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Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

First Line Prompt “An Unusual Summer”

Theme: An Unusual Summer

Story must start with “What was quite unusual this summer …”

Word Count: 1,200

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  1. One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
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219 thoughts on “First Line Prompt “An Unusual Summer”

  • Carrie Zylka

    Read the stories here:

    The Summer of 2020 by RNB
    Dinner Date with Death by Peter Holmes
    Summer of 2019 by Robt. Emmett
    No News is Bad News by Ken Miles
    When Darkness Falls by Roy York
    What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted? by Phil Town
    Voices Pave The Way by Alyssa Daxson
    The Diocesan Summer Of 2020 by Marien Oommen
    Flight Simulacrum by Ken Cartisano
    Rubber by Lowell Hartman
    Never Judge A Book By Its Cover by Carrie Zylka
    Untitled by Ilana Leeds

    (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.)

  • Adrienne Riggs
    Signing in
  • Will signing up get me notified at voting time?
    • Robt. I think its like the garbage man. You just have to find out when it happens, and then pay attention. It’s always the day after the date given in the sub-heading, right under the first picture. It always has a date in it. Last week’s said:
      Last Line Writing Prompt, August 6 – August 19, 2020.
      This weeks says:
      August 20 – September 2, 2020 First Line Prompt An Unusual Summer
      Last week the vote started on the 19th and ended the next day.
      This contest the vote starts on September 2, 2020, and ends on the next day. The information in the headline is pretty utilitarian. usefYou pretty much go by the date to determine how much time you have to write and post your story.
      • Vicki Chvatal
        … except we are spread across multiple time zones, & some of us (eg me) get confused. 🙂
        • Carrie Zylka

          What timezone are you in, we tried adding in a bunch of different time zones that correlated to some of the writers in the description of the post. We can add your time zone in as well. Also I have it on my calendar recurring, every two weeks at the same time, because even I forget!

          • Hi Carrie, mine is CET (Central European Time zone, Berlin/Rome/Paris) – that would cover me and Juergen, if you can include it. I think Ken F., Andy, anyone else in the UK and also Phil in Lisbon are on GMT, so that would be useful to have too. The rest I don’t know where they are exactly on this big floating ball in space…
            • Carrie Zylka

              Hi Ken, GMT is already listed, I’ll get CET added in there too.

            • Carrie Zylka

              I added it in… thank you!

          • Vicki Chvatal
            I’m in Israel, so my time zone is IST (GMT +2, or +3 in summer).
    • Carrie Zylka

      Yes it will.

      If you check the box to turn on comment notifications, and actually read your emails 😏😉

      • Vicki Chvatal
        On that subject, is there a way to turn on notifications only for comments on your stories/ comments or those relevant to everyone in the group? Last time I turned on the notifications, my inbox was swamped with notifications most of which had nothing to do with me. I had to turn them off again.
  • Ilana L
    Hopefully this time a story. Just watched Red Dragon Anthony Hopkins such a brilliant actor. Tired of covid-19
  • Dear Carrie,
    U know what’s wrong with me? I can’t wait like the others!

    The Summer of 2020 :

    What was quite unusual this summer was the complete transformation that Neil went through after the death of his first wife, Catherine. Gone was the possessive, suspicious son of a bitch. The great change that came over him in the summer of 2020 was so palpable that…well…., let me begin at the beginning.

    Neil Rutherford had his first confrontation with love at 14! Sally, the girl next door, older by a year or two, coquettishly led him upto the roof of her house a lonely afternoon, exactly seven months after his parents had moved house.

    Neil’s looking down at the city coming alight and alive, when he felt Sally putting her hands through his from behind. He had a tinkling sensation like it happens when you are worn out and, on hitting bed, derive the greatest satisfaction putting your head on the soft pillow.

    “You know, Neil, these days I find myself drawn to you, You’re darned attractive, smart and intelligent.To be honest, I…I..” Sally stopped before turning Neil around towards her and cooing on, “I’ve loved you from the day I saw you getting out of the limo in front of the house opposite. ”

    Neil stood wonder-struck as he looked up at the pretty girl with her wavy black hair while she gripped his hands firmly into hers. But what followed next, left a lasting mental scar., His studies, consequently, were hampered, as was his notion of girls being the epitome of everything beautiful, serene and divine.

    As the number of pimples multiplied on his face, so were his visits to the local gym. The physical contact with the girl drove the diminitive, shy boy out of his shell and impacted him so bad that he couldn’t look girls straight in the face anymore! When Mrs. Robertson came to the class for the grammar lessons, he found it almost impossible to keep himself from staring at her buxom, overflowing bosom.

    That was how Neil grew up through cumbersome, sleep-inducing summer. Fortunately or unfortunately, what was nothing more than a fling for Sally, led Neil in search of one more to another till he turned out to be a Casanova of sort.

    He met Cathy, I mean, Catherine at a party, offered to reach her home when he’s boozed and ended up marrying her … … … …


    What was quiet unusual this summer was how Catherine couldn’t stop quaking from head to toe, standing against the door of her 2KB apartment. Never in her wildest dreams did she anticipate anything like this. How could a decent, well-bred girl like her fall flat for him at the first sight?

    Cathy’d hardly pushed the door open when she could sense his presence behind her. Had she imagined everything that night? Her inviting Neil in, his close proximity as she poured him a drink, his lips on hers in a kiss that hastened them to bed and helped her glimpse the consummation of the conjugal life!

    The outcome of that encounter was how she ended up standing opposite him in that white bride’s dress with Neil responding to Father Padre’s question:
    “Yes, I do.”


    No couple could have been any less compatible! While Cathy took upon herself the task of performing the mountain of household chores, Neil lorded over and snored!

    They were coming back home from the weekly shopping in the second week into their marriage when a man in his late forties, came running down the steps of a departmental store towards them, waiving frantically.

