Bonus Writing Prompts

Writing Prompt “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

Theme: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Many writers draw their inspiration from art or images. There are so many different stories that could be told from this one detailed picture.

Use this image as inspiration for your story, it can be the image as a whole, a single part of it, or several elements inside the image itself.

Story Requirements:

  • A staircase
  • A broken window

Word Count: 1,200

Something Wicked This Way Comes Writing Prompt

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136 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

  • Carrie Zylka

    Read the stories here:

    (If you don’t see your story linked in this comment within a day or two, feel free to use the contact form to let us know we somehow missed it.

    Meanwhile, please be patient, moderators are not always online. We’ll get to it as soon as possible. Thank you.)

  • Signing in
    • Yes sounds great. My muse has been frozen of late.
    • Yay! 🙂
      Already started on this one. It’s inspired by our conversation in the by-weekly prompt. This is just what I needed to get my muse to start talking. I didn’t even have to wag my finger at her in irritation!
      I can’t wait to see what you come up with! 🙂
  • I have a story brewing about a legendary female pirate with a grand staircase in her galleon.
    Inspired by 18 rounds of putt putt at Pirate Adventure in the Wisconsin Dells.
    • Hi Carrie! How’ve you been?
      That sounds like a very interesting story idea. Don’t forget to throw in the skipper with the patch on his eye! 🙂
      I missed you!
      • Amy! I have missed you and your writing!!!
        Glad to get back in the saddle, and I might just make a few people walk the plank in my story (best emotional outlet ever right!!!).
        • Carrie,
          Absolutely right! Writing really does let us work out our demons in the most creative way possible!
          Ha! Walk the plank, throw a parrot on someone’s shoulder, and maybe a rogue wave will wipe out some evil villain! So many ways to have a great time with this prompt!

  • Mischievous

    By: Amy Lynn Raines
    (1198 Words)

    “You ran out of gas? Do you think these things run on hopes and dreams?” Michael shook his head at his forgetful sister.
    “It must’ve slipped my mind. I have been very busy, you know.” Jade defended her lapse in memory.
    “I assume you don’t have a jug already filled in the trunk for just such occasions?”
    “No.” Jade said miserably as she looked at her cellphone. “I’m sorry, Michael. I guess we’re gonna have to walk. My cellphone is dead and you left yours on your counter.”
    “It’s all good, Jade. It’s just more time to catch up without interruptions from bosses, coworkers and scam lines on the way to the gas station.”
    “Always the optimist, aren’t you?”
    “I hate worrying over things that can’t be controlled, especially if it’s not exactly the worst thing that could happen.” Michael shrugged.
    “Well… we got about a two mile walk and the sun is going down.” Jade pointed out, then added, “The gas station is just to the right when we reach the end of this road.”
    “Really? Wow. It looks like we’re in the middle of nowhere!”
    “It does.” Jade nodded agreement as they stepped out of the car and started walking. “It’s really pretty, too.”
    Jade and Michael walked along the old road for about twenty minutes, talking and laughing about the crazy things they did when they were in their teens. Jade stopped abruptly, not talking or walking.
    “What are you looking at, Jade?” Michael watched the young woman’s expression go from mild curiosity to uncertainty and fear.
    She didn’t answer him, she just kept staring at the beaten path between the trees. Michael followed her gaze, but saw nothing that would warrant her obvious concern.
    “Jade! Snap out of it!” Michael clapped his hands together sharply to get her attention.
    “I’m sorry. I thought I saw something way up there.” She pointed to where the trees came together.
    “You probably did see something.” Michael said sarcastically, “The sun is going down, that means animals are bouncing around through the trees. Since when does anything like that scare you?”
    “Since I found out where this path supposedly leads.”
    “I don’t know if I believe the story, but there’s supposedly an old house up there.”
    “How is it possible that you’re afraid of an old house? You’ve never been afraid of anything.”
    “I was told the family still lives there and that they have some murderous children who hunt these woods.” Jade rolled her eyes as if that explained her fear.
    “That’s interesting…” Michael thought for a moment, “Wanna go check it out?”
    “No. We’re not fifteen anymore. Checking out local horror stories is not exactly the kind of thing I get my kicks doing these days.”
    “Right… What would your boss and coworkers think if you went snooping around some path with a house and a nasty story that makes it interesting?”
    “I’m pretty sure they’d know my crazy little brother came for a visit and somehow convinced me to trespass onto someone’s property. That’d get me fired for sure.” Jade shook her head remembering similar adventures in their childhood.
    “I dare you.” Michael laughed evilly.
    “I don’t do dares anymore.”
    ‘I double-dare you.”
    “Nice try. Still not gonna happen, Captain. Let’s go.” Jade laughed as the familiar childish banter eased the fear that had gripped her only moments before.
    “I triple-dog dare you!” Michael giggled as he stated the ultimate no-pass dare.
    “Really? We’re grown-ups, Michael!”
    The sound of something running just inside the trees caught the young man’s attention. He ran up the path still laughing.
    “Catch me if you can!” He yelled back, knowing she would take the bait.
    “Michael! Have you lost your mind? Stop! What was that?” Jade ran after him, not wanting to stand beside the road alone while Michael satisfied his curiosity.
    They ran along the narrow path until they were nearly out of breath. Panting, they walked between the trees until they made it around a sharp bend that could not be seen from where they had started. The path ended in the middle of what was a paved driveway.
    To the right was the rest of the driveway that presumably led to a nearby road. To the left was the old house that Jade had heard the stories about.
    “I don’t think anyone’s home.” Michael whispered, nodding toward the empty spots in front of the house that were obviously used for parking.
    “Me neither. You’ve had your fun, Michael. It’s dark now, I’m exhausted, so let’s go back and get some gas for the car.” Jade pleaded.
    They looked at one another with identical expressions of fear as the sound of something large running along the path behind them could be heard in the otherwise still air.
    “Something’s coming.” Michael whispered, took Jade’s hand and pulled her toward the house along the moonlit driveway.
    Michael tried the door, found it unlocked, and tugged Jade in behind him. He closed the old door, stepped to the side and peered out the window beside it to see if there was anyone or anything out there. He saw nothing.
    Fear gripped them as the sound of sadistic laughter echoed from somewhere deep inside the house.
    “What do we do now, genius?” Jade whispered angrily.
    “We should hide.” He replied as the sound of a door slamming and heavy footsteps echoed and grew louder as if they were coming for them.
    Jade’s irritation flared as she followed Michael’s gaze.
    “Don’t be ridiculous. Hiding upstairs has never been good for anyone!” She whispered before he could form the words.
    The door on the opposite side of the room swung wide, revealing a well lit room behind a man wearing a blood soaked shirt.
    “Jade!” Michael grabbed Jade’s hand and reached for the door knob with the other.
    “Don’t move.” The man spoke in a gruffly and aimed a rifle at them. “State your business here.”
    “My car ran out of gas.” Jade explained everything in a hurry including the stories of the horrible things that supposedly happened in this house. The crazy laughter could be heard echoing again from somewhere behind the gun-toting man.
    “People really say that?” Laughing, Earl looked down at his shirt. “I kinda look the part, don’t I?”
    “Yeah, maybe.” Michael spoke quietly.
    “I’m Earl, I just got back from hunting. Mable, she’s my horse, and I crossed the road right behind you, just before you ran like Hell up the path.”
    “But the darkness, the blood, and the laughing?” Jade asked.
    “My family and I live in the back of the house. This side needs some serious repair, it’s hard to find glass for all these old broken windows.” Earl gestured at the barely visible area.
    A boy, no more than six years old ran past the man, laughing hysterically heading toward the staircase.
    “Come on on and visit a spell, I’ve got a jug of gas out back in the shed that you can have to get you where you need to go.”
    “Thank you.” Jade smiled, relieved.
    “No problem.” Earl shook his head, laughing at the boy. “First, I gotta wrangle that wicked child.”

    • Amy,
      Fun story. I will reveal nothing to any unsuspecting reader. And I like what you did and how you ended it. However, something did occur to me as soon as I finished it. How interesting would it be, (???) to start this story at the line where Michael says, “Something’s coming.” He took Jade’s hand and pulled her toward the house.’
      (Just, you know, something to think about.)
      • Ken C.,

        Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the story. 🙂
        You may be onto something here. The story could definitely have started at the line you suggested. It could possibly draw on a bit of extra suspense.


    • I like a lot of things about this, Amy. You establish a good (albeit well-worn) predicament, the relationship between the two protagonists is a fun one (rivalry, history of pranks), the path into the trees and the scuttling in the undergrowth are seriously spooky, the pace is good, the dialogue too. If there could be a way to avoid the early reveal … (“I don’t know if I believe the story, but there’s supposedly an old house up there.” – maybe neither of them know about the house, and the path seems like it might be a short cut?) … because for me that deflated the suspense a bit.
      • Hi Phil,

        Thank you :), The rivalry, pranks, and bantering were literally based on my youngest brother Michael (that’s really his name) and myself. We really used to behave that way when we were teens, lol. He thought it was hysterical that I incorporated our wild younger days into a story on here. (He’s so supportive, and still a bit wild and crazy.)

        I think you are right about the early reveal, it may have been a bit too telling. The short cut idea you suggested would have worked in a lot more suspense.


    • Hi Amy,

      Love the story and the kind of “let down” ending ( even though, for me, it’s not a let down) it really made me laugh. You know, the way rumours start and get spread without much evidence to back them up. The rumour mill in action. I love the way Earl hasn’t heard what people say about him and his family, “People really say that?”!……”I kinda look the part, don’t I?” and the way this seems to amuse him. He’s sounds like he might be the kinda guy who uses his Bowie knife or even a chainsaw, to cut marshmallows! You know, scary first impressions but a pussycat beneath the surface.

      The setting seems to be that kind of place you get ( in America, perhaps but certainly not the only place….Transylvania sounds good too) that suggests miles and miles of dark woods, animal tracks never used by humans and a sort of feral population, slavering for blood and dripping red meat. Lovely.

      Of course, first, and second impressions are notoriously risky so, after the invitation to stay ( small error here “come on ON and visit a spell”) who knows what might actually happen? Perhaps “that wicked child” that needs wrangling is like that because he/she is part werewolf and needs fresh blood. Hence the hysterical laughter.

      It’s all in our imagination and you have conjured up a veritable feast of possibilities, Amy.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

    • Entertaining story, Amy! I’m left wondering – is Jade right to be relieved? Taking Earl and his ‘wicked’ child at face value could be a big mistake …

      The siblings’ dialogue seems pretty natural – maybe more could have been done with Earl’s as his speech seems a little less natural and a bit expository. Perhaps with half the wordcount taken up before the action starts, there wasn’t enough space to make more of the encounter?

      • Hi Andy,

        You are right on target, lol. The ending and Earl’s parts could have been a lot better with more words to play with. All in all, it was a lot of fun though. It’s good to be back, how have you been?

  • Phil Town


    Once upon a time there was a house – no, darling, not a haunted house, at least it didn’t have any ghosts in it. But it was a horrid house. It actually ate people! Just imagine that! A house where you walk in the front door and the entrance hall – much bigger than ours – is the mouth, and the house just swallows you. I know, right? That must have been horrible. Walking in the entrance and being gulped down, and never coming out because you’re in the house’s tummy and it’s digesting you, just like you digested that doughnut this afternoon. All white and doughy, and when you bite on it – SQUELCH! A load of red … jam squirts out. Eurgh indeed! No, I wouldn’t want to be a human doughnut either!

    I’m sure it DID hurt. But I’m not sure you’d know much about it once you went past the mouth, the throat, the oesophagus … yes, that is a funny word, isn’t it? It’s here, you see, just after your throat, which is here, as you know. I suppose it was one of the corridors in the house, or a staircase – a long one. Anyway …

    This house had an enormous eye – gigantic it was. Why did it need an eye? Well, guess what its favourite food was. That’s right! Children! It would spot children passing of a cold night (you’re right – they shouldn’t have been out so late!), then the inside of the house would get all glowy, and the light would shine through the eye and kind of hypnotize the children. Do you know that word? That’s it, like that man on the telly. So they’d get attracted into the house … into the mouth.

    Oh, you’re very clever, you are. Of course, it wasn’t like a REAL eye. It was like a … guess what? YES! A window! A giant window that could see for miles and miles.

    So for centuries (that’s a lot of years), this house would eat up the local children. No, not all of them; most of them were too clever to go anywhere near that strange house on their own, let alone go inside it … just like you would be, I hope! That’s a good girl. And no, it didn’t eat adults because, frankly, they were a bit tough and it preferred tender meat.

    As I was saying, this went on for centuries. The adults in the local villages knew all about this evil house but either they were too scared (I would have been) or they didn’t know what to do to stop it.

    Then one night, one of the villagers – Sid, his name was – got very drunk. Yes, a bit like me last Christmas, but I wasn’t as drunk as Sid. He was sooo drunk that he lost all his fear and resolved to put an end to this wicked house’s alimentary proclivities. Sorry … that WAS a bit difficult, wasn’t it? I meant he decided to put an end to this house eating the local kids. He staggered from the inn to his cottage, got his shotgun and stumbled up the hill to the house. (Didn’t I tell you that? Sorry – yes, the house sat atop a big hill, and the little villages were all around the hill at the bottom.)

    Sid was sad and also very angry, you see. He’d had a son and a daughter, and they’d gone out to play one afternoon, it had got dark and …well you can guess what happened, I expect. Yes, unfortunately.

    But what was he going to do with that shotgun, do you think? It was a big house – a shotgun wouldn’t be much use, surely. Unless … now, do you know the story of the Cyclops? You did? In school? Ok, what happened to him? Exactly! So …

    Yep. Sid got near the house, raised his shotgun … and gave that great big eye – window – both barrels! You could hear the house groaning way across the valleys – it must have been in a lot of pain. But it served it right for eating all those children, that’s what I say.

    No, I’m afraid that’s not the end of the story at all. You see, before Sid’s shotgun, the house could tell when it was children that were passing – and as you know, they were its favourite. But now, everyone was blurry, and it couldn’t tell who were children and who were adults. So it hypnotized everyone! And ate everyone who came in the entrance, even though sometimes it got some very tough folk – I mean ‘tough’ as in ‘hard to chew’. Like Sid, for example. Yes, he fell into the trap and got gobbled up too.

