my comments. LIke I said, you make the kids five or six and I am all in and all over your well written story.


    • Really enjoyed this one, Jack.

      How serendipitous is this meeting? Separated siblings meeting at a Writer’s workshop?

      You took the theme to another level of actually painting it in words, different from an actual painting that the rest of us who stuck to the straight and narrow path.
      Well done!

      BUT why did you call the unravelling a yarn? In his mind ‘he pulled the yarn’ just a bit ..It had me thinking he was making it all up.

      Slight oversight here…
      As she read on, Tyler became more…. A comma after ‘on’ would make it read right.

      The last line .. hello sister.. was an anticlimax. Could it be more dramatic? My dearest?

    By ken cartisano
    (Wc 1047.)

    I gave Brian a pastel chalk set for his twelfth birthday. I used a loophole in the regulations that allowed inmates to possess art supplies as long as they, (the supplies) posed no physical danger to inmates or staff.

    I felt sorry for the boy, he seemed completely out of place in this rigid and sterile environment. Even I felt stunted in the strict institutional structure of, what is after all, a home for the insane.

    I furnished him with sketch pads as well. My instincts were right when it became apparent that what he lacked in skill or training, he easily made up for with innate talent. He seemed to know exactly how to use the multitude of colors, how to blend them, how to create depth and contrast with a medium not particularly well-suited to that purpose.

    He could crank out a realistic still life in a day and a half. He did a few portraits of his fellow inmates, which were more like uncanny caricatures of their real selves.

    He did one of his funny portraits of the Head Nurse one day, and she confiscated his entire drawing kit for a week, before reluctantly returning it to his possession. She was fired the following week. Arrested three days after that for prostitution. But I digress.

    In the meantime, I pulled every string I had, and every administrative maneuver I knew, to get access to this kid’s files. But to no avail. They were sealed by the court, and his parents, apparently, were very influential.

    He excelled at interpreting his subject’s individual character traits and transferring them to paper. So, it should come as no surprise that one day, I suggested that he draw something personal.

    “Like what?” The boy said.

    “Oh, I don’t know. How about a self-portrait? Or a memory, of a place? Or a pet or a toy you remember playing with?”

    I was told that Brian took the suggestion seriously and mulled it over for several days before beginning. So, when I stopped in the following week, he’d only been working on it for a few days. But he’d already sketched in a beautiful background canopy of drooping willow leaves and a foreground framed by the slats of a gazebo. At the center of the drawing was the image of a child, maybe six years old.

    The background had a significant blemish, as though an image seemed to have been sketched in and then carelessly smeared or removed. This, I am told, is the drawback of working with chalk: It’s difficult to mask mistakes. But it was a minor detraction considering the effort he lavished on the main subject, whose likeness to the artist was unmistakable, if not perfectly accurate: All this in less than a week’s time.

    Over that weekend, I received a call from the former Head Nurse. She was looking for bail money.
    “Bail money? For what? Prostitution again?”

    “Drugs,” she said. As if that explained everything.

    “What happened to you?” I said. “Everyone I talked to is baffled at your behavior. You had an awful lot of responsibility, for an awfully long time.” It was as if something made her crack. “Did something traumatic happen to you recently?”

    “You mean like, did someone recently draw my portrait? Something like that?”

    Then she hung up. Or we became disconnected. I certainly didn’t cut her off, I was completely baffled by her remark.

    The following week, Brian worked slavishly on the painting, whose subject looked increasingly younger and softer than he does, almost too angelic, too innocent to be realistic, but it was no cartoon, and certainly no caricature. I stopped in to see him on a daily basis. With each bold stroke of chalk and every delicate brush of his fingers, he was able to impart more nobility, more intelligence and curiosity into the image of that child on the page than seemed possible. He revealed, at this more deliberate pace, that the toy in the boy’s hand was a boat.

    He was quite cheerful the day it was finished.

    “Let me see what you’ve done there, Brian.”

    It was magnificent. ‘Nobody’s this good,’ I thought. Before I noticed the offending smudge in the background canopy. It was still there, different, less obtrusive than before, but still there, resembling an indistinct face, hidden in the leafy background.

    The curious eye was drawn to that smudge, but not for long. It was no match for the main subject.

    How could anyone complain about a smudge in the background, once their gaze fell upon the portrait’s central figure, an almost lifelike image of a very young child, an angelic face, trusting, full of promise, eager to connect and to engage with the world, longing to understand everything, including you. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

    He laid it on a desk where we could both look at it from the same perspective. For a few moments, I was lost for words.

    He seemed pleased with my reaction. Who wouldn’t be? So, I suppose his question was rhetorical. “Do you like it?”

    “Of course, I… of course. How old would you say you were in this picture?”

    He gave me a funny look. “What d’you mean?”

    I said, “How old would you say you were, when you, when this, this is you, isn’t it?”

    “That’s my brother,” his smile vanished, “there in the foreground. I’m in the background.”

    When I looked more closely at that blurred background, it was indeed, Brian’s face, camouflaged within the canopy of leaves. Upon close inspection, the tiny image had more than its share of intricate details. But only at close range.

    To prove my point, I stepped back. From a few feet away, his self-image was an indistinct blur in the background. “I don’t understand,” I said.

    “I killed him. Look at him. Nobody’s that good. He was evil.” I stared at Brian, slack-jawed, while he scowled at the painting. “I know what you’re thinking.” He added.

    Well of course. And he was right. ‘That’s crazy. That’s what crazy people think before they murder their siblings.’

    But in just a few days’ time, I began to think, ‘you know, there’s some truth in what that boy says.’

    And that’s when things started going downhill for me too.

    • There are all kinds of crazy. I’m curious, what is the narrator’s role in this? Is he an employee or a ward?
      • Jack M.

        I’m not that knowledgeable about the institutional side of insanity, (for sure) so I looked up the definition of ward. That didn’t help either. But my take on the narrator would be an employee, a counselor, or a social worker of some kind. Your question suggests that that kind of information would have been helpful and should have been provided in the story.

        • Not sure it was necessary. I just wondered. Ward, as in ward of the state.
        • trish
          Ken C. – Great story! I did not foresee that Brian killed his brother and thought that was a masterful ending. On the very slight critique side, I usually love that your work is terrifically understated. This piece spelled out a little too literally for me that Brian was in an asylum. I wonder if your piece would have seemed stronger if the reader had been allowed to infer that bit of information. Just a small thought from me. Nice piece.
          • Thanks Trish. I agree. It didn’t occur to me, but you’re right, and it’s obvious now that you’ve pointed it out.
    • Dear Ken the Original,

      Since my return, I have read three more of your stories. Among these three, I like this one the most. I’d to read the first paragraph twice to make it out that you, as the narrator, were taking about a lunatic asylum.
      The character of the boy, Brian, has been briskly yet brilliantly drawn. He was a talented guy no doubt, who murdered his brother for being ‘too good’.
      I once read a book by Sidney Seldon, where one of the twin sisters, could neither stand nor smell the sight of the other (?). She tried murdering the other several times. She was the one who got caught in the end.
      Your story is different in this respect. Here the brother worse, that is, Brian killed his brother ( I would’ve been happy if you didn’t mention it and left it to the reader to make that conclusion. Brian killed his brother when the brother went out to the river with his toy boat by, say, pushing him from behind or something like that), got caught and ended up in the asylum.
      That’s the whole story but that’s not all. There is so much more in your story, left unsaid. Like why was such a decent, talented boy like Brian found (pronounced will be a more correct word here) insane by the society? What if his brother was, inspire his looks and luck, really evil? Do we live in a society where evils triumph over the good always and get away scott free?
      Your story has left me pondering again. (You know, Ken, I fell asleep after finishing your story. On waking up, I am writing to you the first thing!) I love your English, Ken, for I have learnt quite a lot from you, but of late you seen to be taking things quite easy like the dialogue between Brian and the narrator when he (the narrator) asks Brian about the boy in the painting for the first time.
      Keep writing and reforming people like me, man, for you have to be a very good human like the narrator of this story to have written such a wonderful story. God bless you.

      P. S: I have to read your comments on my story once more before replying. Please bear with me till then. Love you, Ken.

      • Dear Ken C,
        I’m sorry to be using the ‘Reply’ button in the box for my comments on your story. I looked at your wonderful letter to me and surprisingly, there was neither any ‘Edit’ nor any ‘Reply’ button.
        You are a an awefully good letter-writer, Ken, but more than anything else, you are a great human being. Absolutely honest, critical, least bothered about how others feel about you, and with the intention of making this world of ours a bit (lot?) better. That’s the kind of information you always give to me. I promise to keep this fact in mind henceforth.
        The following paragraph is an example of fantastic writing, my friend. It kinda awakened me up.