    “Hi, Catherine. What a surprise! Who’d have thought that I’d bump into you at a time like this?”

    He was obviously referring to this Summer of 2020, when there was the outbreak of the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic. The dreaded disease that started somewhere in China and spread out like a wildfire. Millions of people lost their lives in a matter of months. ‘Social distancing’, ‘digital education and exploration’, ‘staying at home for days’ defined the ‘New Normal’.

    “Sorry for failing to attend your wedding. I’s in Bangkok on an official tour.”

    The dashing man in a sharp suit and gold-rimmed glasses, put his hands on Cathy’s shoulders while she smiled awkwardly.

    Getting back home was like her being exposed to living hell while still alive! Neil looked withdrawn, grim-faced. While Cathy’s getting into the casuals, Neil sat brooding on the sofa, showing no intention to change.

    Cathy, familiar with his rapid mood swings by then, was heading to the bathroom when Neil stopped her, stating:

    “That pimp couldn’t have been your uncle. I’ve never seen an uncle hugging a niece like the way he was! Tell me, Honey, who’s HE? A childhood crush? Former heartthrob?”

    The way he stressed the words ‘honey’ and ‘he’ unnerved Cathy. There’s no point trying to rectify him. She ignored his outburst on the way to the bathroom while he stood up, looking livid, completely out of control!

    She kept quiet which was a mistake.

    “Your silence proves my suspicion. I always knew you couldn’t be the divine lady you’re projecting yourself to be!”

    Back in bed that night, he’s a monster, torturing her to submit to his whims and fancies. Cathy lay awake in bed long after Neil’d fallen asleep, spent.

    During day time, he’d pet-pester her, making her want to believe that this insanity on his part was temporary. That it’d go away with the passing days.

    Some days later, Neil found Cathy talking on the phone in the bedroom excitedly. After she had hung up, he asked her casually.

    “Who’s that? ”

    “My cousin brother, Bob,” was all she could bring herself to answer.

    “Cousin brother! I didn’t even know you’d one! What does he want? ”

    “Sunday is his daughter, Rita’s birthday. He wants to invite us. Wanted to talk to you but…” unsure of his reaction, she wound up by asking, “Would you like to talk to Robert?”

    Neil shook his head.

    How after the birthday bash, Cathy wished that they hadn’t gone to her cousin’s at all! Neil not only left the task of paying for and buying the gift to Cathy, he also went berserk when Bob lightly kissed her cheek at the time of their departure.

    How, the 2020-summer came and went in a flash, Neil never knew. Relations between them had turned from bad to worst lately. He delighted in inflicting insults and injustice of every type imaginable on her, threatened her with a divorce, yet she remained glued to him.

    On coming back home late one night, he found Cathy delirious.

    Now as the body was being lowered into the graveyard, a tear rolled down Neil’s eye. He had always been wrong about his wife. She’s an amazing woman, faithful till the last moment, and loved him with all her heart.

    “Come, babe. Mind messaging my aching back? It hurts a great deal,”

    Neil put the tray with the black coffee down on the bed stand before sitting beside the wailing Eliza, his second wife.

    They say that the transformation in Neil, after the abrupt demise of his first wife, was so remarkable that even he failed to recognise himself at times!
    The end

    • Rathin,

      Even your ending couldn’t make Neil a nice guy, You did an excellent job of making him a jerk. and, I liked the story, although there were a few things. Your syntax was more what I expected of you, although there is clarity (for me) in most of your sentences. I know, it’s different and I will eventually get used to it, but here’s the rub, Contraction Boy. Your insistence on making up, or using contractions in the wrong spots, is driving me crazy.

      Neil’s looking down at the city. Was or is?
      I’s in Bankok on an official tour. Was or is? And I’s, no matter how it is used, is flat wrong, in my opinion.
      Back in bed that night, he’s a monster. Was or is?
      Tell me, honey, who’s he? Was or is?

      And this gem. I didn’t even know you’d one. (Really?) I know it is supposed to be ‘you had one’ but it’s out of place for me.

      Readers shouldn’t have to read the paragraph to guess which tense you are currently using, IMHO.

      A good rule is, if it’s plain which tense you are using, it’s OK to use contractions. Everyone knows in the previous sentence I am not using past tense because the preceding phrase is in present. When you start with a contraction, people have to keep reading to figure out which tense they are in, and that is distracting.

      And, this final thought. What is a cousin brother? If it’s your cousin’s brother, he’s your cousin, too. If it’s your brother’s cousin, he’s still your cousin, also. Apparently, ( I googled it) he’s just your cousin. Why would you call him a cousin brother, unless it’s to make sure everyone knows he’s a ‘first’ cousin. I’ve never heard this phrase before. I guess that’s different. Here, (in America) we call anyone who is a cousin, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or more, cousin. We don’t give any of them a distinction unless we are discussing the genealogy connection, in which case you indicate, 1st cousin, 1st cousin once removed, 2nd cousin and so on.

      But, this is me being me. Feel free to throw literary caution to the wind and continue making up contractions or using them in the wrong spots as you see fit. I don’t think you will change until an editor tells you to, and unless you shape up, that’s not going to happen.