    Sorry, it’s not a very happy ending, is it? But you know what? It just goes to show that big houses aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I mean, mummy wants you to go and live with her and … Alan … in that big mansion of his. But just think: what if it’s related to the house in the story – like a cousin or something? And what if it has the same appetite? You’d get swallowed up and I’d never see you again. That would be horrible, wouldn’t it? No, I think we’re safe and happy in this little apartment, if you ask me.

    But that’s enough for tonight, darling. Get to sleep now – mummy and Alan are coming early to take you out so you need to get your rest. Come here. There, that’s a nice hug. Ok. I’ll leave the light on in the hall.

    Night night. Pleasant dreams.

    • This is a very cool story, Phil. I won’t give anything away, I’ll just say that at first I thought, what a weird way of writing Phil is using here. And then, the ending. This exemplifies (with outstanding functionality) the term, ‘something wicked.’
      This is an excellent take on the prompt.
      • Thanks, Ken! “Cool” is good!

        (The “weird” style/POV thing is a bit of a re-tread of a couple of other stories I’ve written … and I’m sure there are similar things out there in the whatever-sphere.)

    • Excellent, Phil.
      Very cleverly constructed and executed. Somewhat special.
      What more can I say?
      • ‘snuff, Andy! Cheers!
    • Hi Phil,

      That house! At first, I thought you were coming up with something about the lockdown, the way for weeks (months) on end most of us got swallowed up by our houses, as we peeked outside at the first signs of spring, but not knowing when and if we were ever going to be regurgitated by our houses… Here we go again, I thought, another Covid story… but why the tender voice? What’s going on here?

      Oh I see… I love good endings, and this one is as good as it gets. It’s wicked, in both senses of the word! I expect a big fuss tomorrow morning… it’s going to be interesting…

      I liked it a lot, Phil. A simple sounding story, at first, burning slowly like a fuse until the bomb goes off at the very end.


      • Thanks, Ken. Hadn’t thought of the ‘Covid’ angle! Go for it!

        Yep, there’s trouble a-brewin’ – if not tomorrow, then soon …

  • Ken Frape
    Ken Frape 650 words.

    “Something Wicked……….”

    The ice crystals claw their way across the cracked glass of the broken window, its repair long overdue, their fine lace-like tentacles spreading outwards, multiplying, finding purchase despite the smoothness of the surface. A shivering blast of night-cooled air pushes its way through the gaps, hurries up the staircase and slips under bedroom doors, nipping at noses and ears and peeping-out toes.

    In London and Paris, in Sarajevo and Warsaw, in Moscow and in Naples, in Washington and Tokyo, that same blast of cold sends shivers down the spines of nations as war, bloody, foul and inhumane, beckons.

    Something wicked this way comes.

    The ghoulish finger of Death beckons to the youth of the world to come and fight. “Hurry, boys, hurry,“ it signals, “or you will miss the fun.” And come they do. In their millions.

    The Grim Reaper sharpens his sickle and licks his lips.

    Something wicked this way comes.

    He grins in hungry anticipation. A feast awaits him. Friend or foe, he cares not for he will reap the harvest.

    It is dawn and Marnie, the universal child, the apple of her father’s eye, squats on the swept-clean step under the wrap of her mother’s warm arms as the village’s military contingent gathers. That broken window can remain unrepaired for a month or two longer. At Christmas, when they say the war will be over, fathers will return to carry their daughters and sons up that same staircase to warm beds and soft goodnights.

    Raggin, Marnie’s favourite doll, watches too, no longer dragged behind in the dust as the child clutches its knitted hand. Only three and barely that, she watches with her mother as the crisp dawn rises from the darkness and the mist. The leaf-dropping copper canopy over-arching her father in his new khaki tunic in that weak first light, dapples his face as spiders drink from their dewdropped webs. The men of the village are gathered, to a man, standing, snorting and stamping like the cattle in the fields, steam and smoke rising in clouds from their heated bodies. They have answered the call to arms, blessed by their ignorance of what’s to come.

    There may be sun later but it will not shine on these men, not here anyway, not at dawnrise, as they crash and creak in their new boots that will soon march them away down that lightening tunnel without a backward glance, proudly, stiffly, eyes front, chests out, shoulders back. Going to war, to return who knows when, or if. Going to war. Three simple words that convey excitement, a quickening of the pulse in the hearts of young men, many who have yet to venture outside their own villages, or scent the sea air, or cry in fear, or suffer loss.

    War will gift them all of that.

    But some are older, wiser. They have seen war. Smelt the stench of death. Seen the work of the bullet and the bayonet.

    They know that something wicked this way comes.

    And yet they go. They must. Already Marnie feels her father’s absence. Like the tender pain of scuffed skin on her knees, she senses her mother’s sorrow too, her fear and anxiety, even as she seeks her comfort, tastes a tear dropped from her cheek, sees the redness in her eye.

    Tonight they will begin to dream of the crunch and slide of his returning boots on weary feet, as that first hour’s absence becomes a day, a week and then a lifetime, for some. How those left behind yearn for the chance to cut his bread once more, pour his beer, plump his pillow, stoke the fire to warm his feet, put away his knapsack and sleep again knowing he is safely home.

    Time enough then to mend the broken window and wend a weary way up that staircase to bed, warm and safe.

    But, until then, something wicked this way comes and it will not be denied.

    Ken Frape

    * A tribute to the common man who went to war 1914 – 1918*

    Armed Forces Day Saturday 27th. June 2020

    • This is simply beautiful, Ken … if a story about something so ‘wicked’ can be beautiful. Your descriptions are exquisite. The decision to picture the scene through the eyes of Marnie and her mother is inspired. The sense of longing for normality once again (a normality that will not exist for many of these boys and men) is almost palpable. This line, among many, caught my eye: “…fathers will return to carry their daughters and sons up that same staircase to warm beds and soft goodnights.” Universal and very poignant.
      • Hi Phil,

        Thanks for the comments, Phil. Much appreciated. I did begin to wonder if this bonus prompt would ever get going.

        Somehow or other I seem to have a kind of morbid curiosity about the First World War. My first ever published piece ( there aren’t many) of flash fiction was about no man’s land and that famous football match on Christmas Day during WW1. I have used it again in an expanded form but back then, it was only 300 words. That was when I got the notion of portraying no man’s land as a ravening, hungry beast. In this piece I thought about war as an evil being approaching and threatening our lives.

        Of course, I could have made the same point with a certain virus but decided to leave that topic alone.

        The Horrid House On The Hill.

        Hardly a bedtime story this, eh Phil?

        A really good read, Whilst it is a fairly well trodden pathway ( the haunted, dark, mysterious house on the hill kind of thing..) your storytelling style gives it a new twist. The way in which the language is explained to the listener and the occasional lapses back into “adultspeak” really elevates the story to greater heights. Without telling us, we know who the storyteller and the listener are.

        Of course and at the risk of a spoiler here, the evil is not really where it seems to be, is it? I wonder how many times this same temptation has been faced by the lone parent in a broken marriage where custody is involved?

        Elements of this story really add to it, giving it extra layers:

        Firstly, the single voice works really well.

        I love the way you describe the way the house swallows small people but only tender, young flesh. The jam donut (my lazyspelling ) is such a visual horror!!

        Great idea about the all-seeing eye ( window)

        Super twist after the shotgun incident. I wouldn’t have thought of that twist in a million years.

        Great stuff, Phil, as ever. I wonder how you find the time to write for this site and the other one so frequently. One of my first ever forays into writing short stories was in Spring 2017 when I entered “Fresh Meat” into the competition on that site. The winner was “The Porthole” which I thought was a brilliant piece of magical realism. I wish I had written it.

        Kind regards,

        Ken Frape.

        • Thanks, as always, for your kind words, Ken. Yes, I was quite please with the twist, which actually came to me as I was writing … the story was destined to peter out without it.

          I only do one story a month for the other site, often ones that have had a dummy-run here. I’ve just read ‘Fresh Meat’ and I liked it a lot! But tell me … does Harold kill Sir Humphrey in the end? (… and if so, how does he get away with it?). The writer of ‘Porthole’ used to be a regular contributor, but she’s disappeared for some reason (possibly gone on to greater things …)


          • Ken Frape

            Thanks for looking back all that time to find Fresh Meat, so to speak. I quite liked it at the time but I like to think that my writing style has improved since then.

            Yes, indeed Harold did kill Sir Humphrey and he fed part of the old bastard to the miserable old granny too.
            I guess forensics weren’t as efficient back in those days and Harold would have cleaned up quite thoroughly in a place already heavily blood-stained from previous butcherings. All other evidence was gobbled up by the pigs and the fresh meat would keep on coming all the while the other villagers kept quiet.

            Perhaps you remember a Tales of the Unexpected from the TV years ago when an angry wife killed her husband with a frozen joint of meat, which she then cooked in the oven. When the police came around she fed them the meat “rather than waste it,” as she told them and there went the evidence.

            So there we have it.

            Kind regards,

            Ken Frape.

          • Phil Town
            Thanks for the explanation, Ken. Yes, no CSI then … but I did wonder at Sir Humphrey not being missed, and then some kind of investigation by the local … magistrate?

            (But this is me being much too rational – the disposal of the body is great. And I remember ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ very well, with the very lovely Susan George. The TV episode is on YouTube. I’ve used the written story in class quite often.)

    • Hi Ken,

      Once again, a piece from you with a poetic touch on that collective memory that haunts us from a hundred years ago, WWI. (I say once again, with The Beast story still firmly imprinted in my mind).

      But it’s about any war, really. WWI, WW2, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Syria – the horror is the same, though the destruction got greater and less personal with the advancing technology.

      You focus on the naivety of the departing fighting man, and the horrified family he leaves behind. Perhaps forever. I love the tapestry you weave with the broken window and gusty staircase, also victims of the war as they wait for the father and husband to return and fix the broken glass pane. And figuratively mend his distraught family, too. You show us the war through the eyes of a daughter and her mother (and a house in disrepair), and not through the political winner/loser tally that dominates the newspaper headlines and eventually the history books.

      Yours is the history that really matters most at the end of the day.

      Well done,

    • I agree with every word Phil says, Ken. This is great writing and has that humane touch that marks a special writer.

      The universal soldier and the universal child.
      It is thought-provoking too – in one sense it’s natural to see the soldiers as victims, but they are eager to go to fight, with the instinct of young men for excitement and conflict. Maybe they (we) are their (our) own Grim Reaper?

    • Ken,
      This is a moving piece of literature. Not sure what genre it falls under. Certainly not fiction. It’s not really a story, but, as you say, it’s a tribute. I thought of it as a literary requiem. (Now Andy’s gonna show up and say, ‘Ken, that’s what a tribute is.’)

      So, stuck on world war one are ya? I thought you were fixated on trains? I guess its both. (If the trains find out about your feelings for WWI, it could spell trouble.) I’m more conversant about WWII but not to the point of obsession.

      Trains are fascinating. Their sheer size and weight, and power. People don’t think about it, but the idea that you can hook a couple of these locomotives to a string of 100 freight cars, and add the weight of the freight itself, is an engineering miracle, especially when you consider how long trains have been around.

      Back to your acting experience. We have a local playhouse, been there for years. I went and saw a play every now and then, and for the most part, the acting was terrible. It seemed like they used the same crummy actors year after year. (Mind you, these were not Shakespearean plays, or actors). So one year, I had more time than I knew what to do with and I went in and auditioned. Read for one of the parts. And I choked on the fake laugh. ‘Sotto voce’ the director said. ‘What the fuck does that mean?’ I thought. The director could see by the look on my face that I was clueless, explained what he wanted me to do, and I still couldn’t do it. That’s my acting experience.

      I took one look at the rehearsal schedule and was stunned at the extent of the time commitment involved. So, I don’t think I would have signed on even if they’d recognized the full depth of my incredible acting abilities.
      What I learned from this and other ‘stints’ with small, local, government and not for profit organizations all over the place, is that things go okay until one or two people join, and with the help of a few misguided but affable supporters, become entrenched and then run the organization like a little fiefdom, until the few key workers who are actually doing the work get fed up with the thoughtless, ill-advised ‘leadership’, and quit. The organization flounders, seeks help, then doesn’t listen to the help it requested, flounders again. Then, in a last-ditch effort to maintain the fiefdom, the ‘leadership’ changes the ‘goals’ of the organization, and then they nurse this pointless thing along until it peters out through lack of interest.

      I’m not trying to sound pessimistic, it just comes naturally.

      It’s a thoughtful, remarkably poignant tribute to those who have suffered the most from humanity’s inability to discern the difference between fortune, and folly.

      Ken C.

      • Ken Frape
        Hi Ken C,

        Ha, your take on small organisations ( not the least of which are drama groups) is pretty much spot on. Drama groups seem to encapsulate so much of what you said and experienced. When I moved to my current part of the world my wife and I made a pledge that we would never consider becoming a part of any committee, ever again. It’s a bit like Olympian Steve Redgrave stepping out of his boat after winning his final gold medal when he said, “If you see me setting foot in a boat ever again then please shoot me.”

        Having said all that, I really enjoyed performing and I still do a bit of performing. but in the last four or five years it has been Improv and comedy sketches. In terms of rehearsals, you really have to be prepared to allow it to take over your life especially if you have a major role to play. In my experience, companies performed two or three times a year and the rehearsal period would be about six to eight weeks. If you have a lot to learn then your script becomes your constant companion, beside the bed, in your office, pages pinned up around the house, on bluetooth in your car etc. Usually rehearsals are twice a week in the evenings, but getting more frequent as the opening night approaches and then virtually every night during the last week. Then, almost before you know it, it is the final performance, you strike the set, clean off your make-up. have a party and then it’s all over.

        The length of a show varies. It can be a single week, or Thursday Friday and Saturday in consecutive weeks, especially for Pantomimes, where you need two matinee performances on the Saturdays to get the kids and the parents in. Then, you have to keep the innuendo down to a minimum ( oh yes you do!) and give it full rein at the Saturday evening performances ( all within limits of course.) Some companies have a Summer Show, hopefully outdoors and the one I was involved with, as a support actor, ( servant, henchman, Romeo’s father, a ghost, a ship’s captain, a Lord, a murderer etc.) took place over almost a fortnight. The day off was Thursday due to the fact that they ring the bells in Lincoln Cathedral every Thursday as they have for the past few hundred years. In this company, The Lincoln Shakespeare Company, our outdoor venue was The Bishops’ Palace which was, quite literally, just below the Cathedral. A wonderful backdrop for the audience, especially in the second half when the lights would be switched on.