        To shoot yourself in the foot once is funny. To do it twice is forgivable. To do it over and over, claiming that your foot is an excellent stand-in for short distance target practice is — oh, I don’t know. What does it sound like to you?

        I left this platform after writing two stories on a prompt related to sports. My first story was about the game of Cricket and the next one was about a boxer. I felt I had done a good job having written them. When the result was out, I found myself at the bottom half. That’s when I decided to leave this cite. In the past one and a half year, I never bothered to come back to it till I saw Carrie’s notification regarding “the cup of coffee”.
        Anyway, that is beside the point. What might interest you is that on my return, I was put under the scanner by Roy first regarding my use of contractions. Not that I have anything against Roy. No other person helped me grow like the way he did in the one and half years, I was associated with The Write Practice.
        I had barely recovered from Roy’s scathing attack when you came out in his support. Now, most probably you are right in trying to reform me. What both of you failed to understand is that there are no hard and fast rules about the usage of the contractions. What may be an eyesore for you, may look perfectly all right for me. Let me show you again :
        I’s not wrong, Ken. I know perfectly well that I wasn’t.
        I’s hurting because both of you’re attacking me so ruthlessly.
        If I felt I’s wrong, I would’ve been the first to admit my mistake.
        Do the above sentences make sense to you, Ken? Tell me honestly.
        Anyway, I’ve started writing to some people in your part of the world, I’ll let you know how they look at my use of contractions once I get their replies.
        Let me wind up with a reference to the beginning of your letter, Ken. After the initial address, you wrote –

        If you can invent you’re own rules for contractions, in a language not your own,
        Now there is a mistake ( I won’t believe that you did it intentionally). It’s a typo. Somehow ‘your’ has become ‘you’re’ in the sentence. Question is – Does it take away the beauty of your letter? Do I start pinpointing your mistakes rather than making out the good intentions behind the whole letter?
        I leave it to you to ponder over the answer.
        Take care, mate. Stay healthy and happy.

          • Dear Andy,
            Delighted to hear from you. Thanks for sharing the link. I did go through the Wikipedia notes on Contractions earlier.
            Now this doesn’t really solve the problem, Andy. Let me try to make myself clearer to you with what follows:

            that’re that are
            that’s that has / that is
            that’d that would / that had
            there’d there had / there would
            there’ll there shall / there will
            there’re there are
            there’s there has / there is
            these’re these are
            these’ve these have
            they’d they had / they would
            they’ll they shall / they will
            they’re they are / they were
            they’ve they have
            this’s this has / this is
            those’re those are
            those’ve those have

            You see from the above examples, it’s quite difficult to come to a definite conclusion. The examples are with the words ‘that’, ‘there’, ‘there’, ‘they’ and so on. What about similar words like ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘which’, ‘whose’ and so on. Is the above list exhaustive? Does it tell us to try to limit contracting with the words stated in the list? If it is all right to say – this’s for this is, it ought to be allright to say where’s for where is as well, right?
            I don’t know, Andy. I didn’t go through the whole list. I just gave it a rundown and left it, dissatisfied.
            How do you say – He would have been here while speaking? Do you say each word separately like – He Would Have Been Here, or do you contract it to something like – He’d’ve been here? Now, you know that this can be read in one way. He Did have been – is incorrect. So, what’s the harm in contracting it like the way it is said?
            Even that may not be the point. The issue was related to the use of ‘I’s’ for I was. Now, I might have been the worst student but I read a number of books in my childhood. I must have picked it up from somewhere. Because it doesn’t exist in your (I am using the word in a wider sense here) dictionary, can’t make me impulsively incorrect, can it?
            I have already cited a lot of examples with that particular contraction, let me end with something that shocked my Australian Sis-in-law, who was the Educational Advisor, Sidney, N. S. W, Australia till recently. like you won’t believe!
            I’d wished her on the Christmas Day saying, “Happy Christmas.” Educated as she is, she corrected me immediately saying that it is incorrect to use happy before “Christmas”. The acceptable word is always ” Merry”. That didn’t stop me from using “Happy Christmas”, as long as I’s happy using it. I can’t help it if you don’t like it, my friend. If that makes me look like a county bumpkin to you, so be it. It is not like I try to remain unceremoniously ‘uninfluenced’ by the whole controversy like a fella writer mentioned on my story, but I prefer to listen to my heart, no matter what.
            Anyway, thanks for your concern and help. Keep correcting me and acting the friend that you always have been. We learn from each other and that is the whole purpose of a platform like this.
            Take care and stay happy. All the best.

          • Well, I tried …
    • Phil Town
      This is a great story, Ken. The whole build-up is very carefully and skillfully established. The mystery of the blur in the background is very ‘Blow-up’, and good for that. I didn’t see the reveal coming, so that was a nice surprise. As Trish says, there’s a bit of on-the-nosedness in places. This, for example: “I killed him. Look at him. Nobody’s that good. He was evil.” For example, this could have been rendered as something like: “Look at him. Nobody’s that good. He was evil. He deserved what he got.” – so that the reader has to do a little bit of work to come to the same conclusion you prepared for us. I also think you could drop the “I digress” comment because that would mean the ‘prostitution’ angle had nothing to do with the story, whereas in fact it has a helluva lot to do with it – the Head Nurse returns to the story later to cast suspicion on the drawing of her/her fate, and that is echoed in the narrator’s fate beyond the story.

      Another great one from you.

    • Hi Ken,

      Surprise, surprise!!! No, I haven’t left home to join the circus or become one of the chosen few sent out to explore space for a new planet, which we will need quite soon if we carry on fucking this one up. In fact, if Boris and Donald and Kim and Putin were also on the spaceship, I would probably give up my place and take my chances here on Earth.

      In fact, I have been here all the time, just keeping my head down, doing diy around the house and generally minding my own business. Not sure if I will have the time and creative energy to finish a story for this prompt. There is one that is rattling around in my head and like a fly that i want to swat, refuses to settle long enough for me to nail it.

      To your story, Portraiture.

      It’s a really quirky piece this with a host of questions that gradually reveal themselves. I wanted to know who the narrator was in terms of his role and gradually my dim wits began to work. A member of staff in a mental institution for the insane and that’s what Brian is, insane. Brian’s also a damned fine artist too but he has a much deeper, less obvious talent. The people he draws in his pastel shades suffer once he chooses them as subjects.

      it is comforting to know that there are real people who work in such places are not just there for the salary; they care for the patients too.

      The notion of working on a the picture, then reworking it over a number of days, is very true to life. I see it frequently with my wife Janice who takes weeks to complete a painting to her satisfaction. Working in pastels must be even harder for the reasons you mention.

      I can see that the Head Nurse pissed Brian off and he saw his brother as evil and killed him. I was thinking that the narrator was a good guy, helpful and caring but then, perhaps, in Brian’s warped mind, “Nobody is that good.”

      Great stuff, Ken and I really enjoyed your exchange of comments with Phil. Pure entertainment.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

    • Ken C.,

      Absolutely wonderful plot and the subtle smudges throwing off the readers (well, this reader, anyway) and well executed.

      Dialogue, flow, scene set up, all excellent. This isn’t a criticism, but I don’t see the connection with the boy’s art affecting other people simply because they’ve seen it. If it’s the subtle implication of how art can affect us, I didn’t see the tie in. I’ve even read the story three times. However, I loved the writing each and every time. Good story mate, but I might have ended it at ‘That’s crazy. That’s what crazy people think before they murder their siblings.’


    • Hi Ken,

      This story seems to have a simple facade hiding a more complex interior. Which I tried to crack, before reading the comments made by others (which when I did read them gave me a slightly different understanding).

      So, on my first reading it was the realization of what the boy said (inwords more than pictures) that seemed to me to affect the narrator’s fate. Like a sort of “watch what you believe, for what you believe may come true” or the so called “Law of Attraction” (one attracts what one knows or believes in – a problem that has grown upon us as we got to learn lots more new things in our day and age). What led me to that conclusion is, well… the conclusion… “You know, there’s some truth in what that boy says.” That realization/truth then set the narrator’s spiraling down. The others have seen a more direct connection between what the boy draws (does one draw or paint in pastels?) and what happens to the subjects of his drawings. That’s quite clear with the Head Nurse (““You mean like, did someone recently draw my portrait? Something like that?”). But he didn’t draw the narrator, did he?