      Your pal,


      • Dear Roy,
        I wish my English Teachers had spent as much time on me as you have (I kept myself from using ‘you’ve there, you see?) in the last few years. I would not have been (again I stopped myself from using ‘I wouldn’t have’) such a failure in life.
        I don’t know much about the rules of using the contractions but all that I understand is, while writing the author has to use the language in the dialogues as it is spoken in real life. While speaking, very few of us will say,
        “He is/was such a benevolent man that he paid a huge sum of money on charities.” Almost any native speaker will contract “He is/was..’ to ” He’s”. Now, it is up to the listener to make out whether the speaker is using the past or the present tense. How does she/he do that? Simple, by listening to the rest of the sentence for a clue or whatever. In the example above, the tense being used, won’t matter much so far as the meaning of the sentence is concerned.
        Now, regarding my use of ‘I’s’, I must have picked it up from somewhere or someone. That’s what I told a friend who commented on my post on FB.
        I’s happy clearing her doubts, explaining things to her.
        Now, let us (let’s) look at the sentence above. It is (it’s?) clear that I was (I’s?) using the past tense. How? Because, I IS happy is not correct English. As simple as that!
        Anyway, I’m (for I am), I’s (for I was), I’ve (for I have), I’d (for I had), I’ll (for I shall or will) and plenty more, are contractions I have (I’ve) been using since I was ( I didn’t use, I’s there, you see?) a kid. So, why make such a great issue of it?
        Let me also tell you, Roy, that I have never had any serious writing aspirations. So, the chances of rejection by the editors, are next to nothing. But you must believe me when I say that I have been receiving feedbacks from some editors of some magazines from your part of the world and no one has written to me about my use of contractions. But here, I’ll give it to you, Roy, that most probably none of them put my writings under such a meticulous scanner as you do normally. I am grateful to you for that, Roy. I really am.
        Let me wind up by referring to your letter to Mr. Peter Holmes :
        If your version works, I may try it when Death shows up at my door. At 78 and having had cancer, sepsis, and everything else these past few months, Mr. D may be closer than I’d like to admit.
        This had moved me a great deal. I didn’t know that you had a close encounter with cancer in the last few months. My eldest bro, who was settled in Sidney, had to go for the radiation therapy regularly there, but lived till the ripe old age of eighty. He passed away just at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.
        I’ll pray to God to grant you a long and healthy life. I love you for being what you are, mate. No one ever bothered so much about me.
        With warm regards and best wishes,
      • Vicki Chvatal
        I believe ‘cousin brother’ means a male cousin. (Native Russian speakers also tend to say this :); and probably so do speakers of other languages where words like ‘cousin’ have gender-specific variations.)
    • Vicki Chvatal
      Hi Rathin,

      You’ve squeezed a major character development and an eventful lifetime into such a short story – IMO, perhaps too much. There are all sorts of things that could be adequately described/ explained in a novel or a longer story but aren’t clear here (presumably due to the word limit). Eg, what it was about Neil’s first relationship with Sally that proved so traumatic, or turned him into such an arsehole towards women. Or how Neil managed to remarry so quickly after the death of his first wife (if I understand correctly, both happened during the summer of 2020) – I was almost inclined to suspect he’d murdered Catherine in order to marry Eliza. I think the story would benefit if you reduced its scope, concentrating on Neil’s marriage to Catherine, his remorse following her death, how he came to marry Eliza, and how he’d changed as a husband. In particular, I would really have liked to read about his transformation – just how does an abusive, jealous, possessive bastard like Neil realise that he’d been horrible and unfair to his wife all along?

      I was confused by the phrase “the wailing Eliza”; my first thought was: is Neil dying? Or Eliza? Only later did it occur to me that she was wailing because of back pain.

      • Dear Madam Vicky,
        I ain’t sure if I need to thank you or give a detailed elaboration of the story. You are spot on when you say that I tried to squeeze in too much within the scope of the word limit of the story.
        So, I started with the afternoon Neil lost his childhood innocence and was on his way to attaining manhood quite early in life. Catherine happened in The Summer of 2020. By then he had become some kind of a misogynist. Whether he killed her or not, is better left to the discretion of the reader. Don’t you agree?
        He seemed to be in a hurry to marry Eliza towards the end of the summer, and the rest is exactly as you have described it.
        I am sorry I can’t remember if you asked for any other clarification or not as I’m writing the reply based on what I can call up from yours.
        I am expecting a bomber from you soon. Till then, take care and stay blessed. All the very best.
    • The Summer Of 2020. By RNB

      A bit, well, confusing. For instance:
      He met Cathy, I mean, Catherine at a party, offered to reach her home when he’s boozed and ended up marrying her … … … …
      I said to myself, Who’s HE? And how was he planning to reach her home when he’s boozed? Who’s he think he’s?
      And then this:
      “Cousin brother! I didn’t even know you’d one! What does he want?”
      (I don’t know. More clarity, Br’er Rabbit. More Clarett?)

      As far as I is concerned, this is the fault of the English, Christ, magnets and ships. And it will never be settled until we all get drunk and swim with the fishes. In our galoshes.

      Yes, you may quote me on that.


      • Rathin- I agree with what has already been said about how you use contractions. I gather that you are uninfluenced by our entreaties to conventionalize your grammar…so I won’t go further with that. I do think you tend to overuse exclamation points where periods would be more appropriate- let your words convey the urgency and surprise rather than your punctuation. I truly enjoyed your one sentence description of Neil and Cathy’s wedding. That was very evocative. I thought you did a very good job of portraying a lot of information in a short story. Cheers!
        • Thank you. I appreciate your honest feedback. Though I ain’t sure if contracting ihas much to do with convenrionalizing grammar like you stated. Regarding your view about the overuse of the exclamation mark, you may have something here. I need to relook at my story to find out if I’ve been doing it more oftener than I thought. It would have been better if you’d given an example. Anyway, I really appreciate your pointing out something that I wasn’t aware of.
          Thank you again for not looking at my story as some kind of trash written by a third/fourth/fifth grade writer.
          Stay safe and happy. Best wishes.
    • I got to read this as well, Rathin. You packed quite a bit into this. The transformation in the end was kinda hurried.

      These expressions- ‘messaging my aching’.. ‘pet-pester’, wailing …I’s…. were some of the things I couldn’t get my head around.

      You’ve got great critiques from the others worth looking into. The exchange is hilarious in itself.

      Maybe there will be a Neilian transformation in your writing with the demise of I’s?
      What say you? What say’u?