        The Globe Theatre, in London is also a brilliant place to see Shakespeare performed by The Royal Shakespeare Company. The audience are largely in the open although there are seats but it’s more fun to stand in a crowd and react to the work of many of the world’s top actors. They also interact with the audience, as would have been the case in The Bard’s day. When I last went, there were hats and sun visors given out but not enough for the whole crowd. Thus, as the sun moved round the sky, so the sun visors were passed around the audience. It was worth standing for three hours for a fiver. More authentic.

        Here’s a thing too. Will Shakespeare invented many words that are in common use today but he also put quite a lot of rude stuff in, known to actors as “knob gags.” I kid you not. It’s not all highbrow stuff you know. Try Bill Bryson’s book on Shakespeare. It you see a good production as a young person then you may be hooked for life. it was Hamlet at school for me and then Romeo and Juliet on TV when I was 18 and the lovely Olivia Hussey played Juliet. Look this one up, it’s on the tube.

        Hope this is of interest, Ken.

        “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”

        Ken Frape.

    • My turn to talk about a story that is so beautifully written, I wonder if it can be beaten. If it can, then I want to read that story, too. Because, occasionally, this site has a such a great harvest of stories that one wonders if we can do it again. Perhaps, down the road … I can hardly wait.

      Well done, Ken F. Beautiful turn of phrases, a short, simple story of a girl and a wife who await their hero’s return. I have no quibbles with any part of your story. Rather a quibble within myself for waiting so damn long to read it.


  • Wow, three (3) stories already posted. Crap. (Crap, crap, crap.) I’m surprised a carp didn’t find its way into that plea. Believe me, it tried.
  • I don’t know who picked this prompt, but I suppose everyone knows it is the title of an old Ray Bradbury book. (I read it when I was about 15 years old. And have not glanced at it since.) But it deserves a special effort, as Bradbury is an inspirational author for his contribution to the sci-fi genre, despite the fact that I was not a big fan of his writing style. My favorite Bradbury book was ‘The Illustrated Man.’ A book of short stories.
    • Carrie Zylka

      Hahaha actually I did.
      I do know of the book although I have never read it, I too did not care for his writing style!

      • …And apparently he got it from the three witches in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth.’ (I’m just preempting Andy. If it isn’t already too late.) I wonder if that’s the ‘bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…’ gals?
        Alas poor Yorick. I knew him well. (Holds up skull.) That’s probably the wrong play, but a point of high humor, whichever one it was.
        I’m just stalling now. Brain in neutral.
        • “…And apparently he got it from the three witches in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth.’ (I’m just preempting Andy. If it isn’t already too late.) I wonder if that’s the ‘bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…’ gals?”

          – I think it was an episode of Buffy, Ken, you know the one where they can only speak in iambic pentameters.

          Or was it an episode of South Park?

          • Oh you’re too funny, Andy. Did you mean Buffy, or Macduff? I’m afraid my understanding of Iambic Pentameter is rather limited. (And that’s AFTER watching 30 minutes of videos about it.) Sounds a bit like a bizarre game made up by an English teacher whose students were too smart and very annoying.

            I’m a big fan of South Park, however. The first (highly intellectual) episode, (where the huge, alien radar dish comes out of Cartman’s ass?) was one of the funniest half-hour’s of comedy I’ve ever seen in my life.

            You may not want to believe this Andy, but I saw Macbeth, live on stage, in Stratford, Ontario when I was a teenager. (I don’t believe it was Macbeth himself, but merely an actor doing a terrific impersonation.) They have a theater there, that used to be dedicated to Shakespearean plays. It’s a memory almost as distant as Bradbury’s book, but it left a more lasting and favorable impression.

          • Ah yes, MacDuffy the Usurper Slayer, that’s right. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler for anyone.)

            There was that episode of Buffy where they all break out in song, not verse. I must be getting confused in my old age. There was a South Park episode Something Walmart This Way Comes, which was characteristically challenging of good taste but had some kind of underlying moral to it.

            Glad you liked the bard when you saw him in Canada. When all the horrors of 2020 are over, you’ll have to come and see Macbeth at the Globe theatre in London. That’s if theatres ever open again, of course. Well, the Globe was closed for about 400 years, so I guess it ought to survive a few months.

        • Carrie Zylka

          Yes that’s an excellent description. I read the stories in Fahrenheit 451 many moons ago, and I vaguely remember it being full of unnecessary words.

          It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read it but I’m pretty sure I would “skip words” like I sometimes do when I’m reading Stephen King or Brandon Sanderson.

          • Carrie,
            I never skip words, (is that even legal? You must live in Wisconsin, or one of them suburbs of ‘Saskatchewan.’) Unless, of course, they’re descriptions of ‘the warp drive.’ (Bor-ring.) I had to come back and confess that I read the Martian Chronicles, and I don’t know if it’s safe yet to admit this, even after fifty years, but I don’t think I ‘got it.’ At the end of the book I was like, “Soooooo, were there any Martians? Or weren’t there?” And the thing is, I read a lot of short stories back then that, when you finished the story? You knew. You’d be like, Oh yeah, there were definitely fucking Martians in THAT goddamned story. So, I just figured Bradbury was an English writer, and started gravitating towards other authors, and especially short stories. I’ve always loved short stories. (…and tall women.) It’s a curse, really. (I kid you of course.)

            It’s not a curse.

    • Decent film, too (though a little dated now) – with Rod Steiger. Love Ray Bradbury.
      • I never saw the film, Phil. Didn’t know they made one until today. (When I wikipaediated it.) I’ll have to check it out. Although, I already know how it ends. No spoiler alert in wikipedia. Totally could not remember much of the book on my own after fathy-fumthon, farty function, filthy something years. Whatever, it was a long time ago. I don’t want to talk about it. I thought I did, but I changed my mind.

  • The Bright Side.
    by Ken Cartisano

    I often suspected that Mia was some kind of alien, though I’ve known her all my life.

    We were bathed in dappled rays of sunlight, that filtered through the remnants of an immense, stained-glass window. A twenty-foot statue of some self-absorbed monk, towered above us. Fragments of glass crackled under our boots. A thick, ornate staircase, covered in moss, emerged from the gloom, parts of it broken and splintered.

    “This must’ve been magnificent in its youth,” she whispered. She often used twisted colloquialisms, calling buildings ‘mature’, and people ‘old and crumbling’. I was nervous, scared, and sweating profusely in the sweltering heat. Mia was calm and comfortable.

    We brushed aside a fern and ascended the staircase, littered with chunks of wood, stone, plaster, and the dust of uncounted, lost generations. I glanced at Mia, my mentor, my friend, her large golden eyes darting nervously, pausing on mine, then darting off again. Sometimes her eyes seemed to glow from within.

    I led her to a secret, unspoiled room I’d recently found. And by led, I mean she followed me. She was stronger and much more agile, so I rarely took the lead. “It’s not the room, Mia. It’s what’s inside,” I said.

    Her cynicism turned to laughter at her first glimpse of the curious thing, but when I said, “It works.” Her laughter ceased.

    “That’s not funny Mag. How could it possibly work?”

    I was already thinking this was a bad idea, and her displeasure was so evident that I immediately tried to usher her out of the room. It was no use. Her curiosity was stoked.

    “How could it work and not…?”

    “Attract Sky-net? It’s so old it gives off no signal. At least, that’s what I figure.”

    “You’ve turned it on? You idiot!” She grabbed my arm and we were almost to the stairway before I could mount enough resistance to get her to listen to me. “I tested it.” I hissed at her. “Many times.” I was going to ask her if she thought I was stupid, but that would just prove it. “Listen, I switched it on and vacated the premises about ten times. Either Sky-net doesn’t care, or they don’t know. I made it work. No one came. No drones, no beaters, nothing.”

    “Okay,” she said, releasing my arm. The tension in her tone, dissipating. “Okay, you think it’s harmless then, so—what could you possibly do with it?”

    “I’m glad you asked that.” I said, coaxing her back to the room. “This ‘thing’ has a journal on it.”

    She moved no further.

    “It has electronic journals of what life was like a hundred and fifty years ago. First-hand accounts.”

    Her sudden lack of interest surprised me. She refused to even re-enter the small room. “Is it factual?”

    “I would guess.” I said, “Why wouldn’t it be?”

    “Why would it?” She snapped. Before I could answer, she added, “How’d you figure that thing out?”

    “I ‘accessed the files’ by ‘typing commands.” She was not impressed. “It’s intuitive,” I added, waiting for an ooh, or an ahhh. When I didn’t get one, I confessed that the computer had a ‘user manual’ in its ‘start up menu.”

    “I forgot you can read,” she said, and seemed suddenly uncomfortable.

    But I’m used to her strange moods. “So, I’ve been reading this guy’s journal, Mia. Did you know this was a church?”

    She rose up on the balls of her feet, pursed her lips and said nothing.

    “You knew? You DID know, didn’t you.”

    She didn’t deny it.

    “How’d you know? How could you possibly—know that?”

    A look of serenity stole over her catlike features. “I know a lot of things that you don’t know.”

    I wouldn’t even pretend to argue the point. but nobody, I mean nobody knew what these buildings were for. Even though it seemed obvious they were some sort of temple. All I could say was, “I know how to ‘use’ a computer.”

    She pointedly surveyed the ruins of the church and said, “For all the good it’s done you.” And then, “You ought-ta throw that thing in the infinitron before you get your dumb, pale, skinny ass in trouble again.” She was not usually this prickly.

    “Mia, this guy lived during the pandemic. He may’ve even survived it.”

    “Yeah? Well, good for him,” she said. Her head was turned, her unblinking gaze focused on a section of blank wall.

    “Do you know about the pandemic?”

    She yawned, showing off her canines. “I know all about it, Mag.”

    “How come you never mention it, or talk about it.” (This was a dumb question, even for me.)

    “I didn’t know you were interested.”

    “What DO you know then?” I said.

    “It was the last great extinction. It was a rapidly mutating virus that was not overly compatible with human beings. A lot of people died.”

    “Yeah, but how many? Do you know how many? Do you know how many people there were?” Before she could answer I said, “This guy,” I pointed at the old computer, “this guy is describing how he’s watching it all unfold on his computer. They all had computers then…”

    “I know,” Mia whispered.

    “And he was watching the cases spread, and the body count rise, and the crazy way people ignored it, which of course, according to this guy anyway, just made it worse. And he says that…”

    She held up one of her lethal hands and said, “Mag. Stop.”

    “That the worst of the…”

    “Stop.” She slowly retracted her claw, finger still raised. “I know all about it.”

    “You know all this? How could you possibly know?”

    “My culture respects science, and gives us something to appreciate it with: An education. You never got one of those, Mag. I’m sorry to say.”

    Finally, I’d backed her into a figurative corner. “So, where do you come from, then?”

    She indicated the floor.

    “From below?” I feigned horror.

    Then she pointed to either side of her. And then up.

    “All around me?”

    She blinked.

    “What does that mean, all around me?”

    She touched my shoulder, gently, and withdrew it. “Dozens of species share the planet,” she said. “This dimension, that dimension, in the oceans, in orbit, on the moon if you want to get technical, and some of us like to live right here, on the surface.” She winked at me with those beautiful golden eyes.

    “You’re putting me on,” I said. “That’s ludicrous. Sky-net would never tolerate aliens. It’s got a built-in defense system that would wipe them out in a matter of…” Her eyes were glowing. It was slight, but unmistakable.

    “Skynet’s the mastermind,” she said. “It provides the network that everyone uses.”

    She was observing me the way a scientist might regard a clever rodent. I couldn’t disguise the frustration in my voice. “Why don’t WE get to use it?”

    “Use it? You don’t even see it,” she said. “You’re like, ants. Ants in a big city. Harmless, insignificant, fiercely defending their tiny pile of dirt in an abandoned lot.” She lazily traced a figure eight on my shoulder. “But look on the bright side. That’s probably why nobody’s bothered to exterminate you yet.”

    • A smorgasbord of possibilities, Ken. There are so many ideas here, all of them really good. Fantastic first line – no messing about – and there’s a resolution to it by the end. The world you’re describing is horrific (you’ve used Terminator’s ‘Skynet’ – you could maybe have invented your own name?), putting the human race at the bottom of the pile. I think maybe some of the exposition is a little blunt … but to establish this world in such a short space, you had to cut corners, I suppose. That said, this is my favourite line, for all it tells us about the world they’re now living in: ‘ “I forgot you can read,” she said.’ So … very imaginative, thought-provoking, perhaps a little crowded (?)
      • Thanks Phil, Great advice. That first line? It came after the first two paragraphs up until the last minute. I was nearly ready to post it before I decided that that sentence should be the opening line. I rearranged the sentences in the first paragraph too. That is not their original arrangement.

        ‘Blunt exposition.’ I never would’ve suspected it, but I’ll definitely look at that and hopefully see what you mean. ‘Crowded.’ I’m not sure I understand you on this point. Too much stuff? Useless dialogue? I can’t fix it until I understand the problem, I can see where, in several places, following Ken’s advice, I could cut down on unnecessary dialogue, but I’m not sure that that is what you actually mean.

        The ‘Skynet’ reference. I believe it is also the name of Elon Musk’s latest worldwide internet project. (He launches 60 small satellites at a time, you know.) So I figured if I used that name, I could dispense with an explanation. When Kim read the story she said, (I’m paraphrasing, of course) essentially, ‘I think you should’ve explained what skynet is.’ I said, “You didn’t know what that referred to?” And she said, ‘Well, I made assumptions, but I didn’t really know.’

        I expected someone to ask what kind of power source the old computer was using. And for that I was going to allude to some kind of universal portable power pack or something, but I had no room.

        Anyway, I appreciate the suggestions and think that the story has a lot of potential, but (see Ken’s comments below) could use a bit more judicious editing in the dialogue.

    • Hi Ken,

      In great form, again!

      That first line haunted me for the rest of the story. Mia, an alien? I was not sure if Mag meant it figuratively, at first, which allowed the idea to slowly grow on me as the story wore on.

      The bickering between the two annoyed me a little, as it delayed the final reveal (I was very curious of what was coming up, man! Which adds points to your story).