      And what happened to the other inmates he had drawn? You could have easily shown us some of the catastrophic or hilarious events those drawings caused, without revealing the ending too soon. Let’s say, a lunatic drowning in the tub after Brian painted his caricature with a fishtale. As readers, few of us would have realized at that point what you’re getting at, since a lunatic is in any case a lunatic and he may have just as well thought he was really a fish, for all we know. Or another inmate who expects to be addressed as Monsieur Bonaparte after Brian put a Napoleon hat on his caricature. That kind of thing. Laughing stuff, really, foreshadowing the rather serious climactic ending of the story. With the Head Nurse, I assumed that she’s a sane person, and therefore, by that point, I started to suspect that there is something unusual about those drawings. But the absence of a drawing of the narrator (unlesss I missed something), left me confused as to why things started going downhill for him. If we’re to believe the magic of the drawings narrative, that is.

      I know that one point needed to be drilled home: the fact that there was a smudge. But maybe it was a bit overemphasized. But the time I read the following paragraph which I’m quoting below, I seemed to have a deja vu that I had already read that info. Not in exactly the same words of course, but there’s an element of unnecessary repetition IMHO:

      “The curious eye was drawn to that smudge, but not for long. It was no match for the main subject.
      How could anyone complain about a smudge in the background, once their gaze fell upon the portrait’s central figure, an almost lifelike image of a very young child, an angelic face, trusting, full of promise, eager to connect and to engage with the world, longing to understand everything, including you. It was breathtakingly beautiful.”

      Perhaps this point could have been emphasized differently. And here I’m going to trespass upon your most sacred area of specialization: Titles! I’d have called this story: ‘The Blemish’, or ‘Smudge’. And some may even read some double meaning in that, too.

      Do we have a bit of Dorian Gray, in this story, I wonder? Art over matter… Perplexing stuff. Or baffling, as your narrator likes to say.


    • Another unusual, bit of a creepy story from you, ken C.
      Good writing which is your forte anyway… but wasn’t completely clear to me.

      Why does the head nurse talk about being painted?
      How does it go downhill for the warden in the end?
      Are both these questions left to our imagination?

      Please do the unravelling…

    by Ken Miles
    (1,200 words)

    She knew that Norman didn’t want her in there. Now she knew why.

    The decapitated bodies, the carnage and the method to it made Kara’s stomach churn. The paintings were ghastly repetitive in their gruesomeness. Her husband forbade her from stepping inside the attic, his sanctuary he called it, where he worked all alone. His canvases put bread on their table, made the downpayment on a dreamhouse few other couples in their early-thirties could afford. So she didn’t openly object to his decree. Until today. She could no longer tolerate a forbidden room in her own house.

    Norman hid the unsightly canvases beneath his dadaist masterpieces the likes of which had firmly entrenched him in the local art scene. Just one was still drying on the easel. A headless man and woman lay on their bedroom floor, while an infant in a red singlet dipped his tiny hand in their blood and made handprints on the beige carpet. Kara ran downstairs to the bathroom to throw up.

    She then sank in the lounge sofa, wanting, but unable to piece things together. The TV was on, but she wasn’t watching it. Not until something caught her eyes. Save for the mosaicked-over censored bits, the news-footage running on repeat matched almost perfectly the painting on the easel. Just that the little boy on TV wore yellow, and had a toy-duck not a plastic T-Rex next to him. Kara raised the volume. They spoke of this unspeakable crime committed in nearby Foddering.


    “He must’ve seen the news on TV, like everyone else, Mrs. Harper,” the older plainclothes officer tried to calm Kara, “And then… how can I even put this? Some people get… what’s the right word? Inspired. By such things.”

    “Doesn’t mean your husband beheaded those people, ma’am. We don’t think so,” the much younger uniformed officer jumped in, essentially saying the same thing and grinning rather inappropriately, given the circumstances. The older officer frowned at him.

    “I don’t see how Norman could’ve seen it on TV! We had sex well into the night…I’m sorry…maybe I shouldn’t be telling you these kinds of things…”

    “We don’t mind ma’am. Go on…”

    “So, yes, we did that, the…sex. And then he left, early morning, for the exhibition in Austin. I saw him off…”

    “When did you start… hmmm… having… sex, ma’am? Was Norman with you all afternoon before that?”

    “Not all afternoon. I was out shopping. He was home…”

    “There you are, Mrs. Harper. There was enough time. You may’ve been busy, but the news of the killings was already all over the place by yesterday afternoon. Mr. Harper must’ve had a glimpse at it. Doesn’t mean he was in any way involved.”

    “What if he’d painted the scene first, Sir? A sort of first sketch for what he then committed in real life?” the young cop postulated, only to get another scornful look from his superior, who felt they were simply wasting their time on this lead.

    “If not the chicken first – and then the egg; maybe the egg first – and then the chicken, sort of thing. See what I mean?” He cleverly rephrased his theory.

    The older officer touched the painting, then wiped his finger on his pants.

    “It’s still wet,” he trashed the younger cop’s theory, “Can’t be.”

    “Oils take a week to dry,” Kara filled him in.

    “Okay. We’ll have a word with him, Mrs. Harper, confirm his alibi and all. I wouldn’t be too worried if I were you,” he reassured her, his eyes sweeping the attic. “These other paintings, here… I recall this beheading, last year. And this one, here, too. Both in Oregon… Mr. Harper’s been to Oregon last year?”

    “No, he hasn’t.”

    “You sure?”


    “See? Your man’s just intrigued by such things. Artistically speaking. That’s all. Like some people are stuck on cricket or crochet…”

    The younger cop Googled the Oregon slayings on his cellphone. The more he tried to impress his superior, the more he annoyed him.

    “I found ’em, Sir. Identical! Except the boy in the paintings is in red and has a dinosaur not a duck. What do we make of that?”

    “The dinosaur ate the duck?” the older cop mocked him, “You just heard. Mr. Harper hasn’t been to Oregon. Now shall we get back to work?”


    “You’re sitting on a goldmine, Norman! Style doesn’t sell art. Sensation does. And what’s more sensational than this? You paint it. And it comes true! Paint me six-foot-six, with Dwayne Johnson’s frame, will you? Cuddling a hot babe!” Maurice had launched Norman in the art world. When he got wind of Norman’s troubling paintings he didn’t fail to notice the potential.

    “They’re too personal. I can’t. I don’t know why I even paint them. It’s like when nightmares visit you during sleep, uninvited, frightening, appalling… I’m scared of those paintings… of myself too… I could’ve even lost Kara, because of them…”

    “Bull!” the art-dealer huffed. “Let me exhibit them. They’ll pay off your mortgage on this splendid villa inside a year!”

    Kara returned from the kitchen with more drinks, and the two men changed the subject.

    A forceful knock on the door was quickly followed by heavily armed police breaking into the Harper’s expansive property from everywhere. They apprehended Norman and took him away.

    Kara recognized the uniformed Inspector from the last time.

    “Norman’s been caught on CCTV, Mrs. Harper,” he said grimly, “Another couple’s been decapitated down at Fairbanks… It’s your husband. Unmistakably him. I’m sorry, Mrs. Harper.”

    Kara ran up to the attic. The view from the bedroom window in Norman’s latest gory painting showed the sandstone hills soaring above Lake Fairbanks.


    The community’s relief is short-lived. Just days into Norman’s incarceration another couple’s decapitated in front of their toddler, down in Marblestone.

    “There’re two of them… We got the true killer now,” the Chief-of-Police explains cryptically to the press. “Take a look at this picture…”

    You could hear a pin drop in the packed room as he signals the technician to beam an archive photograph onto the wall.

    “It’s the Rutherford twins, from the murders at the Rectified Restored Reformed Church, thirty years ago. I was still a cadet back then. The toddlers lived off their slain parents’ bodies for two weeks, until they were found. There was nothing else to eat, only the sealed Church’s internal courtyard to go to. Sergeant Burgdorfer took early retirement after that case. And Burgdorfer was no pussy, I can tell you that much. The twins were then adopted out. One here in town, the other a touring theater couple from Oregon took him. Professor Dimech, please take the floor…”

    “An invisible thread must’ve held the twins together. We call it the emotional grid. They visualize what each other sees, fancies or plans to do, unable to shake off their common ancient traumas. Both recreated their buried memories. To subconsciously come to terms with them. One with a brush. The other with a knife.”


    The scene of the Marblestone murders adorned the walls inside Norman’s cell, finger-painted in blood. He bled to death upon completing it.

    They could’ve perhaps saved the Marblestone couple too, if they came to free him sooner.