      • Dear Madam Marien,
        I read your last story and liked what you had to say about India. To tell you honestly, I have, been so used to contracting ‘I was’ into ‘I’s’ that it will be difficult to get rid of the habit.
        Now, let me try to make a few sentences with that contraction. Let me ask you to give your frank opinion if the sentences look all that menacing, odd and out of place.
        I’s happy for you. I’s initially doubtful of your intentions. I’s never a smart fella, ye know? I’s surprised at the outbursts. I’s hoping and praying for a reprieve. I’s never known to be a wet cat. I’s what people had expected me to be.
        Do you think we can make any mistakes regarding the tenses of the above sentences. Can we take the first sentence to be a Simple Present Tense? Never. Why? Because I is is wrong English. Similarly, I’s initially. .. .. is Simple Past Tense, only. Now, if some people are purists and can’t think out of the box, that is no reason why I should wash my hands off the whole issue. I have, been using this for ages. The first person to point out the fact, and quite rightly so, is none other than Roy. I respect him and his opinions but that is no reason why I should stop using it.
        Inspite of being a very poor student, I studied English Language, and Literature. I taught the same as well. If no one found anything wrong with my my contractions, does it really matter if I keep using them the way I do so? I’m neither a great English scholar nor a grammarian, so if I make a mistake here and there, that will not be the end of the world. Am I right Ma’am, or am I right?
        Take care and stay safe, Madam. I have a feeling that this platform can only get better henceforth. With love and best wishes,
  • Signing in.
  • Peter Holmes

    Dinner Date with Death by Peter Holmes (1016 words)

    What was quite unusual this summer is that Death stayed for tea.

    Five in the afternoon, an unusually frosty atmosphere settled in my flat. Silently congratulating myself for getting that promotion at the café, I twisted the biscuit jar lid off. “Suck on that, Vickie” I thought, as I swallowed Jammy Dodger in one go. I remember thinking she never deserved that promotion, I worked my ass off that week. In hindsight, a rather mundane thing to think about. I turned the TV on and grabbed my blanket to distract myself from the icy air.


    As the agonisingly loud intercom sound continued to ruin my relaxation, I threw my blanket off me and made my way towards the door. Time to find out which one of my neighbour’s drug dealers buzzed through to the wrong flat. “What is it this time? Some gourmet marijuana? Five grams of sleeping pills? Something with a hint of fruitiness that lingers on the tongue?”

    “Excuse me?” a voice that went through my soul answered. It was gruff, but so devoid of any emotion.

    “Come on you’re here for Owen, aren’t you? None of the other tenants ever have guests over.”

    A pause.

    “Oh. Right, yeah. For sure.” the voice was unfamiliar, I wondered if Owen was branching out, buying more drugs. I don’t have much affiliation with the guy, but I don’t want him to overdose on this crap. Nevertheless, I pressed the button that confirmed it was safe to let the stranger up. Submerging my butt back into the sofa, I prepared for a quiet night in with the news reporter on my screen.


    I shouted over the television “next door over”.


    Using all my energy to lift myself back out of the chair, I walked over to the door and stuck my eye against the peephole. A tall figure dressed like a silhouette stood on the other side. Normally I’d be cautious about this, but my afternoon had been interrupted too many times for me to care now. If I die, so be it.

    I had no idea how ironic that sentence would turn out to be. After unlocking all three separate locks, I stared at the person ahead of me. They were donning a full black robe, hood obscuring the face, sleeves long enough to hide the hands. For a minute I thought about how they put it on, as there was no sign of buttons or zips. Probably wasn’t the biggest priority. Neither of us said anything until I tried to get a glance of their face. I’m fairly tall myself, so curving my body to try and get a peek of their face was easier said than done. “Don’t look under there.”


    “You won’t like what you see.”

    “Follow up question then – why?”

    No answer. Instead, a hand emerged out of the robe. I instinctively shook it, not noticing the lack of skin on said hand. I’m not afraid to share that I let a rather high-pitched scream loose. They let out a mocking laugh and retracted their hand back into the silky black fabric of the robe.

    “Sorry, I just-” I hesitated, focusing all my brainpower on stopping myself from vomiting. The landlord wouldn’t like that. They leant in, I guess for moral support. That was the last thing I remember before I passed out.

    Consciousness and starvation came hand in hand a short time after, when I woke to find myself lying on the sofa. The same figure from before was stood over me, staring at my face in an inquisitive manner. They asked me if I was okay. I mumbled something I can’t remember. They pulled their hood off to get a closer look at my condition.

    “SWEET JESUS!” Even having just fainted, an empty skull still warrants such a reaction.

    “Other way.”


    “Getting warmer.”

    “Are you- you know, the-”

    They turned around, seemingly adjusting their robe. “You can say the name, I’m not gonna condemn you to eternal damnation or whatever you’re thinking, that’s not my tune. I’m what you’d call a psychopomp.”

    “A si-what-now?”

    A heavy sigh was given in response, and then a mutter of “I’ve got to stop saying that.” They looked at me and said “I just guide the souls.” They continued to face the other way, as I made out what sounded like incantations.

    “So… you are- him? Death?”

    “Technically I don’t have a gender, but I thought the rest was pretty clear. Was it not clear?” They spun round and smiled at me, sticking human hands out, with a fully formed face. “How’s that?”

    “Impressive. Thank you for changing”

    “No worries. Anyway, guiding souls is not the most interesting job, so sometimes I like to act as one of you and make it harder for myself.”

    “That’s why you used an intercom. Like a human?”

    “Exactly. Although I’ve got to be honest it wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.” I smirked. If only they knew how boring my life was. “But I’m here now so if you could keep that mouth shut for a minute while I take your soul. Good? Great.” A hand extended out with a scythe in its grip (to this day I still don’t know how it fit in that robe).

    “Hey hey hey back off mate no soul-taking will be occurring today. I’m not even dying.”

    Death’s bony jaw made an amusing shape as they found themselves lost in thought. I let them stand there while I scoffed down another biscuit and approached the kettle. After a few awkward minutes of silence, they asked me “Are you sure?”