      The quarrelsome nature of the dialogue makes Mag and Mia sound like a rather typical human couple. It nearly fell into a cliched form. But I soon learned that she knew more than him, that they are in the distant future and that there’s much more than meets the eye.

      ‘A look of serenity stole over her catlike features. “I know a lot of things that you don’t know.”’

      After this line I was sure Mia is a superior being. Catlike features. Brilliant. Cats are superior beings. They certainly know many more things than us. Dogs are more or less like us, maybe we know just slightly more than them, but just slightly…

      Some of the “couple teasing” you could perhaps do without, in favor of the more substantial differences between the two, like his realization that she knew what a church was, and that she was conversant with the facts on the pandemic and other very evocative lines like that.

      Those lines build up towards the grand finale, where Mia compares Mag’s species to ants (after he’d just thought ‘rodent’ was bad enough!). The explanation of how different species (why not “beings”?) inhabit the oceans, the orbit, the moon and (especially) this and that dimension enriches the story. If we give it enough credence, it enriches our existence too. Why do we assume we’re alone on this planet just because we’re simply not capable of sensing other, finer dimensions?

      The final line is a brilliant ending (yes, I say so, too, when it is so!). Ha! The bright side of being insignificant.

      That’s one to keep.


      • K. Miles,

        You seem to get more out of my stories than I put into them. (If that’s possible!) Phil mentioned my story and then something about a ‘trash compactor’. Boy, it’s a good thing I don’t have feelings because, that might’ve hurt a little.

        I love these picture prompts. I mean, look at it. It’s a – what is it? It’s a once beautiful but long since abandoned church, but the statue is still intact. It actually (if one thinks logically) is probably a painting of a bombed out church, from World War II. (That would explain the hole in the railing and the floor. You can visualize the projectile’s trajectory. But it was too late, I was already thinking, what if this was permanent, or a place where all churches looked like this. If this wasn’t unusual?

        Your perception of the two characters as quarrelsome was eye-opening. But accurate. And unintentional, and though I had certain notions about their relationship when I began the story, it gradually became apparent that she was more of a big sister than anything else. But… your comments encourage me to put a less contentious spin on their interactions. Although I hoped it was clear, and probably wasn’t, that her sudden decision to drag him from the building was borne out of fear for his well-being. But maybe that didn’t come through all that well.

        Thanks for the in-depth feedback, Ken. Much appreciated. I like this story. I think it deserves more work.
        Depressing as it is right now, with a little more work, this could be truly – well, whatever is worse than depressing. (Soul sucking?)

        One sentence that you pointed out. ‘A look of serenity stole over her cat-like features.’ That started out as something entirely too similar, and I’m still not happy with it. It seems amateurish. Here’s an earlier version of it:

        She had a superior look on her catlike face.
        A look of serene superiority came over her catlike face.

        Not happy with it. Wanted to use the words ‘serene, confidence, and cat-like’ in one sentence that didn’t sound like my cat wrote it. (Binky! Quit screwing around with my stories. This sticks out like a sore thumb.) I guess I should say, I didn’t want it to sound like my cat helped me write it. (I don’t want to put it all on my cat. Do I? No. He’ll know.)

        p.s. I’m still trying to find all of the names you inserted into last week’s story. It gives me something to do other than watch the hourglass. Each grain, patiently waiting its turn, till it figuratively holds its nose, and jumps through the aperture and, light as a feather, gracefully lands on a perfectly formed Hill of Beans.

        • Hi Ken,

          I’m glad you found some of what I said meaningful and useful. It’s quite a magical story, you’ve got there, following to the letter (to the pixel?) the picture in the prompt. You take us to a future in which our present world is just a mysterious distant memory, an archaeological site, and in which new kids on the block (or old ones we never realized were here with us) inhabit the planet and its various dimensions. And in the end we’re just insignificant ants (go sell that to the ants – they surely think THEY are significant, telling from the fuss they’d make when, as a kid, I’d disturb their nest like a dumb dinosaur would…).

          I once wrote a story called ‘Report On Planet Earth’ in which UFOnauts sent here to investigate us present a report to their authorities, so that the Galactic King would have something upon which to base his decision on whether to blow up our planet entirely or put us to some use by enslaving us. The conclusion of the report is that the earth and humanity are so insignificant and useless that they should simply be ignored. But that was the only interesting bit about my story (the ending). The rest was almost a political tract, as boring as it gets. So it never saw the light of day. Yours breathes, and is much more colorful.

          So you haven’t found all the Placers’ names yet, in last week’s story? Not even And The Lake and Fill Town? You do know that I posted the story with the names exposed, don’t you? If you missed that, and maybe others have too, I might post it again. Or perhaps, you’re still working on it as a challenge… Watching an hourglass is not a way to spend your day.

          I replied to your kind comment on my story ‘Blood Of The Unborn’, so do have a look there. It’s long. Even longer than yours. Take breaks, and bring enough food and water with you.

          And it starts with IsoHi, which means nothing. Had to be simply Hi, but computers do things for us these days.


    • Hi Ken,

      Seems like a while since I communicated with you re our various stories. I ‘m not sure why but I haven’t had the emotional energy lately to do justice to the critique side of our writers group. Perhaps the lockdown is finally having its effects, even though I have little to complain about.

      I have to say that, as others have commented, the opening line is a good ‘un. You then follow this up by such a good description of the site they are exploring that I can see it, I could draw it, if I was any good at such skills.

      I notice that you have had a dialogue with one or two others about various other authors’ work that may have resonance with your scenario but I have not read much Ray Bradbury so that’s probably my loss. Too much of my youth, twenties and thirties was spent hitting balls, chasing balls and catching balls on various playing surfaces that most of my reading was holiday trash. Started to try and catch up when I joined my local Shakespeare Company as an actor well into my 50s and enjoyed some relatively minor parts ( like Romeo’s dad, Lord Montague) in some wonderful plays in a wonderful setting just beneath the walls of Lincoln Cathedral.

      I take on board the other comments regarding how you have created your characters that bicker and argue ( like all the best married couples) but that there is clearly a status difference between them, that is soon revealed. Some great hints too, such as,
      I forgot you can read
      You knew. You did know, didn’t you?
      She retracted her claw, finger still raised
      Her golden eyes
      she was much more agile
      She held up one of her lethal hands
      All suggesting a non-human or an evolved creature way in the future.

      Great ending with that killer last line.

      Great stuff, my friend and fellow Ken.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      • Thanks Ken, (Of F.)

        For your generous comments. It’s extremely gratifying to be complemented by you. As I mentioned to Phil, that first line was either intuitive, or divine intervention. (And to be frank, I’m still not too sure about it.) Originally, it was further along in the story, and designed to inform us about their relationship. And in that version, Mia speaks before she is introduced. I felt like that was confusing, and wanted to introduce her to the reader before she spoke. Turns out there was nowhere else to put that line but at the very beginning. So that’s where it went.

        As for the discussions on Bradbury, he’s either well-liked, well-respected, or both. He’s like Stephen King. One may dislike their stories or doubt their talent, but not their success and influence on literature and culture.

        I used to despise Stephen King, but now I tolerate him. (Miracles DO happen.)


        You must tell us, (at least me) more about performing Shakespeare ‘just beneath the walls of Lincoln Cathedral.’ How long did you rehearse before performances? Was it in the daytime? Night-time? How long were you involved? And whatever else you can think of.

    • Yes Ken your story here has magic. This works well I kept reading to find out what happens.
    • I really like this world you’ve conjured up here, Ken, and the way both the characters and the backstory of their world(s) are revealed thorough the interaction.
      Last paragraph is very good too.
      I think there’s a lot of mileage in the ideas here – though I too would have avoided Skynet as a term. Risks crossing over into fan fiction there, whereas I think these characters and concepts have legs on their own. (Whether the characters have 6 legs or 4 legs between them, I’m not sure yet.)
  • Eerily good story Ken C. The other KEn’s story also good. I have to move my butt and get a story in…
  • Alyssa Daxson

    Written by Alyssa Daxson
    Word Count-1195

    Dagon hadn’t exactly known when he’d come into existence. He remembered a flash of light, and suddenly sounds, smells and life had assaulted him. It was hard to try and remember those first days, it had been so long, those memories had become blurred, faded away.

    What felt like thousand years passed, and people came into the secluded area Dagon had wandered. It wasn’t anything special, just a small area of woods. There were some animals, but Dagon had really no company. Content to just float there, invisible to everyone and everything.
    So when those strange creatures called humans ventured into his territory, Dagon was curious.

    He watched as wood was cut down, slowly being assembled into a house. Lots of men came and gone, sometimes dragging wood, other times woman.
    Dagon didn’t exactly know what to expect, but he couldn’t deny the feeling of curiosity as he watched the house grow bigger, the inside adorned with staircases and elaborate windows.
    Years later-or what felt like years, it was getting hard to tell- the house was finished. Dagon watched as a crowd gathered outside of it, their pale skin gleaming dully in the light. A small group of people moved into the house, which Dagon found curious.

    A man, a woman, and two miniature sized copies of them ran around the house, the small humans shrieking and laughing.
    Stretching out his senses, Dagon managed to learn that this was called a family.
    He found that very interesting.
    Something that he wished he had.

    Dagon watched as the family grew up. He followed the boy and man out as they went hunting, watched as the two woman washed and cooked inside.
    He considered himself their guardian.
    When the animals crept to close, a small blast of power sent them scuttling.
    When dreams had plagued the children’s sleep, Dagon would soothe them.
    It wasn’t much, but he felt some sort of peace from that, a sense of relief.

    The first time Dagon had spoken to a human, it had been unnerving. Frightening almost.
    As the family grew up in the large house, he became concerned for the small girl. Dagon noticed how she seemed to tire quickly, how her skin was pale and clammy.
    So when she sat her frail body down, Dagon looked at her.
    He sent his senses forward, scanning for trouble.

    Immediately she became transparent, her insides showing.
    Dagon blinked, shocked, as he saw lumps of contaminated tissue pushing against her soft, delicate skin.
    Sicknesses roiled in his stomach, and Dagon quickly swept his ethereal hand to the side, scrubbing those tissue from her body.

    The girl let out a soft gasp, and the rosy color returned to her cheeks, a light shining from her now bright eyes.

    Dagon felt a chill sweep over him, and he felt his body tremble.
    What was this?
    A numbness started to drag him down, and Dagon slowly felt his vision darken.
    He barely noticed the rejoiced yell of the parents, or the party that had been thrown, rejoicing the sudden miracle.

    Floating through a haze of exhaustion, Dagon watched as the door to house opened, and an middle aged man shuffled through, furs lining his back.
    His sharp green eyes were full of wisdom, and tussled black hair fell into his thin face.
    The family rushed to greet him, and Dagon felt a stir of curiousness, rousing him out the stupor he’d been in.

    The mysterious man’s eyes flickered over the house, and for a split second, Dagon swore he saw the man’s eyes rest on him, before the continued to roam the interior.
    The family, after giving the man a couple more pats on the back, filed out, chattering happily.
    The man, surprisingly stayed put.

    “Hello,” a voice rang out.
    Dagon, at first didn’t pay attention, but as the silence reigned on, he glanced at the man, and saw green eyes fixed on him.
    Shock ran through his body like a bolt of lightning.
    “You can see me?” He asked, his voice barely a whisper.
    The man nodded slowly, all the while keeping eye contact.
    “How?” Dagon questioned, stepping forward, his feet making no sound on the floorboards.
    The man shrugged. “I am a shaman,” he said, as if that was a suitable answer.
    Dagon narrowed his eyes, shifting through his knowledge.
    Ah. There is it.

    “You converse with spirts,” Dagon said, raising an invisible eyebrow.
    The shaman nodded, a smile twitching across his lips at Dagon’s brusque tone.
    “So I’m a spirit?” Dagon inquired.
    “You’re not a spirit. I honestly don’t know what you are. Maybe some corporeal being?” The shaman shrugged helplessly, his furs shifting slightly.
    Dagon pursed his lips, but didn’t protest. This was the first contact he’d ever had, and he wasn’t eager to end it.

    “Why are you here?” He asked, switching the delicate subject.
    The shaman’s eyes focused on him with a laser-like quality.
    “I came to see the healed girl, see what performed this miracle. But now… I assume it was you?”
    Dagon’s eyes dropped to the ground, and he nodded slowly.
    “Why?” The shaman asked.
    “Because she was in pain,” Dagon said, confused. It should’ve been obvious.
    The shaman’s eyebrows rose high up into his hairline. “That’s interesting,” he murmured quietly.
    “What’s interesting?” Dagon asked, tilting his head.
    The shaman looked up at him.
    “You,” he stated simply.

    Dagon opened his mouth to ask another question, but the family rushed in again, and the shaman was distracted once again.

    The next few days, Dagon and the shaman conversed, often speaking in private rooms, not wanting to disturb the other occupants.
    When it came time for the shaman to leave, Dagon grabbed his shoulder, stopping him.

    “What’s your name?” He asked hesitantly.
    The shaman looked at him, a smile ghosting upon his lips.
    Those were his last words, before the door opened, and out walked Dagon’s one and only friend.

    Everyday Dagon would look at the door, wanting Shane to step through, a smile lighting upon his lips.
    But everyday he was denied.
    Dagon watched as the kids grew up, moving out, as the parents slowly died.
    The house was never occupied again, and slowly fell into the disrepair.
    The stairs cases crumbled, the windows cracked, and the wood rotted.
    Dagon stayed through it all, his gaze still fixed in the door, waiting and watching.

    The cracking of the long rotted door alerted Dagon, and he transported downstair, curious.
    He hadn’t had company in years…
    Only the mice graced his presence.

    Footsteps crunch down on the dirty floor, and Dagon sees an old man, his back bent over with age, sit cross legged on the floor.
    Milky green eyes stared sightlessly into the air, and wrinkled lips curved into a smile.
    “Hello Dagon,” a cracked voice croaked out, quivering slightly.
    “I’ve missed you.”

    Dagon froze. He would recognize that voice anywhere. That voice had filled his head, had been in his dreams.
    That voice was the one he’d waited for so long to hear.

    “Shane…” Dagon breathed, hardly believing what he was seeing.

    His friend had finally come back.