    • A gruesome story of crime and killings, written wonderfully well, Mr. Ken M. This is your third story I have read and I can honestly say that you are a very imaginative and competent writer.
      So this story is about the Rutherford Twins. Once their parents got mercilessly beheaded some thirty years back when they had to live off the dead, decomposed bodies of their parents, they were adopted and moved to different directions. Due to the invisible thread, ‘the emotion grid’ that held them together each of the twins had an inkling of what the other planned and wanted done.
      You have kept us in suspence till the fast-paced story reveals the following:
      Both recreated their buried memories. To subconsciously come to terms with them. One with a brush. The other with a knife.”
      It is only from the last two sentences that I came to realize that I was wrong all along in thinking that the twins were partners in crime. Norman was the artist and therefore, his harakiri in the end, benumbed me. The subtle ending also has a dig at the police. Had they been more careful and alert, they could have saved not one but three lives altogether.
      Fantastic writing, Mr. Ken M. I like the portrayal of not only the couple, that is, Norman and Kara, I like the way you drew the character of sergeant Burgdorfer in two sentences.
      Keep it up. Unless I’ve to make some last minute adjustments, yours will be there among my Top-5. Keep up the good work. Good luck.
      • Hi Rathin and thanks for your feedback.

        Yes, you understood the gist of the story perfectly. Which puts my mind at rest, as I struggled with many loose ends, and then wondered if I lost the reader somewhere. Especially as I had to leave some things out of my original draft. You know how it is, things are struck off an earlier draft, but not off the the writer’s mind, and sometimes the writer forgets or overlooks the fact that the readers don’t have that overall initial background information at their disposal.

        The harakiri of the artist at the end of the story is a great observation on your part. It proves to me that the reader is as much a participant in the creation of a story as the writer. For I myself, the very writer of this story, hadn’t even thought of that! And it’s still such a correct interpretation of what ultimately happened to Norman.

        Thanks also for being a fan of my stories 🙂


      • Ken,

        Another very fine story. I read the story first, found myself confused at a few points because of the wording of some sentences. Then I read it again, as well as the comments from Raff and Trish. I too found the fleshed out version of the story would be a fascinating story. One that would allow you to weave your signature complexity into the story with stunning results.

        Raffin shared some observations that, again, I hate to sound repetitive, but it’s one of the superior benefits of this writing group. The opportunity to see the story from other writers perspectives. To benefit from their observational skills, knowledge and experience. (Not that I need it, of course. But it’s entertaining.)

        This one is not quite right.
        She could no longer bear with a forbidden space in her own abode.
        She could no longer tolerate a forbidden room in her own house.
        She could no longer submit to the ridiculous notion that any rooms were off limits to her, in her own house.

        This was outright confusing. It sounds like the dadaist masterpieces were the means by which he had entrenched him in the local scene.
        Norman hid the unsightly canvases beneath his dadaist masterpieces the likes of which had firmly entrenched him in the local art scene.
        It’s either,
        Norman hid the gruesome paintings, which had firmly entrenched him in the local art scene, beneath his dadaist masterpieces.

        It’s an excellent story, the dialogue is very natural. You did a marvelous job on this story.

        • Ken Miles
          Hi Ken, and thanks for both your nice words and the corrections you proposed to my story.

          The forbidden room sentence: I certainly prefer your two versions to mine, especially the second one (“…ridiculous notion…”). Indeed, Kara could not bear with/tolerate/submit to the idea/notion of a forbidden room in her own house, not to the room as such. Can we call the attic a room? Well, yes, I suppose so. I called it “space” because I had my doubts. And because I sometimes fuss over nothing.

          The other confusing sentence that you mentioned, you actually understood it correctly the first time. It’s the dadaist paintings that put Norman on the art map. The gruesome paintings, nobody had seen them before Kara and the police got inside the attic and blew his cover. Maurice, his agent, in fact wanted to exhibit them after that, but Norman refused. But there must be something foul in my phrasing, given that you thought you misunderstood it.

          Where are the other sticking points, Ken? (you mentioned the confusing wording of some sentences. I suppose more than just those two). Let me know, pleeeease.

          This is one of those stories which I had to brutally chisel out of an originally much longer draft, blending sentences into one another and leaving some others out entirely. That’s were the incongruences and confusing bits may be.

          Originally I worked on the concept of the invisible thread shortening over time and as a result the two brothers’ actions increasingly overlapping, including Norman’s twin eventually finding Kara (she had no idea the twin existed and believes he’s a crazed Norman). The police, again, don’t take her seriously for they knew for a fact they had Norman under lock and key. Norman paints the scene of Kara being murdered, and only when the police really find her dead, that they realize something is not straightforward at all in this case. But how was I going to fit all that in 1.2 K words? So I opted for a quicker resolution. And still struggled with the word count…


        • Ken Miles
          And after your (Ken C.’s) proposed improvement re: the forbidden room, I would also change my very hook to:

          ‘She knew Norman didn’t want her in there. Now she knew why.’

          ‘She knew she shouldn’t have gone in there.’ nearly justifies Norman’s order and implies that Kara did something wrong, which is not exactly what I wanted to say. Especially if I opt to use the “…ridiculous notion…” suggestion you offered me.

          But I cannot change it – the edit option is gone. Or it’s because I’m not using the same computer on which I posted the story… [ok, that’s what it was – the editing gotta be done from the same device. Duh. Otherwise the system thinks I’m a different person. Did I just say “the system thinks”? Are we already there? Yes, you told us so, Mr. Asimov. Only problem the story is not in blue anymore. I don’t how to fix that]

    • Phil Town
      Great plot, Ken! Twins often crop up in spooky stories (‘The Shining’, ‘Dead Ringers’) but you’ve found a really good, original angle. To reference another film … ‘Psycho’ for the psychologist’s (here Professor Dimech) explanation of what’s been going on. I know that in the film, that coda is controversial among critics – it kind of lays it all on a plate a bit too much … and I think it does here a little, too; it might have been nice to find a subtler way to show us the psychology. Also, I think that maybe the first section could have been a little more suspenseful if you’d shown us the locked room first, then later revealed what was in it (?) (I know that space is an issue, and that there’s also a case to be made for jumping straight into the paintings, so I’m just expressing my personal preference there.) But overall, the plot is a really good one that keeps us guessing throughout.
      • You’re spot on, Phil, with “Psycho”’s coda. I majored in Film-Making at Uni., and “Psycho” was firmly set on our theory curriculum, so I’m very familiar with that film. In fact, while writing “The Invisible Thread” and wanted a quick (= word saving!) solution, I thought of the way “Psycho” did it, and quite consciously went down that road too.

        Like yourself, and the critics you mentioned, I was deeply annoyed by the way such a great movie ended. A sort of “so that’s all it was after all…”. That coda did take a lot of the magic out the movie. And I felt myself falling into the same hole. But, I said to myself, if Hitchcock got away with it, I might as well! Bad decision…

        TBH I’m not too happy with it (and that’s why I probably kept going, with a second coda, in which the protagonist bleeds to death in his cell, for a more satisfactory ending). Having said that, I don’t like to leave a story with too much unresolved mystery (and I dislike it when other writers do that). I want some sort of explanation. No matter how bizarre, but some resolution to the story nonetheless.

        My first idea was to go for a mentally unstable institutionalized Inspector Burgdorfer dropping rather unreliable hints about his experience with the unfortunate twins, that the readers will then have to piece together, rather than having Professor Dimech serving it on a plate, as you very justifiably put it. But, indeed, the word-limit was my foe… Your advice is certainly to be taken on board, if I rewrite this story as a lengthier piece another time.

        Twins (or the similar themes of cloning, doppelgängers, split-personality, autoscopies and such) make great story material, of course, but they’ve unfortunately been so overused in story-telling, particularly in the horror genre, that they have almost become clichè. I know this literary agent who refuses at source any work which includes twins, no matter how good it may be! But well, I needed twins for this story to work. I tried to be as original as possible in the way I portrayed them (eg. not aware of each other’s existence and interpreting their deep-seated traumas in their different forms of “art”). But I know, it’s very well-trodden ground I’m walking on here…

        Thanks also for your nice words about the story, Phil, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. But don’t try anything from it at home.

    • Hey Ken,

      hi there, it’s good to see you back as yourself with all your bloodthirsty imagery.

      i have just spent awhile reading and rereading your story in the light of the critiques and your further comments. it all makes for fascinating reading, getting into the mind not only of the writer but also of the readers. This is a luxury that most writers don’t often get.

      I don’t need to raise questions or queries as this has been done really well.

      Suffice to say that it is a masterful piece of writing.

      Not sure if i can get myself organised or motivated to turn ideas in my head into a story this time round.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • Ah, so there you are, Ken Frape! I’ve been wondering what was up with you since the Lowell Hartman affair. Still celebrating in style, maybe? So we’re not seeing a story from you this time round… pity…

        Thanks for reading my story (and the comments on it too) and I’m pleased you found it enjoyable. Yes, I’m back to a cannibalistic blood-thistry mood here. It was about time! But I’m following it with a gentler theme for the next Winter Love prompt… (people still get killed in it, but nobody eats their remains. Promise…).