    “YES.” I took the teabags out of the cupboard and dropped them in my mug.

    “Hmmm. Alright. New offer.” They walked over to the kitchen. “Can I stay here until the bosses fix this?”

    “Do you like pizza?” I inquired while pouring the boiled water into my mug.

    “Never had it, but you know what they say.”

    I gave a puzzled look, completely oblivious to what ‘they’ say.

    “When in Rome.”

    • Dear Mr. Holmes,
      Let me tell you at the start that I am never known to be a smart reader. I read your story as soon as you posted it, kept it for a second reading before commenting,
      The title itself drew me to your story “Dinner Date with Death. “. God! Who wouldn’t like to read a story entitled as such. A date with the dreaded Death.
      As I read on, curiosity was getting the better of me. Death was at the door and came knocking, as it does ofen, unannounced.

      Then I chances upon these lines :

      I stared at the person ahead of me. They were donning a full black robe, hood obscuring the face, sleeves long enough to hide the hands. For a minute I thought about how they put it on, as there was no sign of buttons or zips.
      I went back to the line starting with – “I started. .. ” once more. There was just Death in front of the narrator, just one person! Why did the writer use the third person plural form for him then? But as I read through the lines describing him – ‘… a full black robe, hood obscuring the face, sleeves long enough to hide the hands… ‘, I realized that you were doing it purposefully. For who has seen Death (other than your narrator, of course) from close quarters?

      I liked the concept and continued reading till the end. Goes without saying that you have done a great job. Getting the high and mighty Death to stay back for tea in that unusual summer, can’t be a mean achievement.
      Wait, wait, Sir. I ain’t done yet. The description of Death is thought-privoking and your language (I should leave that to the experts) is lucid. That brings me to the only thing that I found confusing, other than the opening sentence. The story is entitled ” Dinner Date with Death”.You started off by saying that “…that day Death agreed to stay till tea”, and concluded by asking him if he would like to have pizza, thereby, if I understood it correctly, inviting him to dinner.
      I am not very familiar with the Western culture, Mr. Holmes. That’s why I was wondering if staying back for tea and staying back for dinner amount to the same thing?
      From what I have read of some writers so far, I had the feeling that when someone is asked to stay back for tea, only tea with some biscuits or snacks will be served to him/her. Inviting someone to dinner is a different cup of tea altogether. Please clarify my doubt, Sir.

      That’s not taking the credit away from your story. I enjoyed reading this thriller thoroughly. Thanks for sharing. Keep smiling and stay safe. All the best.

      • Peter Holmes
        Thank you for the kind words and in-depth observations. In relation to the tea/dinner incident –

        “Tea” can be used for many things, one being (as you said) the beverage and some snacks. Another could mean a hot meal in the evening. Point is, it’s rather a topic of debate in our country (possibly for others as well, but I’ve had many a conversation regarding the definitions of “dinner”, “tea”, “lunch”, etc).

        When I wrote, “stayed for tea”, I was referring to a meal in the evening (in this case, pizza). However, (and this is where I would easily understand where the confusion comes from) I chose “Dinner Date with Death” because it had a nice ring to it. You see, realistically, I should’ve chosen a clearer title, but the lure of the alliteration won me over. I apologise for the confusion and once again, thank you for the compliments.

        • Thank you, Mr. Holmes, for the clarification. I’ll have to be careful while using any of those terms from now on.
          By the way, regarding the title, I guess I’d have done the same in your place. The alliterative title does have a fantastic ring to it and would have won me over too.
          Please keep writing and sharing. God bless.
    • Peter,

      Like Rathin, I had the same exact double take with ‘They’ used instead of she, she or it. And, like Rathin, as I read on, I realized I didn’t mind it, and in fact, (like Rathin), rather enjoyed the use of ‘They’ instead of he, she or it.

      I liked the story, although I was confused as to Death, just giving up so easy, when “Hey hey hey no soul taking will be occurring today” was said.

      I thought Death’s job was to counter that with, ‘so sad, too bad – just doing my job’ and then, the old scythe swings and sends another slice of life to the hereafter.

      If your version works, I may try it when Death shows up at my door. At 78 and having had cancer, sepsis, and everything else these past few months, Mr. D may be closer than I’d like to admit.

      Good writing young man. Thoroughly enjoyed the story and the repartee between the protagonist and the antagonist. Just one question though, you put teabags (indicating more than one) in your cup. Is it better that way? I know you put multiple teabags in teapots sometimes (well, some do, and other’s don’t). I’ve heard it’s up to the tea drinker and how they want to do it. But, I’m mostly a coffee man, myself.

      Keep it up, young man. Your writing is getting better and better.


      • Peter Holmes
        Roy, glad to hear you’re also in favour of me using “they”. I originally used “he” but once I thought about it, I realised Death is presented a lot of different ways by art and culture across the globe. Why should male be the typical pronoun for such a figure, you know?

        And I’ve done a bit of research in the past, Death is sometimes portrayed as a no-nonsense person. But I’ve never been one for sticking to the pack, I like to imagine (like some tales out there) that Death has a simpler side. Not exactly kind, but borderline considerate (merciful, I guess).

        And in response to the teabags, I stay away from coffee and tea, so I don’t actually have a preference (I don’t like either of them, I only drink water). I’m not sure why I used the plural. My dad, being a 6ft 8 giant who starts work at 6am, drinks tea from a huge mug, and uses three teabags. He’s the only person in my family who drinks tea, so maybe I was subconsciously thinking of the usual number of teabags I see in one mug.

        Thanks for the comment at the end – I recently got officially enrolled in college, taking Spanish, English Literature, and English Language. This may seem like irrelevant news to you, but my point is it’s nice to hear my writing is getting better when I’m about to spend two years (and more at uni potentially) studying writing and words in general.

    • Dinner Date with Death. Peter Holmes.