    • This is a beautiful story, Alyssa. Dagon is a great creation – coming into existence from nothing, and questioning his existence throughout … as we do. His protectiveness towards the family is warming (the miracle is a lovely moment – like that of the gentle giant in ‘The Green Mile’), and the need for a friend (and the related ending) is nicely poignant. I thought that calling the Shaman ‘Shane’ was a little distracting (any reason for that? ‘Shane the Shaman’ is almost comical … like ‘Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs’). And I’m not sure where there’s any ‘wickedness’. But these are details … it’s a really good story.
      • Alyssa Daxson
        Hey Phil, thanks for reading!

        I actually did not think of Shane the Shaman. I Just liked the name Shane. Now that you pointed it out tho, Shane the Shaman, not the best choice lol

    • Hi Alyssa,

      I liked your story, its alternative reality that at times doesn’t seem so far from our reality (I’m saying this with an “if only!” sigh), and of course this lovely character/creature you’ve created, Dagon.

      Right from the start we’re immersed in Dagon’s world. I love the way he’s born: “suddenly sounds, smells and life had assaulted him.” And particularly the use there of the word ‘assaulted’.

      The different nature of this being is confirmed, when we find out he can penetrate others’ dreams. “When dreams had* plagued the children’s sleep, Dagon would soothe them.“ That’s another favorite sentence of mine.

      We also discover, there, that he’s benevolent, a sort of guardian angel (but firmly rooted in ‘reality’ – something you skillfully manage by making him not omniscient or superior to humans, but just different, with senses other than ours available to him. This is what makes your story truly shine IMO. Like us, Dagon is also trying to understand the world around him and yearning for enduring friendship. He’s not human, but neither godlike).

      *[I think you overused the auxiliary “had” again here and there. I prefer that sentence without it, “When dreams plagued the children’s sleep…” irrespective of grammatical correctness or otherwise. I take grammar as a guide, not rule. But that’s just me, they sometimes blast me in here for doing just that].

      Another sentence I liked was: “He sent his senses forward, scanning for trouble.” Again showing, without telling, Dagon’s nature to us.

      Unless I missed something between the lines, I was expecting a somewhat more dramatic ending. True, for Dagon, the return of the Shaman is an important heart-warming thing. You painted very well his sense of loneliness and yearning for the only person he ever spoke to. (“[Shane’s] voice had filled his head, had been in his dreams” – nice).

      But perhaps Shane ought to have said something, made some discovery. Like, “I’m retiring, and where else can I find a friend like you to spend my last days with?”

      Or, better still, IMO:

      “My days are counted, and only now I learn what becomes of old Shamans like me when they shed off this skin.”

      This rings a bell, a distant memory flickers in Dagon’s head. Yes, of course! He too…

      (this may also tie up with the beginning, when the memory of his origins fades away).

      Or, in a more complex twist, Shane and Dagon realize they are the two sides of the coin of the same person. Maybe we’re all like that – we all have a Dagon side of us somewhere. But that would take the story elsewhere, down a different road. But it’s nice thinking where this fantastic world you’ve created may take us…


      • Alyssa Daxson
        Hey Ken M, thanks for the compliments and advice!

        Darn had’s… once day I’m gonna get them right…

        As for the ending, I really like yours, especially the one when Dagon and Shane turn out to be the same thing.

        I had(I think I got it right) a couple of alternate ending, but they were mostly where Shane became a ghost and joined Dagon, or he was actually immortal, and yet again, came back.

        I was mostly focused on Shane coming back, and didn’t really expand my horizons, but maybe I should’ve, cause those ideas of yours were quite wonderful

    • Hi Alyssa,

      Such a beautiful story, such a lovely concept and so well told.

      For me, I took Dagon to be a kind of Godlike creation, although others may not see him/ her in these terms. For me, performing the miracle cure on the little girl, the timeless existence, the guardianship in the forest and the looking down as people came and went, are all Godlike qualities. If I was to stretch my point a little further, the return of the Shaman is the Resurrection. How else could so many years have passed with the Shaman still alive?

      Shane? Of all the names you could have chosen……Shane the Shaman?

      One or two words here and there that seemed out of place.;

      “What felt like A thousand years had passed…….or thousands of years had passed..
      the secluded area Dagon had wandered.
      lots of men CAME and gone

      Nothing here though that distracts from the beauty of this story. Great stuff, Alyssa.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      • Alyssa Daxson
        Hey Ken F, thanks for reading!

        One of the original things I intended for my story, was to show how long Dagon had been alive. I did hint that it had been a long time, but I actually wanted him to remember certain points in history.
        Like the crucifixion, the pilgrimage, etc etc.
        But then I decided it might confuse people, so I decided not to go with that.

        Thanks for the compliments!

    • That’s a well-written, visually evocative tale there, Alyssa, of a kind of lonely guardian angel. I enjoyed the tone of the story as you brought us into Dagon’s world.

      Others have mentioned Shane the Shaman. I wondered also about Dagon as a name – it comes with a couple of millennia of literary and religious baggage.
      That’s as a Sumerian/Canaanite/Philistine god, portrayed as a thoroughly bad egg in the Bible, Milton and HP Lovecraft. So I kept expecting something wicked to that way come, and it didn’t happen. Was it intentional misdirection, or was there another reason for choosing that name in particular?

      • Alyssa Daxson
        Hey Andy, I did actually intend for my name to be intentionally misdirecting. I’ve heard of the name Dagon before, and how was evil, so I thought why not give a good character the name of an evil being, especially on the wicked prompt.
        I did also really like the name Dagon lol. It was a win win for me.

        Congrats on spotting that, I didn’t think anyone would get that. It was mostly just an inside joke with myself

    • Alyssa,

      Great title.

      I agree with all the other commentators. Especially the ideas that Ken Miles came up with. A few minor adjustments and this story would really rock. I love the beginning. It’s so imaginative. And so brilliantly described. As others have said, you’ve created a mysterious being of astonishing powers and perception, but no hint of ill intent, good or bad.

      At some point, I thought for sure the green-eyed shaman would be the antagonist, but his only offense was to leave, permanently. (Almost.) This desertion could be considered a wicked act, but it isn’t really portrayed that way. (And it could be, with a few well-chosen words. If you wanted to go that way.)

      Honestly, as good as this is, this story has a lot of potential for improvement by adding something, a different ending? Perhaps it just needs conflict. (If I were you) I would play around with the ending. Don’t mess with the beginning at all, or the middle if you can avoid it.

      As it is, it’s still an enjoyable and wonderfully creative story. So if you wanted to leave it alone, I could probably forgive you.

      Ken C.

    by Ken Miles
    (1,200 words)

    Romero catches but a quick glimpse of the newly arrived full-body relic of St. Lucinda. Her glass eyes briefly make contact with his. Her beauty strikes him. It’s local beauty, dark-olive skin, round face, straight black hair. If only Bishop Kessler didn’t decide to put blue eyes on her.

    “She almost looks like Juanita…” Romero can’t help thinking. But for nearly a year, since his wife disappeared into thin air, he’s been seeing Juanita in everything. In every face, in every window, in every flower.

    The ecstatic crowd pushes the young man on. Rivers of people cram Beloreguardo church, eager to see for themselves the new Andean martyr. Maybe they get to touch her too, before she’s forever encased. For it’s believed that touching a relic forgives all past sins. And dangerously enough, some think future sins too.

    This church in the small jungle town is probably the richest reliquary in the world. The embalmed bodies of St. Kosca, St. Barmila, St. Pala, you name them – saints nobody ever heard of in the rest of the world – stand silent in their niches, forever staring down at the congregation from every wall.

    The reconstructed corpses are dressed in rich fabrics made by devout townswomen. Dying grandmas, donate them their jewelry, even if their families languish in poverty. Curiously enough there’s just one male saint, one St. Edgardo. The rest are all women. Chastity warriors, Bishop Kessler calls them.

    Hundreds of people hastily cross themselves in that brief moment in front of the new relic, before they’re themselves pushed on. The whole population’s here. It happens each time a new fallen Saint arrives. Bishop Kessler’s embalming expertise put Beloreguardo on the map. Most of the relics remain here, often because there are no proper church buildings to house them in the Andean and Amazonian villages they come from.

    Bad voices once circulated that the Bishop wasn’t even an ordained priest. Just because he was of German origins, perhaps, some conjectured that he could even be an escaped Nazi. Absolute rubbish, of course. He barely looks fifty and the War ended seventy-five years ago.

    A good while ago, the Vatican sent a delegate to check things out about this new phenomenon of mushrooming saintly relics. But Father Edgart Meyer must’ve lost his way in the jungle, maybe got eaten by cannibals. Never returning to Rome, no-one wished to follow in his footsteps to look for him.

    Romero mumbles prayers to St. Lucinda, as he’s pushed along the stream of people now leaving the church. It’s his fault Juanita disappeared. He shouldn’t have drunk so much boozoo that night, that mind-altering liquor from the arcania tree the men here drink. He doesn’t remember what happened exactly. The morning after, the room he and Juanita called home was a mess, earthenware and flowerpots smashed against the walls. His head ached from severe hangover. And Juanita wasn’t there.

    The jungle had awoken. A window was broken, and he could hear the wild animals. Juanita must’ve jumped out from there. He reformed, in the meantime, never touched boozoo again. But that didn’t bring back the love of his life. Juanita had simply vanished. She must’ve escaped into the jungle, got lost. Maybe she’s still alive, surviving on roots and wild berries somewhere out there. She’s not the first abused woman from Beloreguardo to disappear. And it’s always the jungle that’s blamed.

    But Juanita had simply sought refuge inside the church. Like so many other panic-stricken women before her had done. Bishop Kessler hid young women in a crypt under the church. No, not only for his sexual pleasures. He had a more imperative motive.

    He’d quietly dug out the secret crypt using nothing but an old doctor’s scalpel, in his first ten years as tenant of that church. He removed just one bucketful of earth every night, methodically, and disposed of it inconspicuously over the jungle floor. He needed his workplace, to continue the work he’d started in Breklau. There, at that Concentration Camp, Dr. Gazner, as he was really called, hit upon the great secret of life.

    Rapidly promoted by the Nazis from taxidermist to Women’s Wing doctor, thousands died at his hands. But he firmly believed that what he did was for the greater good. A sacrifice in the name of advancement. Thanks to his work, men and women would one day enjoy eternal life.

    Never mind the technicalities: the blood of the unborn, he found out, if extracted within the sixth hour of the sixth day of the sixth month of pregnancy holds the elixir of eternal youth. Nowadays we call them stem-cells. At exactly that moment those cells are at a critical point, Dr. Gazner discovered. They can become anything: a new human being if Nature takes its course, or an old human being done anew, if the blood’s drunk fresh before it coagulates.

    Dr. Gazner’s wrinkles smoothened, his graying hair regained its youthful golden hue. He could run up a staircase like when he was twenty. The closer the kinship, the better the blood worked. So he spent the war-years impregnating imprisoned women under his care, and then slitting their bellies open when the right moment came, pulling out the umbilical-cord connecting mother and fetus and suckling the fresh blood like beer on draught.

    Once done, he had the screaming, sliced women in agony and their blue oxygen-starved fetuses thrown into the ovens. He didn’t use anesthetic for fear of contaminating his precious drink. By trial and error, Dr. Gazner perfected the science.

    When the War ended, the sixty-year old Doctor, looking no older than a college freshman, boarded a ship from Rotterdam to South America under the name Kessler. Nobody suspected who he really was.

    But rumors – and Israeli Nazi-hunters – still somehow followed him. Until he faked his own drowning in a river and rebranded himself a missionary clergyman. He rose to fame as a Miracle Man visiting jungle villages, easily curing common ailments that still plagued that part of the world.

    He got wind of Beloreguardo parish not having had a resident priest for a decade, and on arrival there crowned himself Bishop. Long abandoned by the mother church, the townsfolk welcomed him dearly.

    Settling down, he needed to get working on his old craft again, before the ravages of time ruthlessly caught up with him once more. Terrified women escaping their boozoo-addicted husbands knock on his church door, under cover of darkness. Godsent. Only problem, he has no ovens to dispose of their torn bodies here. The jungle’s no safe graveyard either. The one time he tried, a monkey dug up the body and brought it back.

    So he hides his victims in plain sight. His taxidermist expertise coming in handy, he taught himself how to disguise dead bodies as relics. Making a name for himself in this holy art, he invents stories of saints arriving to him from far and wide. People believe and the more saints arrive the more they succumb to their drunken faith.

    Romero doesn’t get over the loss of his wife. Now totally devoted to St. Lucinda, he kneels in front of her every day, for hours on end, praying to the good Saint to look after his dear Juanita, wherever she may be.

    • Carrie Zylka

      Hi Ken,
      Curious if it was intentional to eliminate the space between Dr.Gazner?
      There’s no space in any of the 4 references so I’m wondering if that’s on purpose.
      If not I can fix them.

      • Hi Carrie, ok, if that’s not too much trouble for you. Also the story is not yet linked (in the list of stories, in the beginning, I mean).
        • Carrie Zylka

          Patience grasshopper….That’s what I was working on when I noticed it. 😊😏😃

          • Oops sorry… I can’t wait, can I, to see my story in that magical list in blue 🙂

            Thanks Carrie 🙂

    • Ok, fixed some punctuation for ya. Also what is “boozoo-addicted” is that supposed to be “booze addicted”?
      • Yes, boozoo = booze, more or less… It’s a liquor, they drink in the jungle. Well, actually, I invented it. And I’m not selling any to anyone. (Thank me later!). It started off as ouzo, that Greek slap on the face stuff. Then became bouzo, because the story takes place in the Andean fringe of the Amazon, not in Thessaloniki. Then bouzoo, boozoo… Maybe the word booze comes from it. Shhhh, no it doesn’t! So this one stays as it is, Carrie, boozoo, for that authentic jungle feel. Also the arcania tree it comes from, I don’t think it exists. Both will compete for new word of the year with Phil’s nahtawhawtak (I’m sure I got the spelling wrong!) and zukuneetu…

        Cheers! (red wine will do!)

        • Carrie Zylka

          After reading this I feel like day drinking is in order!!

          • Ken Miles
            Still a little early in the day… but why not 🙂

            Enjoy! I’m sticking to red wine here. It’s even good for the heart, they said! If that’s not a win-win, what is?

      • Ken Miles
        Thanks, Carrie! One more, please: “on St. Edgardo” in the fifth paragraph should read “one St. Edgardo”.