    • Ken M.,

      Well, other than a well worn plot regarding twins, everything else is well written. (Including the plot – I might add), and I liked the way you wrapped it up. It’s nice to be able to kill off characters as you did poor Norman. Some might ask why? My answer when asked that question is, “Because I can.”

      Well done, and I really liked the fact you used 1200 words, once again, without evidence of making up new words and using contractions to save words, and no evidence of ‘something missing’, or unexplained and out of place sentences which plague me when I overwrite.

      Liked your story. Liked it the first read and even better the second. I really don’t have a lot of things to carp about.


    • You carry the diabolic plot rather well.
      For the sake of being fair, I read this twice, even though it left me queasy at the first read.

      How does the imagination thunk up such thangs?
      I would’ve liked one twin to show the redemptive power of healing contrasted with the other.

      Complex, crazed, evil.
      Good dialogue wins.

  • trish
    Ken M. – You and Alyssa – both great writers but boy oh boy the gruesome thoughts your heads generate. This was quite the creepy tale. The one thing I wondered about was that the wife called the police so soon after noticing the similarity in the painting to the crime scene. Surely her love for her husband would trump her suspicions and she would talk to him first? Ah but that would have ruined the story. Still that plot point stuck in my craw as I read your work this week and detracted a tad from what otherwise was a darn fine story. Well done!
  • Yes, Alyssa and I are little big monsters! But we’re probably nice people in real life. Only in here, we let our dark side shine…

    Thanks for your feedback, Trish. On that issue of the wife reporting her husband to the police, I understand what you mean that it might come across as extreme. I suppose she was afraid of him from that point on, after discovering his artistic (just artistic?) alter ego. That’s on top of being pissed off by his “decree” not to ever step inside the attic where he worked. She must have felt some sort of betrayal – and fear for her own safety too.

    In my original draft, I had her bringing back the memories, on the plush sofa after finding the gruesome paintings but before she even saw those horrendous images on the TV, of her carefree childhood days running across endless fields on her parents’ Iowa ranch, without a single thought weighing on her mind. And how she wished to return to those pre-Norman times. And that Norman never returned from Austin, that something will happen to him on the way. Or some “beautiful artists’ model” will take him away from her.

    She started packing to leave the house, before “‘Mr. Hyde’ is back”. But then suddenly decided not to punish herself, and call the police instead. Just before the police left (having nearly convinced her that Norman was innocent, but they’ll still be interrogating him) she pleaded with them not to tell Norman know that she’d called them and led them inside his attic, that they had their own suspicions and came over of their own accord. The cops look at each other and agree to her plea.

    Moreover, when the Inspector touches the painting to check if the paint was fresh or dry, Kara goes white. “Norman would kill anyone touching a painting of his like that. Even a cop. Even her.” Not everything was smooth in this relationship.

    But, unfortunately, all that had to go in the final draft, because I was well over the word limit and at that point I decided to keep the story firmly hooked to the curious “emotional grid”/”invisible thread” theme, and not delve much or at all into the relationship within this married couple.

    But in a future use of this story, with more words available to me, and upon your valuable critical feedback, I’d re-introduce those elements that make Kara’s reaction more plausible. Do you think that would solve the problem you found with the story? If you have any other ideas how to smoothen that transition (a wife calling the police), please let me know.


    • Trish
      KEn M- love love love the version in your comment. That neatly solves the issue and adds some lovely wrinkles into the texture of your story. Thanks!
  • The Glen
    by Roy York
    1183 words

    Edward Gordon pulled his and Elise’s suitcases from the car. He closed the trunk and started toward the house. “It’s been years since you’ve stayed here and the time away from the pressures of the city will do you a world of good,” he said.

    “We should have sold this house when my parents died. It holds nothing for me.”

    “You need this, Elise. Doctor’s orders.”

    Elise went directly to the artist loft Edward had created for her weeks before. She stood at the window looking out across the well kept lawn. She focused on the small copse of trees at the lawn’s edge. She frowned and shook her head. “No, I can’t it’s too painful.”

    “Can’t what?” She whirled. Edward was standing in the doorway; a cocktail glass in his hand.

    “I can’t bear to look at that glen. When I do, I think of Elsa. And you know where that goes.”

    Edward handed Elise her drink. “Look, the doctor said you need to rest … to give your tired heart a break. You came here to paint something … paint.”

    Elise shrugged. “I’ve got nothing better to do. You know how I am. Don’t wait dinner on me.” Edward gave her a smile and walked out of the room.

    She pulled the paint drawer open and was satisfied with what she saw. ‘He picked good paints,’ she thought. ‘Maybe I can paint something.”

    She selected a landscape canvas and using the glen as inspiration she started painting an imaginary scene. She didn’t glance at the small glen. She didn’t want to. It was long overgrown and thick with underbrush. She hadn’t been there since … Elise clenched her fist. Her eyes welled with tears. “Oh, Elsa. Why, why, why?”

    * * * * *

    Her mind went back to the glen twenty years earlier as she and Elsa, her younger sister, played in the glen. Elsa was eight and adored her ten year old sister. They would pretend they were princesses and were waiting for a young handsome knight to come along to save them from the dragon.

    The last day they played together, Elsa told Elise she saw a unicorn. She remembered the delight in her sister’s eyes. “For real, Elise. I really did see it. It was right over there. I tried to tell you but as soon as I said ‘Elise,’ it ran away.”

    That night, Elise was diagnosed with measles and was confined to their darkened bedroom. Elsa stayed by her side. Three days later, Elsa joined her older sister in bed, as she, too, had contracted measles. The two girls would imagine they were in the glen.

    Then, Elsa took a turn for the worse. Elise started sleeping in another room. She pleaded with her parents to take her into town and buy a toy stuffed unicorn for Elsa. “I just know it will make her feel better. It will be the best medicine in the whole world.”

    Her father succumbed to Elise’s pleas and took her to buy the unicorn. When she gave it to Elsa, she said, “What are you going to name it. I’ll go to the glen in the morning and call for it. I’ll tell it all about you.”

    “I’ll call it Farin. You’re the best sister in the whole world,” she said and hugged Elise tightly. “I love you,” she whispered.

    “I’ll always love you, Elsa.”

    Morning came and when Elise awakened she ran to her sister’s room. Her mother was standing outside the room sobbing as her father held her in his arms. They saw the stricken look on Elise’ face and her father rushed to her side. “She just wasn’t strong enough to make it,” he father told her.

    Elise was devastated. “It’s my fault,” she cried. “I was the one who gave her the measles. Oh, Daddy, it’s all my fault.” Elise never went to the glen again. The stuffed toy was placed in a trunk in the attic.

    * * * * *
    Feverishly, Elise worked on the painting the rest of the evening. No amount of urging from her husband to stop and eat took her away from her painting. She added a stream, vibrant bushes with brightly colored flowers, and a weeping willow dipping long, graceful arms into the water. Finally, satisfied with the painting, she fell asleep on the couch.

    The following morning she awakened to sunlight streaming through the window. She looked at the painting and was happy with it. She looked toward the glen, and suddenly realized It had changed. Now, it was exactly like the painting. ‘There was no stream in the glen before, and there was never, ever a willow tree,’ she thought. Yet, there they were.

    She ran from the house to the glen. Delighted, she sat on a boulder next to the brook and looked into the water. She saw her wavy reflection and there, over her shoulder, she saw the image of Elsa. With a cry, she leaped to her feet and whirled. There was no one there.

    Elise ran from the glen toward the house and up to the loft. She convinced herself she had brought the glen to life. She quickly added another element without looking at the glen. She painted a bright red sugar maple next to the willow, and then looked at the glen. There, in crimson glory, stood the maple tree,

    She spent the next several hours rummaging through the attic and finally found what she was looking for. In a trunk marked Elsa was the stuffed unicorn. She took it to the loft and then decided to paint a unicorn into the scene. Satisfied, she sat on the couch hugging the unicorn and fell asleep.

    As she awoke, she stretched, yawned and looked out toward the glen. She thought she saw something. It looked like a unicorn. Elise realized what she must do. Quickly, she went to the painting and painted a little girl playing by the brook with a garland of flowers in her hair. Satisfied, she rushed to the glen.

    “Hello Elise, I’m so glad you came. I’ve missed you.” Elsa, stood there, a band of flowers in her hair. Elsa held out a garland for Elise. They ran to the brook and looked into the water at their reflections; both young and beautiful.

    Elise spent the rest of the day in the glen. There was so much to talk about. “I don’t want to leave,”said Elise.

    “You won’t have to ever leave again,” said Elsa, smiling. As dusk began to settle, Elsa took Elise by her hand as they walked down a path near the stream. Their images slowly dissolved in the fading sunlight.