      This is a pretty funny story with a nice theme. Death as subjected to the civil service. Even death has no sway with bureaucracy and settles in for the duration.

      The non-gendering of death is original, to me, and gives death a conglomerate kind of essence, again, seems very original. The outcome of the story is indeterminate, I like that too.

      • Peter Holmes
        Thanks Ken, glad you liked it.
        • Peter – I loved the title – the alliteration was fun and the wording immediately drew me into the story, I liked the way you threw in enjoyable details at the beginning – it really set the stage for your story. (The promotion, the cold and the neighbor’s drug dealing guests) I think I’m alone in saying that I found the use of the word they to describe death distracting. I must be old school in wanting the word they to refer to two beings. I loved the wit of death in your story. All in all I loved your story until the very end – I wanted something big to happen to finish with a punch instead of a wimper…but that’s just me…
          • Peter Holmes
            Thanks for the comment on the “enjoyable details” – I’ve learnt I’m not the greatest at setting the scene. I’ve often favoured beginning “in media res” – this sometimes pays off, but often I end up just confusing the reader. So you could consider this my attempt at slowing down and adding details.

            Great to see a fresh opinion on the use of the word “they”. I disagree of course (otherwise I wouldn’t have used it), but fair enough.

            And I can understand why you’d get that feeling, originally I wanted to write about Death as a flatmate, rather than a dinner guest. However the dinner guest plot proved satisfactory, so I had a good long think and came to the conclusion that writing more would simply be too difficult. Plus the last line seemed like a good ending line, so I just stretched it out a bit (word count originally around 700, but I figured I could add more).

    • Alyssa Daxson
      Peter, this story is one of my favorite stories so far. I love the humor you’ve implied in there, and for me, the dialogue was awesome. I have to say, my favorite line(and the one I laughed the most at) was

      (SWEET JESUS!” Even having just fainted, an empty skull still warrants such a reaction.

      “Other way.”


      “Getting warmer.”)
      I think I laughed for a minute straight when I read that, so I’ve gotta thank you for that. Also, pizza? Remind when I’m about to die, to offer Death some cheese pizza. Maybe he’ll give me a free pass….

      Great story, with masterful humor!

      • Peter Holmes
        Thanks Alyssa, that’s honestly my favourite line too. And you’re welcome for the life hack (death hack?), Death may have mercy if pizza is on the table.
  • Signing in. I will have a story this week. And, while it won’t be last minute, it won’t be like the two early birds already in. They’re so new, the words aren’t even blue yet.


  • Summer of 2019
    By Robt. Emmett ©2020

    “What was quite unusual this summer, in your opinion?” asked the cub reporter.
    As he’d sprung for the beers at the HOOK bar on the Rock River, I’d shoot’m straight. “I didn’t hear the corn squeak this year, not once.”
    “Corn squeak? What’s that?” he sipped at his three-two beer.
    “You’re a city fella, right? Never lived out here.” He shook his head.
    “On hot, an humid nights, the corn grows so fast the leaves sliding passed one another make a squeaking sound. Kinda like a mouse.”
    “That sounds like fun.” Casting me a look, “sorry about the pun. “Anything else unusual about this summer?”
    “Fish,” I said, an chugged some beer.
    “Yeah. Not enough of them. The HOOK serves the best Atlantic cod an jumbo shrimp in the area. Jumbo shrimp, that phrase jus don’t fit in my ear. Anyway, but if Jim, the owner, knows ya, ya can order bluegill or walleye dinners. Ya gotta eat’m at the bar, though.” I wiggled my glass in the air.
    Setting his glass on the table, he asked, “Why?”
    “Why what? Eat at the bar? City folks are too sophisticated to sit at a bar with the likes of them,” I nodded over at the shoulder to shoulder skuzzy crew hunched over their Leinenkugels an Strohs. “An ‘sides, Jim doesn’t want the city customers seein’ people eating something different. Cuz, then they’d want some.” After a finishing sip, I wiped my lips with the back of my hand.
    “How is that bad for his business?” he asked.
    Jim set a fresh Leinie on the table.
    I motioned at the bar huggers. “They pay Jim’s rent an overhead. The city folks – they’re the profit. Jim keeps us happy so he can pay his bills. If the city folk started ordering the specials, there wouldn’t be enough for us locals, cuz there ain’t that many poachers.” I tasted the Leinie.
    “Poachers? That, that’s illegal!”
    “So’s spitting on the sidewalk.”
    He shrugged., sipped an asked, “What else?”