        I’ll be quiet after this 🙂

    • Hi Ken,

      Some lovely touches here and links to the Nazis and the Nazi hunters, unlawful and inhumane scientific experiments, vampirism, The Boys From Brazil ( quite a scary book about the cloning of Adolf Hitler) and the process of sainthood that carries so much weight especially in South America..It covers a lot of ground.

      Ultimately, this is a deeply disturbing story that reveals the true depths of human depravity, all wrapped up in a veneer of compassion and, in this instance, the trappings of religion.

      You certainly used the prompt, something wicked….Ken.

      A great piece of writing.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      • Ken Miles
        Thanks for your comment, Ken. I agree with you about this story being deeply disturbing. I intended it to be that way, exposing some really wicked human traits.

        The antihero is indeed a latter-day vampire, perhaps driven, initially, by a crave to cure death within the state-sponsored human laboratory placed at his disposal by the Nazi regime, but which in the end only benefits him an no-one else to the detriment of many. There is a reference to the number 6-6-6, too, which traditionally is supposed to mean something very beastly for the human race. Maybe others before him had discovered Dr. Ganzer’s secret, but decided it was too inhumane to make it known…

        But the true hero is Romero, who keeps loving Juanita well after she’s dead and gone, not aware of the fact that she’s right there in front of him, the subject of his new devotion… A weird victory for love, which lives on nonetheless.

        You had a go at WW1, and me at WW2 (and its lasting aftermath), this time round. Both Wars have had such a deep impact on the human psyche. And while we’re right now in the midst of another different kind of ‘war’ we can only wonder what the lasting effects (wounds, revelations…) on us are going to be…


    • Alyssa Daxson
      Oooh, Ken, you really took wicked to a whole other level my friend. When I first started reading, I had a feeling something horrible was gonna happen, but nothing like what you wrote. It’s horrifyingly gruesome, and not just the modified vampirism(although that packed quite a imaginary punch to my gut)
      It was the nature of Kessler(or Dr Gazer). I love supernatural shows, like that have vampires, ghosts, werewolves, etc etc. I hate their guts, but on some level I do indeed feel bad for them, because they have to kill people. I mean they might enjoy it, but still, it’s survival in a twisted way. (Granted it is just a show, but you get what I mean😂)

      But the Kessler dude, drinking just because he wants to feel young, and then taxiderming the woman… yikes, that’s scary.

      After that longggg message, here what I came to say.
      I loooove your story. The tension is emosewa(awesome backwards) and I feel so bad for Romero! (Breaking my metaphorical heart once again Ken M…)

      • Alyssa Daxson
        Ah! An imposter! Foul beast! Crawl back from the pits in which your sprang forth!
      • Hi Alyssa!

        Oh dear, I’m making a habit of breaking your metaphorical heart! At least it’s only the metaphorical one…!

        Yes, it’s a very gruesome story. I hate every bit of what happens in it. Years ago, I read a book about the Nazi Doctors, and I’m still reeling from it. My story is fictitious, of course. The extension into South America is all mine (although many real escaped Nazis did find their way there way there after WW2. And Ken Frape mentioned a book to me, which I’d be checking out, about cloning Hitler in Brazil).

        But many of my details are based on things that really happened. Like the open surgeries without anesthetic – the very real Dr. Mengele used to open up children while fully conscious, and hold their hearts, usually two at a time for comparison, in the palms of his hands just to watch them beating, like one would watch an interesting YouTube documentary on how the human heart works. He’s long dead by now, and he never did anything to me personally, but I’m livid each time I remember what he did. Sorry to dampen your day with this. But one reason I wrote my story, I think, was to expose what these real people did. I don’t think we should forget. Or it might happen again!

        For some literary effect, I gave my bad guy a vapire-ish attitude (eg. “drinking blood like beer on draught”) and I made some references to popular horror culture too. I may have turned the gruesomeness knob too high. Well, up to eleven, says Phil!

        Admittedly, I find it difficult to write pure fantasy/fantasy-horror like you and some others do. It’s like I need to ground the horror in reality, which may then make it too disconcerting for some.

        I don’t believe, deep down, that anyone does harm to others just to be mean or because s/he’s intrinsically evil (not even true for vampires, werewolves, etc., as you also seem to imply above). I think evil is a product out of that dire need to fix some deep-seated pain (as we see in revenge, spite, hate-crimes, etc), or out of uncontrollable vice (as in all crimes of profit and passion) or ignorance. But there is then another category of evil that is ostensibly committed for the “overall good”, like in cases when the end seems to justify the means, or when people are made to suffer for the collective wellbeing or simply in the name of the law. In short, all those “good acts” that pave the way to Hell.

        I tried to picture my Dr. Gazner/Bishop Kessler as such a person, one who thinks that some people can be sacrificed (the “Jesuses” or “sacrificial lambs”) in order for others to be saved. In his case, this is the women under his care at the Concentration Camp (who were probably going to be exterminated anyway as part of the genocidal policy of the Regime) who’d sacrifice themselves, at his hands, for the “greater good” (not!) of humanity finding a way to beat mortality.

        He thinks he’s doing good, all in all, in his twisted mind. And the State (Nazi Germany, and then a careless Catholic Church) facilitates his actions, of course. He would have soon enough found his place on death row, or in a mental hospital, if he tried anything of that sort in another country or era!

        I’m not sure to what extent I managed to bring forth this good vs bad dilemma through the few words I had at my disposal (and so much story to tell!). Sure enough, this piece can live better in a longer format than just a 1.2K mini-story, as Phil rightly said too…

        I’m pleased you looooved it, Alyssa, even if in a reversed awesome – emosewa – way! And, hey, true, what’s that foul beast that usurped your avatar??

        Btw, what’s the meaning of your avatar? I think you explained that to Cartisano, a long way back, but I forgot…

        Cheers! (no nightmares, ok! Let’s think of Dagon not Kessler before tucking in… 🙂

        • Alyssa Daxson
          Well well well Ken, I see you’ve used the word emosewa…. it is quite a sacred word(at least on my opinion), use it wisely my good(avatar looking) friend. 😉

          I did indeed explain the meaning of my avatar to Ken C a little while ago. It’s one of the covers I had made for one of the books I’d written. I never published it, but just wrote it for fun(which in my opinion is the best kind)

          I haven’t nightmares in a while, lets hope that it stays that way!

    • Cracking story, Ken. Love the opening: “… the newly arrived full-body relic of St. Lucinda.” You’re posing great questions right from the get-go (Where is this? Newly-arrived from where? Who is Romero?). You’ve really turned the wickedness knob to 11 here – anything with the mutliation of women and murder of children has got to affect us. The reveal of what the relics really are is gruesome and great. That “… wherever she may be” at the end is an absolute killer (no pun) line.

      A couple of observations:

      – “Nowadays we call them stem-cells.” This took me out of the story momentarily and is unnecessary, I feel. Stem cells don’t work (yet!) like Kessler uses them, so that info just gets in the way (imho).
      – Is it actually possible to pinpoint down to the hour the exact 666 moment for the killing of a pregnant woman? (or maybe we simply have to suspend disbelief for that?)
      – Everything you tell us is important for the story, but there is so much that you have to tell us that it piles on the exposition somewhat. I could really see this as a longer story, where all of that info comes out more gradually and through action/dialogue (I don’t know … maybe an investigator is after Kessler and we learn it through him/his investigations?). I know that will sound like I’m undervaluing your story, but I think the idea is so good that it deserves a bigger canvas.

      I’m off to bed now, perchance to nightmare.

      • Have to agree with Phil here. Some very good elements in this story, but as Phil says so well, we need to suspend belief for some aspects of it. The sixth hour of the sixth day of the sixth month?? Wouldn’t that be a bit hard to gauge and I think it would need to be sooner. Gory and while a good story – I love kids to much to enjoy this story although I can see merits in it as a horror story. I am not a fan of vampire or zombie literary fare.
        Good writing but a few grammatical edits needed. You didn’t do a close edit, did you?
        • Hi Ilana, and thanks for your feedback.

          Indeed, it’s not a story to enjoy for its content, and in no way do I wish to give the impression I condone any of it (except Romero’s unfading love, perhaps.). But it’s still important that such brutal behavior is brought to the fore, from time to time, rather than get swept under the carpet of history. True, my story is fiction, but I based its gruesomeness on what really happened under the Nazi regime (and elsewhere at other points in history too). Some Nazi doctors infamously sliced open perfectly healthy people (often children, with a particular interest in twins), without the use of anesthetic or any measure to reduce the pain, psychological terror or danger to their lives. This may have happened, some say, just for sadistic pleasure (where there was actually joy in maximizing the pain) or, ostensibly, for the advancement of medical science (where lack of ethical oversight gave researchers a free hand). There was this idea that the so called “untermenschen” or “inferior peoples” had after all a reason to exist as sacrificial lambs for the “ubermenschen” to improve their chances and welfare in life. This was considered a higher, more academic take, than the official political line of the Nazi regime that simply wanted the extermination (genocide) of all undesired people for its political ends. Sad stuff, very sad stuff. And many would rather not remember it. But when we forget such things, there is a greater danger they might unfortunately happen again.

          True, as you say it would probably have to be sooner than the sixth hour of the sixth day of the sixth month for any “elemental cell” to be useful for Kessler’s intentions. But I couldn’t resist the 666 thingy!

          Could you kindly pinpoint to me (some of) the grammatical errors you came across, Ilana? I did edit the story before pressing the submit button, but alas, it’s never ever enough and often a second (or more) pair(s) of eyes is necessary. So, if you find a moment to let me know of the location of the errors you found, I’d be very grateful 


          • I’m commenting on my phone at the moment, but when I get a chance I’ll get on the laptop. There were just some areas I felt you could tighten it up a bit.
            Will do as soon as I have a moment.
      • Thanks for your feedback, Phil!

        I gave my story a bit of a vampire(ish) feel and some reference to popular culture, like the number 666. But I also wanted it rooted in pseudoscience (that’s why the mere science-fictional mention of “stem-cells”). As you said, if I had more words at my disposal, I would have elaborated this further, explain how Dr. Ganzer/Kessler was able to do what he did. To make it more believable for the reader.

        I suppose that, the meticulous scientist he was, he kept exact records of his victims’ fertility patterns and somehow managed to break Nature’s code in that field. Not without fail. I did point out that he only perfected his craft through trial and error and thousands of victims. I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that a good scientist, with a free hand to do whatever he wants with his subjects, can discover some new things that so far haven’t been cracked. But, following your advice, I’d need to somehow put all this through to the reader so that he “buys” it, rather than suspend his belief. Thanks for pointing that aspect out to me 

        I also take agree with your suggestion, that more of the story ought to emerge through dialogue. I really didn’t have the space for that this time! Your idea of an investigator is plausible (there has to be another person to bring in some proper dialogue…can’t get too many words out of a lone wolf like Kessler). Maybe Father Edgart Meyer, the Vatican delegate, gets to talk at length with Kessler, before he gets to know too much and Kessler has to eliminate him (and then turn him into the relic of St. Edgardo!).

        You mention a longer story that I ought to carve out of this piece, and this idea did actually cross my mind while I was writing the story for this contest. There was so much material I had to leave out or compress that I saved the whole lot on my hard-disk in a file called “The Blood of the Unborn – more material in case of a future longer piece”. So keep an eye on those Amazon bestsellers 

        Thanks as ever, for your objective feedback, Phil! You’ll be hearing from me about your story too.


    • You’ve got a disturbing mix of vampiric, Nazi and spooky-religious elements here that make for an effective atmosphere, Ken.

      I’m pretty much in agreement with all the points Phil makes.
      I think it would be better to stay mythic than go for faux-science. And the story is all tell rather than show, so I ended up feeling it was more a synopsis for a longer story than one that really had bite within the word limit. Something is needed to bring out characters and bring some tension into the story – the investigator idea is a good one, maybe Romero could even have his suspicions and challenge the Bishop somehow.
      Great ideas though – could become a Netflix mini-series!

      • Hi Andy,

        I sort of like to blend the mythic with (pseudo)science, to sort of ground the fantastic in some way. I find it hard to stay firmly in an all-encompassing fantasy world, like some can do so well.

        Yes, the story needs more space. I tried to tell two stories in one, Kessler’s and Romero’s. They meet of course, but I kept them separate, trying to build some suspense as one story is interrupted to make way for the other and v.v. several times. I wish I could bring in dialogue, but that would really need a longer version of this. Like a Netflix mini-series!

        I take your point that my Romero is a bit too passive in the way I present him. To tell you the truth, I had one version of him, in an earlier draft, noticing, years into the story, a little mole that Juanita had and which also St.Lucinda has on the same spot. Maybe while the good women of the town were back with a new wheelbarrow-full of gold to install on the relic, they expose more of the relic than is usually seen. Of course, Kessler did all he could to disguise the true identity of the women in the relics. And he was evidently very good at it. But that one mole…! Romero goes back home, frantically looks for photos of Juanita he had, to confirm his hypothesis… I won’t say anymore… you’ve got Netflix, right?


    • 1. Maybe they get to touch her too, before she’s forever encased. Awkward phrasing. You can rethink this and do better.
      2. For it’s believed that touching a relic forgives all past sins. And dangerously enough, some think future sins too. It’s believed touching a relic forgives past sins. Some also think, dangerously enough, future sins.
      3. This church in the small jungle town is probably the richest reliquary in the world. The embalmed bodies of St. Kosca, St. Barmila, St. Pala, you name them – saints nobody ever heard of in the rest of the world – stand silent in their niches, forever staring down at the congregation from every wall. saints unheard of world wide, stand in niches cut into all four walls of the church, silent observers of services and congregations.
      4. before they’re themselves pushed on. Before they’re pushed on. (Less is more. You need to edit, my friend, more harshly. Kill your precious darlings and resurrect their corpses in wax effigies. It’s art, not life we are trying to create.)
      5. He had a more imperative motive. Word choice, find something more appropriate here please. Are you talking about a bossy, authoritarian motive? A domineering, overbearing motive? Think, think about what word would work better here.

      Ken you may be sorry you asked. I decided to stop at 5 for you to think about and refine this story a bit more.

      • Not sorry at all, Ilana. I’m pleased you picked these out for me (and more if you wish :-), for further scrutiny. Yes, I was too carried away by the need to tell the story to pay attention to certain details. With some of your proposed editing, I’d have more words available too, to use elsewhere in the story…

        Thanks and keep them coming 🙂


        • @ Ilana,
          Regarding my buddro, Ken Miles’ story.