    * * * * *

    Edward found her slumped next to the painting, the toy unicorn in her arms, and feared the worst. His apprehension was real; there was no pulse. He stared at the painting of the two little girls with garlands in their hair, playing in the glen. He thought the taller one looked like Elise. She was looking directly at him. “I should have realized I couldn’t compete with Elsa,” he said. Edward bent down and kissed her cheek. “I’ll miss you.”

    • Phil Town
      A magical story, Roy … one of longing for a past that can’t be retrieved, unless …

      The ending is tragic for Edward, but triumphant for Elise; she’s reunited with the person she most loved in the world (although that “You won’t want to ever leave again” is a little sinister!)

      I think this should read “Elise”?: “Elsa ran from the glen toward the house and up to the loft.”

      Very touching.

      • Phil, thank you for your kind and correct comments, although I don’t think Elsa saying you won’t want to leave is ‘sinister’, but I did rewrite that line several times looking for the right message and settled for ‘you won’t want to leave’ as being ‘it’s so magical here, and well, there’s just the two of us to enjoy life just the way we did twenty years ago.’ But then, I’m the author and I know what Elsa was thinking when she said it.

        I corrected Elsa to Elise and for the life of me, having edited this story and read and reread it at least fifteen times, how I missed that is beyond me.

        I enjoyed writing this story and it pretty much went the way I originally outlined it, (not common for me) and it would have followed the outline perfectly had I been able to insert another visit to the glen with the ‘real’ unicorn before Elsa showed up. I ran out of words, so that section had to go.

        Again, thanks.


    • Hi Roy,

      Another masterful piece of writing. You have set the bar really high and consistently leap over it.

      It’s a magical piece of writing and it contains elements of that that mystical link between siblings, or twins especially, that seems to be borne out in real terms.

      I think you have really captured the spirit of this prompt and created a story that will be hard to beat.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • Thanks, Ken Frape,

        Appreciate your comments. I seem to be able to write stories that you like. My wife really enjoyed it, too, when she read it. Usually a good sign, but not always. I remember way back I wrote a story she absolutely disliked and told me that she didn’t think I should even submit it. I thought about it, and decided I liked it and submitted it anyway. It was one of only two stories I wrote that received every first place vote, (that I am aware of). I’d like to think there are others, but with this crowd and the plethora of excellent writers (yourself being no exception) winning isn’t easy. After that I decided I would be the judge of my stories. I appreciate her editing, but I remain final arbitrator.

        Where have your stories been lately. I haven’t noticed many lately, or is it just my imagination? Because I like the way you write. Your style is easy to read and always, always enjoyable. I’m still loving Victorian Puddle.

        Stay safe,


    • Touching, magical and so beautifully written, Roy.
      I visualize a young Ophelia here beckoning Elise. Nothing sinister as Phil says, 🙂 but poetic and ethereal. I would hate ‘sinister’.
      Poor Edward.. he tried his best, didn’t he? Yet she didn’t love him as much as she loved her sister.
      I wonder how old this couple is.

      Elise never healed from the pain of losing her sister.
      Everyone has a time to go.. and what visions do they get when their time draws near? It’s perfect to see Jesus’ face.
      My dear sister passed on two years ago. I was her fav little sister.But I know without a shadow of doubt that she is rejoicing in heaven right now!

      Best story so far!

    • Ken Miles
      Hi Roy,

      I enjoyed this touching story, in which big things happen, but in the smoothest of ways, under the gentle caress of your pen.

      I thought Edward would try his inexperienced hand at painting too, and paint his self-portrait down in the glen, to follow in Elise’s footsteps. Or he realizes that Elise had already painted his likeness peeking from behind a tree, he sits on the couch waiting for what’s going to happen. But I’m already, here, in Part 2, the sequel…

      If only our passing away was this joyful…



      • Ken M.,

        Well, Mr. Wordsmith, you certainly perked up my day. Loved the gentle pen thingy. And, yeah, would have loved to have had another 1200 words to use those magic paints to improve Edward’s life. Or would he still be competing with Elsa for Elise’s love.? Or maybe, there’s a lost love in his life. There’s always another prompt and plenty of time to figure out a new plot, isn’t there? Thanks for the idea.

        I almost changed the story at the last minute, and sometimes wish I had. I was out of words, but in the last paragraph Edward would have seen that the glen hadn’t really changed and then leave it to the reader to decide if Elise had imagined it all, or if the glen swallowed them up and returned to normal, waiting for another family of small children to find it and perhaps, join the unicorn and the two little girls in the glen … forever. Insert evil laugh here.

  • I went in to try and change an element of my story and was told I did not have permission to edit this comment. I thought that was the whole purpose of the 7 day plug in for changes. I’m mystified. I can live with it, but I thought it was fixed.


    • Carrie Zylka

      I was working on the website a little bit this morning, and it was updating plugins, is very possible that is that exact moment was when you tried to edit your comment. The internet is stupid sometimes 😂

      • Roy York
        Thanks, Carrie, I’ll try to make the other change then.
        • Dear Roy,
          Once more you have caught me on the wrong foot! But let me tell you first, how I chanced upon “The Glen”. I think it was in the night before last that with drooping eyes, I glimpsed at the name, Roy in an email. Before I could do anything more, weariness got the better of me and I fell sound asleep. I’d have searched for your email yesterday but for the scenes I was busy enacting!
          So, today, when my mind is at peace again, I remembered you and hit Carrie’s Subscription email for the present thread, hoping to confirm somehow if I had dreamt about your email or it happened in reality. Unfortunately, your story is yet to be added to the list.
          “It couldn’t have been just a dream! Roy is real and so must be his stories! ” I started scrolling down hurriedly, liking Phil’s story in the process till I came across yours. And you know what? This labour for a loved one, was not lost.
          What a story, Roy! Phillian in its simplicity, amazing dialogue and language ( What was that regarding ‘ Don’t wait dinner on me’ bit? Or, this one for an example ?
          She added a stream, vibrant bushes with brightly colored flowers, and a weeping willow dipping long, graceful arms into the water. )
          Just fantabulous stuff, Roy. I would have been happy had Elise, the elder sister, not died in the end. It was quite predictable by the time I was coming to the end of your story. I also didn’t like Edward’s meek, heartless reaction to her sublime demise. I expected something more subtly suited to the occasion from you than a mere :
          “I will miss you. ” Having said that, let me offer my obescience (does it mean submission?) to you most gracefully. You are an asset to this site. Many writers like “Yours truly” may come and go, but as long as Master Roy York is at the helm, this platform along with its very talented writers, will rule supreme. Love and regards.
          • Rathin, thank you for your eloquent comments. They are well taken.

            I was never trying to surprise anyone with Elise’s death at the end of the story. My characters tell me where they want to go in a story and I generally let them. Sometimes they surprise me, but not Elise. She wanted to be with her sister from the day she stood over her grave. Edward also knew that. He listened to her therapists and doctors who told him she needed to be away, and it, in the end, was the wrong move. He will miss her. What would you have him do, throw his body on hers in anguish? No, Edward knew he lost her and was simply saying goodbye.

            No surprise ending there. What would have been a surprise would have her live and be completely cured, and what kind of story would that have been?

            Again, thank you for your comments and your praise. I will be getting to your story later today and hope you will continue to surprise me with your efforts and I fervently hope I don’t run into any silly contractions, but if they are there, I will read around them, and I probably will comment on them.


      • Stupid sometimes! Hilarious! Got my noon giggles in this part of the world.


    Marien Oommen (1198 words)

    l ran my fingers through my hair, which fell like a cascade of black silken tresses. Nobody spoke that to me except my own reflection.

    I took five steps back to gaze at my work.


    “Oooh! Sorry, Dolce. Didn’t see you. Why do you sit so close, hey silly dog?”
    I had stepped on his tail, but he just licked my heel. Gratitude was all he ever knew. There were no retaliatory snarls of doggie lives matter thrown in my face.

    My oil on canvas had acquired autumnal shades this Year of the Germ, standing on the easel in the dining room over the last two years, was still unfinished.

    My Parthenon with pillars, and the Aegean sea in the background.
    Over time, the painting had changed. The sky changed from a bright red to deep blue, this year, it had shades of orange-mauve. The sea was now dark purple, green creepers that sprouted were blurred out.

    A wistful girl, leaning against the tall pillar, was the addition made this June. Rea factored that in.

    When was the last time we walked in Syntagma Square?
    Vacationing in December, cold, but assured of bumping into fewer tourists. The boat ride to Santorini was an absolute dream. And the island? Pure heaven.

    Except for the two gawkers who kept staring at us. I got the heebie-jeebies as I kept an eye on my pretty girls. They could be pickpockets, wastrals.

    “Maybe we’re just that attractive, Ma.” Ela quipped.

    They stuck to us wherever we wandered. We purposefully tried to disappear up a narrow alley, lo and behold, they’d appear from the top from another path.