    “The township’s Fourth of July fireworks were different. For safety reasons, it’s usually handled by the volunteer fire department. They do a respectable job. The whole shebang, skyworks an groundworks, typically, last ‘bout half an hour. This year, the town council appointed some of their kinfolks. No skyworks, an the groundworks only lasted three ana half minutes. Best damn ground display I’d ever seen. Too bad ‘bout the two fellas that got injured.
    “An speaking of fireworks, ‘nother new thing. At the end of July, the 4-H Fair happens. It’sa big hoorah ‘round here. It’s the oldest 4-H Fair in the nation, or so they brag. Now, picture this. It’sa Wednesday an the hottest day in the last twenty-seven years. The overhead power lines straddling the midway are hummin’ a mournful tune as the fence posts sweat in the sun. I watch from the bit of shade between the Original Deep-fried Corn-dog shack an the tent selling Cotton Candy an Funnel Cakes. I was tempted to walk across the dry patch of grass to get a Frozen Coffee On a Stick. But that’s when it happened. Just up the gravel street, a hundred teens had been standing in the hot sun for fifteen minutes, or so, with their hogs. No, not Harley-Davidson hogs, but future bacon an chops. There were all kinds, Poland China, Berkshire, Yorkshire, Landrace, an others I didn’t recognize. They were standing in the sun an waiting to get into the brick building. But they couldn’t because the sheep judge in there mistakenly thought he was finished judging the sheep entries. Unfortunately, there were forty-one more to judge, in four classes. These were not the Little Bo-Peep type fifty-pounders. These were Suffolk’s, the biggies. These monsters could weigh 400 to 500 pounds, about the size of a Pony. To make things worse. They were wearing their winter coats. Unruly, best describes them.”
    “What happened?”
    “Some smart-ass lit off a pack of Black Cat firecrackers. Twenty or so loud bang-bang-bangs later, a bunch of large sheep an two-hundred-pound porkers were running amuck. Up the mid-way, down Machinery Row through the food court, into the grandstand an even onto the stage. A Country or Western band, I can’t tell the difference between the two, were nearly trampled.”
    Draining his glass, “Wow, what a mess. But there is a fence around the fairgrounds, right?”
    “Yeah, but the gates were open. Worse, the 4-H Fairground is in a residential area, five minutes from the center of town. It was a mess. The local cops became livestock wranglers. Even the County Mounties an the Highway Patrol was called in. It took nearly two days to get most of the animals back. Three pigs ana sheep were never found. Five of the local ‘Protect and Serve’ guys spent hours getting a 200-pound porker outta the city manager’s swimming pool. The escaping herd caused a four-car pile-up on the corner of Randall and Ruger Avenues.”
    “Is that all?” He glanced at his warm beer.
    “Ah, No. After the pigs an sheep left, I decided to try the Frozen Coffee On a Stick. It dripped an stained my other best western shirt, the blue one. Save your money, it wasn’t worth the two bucks.”
    Mellowing in my beer and reminiscing a bit, I said, “There’s something I did that I haven’t in years.”
    “Spooked teens ona hot summer nights. Ya see the bit of gravel leading into the corn? That’s a road to the middle of Sayer’s section 31 patch of corn. On a nearly full moon night, I slowly drove down it with the lights off. There was a car parked at the end. I waited ‘til the car started rocking. Then I snuck up close an clicked on the high beams an blew the horn. Scared the livin’ crap outta the high school quarterback an the home-coming queen.”
    “That’s cruel!” He sipped at his beer. “Any more unusual happenings this summer?”
    Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do. The daughter planned a birthday party for me. So, in the afternoon, the son-in-law an I went into Sayer’s field and …”
    “The section 31 patch?”
    “Nah, his section 14. It’s his sweet corn patch due for pickin’ the next day. We cooned ‘bout thirty, thirty-five pounds a corn an took it back to the daughter’s place for cookin’. It’s on a family road.”
    “A family road?” He finished his beer.
    “Everyone on the lane is kin. Means everyone came. Some came to eat, some to drink, an some to wish me, ‘many more.’ The cousin next door barbied ‘bout a hundred pounds of crappies an bluegills. He loves to fish. Aunt Bella, from down the lane, brought her world-famous Zucchini an Cauliflower casserole. Nobody eats the crap. We all just slowly disappear bits of it, an she’s none the wiser. Cousin Michelle brought her usual assortment of frozen treats. Have you ever tried a shot of frozen tequila?” He shook his head. “Well, ya outta.”
    I stood, one-gulped the rest of my Leinie. “Time ya pay the piper. Be seven-fifty. Be country friendly, drop a ten-spot on the bar, an wish Jim a good day.”
    — Ԙ —