          1. Oh, THOSE grammatical errors. One can clearly see the value of your editorial recommendations. But why sugar-coat it as you do? Don’t beat around the bush. (Spare the fire, spoil the brimstone.)
          2. I set aside some time to go over your story with a quantum electron toothpick and a special program I have, similar to a cotton gin, but more like digital duct tape. You can thank me now as we wait for my foolproof editing software to spit up (did I say, ‘Spit up?’) …to divulge? Disperse? Dispense? Promulgate! To promulgate a concise but objective review of your latest literary offering. (Bonus: It also checks for turd words.)

          The results are posted at the tail end of the thread, where your story is also located.
          As soon as I get around to it. (Hopefully never.)
          p.s. Lighten up will ya?

    • Ken Of M.

      Well, well, old chap. ‘Blood of the Unborn.’ Nice appealing title. So I see you’ve given up on winning the popularity contest, and are going for shock and awe. (Blood Of The Unborn? I swear, you crack me up.) Why not,,, Juanita Blood Clot. You’re sort of giving away part of the plot with that title, aren’t you?

      Actually, a better title for this would be ‘Reliquary.’ I had no idea what that meant until looking it up. It’s an obscure term.

      You’ve written a complicated story, compressed it, shrunk it, freeze-dried it, crammed it into a 1200 word limit, and sacrificed some women and fetuses along the way. (What’s not to like?) It all starts off innocently enough. (Of course.) And the story is great, up until this line,
      ‘He’d quietly dug out the secret crypt using nothing but an old doctor’s scalpel.’
      Forget all that, he’s got to discover an old underground mine, or cavern. It has to be convenient and easily explained. (An old Topaz mine, said to be haunted by tormented spirits.) Something like that.

      After that, you spend a little too much time on the technicalities after telling us not to mind them.

      I think the problem here, is you’ve gone scientific, when really all you needed to do was to say – long before the unique and universal properties of stem cells were discovered by medical science at large, Dr. Gazner was actively harvesting them. The timing of that harvest is critical, but the specific morbidic ratio must be ‘point six-six-six.’
      Something like that.
      You’re overworking your dough on the science when you have so much evil to describe.

      I had to chuckle at some of the comments on this story. I began to wonder, ‘Does one have to be a psychopath to be entertained by stories about psychopaths?’ Are we all innate murderers just waiting for a scale-tipping motive? (I have a confession to make, my belief in this theory fluctuates over time. Like my blood-pressure.)

      I like Phil’s advice, it’s one of those things that only Phil notices, but once he points it out, you have to do something about it. (I’m talking about your blatant expositions.) They do seem – overt.

      Overall, this story is hard to like, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it.
      I didn’t see any grammatical errors. I can see the value of her husband Romero, but he’s an insignificant character, that doesn’t get, or really deserve redemption. The less of him the better, except as a vehicle to drive Juanita to her fate and for the reveal.

      This is about Bishop Phlebotomist. (Otherwise, you’d have to re-write it and make Romero a key character. Then the Boozou is out the window, without breaking it, Juanita just disappears while out collecting plantains, he’s desperate and frantic, the Bishop looks on coolly (wickedly) faux-sympathetic.)

      Your story is way better as it is. I like the concept. It probably should be longer. As other’s have said, your introduction of science ( it was metrics, really) into the story didn’t help. (Although the 666 lore was not impossible, as some have said, because he was the father of most of the unborn children and could very well have recorded the time of their conception.) In my view, that was no more (or less) believable than an escaped Nazi sadist, masquerading as a Catholic Bishop, embalming alleged saints in the middle of the jungle? See, that’s were I thought you were on shaky ground. But then, Why not? Right? It’s in the middle of a jungle and he’s a wily old psychopath surrounded by a ‘village’ of not too sophisticated natives. Yeah, I think it just needs more room to introduce the plot details. (Which were numerous.) Ease back on the science, as I mentioned.

      And then you could add those fine little flourishes, like the mole on her cheek.


      • lsoHi Ken (of C.)

        You read my story very well… Indeed not a story to like. Just one to enjoy reading (perhaps). But not to like what happens in it.

        I mean Dr. Gazner is not exactly a guy to look up to. Although the person who broke the window of Ilana’s lab and was irresponsible enough not to report it (or fix it), caused more needless and widespread havoc than my doctor, if we think of it… And that evil man in Phil’s story, who’d terrorize his daughter about his ex’s new flame’s house. No, no, that’s just not done! What if the daughter wakes up at night, terrified of the house she’s in, and disturbs the ex’s sweet love-making with Alan? What if she’s in no mood for sex anymore after coaxing her daughter for two hours to get back to bed. Poor Alan, who’s been waiting all that time for her to come back to continue from where they left off! Such evil things some characters can come up with! That father should be truly ashamed of himself for causing his ex-wife’s boyfriend such a terrible inconvenience. And then people pick on my Dr. Gazner! Pfff…

        Oh well, did I cram way too much in a flash fiction piece! I was aware of this all the way as the ideas for this story started taking shape in my head, and then on my screen. I was aware all the way, that what I have here are chunky tell-no-show notes (thus the exposition problem) mostly suitable for a longer piece. You and Ilana rightfully suggested some things that I could have done without, some tightening up to clear space a little and perhaps throw in a bit of dialogue instead. Something like Dr. Gazner’s lab assistant suggesting the use of anesthetic on the poor women:

        “How can we work with all these screaming women around us, boss? I just can’t concentrate [so much for calling this place a Concentration Camp!] Why don’t you give them some opium, before we slice them open, so that they’ll at least stay quiet?”

        The Dr. disagrees, “And then what? I’d drink opium-tainted blood? I’m a teetotaller, I live a clean life, I believe in purity of soul and also of body. You too, if you do want a sip, you won’t want any damn anesthetic in your drink!”

        “I don’t want to drink no blood, Sir. The whole idea just…”

        “Oh you’re still a twenty-two year old baby. When you’re sixty like me, your body withering like autumn leaves, joints hurting, mind blurring, you’ll beg for a sip…but no worries, it will be available in the shops by then! Thank me later.”

        That’s how I (and you, Ken, and the rest of the Placers who commented) wanted this story to be. I know. I just had no way of doing it like that. Not without shooting wildly through the word-limit ceiling… Or leaving so much info out of the plotline, you’d all be wondering what I’m even going on about…

        So yes, point taken. Got to keep this story for somewhere else, for something longer. A novel, A Netflix mini-series, a comic book for adults, a full night’s work worth of spraying graffiti on the walls of the skateboard park, or whatever it may be.

        About the science bit, I’m not sure if I’d like to listen to you and to the many others who suggested I should cut down on it. I think it’s the mad-(but bright)-scientist in this story that makes it truly horrifying. The fact that it could have happened, or could happen, sends a chill down our spines, our stomachs churn too. This is not a fictitious vampire, that exists only literature, but a real blood-drinking dude who does it not out of some unnantural crave, but in order to cure the two ailments that sooner or later affects all of us in real life, ageing and death. True, I threw in some mythical elements, but they are peripheral to what I really had in mind for this story. In a longer piece, I would perhaps dilute and smoothen out the scientific bits in a way that they’d blend better in the drawn out narrative. But I wouldn’t take them out completely and turn this into pure fantasy. It would be less fearsome and disgusting if it were to become “just fantasy”, methinks.

        Not even the Nazi sadist idea excites me too much. There may be people who are sadists, psychopats and such, but I prefer to have a more rational reason in my stories. Even a sadist, I think, has reasons (unconscious ones as they may be) for what he does, if one wants a a psycho-drama sort of story… My Gazner/Kessler may have sadist traits, is certainly uber-egoistic, racist and disrespectful to the extreme towards other people, but his ultimate motive is to find a cure for ageing and death. Almost a noble cause. If it weren’t for his ignoble means. That’s what I find most horrific in his tale. Not plain evil. But extreme evil, dressed in white. So, yes, I’d keep this story disgustingly rational for maximum effect. I know that many here like fantasy stuff, but I personally prefer it that way.

        Also the digging part. That’s when Bishop Kessler digs up the bowels of the earth beneath his church. I needed him to do that, so that it’s clear to the reader that nobody in Beloreguardo knew about this secret crypt. But I had him doing it meticulously and using a surgery scalpel. The scalpel, because it makes little noise, but also to sow the seed in the reader, a clue to this mysterious person’s identity (there is no indication, as yet, that he’s really some sort of doctor). But the key word here is “meticulous”. It sheds some light on the character of this person, who can quietly, schematically, and in the most disciplined way, one small bucket at a time, dig up a whole basement over a number of years, never giving up, at no point doubting his mission in life. Meticulous. That kind of person may as well, without any outside help, defy all the science known to humanity, work out with precision what happens inside a woman’s belly at any given moment in her pregnancy and figure out something of great (but catastrophic) significance. That’s why I had that sentence in there, Ken, in order to fit in that word, meticulous, and shed that strange, suspicious light on that person. Someone else would have shoveled the whole thing up, or got a contractor to do it. It’s not your fault that this didn’t come across as I intended it. Again, I would have needed more words, not just one sole sentence, to bring all that out…

        You confirmed to me that Romero is too weak a character in this story, just a vehicle for the plot to move forward (to the ironic climax of the story). Given that I start the story with him, people thought that he’s perhaps the main character. But indeed, the story is about Gazner/Kessler. But I would be tempted, in a rewrite, to give Romero wings and turn him into an active character that may in the end blow Kessler’s bubble. He won’t have to be perfect (no real hero ever is). He can still have the boozou problem, but he’ll then get over it and grow from there on… I wouldn’t let him be such a sloppy hopelessly romantic person next time.

        Now on to the linguistic aspect. That’s where, you know, I want to work hardest. You said you didn’t find any grammatical errors (by which I also take it you mean “flow errors” / “awkwardness” in my wording / “unnatural structures”, and such things). Ilana, on the other hand, found several such instances and gave me some suggestions on some of them (some of many, I believe, from the way she put it). Then you commented, rather criptically, on that. I can quite see you with tongue firmly tucked in your cheek  So what’s your real take on her suggestions? What other suggestions would you make on this language-flow aspect? I can see some of her points, but not fully… Any more advice from you would be appreciated, Maestro!

        I’m pleased to have added “reliquary” to your vocab. Sure you didn’t know the word? Like most other people in this world, I have a reliquary in my basement. I keep the earthly remains of people I don’t like in it. Those of people I like I keep them in the other reliquary, next to my living room, so I can see them every day. It’s a very common thing people do. So you don’t have a reliquary at your home? It’s like having a bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom. You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you? I wouldn’t imagine that some houses in America don’t even have a reliquary! You may have simply not known the word. But you knew the concept.


        • IsoHi?? Where did that Iso come from? My computer is plotting against me… I knew it.
  • I really, truly, thought I signed up for this. Apparently not, as I haven’t received any of the comments or stories. Doesn’t look like I can pull one out in time, either, which I would have loved to have done.

    Contrary to many on this site, I guess, I’m a Bradbury fan, more of his short stories than his novels, although 451 was a classic story line that I truly enjoyed, and I must admit, The Veldt was wordy. Still, I have a collection of 100 of his best short stories (maybe that’s all of them, I don’t know) and truly enjoyed the majority of them and do understand why he’s considered a great writer. At least I think so. Then again, I like Stephen King, too. Probably in the minority there, too.

    I just can’t get my self wrapped around novels like Olive Kitteridge, which I thought was not only not well written, I thought it was as boring as watching grass grow, yet it won a Pulitzer and is an HBO series. Given who stars in it, I would give the series a try, because of McDormand, Jenkins and Murray. Alas, I don’t have HBO and have no plans of watching until it’s streamed on another venue, which may never happen.

    I assume this could be extended and if it is, I’m in.


  • A broken glass

    Hsu Zhang was extremely conscientious. Some might say too diligent. She recorded everything. That’s why, when she recorded the broken glass beaker and the following steps taken to decontaminate the area in Lab 4, she noted everything down to the last detail, including the broken glass in the window high up in the lab which faced out towards the city and the wet market just a few hundred metres away.

    It had been an extremely hot day. The air conditioning unit in the older lab had collapsed. The ceiling fans whirled slow and steady overhead in the steamy sterile lab under the stark lights.

    Hsu and her partner Xie had been working on some very interesting viruses. Interesting, but deadly in the extreme. When Xie’s beaker slipped from his sweaty fingers and crashed to the floor, they were not worried. Both technicians were in full Hazmat blue disposable suits that could be stripped off just before entering the decontamination chambers. The suits were burnt and technicians had their disposable underclothes also cremated after each session in Lab 4. In Chinese the pronunciation for the character for 4 and the character for death were similar. Superstitious technicians did not like working in Lab 4 but neither Hsu nor Xie were superstitious. They were the modern new generation Chinese. They did not believe in such nonsense.

    Xie sprayed the area with a strong antibacterial disinfectant. Hsu secured the area for a deep clean. Neither of them noticed the open window until later. Hsu included it in her report but did not believe it was important. The broken window was two meters from the ground. She reminded the clean up crew to close and seal the window.

    Five days later.

    Xie did not come in to work. He called in sick. Hsu worked on the paperwork for their research paper on bat viruses from a province some distance from Wuhan where their lab was situated. They worked in pairs in the lab. Especially when they were handling dangerous biogenetic materials.

    About three days later, Hsu felt tight in the chest. Her asthma was playing up. It was only when she started to cough up bloody phlegm that she decided to visit the hospital on the way home. There they took her temperature. By this time, she was shaking with fever and felt a fatigue the like of which she had never experienced.

    “You’ll have to stay overnight. Your temperature’s 41.5 C.” The young doctor was gentle but firm. He ordered chest X-Rays and when he examined them, he frowned.

    Through her delirium she heard him confer with two other doctors he brought in to examine her.
    “Her lungs are like swiss cheese.”

    “Isn’t that similar to the other cases we had in two days ago?”

    “Yes. The family of the young man who worked at a laboratory. Where did you say she works?”

    “The same laboratory.”

    “Coincidence? Maybe. We should keep an eye on this. Never seen anything like it.”

    “The young man and his parents, how are they?”