    “Whatttttt thhhh….”

    “Could they be angels watching over us?”

    Paranoia and irritation overcame me because Papa, seemingly least bothered, kept whistling. He was thinking.. souflaki. Naturally dinner was on HIS mind. As we were leaving the restaurant, a little girl tugged at my dress.

    “Please ma’am, this is for you. You are so pretty.”

    I took the rose from her, flattered to the core of my being, assuming it was a farewell gift to all ladies as they left.

    Once the rose was in my hand, she said, “10 euro, please.”

    “Here, little girl, take your rose back. I don’t want it.”
    “No,” she said, glancing at her mother sitting across the road.
    Her pleas for 10 euros got louder. The mother glared diabolically, ordering her to keep pestering us.
    Finally to get her off our back, we gave her 7. But she demanded 10.
    I consoled myself. “O, let them gypsies have the money.”
    Still their devious, lopsided begging irked me.

    “You’re so pretty, Mia, here’s toothpaste. 10 euros.”
    He teased me later at night. I whacked him with my toothbrush.

    The next morning, a parade passed right outside our hotel. We rushed to the road to stand and wave by the procession.
    A young lady, dressed in a Czech folk costume, stopped by, dancing around my girls.

    Now what is happening? I wondered. All eyes were on us.

    Rea curtseyed, politely twirling around this strangely attired girl. The music was jubilant Zorba, the moment dreamy. But her dress, a total misfit to this Aegean island.

    Soon a young man swayed closer with a step one-two. Rea was in her element. She’d never danced the Zorba until this day, and wasn’t giving up this chance. So she swirled and she twirled.

    There were few tourists watching the pageant. Pa, immersed in the melodic moment, noticed someone brushing his legs, as if flicking something off his jeans. He looked down and then raw instinct told him to look up again.

    His leather wallet, from his back pocket, was in the hand of another guy.
    “That’s mine,” said Papa, swiftly retrieving it before either of them could blink.
    The neat transaction took less than a minute.

    The anguish on my face made Rea stop dancing, but both men had fled by then. The dancers continued onwards with their song and dance.

    Meanwhile my legs had turned into a mess of shakin’ jelly.

    “You were robbed. Praise God you were quick to react to take back your wallet. The nerve of that idiot!”

    “Gosh! this place is spooky. Perfect but… where do these scoundrels come from?” Said Ela.

    The night passed in anguish. We stared at the volcanic island far away, each one lost in his thoughts. Gypsy girl, voyeurs, and pickpockets.
    Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

    “But why was that dancer wearing that outfit? Here in Santorini? What’s the connection?”

    A strange memory fog was hitting me.

    The next morning, while sipping coffee with croissants, the server approached us.

    “Ma’am, there’s someone asking for your daughter at the front office.”

    “Whaaat? Who knows us here? There’s not a soul!”

    That dancer girl was standing at the counter- the Czech costume. Her blouse was cut low with frills going down the front. Far from any Grecian goddess.

    “Amal, it’s you! O my goodness when did we last meet? College? How are you here?” Rea was shouting.

    “I saw you, Rea, last night…and couldn’t sleep. I realised it was you only when I got home.”

    “But why are you dressed East European? You’re Lebanese! Your dress misled me.. I hardly looked at your face. That’s so rotten, not to recognize you. How long has it been?”


    “Who would’ve thought I’ll see you here dancing on the street dressed as a Slovakian?”

    “Well, I married into it. And I love these old folk dresses. So here I am making extra fulus, playing fake European.”

    The two ladies chatted for an hour. Amal lived the life on the island with her fancy desires.

    Night fell and we retired for the night, but I was alert. Something about Amal hit a nerve. Where did I see it last? A new memory consolidation.
    Good sleep is critical, especially on holidays, cementing those neural networks, which like a dry sponge, soaks all info received.
    Then hit the save button.

    Gwarshhhh! I need my sleep.

    Tomorrow there’s a lot of climbing. Pa never allowed fuss. Gotta buck up and play along with him. Whether the Annapurna range or the mountains of Hawaii.

    A file transfer was happening in the hippocampus…zzzzz
    I was dreaming..

    My mind time-travelled back to 1966.

    “Stop sticking yer face.” Big sister loved bullying me. “No touchin’, only lookin’.”

    My nose glued itself onto the glass shelf in Nana’s home. Uncle Ben, recently returned from Czechoslovakia, had brought this overdressed doll to Kerala.

    I who never had dolls, yearned to touch her soft lace pleated dress, untie her hair as her blue eyes stared at me, perched behind the precious china meant for the bishop when he came for lunch with grandpa.

    Tempted, lil’ me opened the cabinet an’ grabbed the doll.
    But her dress got caught in the handle of the Royal Albert teapot, both came crashing down on the floor.

    I was screaming as Nana walked in.

    “Miaaaaaaa, what have you done?”

    I’m so-r-r-r-y, Nana,” I wailed loud. So loud that the man, lying by my side, dug his elbow into me bringing me back to life.

    • Madam Marien,
      I read your story twice and went back up to the start for the third time. Your language is just exceptionally good, even brilliant. Someone with such kind of English, must be a good writer.
      So, there was this grown-up Anu painting on the canvas at the beginning that kept changing shapes and colours over time. The girl that her daughter, Rhea, factored in in the painting, must have been young Anu only.
      We learnt about the trip to the island, the parade, before Amal, the lady disguised as a Serbian, took over the central stage. Something clicked somewhere, Amal could easily call up Rhea’s face and came to meet her friend at the hotel reception the very next day.
      So far, so good.
      My critical and inquisitive mind didn’t find anything wrong. Then we have the flashback where little Anu was drawn to the beautiful doll next to the china mug meant for the Bishop. She was so much taken by the doll that she tried to take it out and broke both the cup and the doll in the process.
      The last few sentences wonderfully sum up the guilty, frightened feeling of Any as she screamed her lungs out literally. I liked the way you depicted the scene, the feelings and all before I realized there was a man lying by her side with his elbows dug into Anu.
      Who was the man? Was it her Nana, grandpa, who came hurrying in, having heard the scream?
      That made me think of the opening paragraph ( Sorry, I can’t look at it again right now. I tried to recollect whatever I could of a woman running her fingers through her hair… .. till ‘nobody had ever said that to me except my own reflection.’). What is the connection here?

      My mind started racing again. Somebody must have told something to the woman. I ran through the story for the second reading, hoping to find out exactly that. But you didn’t seem to bother much about it or, is there a connection between the first and last paragraphs that I missed?
      Sorry, Madam. What promised to be a nail-biting kinda story, petered out into a rather innocuous one in the end, at least to me.

      I know people out here, seem to think quite highly of you, Ma’am. I am sorry if I missed something important in my reading of the story. I sincerely hope that others find my comments funny and come out with the appreciation your story deserves.

      Good luck to you with “Of Dancers and Dolls”.Stay safe.

      • Thanks so much, Rathin, for reading. And the appreciation.

        I must confess I thought the last date was the 19th.. and 16th came as a shock. Had to write that quick.

        Since you got confused, I removed Anu from here. She’s the artist’s older sister. The artist is Mia.

        Starts with her this year, Mia, the caring mom of Ela and Rea. Their holiday in Greece, the memory flash, and her dream which takes her to her childhood home where her granma Nana kept the doll locked in the crockery cabinet.
        Her wails wake her hubby and she’s back to the present day. Voila!

        Tried to incorporate the theme…

        You take care. Your comments and doggedness is quite something. 🙂

        I’m quite alright with somewhere near the last standing… heh heh. This site gives me a chance to stick to a schedule. That’s all that matters. Life still rolls..

    • Marien, I am really getting into your flow of consciousness writing. A nice cheerful little story and one that I truly enjoyed. I always wonder where you are going to take me on your little trips. Keep it up.

      By the way, my wife and I had two encounters with Gypsies when in Rome. One on our way to The Vatican and the other at the Colosseum. Both times we were able to fend them off, because they were basically preteens in the Colosseum case, and I was fast enough to cuff the one with his hand in my wife’s waist pouch, and ran the other off. As they ran the called me a ‘crazy American’ and in Italian, I hollered that “You’re right, I am crazy, come back with your brothers and your father and you’ll all find out.” My wife told me I was nuts for tempting them to come back with help. She was probably right, but nothing came of it. The other was a mother with a baby and two young boys who tried to go through my camera case and my pockets, along with the mother pulling on me thinking I wouldn’t do anything, but I pushed her away. My wife was screaming, “She’s got a baby, she’s got a baby.” I managed to chase the boys off and the woman was fine. My wife was angry with me, but I told her the mother was at fault, not me.