    “He died this morning. His parents both, not much hope. Apparently, there’re other relatives sick and friends of the family. Very similar symptoms. Whatever it is, it’s very infectious.”

    The fan had lifted the droplets vapour up and shooed it through the broken window. Out of the lab. A spring breeze took the vapour over the crowded marketplace. There it settled on tables and people crowded and scurrying through to make their food purchases and hurry home.

    Xui Ying hurried. She wanted to buy something special for her grandmother’s birthday. She stopped by a stall selling fresh fish. The vapour droplets came to rest on the big tank of fish swimming their last laps. It mingled with the water and multiplied in the dank air and wetness of the market corner. It was friendly and liked to get close to living things. It clung to the fish gills of the big fish she chose for her grandmother’s celebration dinner.

    A quick blow with a machete and the fish wrapped in paper was ready to take home. Xui placed the fish in her bag and slung it over her shoulder and marched quickly up the street to her apartment block.

    “Motee, I got the fish for Nani’i.” she called as she entered the apartment. “It’s a beauty.”

    Her mother takes the fish and cleans it. The vapour containing the virus on the fish travels to her hands. She pushes her hair back and it spreads up over her hair and onto Xui when she comes in to hug her mother and kiss her during the preparations. They are excited, you see, her mother’s brother is coming from Australia with his wife and two boys. They are staying for two days in Wuhan and then they are returning to Hong Kong and back to Australia. They have not seen Uncle Huan for five years.

    Dinner that night is a lovely family affair. There are all the grandparents and some uncles and aunts and cousins, as well as friends. Nani’I is 90 years old after all.

    It is Nani’i who feels sick the next day with a fever. A few days later, two of her friends who came to the dinner fall sick. Nani’I by this time is in hospital and very, very ill. Uncle Huan stays an extra week with his family as she is not expected to survive. She does not. Nor do her two friends, and a neighbour in her seventies.

    Uncle Huan and his family catch a flight back to Australia after the funeral. They had to wait for four days to cremate Nani’i. The crematoriums in Wuhan seemed rather busy of late. Aunty Li is not feeling well. Just a bit of a cold when they left China. However, when they land in Melbourne, Li is running a high fever and feeling very fatigued.

    “Are you ok? Maybe you see a doctor when we get back to Sydney?”

    “No. I’ll be ok. Just a cold. Probably the air conditioner and change of season.” Li bends over double and starts to cough. Huan shakes his head. His wife looks terrible.

    At the airport, they walk to the staircase. The escalator made her dizzy. Li is halfway down the stairs when she falls forward and collapses on the landing. She is shaking and sweating. They call the ambulance. The airport security personnel gather around her. She cannot stop coughing.

    She is taken to the hospital at Westmead. There she is put into a coma to help her breathe on the ventilator.

    Possibly in that hour from the airport to the hospital, at least fifty people without Personal Protective Equipment have encountered Aunty Li at close quarters. Many more will be in contact with her family and those sitting on the plane near her.
    The doctors look at her X rays. Puzzled, they are not able to explain her lung damage. They do not understand what is happening to her.

    Two weeks later.

    More cases are coming in and they begin to understand.

    Something wicked this way comes…it does not yet have a name.

    • Good story, Ilana. Kind of a plausible scenario, and one believed by many people in terms of the origins. The short sentences give pace to the story. The inexorable advance if the disease is scary, and the story brings home the personal dimension.
      The last line is great and very apt.

      A couple of things – viruses can’t replicate like that, in water/dank atmospheres. They have to bind to a living host cell. As written it sounds more like bacterial growth.

      The tenses change suddenly from “Her mother takes the fish and cleans it” – jumping unexpectedly into the present. Perhaps that’s to make it more immediate, but as the present-tense part covers at least two weeks, there’s no real reason for the first part not to be in a different tense, I think.
      (Also “Hsu” should probably be “Xu”, for consistency in the pinyin and for the mainland location.)

      • I meant, “there’s no real reason for the first part to be in a different tense”.
        i.e. it could all be in present tense, or all be past.
        • Hi Andy you might know more about the differences between viruses and bacteria than I do and I may have to do some more research. Wouldn’t the fish be counted as a living host and it co UK Le enter through membranes and mucus in that animal?
          And agree that tense changes could make this more effective. Now we have time I will work on it. Thanks 😊
          • Hi Andy
            I did some research and antibacterial disinifectant is fine. Bleach and the like is perfectly effective against the coronavirus. The Hsu is the westernised version of Xu and I should have been more consistent. Realise that now. Thank you.
            I am wondering why Amy did not vote. I had her story as one of my picks. I believe I possibly did not get any votes this time around. Picked the wrong story I guess and it just did not appeal to readers.
            • Carrie Zylka

              Ilana, no she did not vote.
              Also your story received 3 5th place votes and two 3rd place votes. Two people eeked you out with a difference of 2 and 4 to land them in the two places above you. It was actually very close.

          • Plus please don’t drink bleach. External use only. Please. I live in Victoria Australia. Been self isolating for weeks and months now. We have had a huge spike in infection numbers here. Some people have been foolish. SIGH!!
    • Hi Ilana,

      This is a neatly told story that has – alas – become a familiar one by now. I’ve heard and read many theories of how Wicked-19 came to be. And I came up with and wrote a couple myself too. But yours is by far the neatest I’ve heard so far. The wet market is implicated as a result of an unfortunate series of events, and is not the actual source. Many would debate that, but it’s a possibility that a research laboratory is the culprit. The authorities would have a higher interest in protecting a lab than a semi-legal market.

      That broken window is key to what happens, and also the broken-down air-conditioner. Little things that make the story very believable. Even with a scruplously conscientious scientist like Ms. Hsu, it’s still a credible story, as she would have had no control over the A/C system and the mysteriously broken window. (But who the hell broke that window? That can be another story in its own right!)

      I got a bit confused with the Chinese names and had to read up and down the story several times to check again who was who, also because I’m not familiar with which names are male and which female! My bad. Two of the chosen names could have, however, been a bit more distinct – for the benefit of those of us readers who are uninitiated in Chinese monikerology: Xui and Xie.

      Also, a little thing, when Xie disinfects the area of the spillage, I think he’d have used an antiviral agent (you said antibacterial), since they were working with viruses. I’d make that mistake (well, I just disinfect everything with vinegar – I think it’s antieverything!), but these are scientists and would know disinfectant from another.

      I like the clear dialogue, and the small chunks of exposition are also light and crisp. I knew what the story was going to be about right from the start (so there was little surprise element), but it was an enjoyable, current-affairs sort of read nonetheless.


      • (Btw thanks, Ilana, for your useful comment on my story, ‘The Blood of the Unborn’. I’ve replied to your comment there)
    • Ilana,

      A virus is an excellent topic for ‘Something wicked.’

      Your story is a loose approximation of what may have happened. But your story is not really fictional in the larger sense, therefore, the science in your story has to be correct, doesn’t it? I mean, how the science may have went awry is the real story here, so you need to be accurate in what details you decide to offer.

      The funniest thing concerning this story is that Andy knew that the Chinese names were wrong. Who knows stuff like that? ‘Ilana, please to correct you. Szhe is real name, Futwong is not. You need to replace Futwong with Xi Ng Pl’au to make this believable.’

      Really? Oke-tay.

      But talk about tighter writing.
      ‘The fan had lifted the droplets vapour up and shooed it through the broken window. Out of the lab.’
      Need I say more?

      The paragraph on mother’s food preparation could have been a lot edgier, more on point.
      You wrote:
      Her mother takes the fish and cleans it. The vapour containing the virus on the fish travels to her hands. She pushes her hair back and it spreads up over her hair and onto Xui when she comes in to hug her mother and kiss her during the preparations. They are excited, you see, her mother’s brother is coming from Australia with his wife and two boys. They are staying for two days in Wuhan and then they are returning to Hong Kong and back to Australia. They have not seen Uncle Huan for five years.
      (Not sure all that detail is needed.)

      Relatives are visiting from Hong Kong and her mother is planning a grand family dinner. A quick blow with a machete and mother begins to clean the fish.
      The virus leaps from fish to hand, from hand to mouth, mother to daughter, daughter to brother, brother to wife, the circle of life becomes a ring of death.

      The rest is history.

      As for tense conformity. That’s one of my many weak points and I can’t be of much help to you there. But it’s a well-constructed story that just needs a little more accuracy in the science department.

      • Ken you never disappoint me and yes, I need to work on the accuracy of the names and I was thinking the virus bads landed on the fish. LOL
  • “But neither Hsu nor Xie were superstitious”. Grammatical error! 🙄😥
    • Carrie Zylka
      • Thanks Carrie
  • Carrie Zylka
    All – we’ve had a request to extend the contest a bit so if you didn’t think you’d get your story in by the deadline – here’s your chance!

    (like me 😁😁😁)

    • It won’t let me ‘like’ you, so, here: I like you. 😀


  • Hey writers!!

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

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

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

    Good luck!

    • Only 7 stories in this one!
  • Just waiting on Amy’s votes, I’ll give her another hour and then I’ll tally.
  • Without further ado here are your winners!!

    1st Place: The Bright Side by Ken Cartisano
    2nd Place: The Horrid House On The Hill by Phil Town
    3rd Place: Waiting by Alyssa Daxson
    4th Place: Something Wicked by Ken Frape
    5th Place: The Blood of the Unborn by Ken Miles
    6th Place: A Broken Glass by Ilana Leeds

    Favorite character: Dagon from Waiting by Alyssa Daxson


    Favorite Dialogue: The Bright Side by Ken Cartisano

    Congrats to all!!!

    • Ken Miles
      Congratulations, Ken! Alyssa and Phil for the other top spots and category prizes too. My very personal top three, as it happens 🙂
    • Actually I had Ken C as best dialogue, so do not know where you get y’all. Ken C always writes good dialogue. Congratulations Phil you were my pick too.
      Amy did not vote?
    • Congratulations Ken C! and everyone who wrote in this prompt.
      I’m sorry I couldn’t vote in this one due to local service problems.
      At any rate, congratulations to all!
  • Well, congratulations Ken and everyone!

    I had Dagon as favourite character, congrats Alyssa.
    And Phil’s was my top choice (sorry, Ken C – you were up there too) But Phil, you’ve done it again. That’s the second time, I believe, you’ve got ‘Best Dialogue’ for a story WITHOUT DIALOGUE! That takes skill! Maybe honorary best monologue medal, though…

    • WTF
      I didn’t even catch that. I usually read through the stories to make sure they fit the requirements and didn’t have a chance today.

      How does that even happen???? 😂😂😂

    • Carrie Zylka

      Updated the winners!

  • Phil Town
    Congratulations, Ken! And chuffed with 2nd.

    (So I ‘won’ the ‘dialogue’ award initially? And now you’re saying I didn’t win it after all? ‘Cos it’s not dialogue? Well, just because we don’t actually see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist! cf God 😉 )

    • Carrie Zylka
      If it’s on the internet it must be true!!!
    • Well, actually, I was kind of teasing about the ‘no dialogue’ – I expected Phil (or someone on his behalf) to bat the comment back and say there is a second person whose contributions to the conversation are not explicitly stated but are referred to ….

      To have the laurel wreath snatched from him and be ejected from the podium – it’s not like Phil was using drugs, is it? (though maybe those who voted for his invisible dialogue were)

      Anyway, my apologies, Phil! I’m going to feel guilty for the rest of the weekend now, if not for the rest of my life…

  • Phil Town
    I was going to say I’d prefer “the rest of [your] life”, Andy, but as you’ve laid out my defence better than I did (“… there is a second person whose contributions to the conversation are not explicitly stated but are referred to …”), the rest of the weekend will do.

    And yes, no drugs involved … if you don’t count gallons of strong tea.

    • A monologue is a dialogue with oneself. So still a dialogue. Maybe the greatest of dialogues.

      And Phil’s wasn’t even that – there was someone else listening. Only quietly.

      And often dialogues (in life, not so often in our stories), are two monologues happening simultaneously within earshot of each other, each speaker eager to say his own, but hardly paying any attention (if at all) to what the other is saying. But that’s also still classified as a dialogue.

      (I wouldn’t have gone into the definition of a dialogue for the prize in this contest. Well done to both Phil and Ken C. for this – both deserved it, Actually, BOTH deserve a lifetime achievement prize for best dialogues! I’ve learned so much from both of them since I’ve been here. They are masters of the craft of dialogue.)

      – But then, if we come to think of it, ANY story is deep down a dialogue between the author and the reader, right?
      Just shut up, will you!

      • Phil Town
        In fact, total silence and/or a blank page is also dialogue if you … now stop it, me, this is just getting silly! 😉
        • LOL Phil and Ken (M).
          This could end up like a contested VAR decision, it seems!

          Ken’s comment: “But then, if we come to think of it, ANY story is deep down a dialogue between the author and the reader, right?”
          So it is said – but as a prize-qualifying dialogue, only when the reader comes back with text inside inverted commas 🙂

  • Meanwhile, there’s a regular non-bonus contest with the theme of Chaos that seems to be a two horse race at the moment between Amelie and me. Nice open theme and waiting there for some more contestants and commentators. Stories with dialogue that involve two or more interlocutors welcome, I’m sure 🙂
    • Carrie Zylka

      Hahaha I have a rather chaotic story to post tomorrow for that prompt!

  • Where is Ken Cartisano to celebrate his victory??? And offer free champagne. It’s feeling like one of those weddings where the bride doesn’t show up…

    I’m a bit concerned about Ken, too. Florida is sinking, I hear… El Virus on the march. Anyone knows anything?

  • Not dead. Not dead yet. Reports of death totally exaggerated. Decided to evacuate– I mean go on vacation. Yeah, we left Florida to go on an abrupt vacation. Currently at undisclosed underwater vacation spot, surrounded by armed octopuses. (What other kind is there?) They’re there for our protection. Not much internet here, or w-fi, or people, or porpoises. We’re pretty isolated here. Hence the lack of rude, obnoxious comments from my humble-pie face self. Congrats to everyone on successfully holding a vote without allowing those pesky Russians to foul it all up. Phil Town for best dialogue. Hahahahaha. I’m still laughing. (Just kidding Phil.) well I downloaded everything I could, will take it back to cabin (I mean ‘the submarine’) and do some reading. Take care.

    Am especially looking forward to reading the comments from both Ken’s on stories and acting.

    Cheers all.
    Ken C

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