      Good job,


      • Thanks, Roy, for reading and writing back. I do like my story though it fails to satisfy the others.(!!)
        So your good words fill the void. And prompt me to get back here.

        Your experience with gypsies seems far worse than mine. Rome too is a great city to visit and relive the past, and yet you got to be on the lookout always. I agree with your wife.. wouldn’t have dared to pose a challenge to their likes. Yikes!!

        The two who followed close weren’t gypsies but guys who seek asylum from Kashmir or thereabouts. You see them selling yo-yo on the streets and happy to do that!

        Take good care! God bless,

  • Victoria,

    I liked your story and I like the way you write. I would like to see you separate dialogue, which really should always be in separate paragraphs at each new speaker. For instance:

    …A group of old men lounging outside the cantina on his way home barely heard Miguel’s greeting. They were too busy gawking at a well-dressed stranger alighting from a carriage across the road.
    “A newcomer?”, inquired Miguel.
    “Yeah, his name’s Alonso de Vaca. Fresh from Seville,” replied Vasco Leon in his scratchy voice.
    “I heard he was an informer back home,” added Pepe Zapato with a scowl. “Denounced a neighbour for a heretic, to get his fine house. Too bad the man’s wife had connections in court… His friends in the Inquisition helped him get out of Spain before things got too hot for him… Maybe they even sent him straight to us.” The old man spat on the ground.

    Needs to be written this way:

    …A group of old men lounging outside the cantina on his way home barely heard Miguel’s greeting. They were too busy gawking at a well-dressed stranger alighting from a carriage across the road. “A newcomer?”, inquired Miguel. (No comma necessary)

    “Yeah, his name’s Alonso de Vaca. Fresh from Seville,” replied Vasco Leon in his scratchy voice.

    “I heard he was an informer back home,” added Pepe Zapato with a scowl. “Denounced a neighbour for a heretic, to get his fine house. Too bad the man’s wife had connections in court… His friends in the Inquisition helped him get out of Spain before things got too hot for him… Maybe they even sent him straight to us.” The old man spat on the ground.

    Your ellipses should be like this … with a space before and after them. Even if there’s punctuation.

    Your story was very good but I would have like to have known if Miguel accepted the commission. I loved your last paragraph because you did it without getting into blue prose. (Being too flowery and descriptive. It’s easy to do. I do it all the time, I know how easy it is to slip into writing beautiful phrases and not knowing when enough is enough. Less is more almost always.

    Anyway, keep writing. I look forward to reading your stuff.


    • Vicki Chvatal

      I can’t thank you enough for your advice on how to present dialogue. I’ve been confused about the conventions, and now will do my best to remember your advice and put it into practice.

      As for ellipses, I was under the impression that there should be no space before if they are at the end of a sentence. Is that correct or not?

      I find the word limit to be a wonderful incentive to cut down on blue prose :). I already had to cut a lot out of this story ‘cos it was getting too long – exposition, plot details, the character of Miguel’s wife…

      In case you’re curious, my hunch is that Miguel would be too scared to turn down the commission. People were burned at the stake for less.

      • Roy York

        Regarding ellipses there’s .ore than one school of thought. The AP Style manual says three dots a space before and after and the Chicago Manual of Style says a space before and after AND a space between each dot. I subscribe to the AP Style and that includes a space at the end of a sentence.

        So your characters don’t act on their own, huh? Yeah, well, mine do. I think I’m in control and then off they go. I kind of like it that way. That’s how my stories write themselves, sometimes.

        Good luck,


  • Alyssa Daxson
    Hey Alice, unfortunately I won’t be able to vote… so sorry, I’ve had a really busy two weeks, and tomorrow I’m working and then going straight to a soccer game that lasts all day. Sorry again, best of luck to everyone else!
    • Ah there you are, Alyssa, our cup holder! Good luck with the soccer match, then, and hope you’ll win that this time!
    • Thank you Alyssa for letting me know. Hope things slow down for you , and I hope you kick butt in your soccer game 🙂
  • Good work, Victoria. I love that it took me back to class to learn me some Spanish history. That’s another reason I like this site. We learn so much from each other. The converso da fe helped here. 🙂

    Miguel and Moshe are the same, right? His family was tortured and killed for converting?
    That divine retribution of painting Vaca’s face into the demon!

    And the banqueting table, the communion … all good, Amen.
    Inexpressible, unpaintable!


    • Vicki Chvatal
      Thanks, Marien! Please allow me to return the compliment: I find inspiration to write different points of view and different voices from the presence of writers such as yourself and Rathin in this group.

      You’re right: Miguel and Moshe are the same. Moshe was his secret Jewish name, known only within his immediate family. His birth family were killed not so much for converting as for being suspected of still practicing Judaism in secret. Actually, by the time the story takes place there hadn’t been any openly practicing Jews in Spain or its colonies for nearly 80 years, so the family are third or even fourth generation converts. Nevertheless, conversos/ New Christians were not treated as “proper” Christians for hundreds of years: they were singled out for persecution by the Inquisition, and at times riots targeting them broke out (such as the one in which Miguel’s birth family was murdered).

      The final scene is meant to represent a Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) dinner, as seen through the eyes of a small child.

  • Hi Vicki,

    In my humble opinion this is a fabulous piece of writing, leading me by the hand into the intricacies of an artist’s mind. I’m married to an artist so I could do with some help here! You also point to the awfulness of human nature as people carry out atrocities in the name of religion.

    Your writing is vivid and your words are so well chosen. I really do think that the talent that some people are born with is truly inspirational. It doesn’t have to be art as in painting; it can be a singing voice, an orator, a medical expert, a sporting icon.

    There are several points to make about the story. I think Roy makes a valid point regarding the dialogue and the separation between each character’s words. I think it improves the readability of your work, without the need to alter the words.

    I am happy NOT to know if the commission was accepted. Either way is a reasonable possibility for me but my money is on not taking it.

    I love the notion of Miguel drawing De Vaca’s features on the sneaky little back-stabbing demon. There is a strong tradition of this of course all around the world with carpenters leaving carvings of tiny mice on the lecterns in cathedrals and stonemasons carving their names or initials onto hard stone underneath softer surfaces that will wear away in the years to come and reveal their names instead.

    Well done, Vikki. I loved this story.

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape

    • Vicki Chvatal
      Thanks a lot, Ken!

      You’re right: I *needed* advice like Roy’s on how to present dialogue.

      Roy’s question about the commission made me think on it some more, and I’m more inclined to think that Miguel would be too scared to turn it down; especially now that he’s recalled his “tainted” background and is likely worried that someone would dig it up. To turn it down, he’d need either a) a watertight excuse, b) to be too careless (perhaps from not having lived under the Inquisition), or c) a death wish.

      There was also a long tradition of artists, poets, etc. depicting their enemies as gargoyles, monsters, etc. (Sometimes it was the enemies of the artist’s patron who commissioned the work – like a few personalities who ended up in the inferno in Dante’s Divine Comedy.)

  • Waiting on Ken C’s vote…as usual 🙂
    First Place: The Glen by Roy York

    2nd Place: The Masterstrokes by Rathin Bhattacharjee
    3rd Place: The Invisible thread by Ken Miles
    4th Place Resonance by Jack McDaniel
    6th Place: Beyond Waverton by Phil Town
    7th Place: OF DANCERS AND DOLLS by Marien Oommen

    **Portraiture by Ken Cartisano did not qualify

    Favorite Character: “Miguel” from VISIONS OF HELL by Vicki Chvatal
    Character Dialogue: Resonance by Jack McDaniel

    Congratulations Roy!!
    And thank you all for participating.

    • Congratulations, Roy and Rathin! And all.

      And may I echo KenM’s words re KenC – hope all’s well.

  • Congratulations to Roy and Rathin for the top positions! Paintings that bring back our loved ones are certainly a great hit this time, especially when their stories are so superbly told by the likes of R&R 🙂

    Well done to Vicki and Jack, too, for the thematic prizes. As for Ken Cartisano, it’s a pity ‘Portraiture’ wasn’t counted in. I hope you’re okay, Ken, and that you’re not directly affected by the nasty stuff that’s going on in Florida right now.

    Also thanks to all those who read, commented on and voted for my story! All very appreciated, guys.


    • Congratulations, Roy and Rathin! And all.

      And may I echo KenM’s words re KenC – hope all’s well.

  • Well done to all and special mention to Roy for The Glen.

    Welcome to Jack. Some great writing as I mentioned in my comment.

    Sorry I wasn’t able to compete with you this time round.

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape

  • Roy York
    Didn’t see this until this morning and was pleasantly surprised as there are some very good stories. Congrats to Rathin, Ken M.,Vicki C., And newcomer Jack McDaniel. Writing is fulfilling all by itself, but affirmation that you really can write something worthy is a good feeling.

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