    • Summer Of 2019. Robt Emmett.

      A clever twist on the first line prompt. And a lot of story crammed into this tale. It’s kind of a rundown of the latest happenings. Pigs, sheep, teenagers, city folks, skuzzers, a 4-H fair. Squeaky corn. A cub reporter drinking his three-two beer. Coffee on a stick. A lot of funny visual images in this story.
      It has a real country flavor and feel to it. Kind of like Garrison Kieller from Lake Woebegone.

      Not sure about fourth of July skyworks and groundworks, or why a 3-minute display would be so great as opposed to a half-hour of just plain old ‘works.’

      It’s a full story, but funny.

    • Robt., Well done, you’ve been getting better and better, and I love the intended folksiness of your story. I even accepted the dropping of the d on the word and. Loved how they ‘disappeared’ bits of Aunt Bella’s world famous Zucchini and Cauliflower casserole.

      And, this original sentence: The overhead power lines straddling the midway are hummin’ a mournful tune as the fence posts sweat in the sun. Has to be one of my favorites so far this story telling session. Great imagery.

      Well written my friend, and, well done.


    • Vicki Chvatal
      Hi Robert,
      I loved your use of language here!
      Can’t help wondering what sort of media outlet would send a reporter (even a cub) to interview someone who can spin a great yarn… about nothing at all. Regardless, it provides a set-up for a very entertaining story.
  • My, my, my, Mr. Robt! What a breathtakingly, swashbuckingly innovative story! I have had the pleasure of reading a few great stories in my life and yours is right up there along with some of my personal favourites. I really mean it, Sir, that very seldom I have read anything like “Summer of 2019”!
    There are so many good things I can write about your story like the excellent way you have made use of the prompt,. Starting with the first line (the way you you have used it in the form of a uestion) till the last where the narrator asks the Cub Reporter not to forget to thank Jim, the bar owner, everything is simply brilliant. And what about the language and dialogues, Sir? I simply don’t have enough words to express my appreciation. Once I thought of cutting out and pasting some of the lines for citing examples. But that way I would have made a very lengthy appraisal of the story, which the readers may not take to very favourably. Suffice it to say that you have taught me how a modern writer uses the language for adding to the suspence, charm and beauty of the story. In case anyone thinks that I am acting smart here, let me give an example from the last paragraph of the story:
    I stood, one-gulped the rest of my Leinie. “Time ya pay the piper. Be seven-fifty. Be country friendly, drop a ten-spot on the bar, an wish Jim a good day.”
    First time, I have come across the term ‘one-gulped’! This is an extraordinary use of the language, Sir. Instead of saying that the narrator finished his Leinie in one gulp, you shortened it to ‘one-gulped’! That’s simply mind-boggling! Such innovative use of the language abounds through the whole narrative, Sir, and hats off to you for that.
    What I like the most about the story is how through all those extraordinary happenings, you have brought home to the reader the fact that why the Summer of 2019 was unusual. Those humorous happenings along with the sardonic, matter-of-fact tone of the narrator, adds to the appeal of the story.
    Thank you so much for the story. Please correct me if I am wrong in expressing the view that writing such stories in the backdrop of a rural scenario seems to be your forte and speciality. You must focus on writing many more such stories.
    I just can’t gloat about your story enough, and forgive me for that. Good luck with your story. Stay safe and happy.
    • Thank you for your kind comment. Vocabulary praise from you, someone who uses a non-native language, is a great phrase. You also seem to use an inventive style in creating your stories.
      A question for you. Is “I’s” I is or I was or I has or is left to the reader to add whatever word seems correct to add? Whichever, I like it and need to know so I can correctly incorporate it in my writing.
      My writing style developed because of the various environments in which I’ve lived my first quarter of a century, I live in Duluth. A harsh, by many people’s standards, but to me – not. I would say it’s a challenging and stimulating setting. Hills and outdoor hockey were great teachers.
      The last half-century, the border area of Wisconsin-Illinois, between Chicago and the Mississippi River, has been home. Living among the hardy folks who invest their lives providing the large cereal grain for the world, or those who own small businesses has given me a much better understanding of “optimism.”
      The HOOK is/was a real place. Sitting at the bar, elbow-to-elbow with owners and workers slaking their thirst after a day’s labor is as educational as entertaining. The ladies sit at tables as the language at the bar, at times, is/was on the ribald side. Then again, a few of those “ladies” could outdo a mule skinner.
      As to making up words, I think I got that habit from my father-in-law. He was a latter-day muleskinner and pushed eighteen-wheelers for thirty years. He was intimately familiar with the best and worst of drivers.
      I think my writing approach is not un-like “method acting,” I visualize, then I write. Is makes me write in the first person. Actually, I enjoy being the focus of the story.
      I say the HOOK is/was a real place because it once was the name of a popular day’s end gathering place with a long bar that served great food at a reasonable prices. The owner failed to properly deal with his success and went broke. (I know, oxymoronish)
      Lastly, thanks again, Rathin.
      • Thank you, Mr. Robt.
        It has taken me quite a while in responding to your email as I missed it somehow. I can understand now how you could describe the setting so vividly in your story.
        Regarding the contraction I’s for I was, I fail to understand why it has become such a big issue. Let’s look at the following examples:
        Stephen/she/he/it’s a marvel to the rest of us. (Present Indefinite or Simple Present Tense)
        I’s only in Classic when I fell in and out of love in a flash!
        Does the second sentence look so very odd? But using the contraction I:s for I is (It’s always I AM) or I has (Wrong again as we use ‘have’ with I in the present always).
        So, you see, Mr. Robt, it is all a matter of either sticking to the basics of grammar or letting them go to hell and personal taste or choice take over. As far as I’m concerned, I’s just abiding by whatever I must have picked up from the books of grammar.
        The first line of a 280-worder I authored today began with the sentence : I’s devastated. (I was devastated. It looked all right to me. But then two persons I think highly of,, I. e, Roy and Ken, have objected to my use of the contraction. So, I’ve to find out whether I’m being knaive, adamant or not. Anyway, I’ve been advised to do some research on the topic.
        I’d also request you to keep on writing about things, settings, characters that you are familiar with as it gives you an extra edge over most of us.
        Thanks for the story again, Mr. Robt. I wish that I could have praised it profusely! Stay happy and healthy.
        Good luck with your story.
        • I don’t know how “I’s in Class-V. ‘ in my previous, became ” I’s in Classic.. ‘ instead! God have mercy on me!
        • Rathin,

          While a guest on someone else’s boat, I once told a young teen-aged rookie at the helm of the vessel, that if he truly planned to chart his own course through the river that day, then he should plan on running aground. I pointed at a line of boats motoring up the channel about 50 yards away.

          “Who do you think knows more about the depth of this river?” I asked him. “You? Or the pilots of those dozen or so boats over there?”

          He pondered my question for a time before turning the vessel in their direction.

          Your use of vague and improper contractions, while irritating, is not as troubling as your inability to accept clear and definitive counsel from those whose credentials are incontrovertible.

          Arguing with wisdom is a waste of time and energy. Arguing with fools even more so.

          I have not encountered, in all my reading, of English, a valid reason to use the contraction ‘I’s, for anything. Ever. I will not comment on the matter again.

          Good Afternoon.
          Stay well.

          • Dear Ken,
            I spent nearly an hour countering the content of your letter. Unfortunately, it got deleted as soon as I pressed the “Post Comment”. I’m a very superstitious guy, mate, so once my hard work of an hour ended in thick smoke, I took it as a bad omen.
            Ken, I’ve always been open to honest and constructive criticism. But for reasons unknown to me, even counsel from such wise men as you snd Roy, can’t make me change my mind regarding the usage of the contraction ‘I’s’. What you’ve to understand is that I like the look, feel, smell, sound and taste (on the tip of my tongue) of it, and no matter what, I’ll go on using it as long as it appeals to me.
            I’s never meant to be a great writer. Nor was I afraid or hesitant to use something that may not even exist in the language! So what? Who said that using the contraction ‘I’s’ is forbidden in the language? Who decides all this anyway?
            I’ve blended many new words in English ( Refer to ) and blogged about them a decade back. Who can tell, how do you know that the contraction ‘I’s’ may not gain prominence in the language ever?
            Whatever, man, don’t lose any sleep worrying over something which isn’t a big deal. Take care. Stay safe and let’s put an end to the whole thing once and for good. I’s never going to win the first place amidst such luminaries, anyway.
      • Robert- I loved your story. I felt like I was sitting at the bar next to a good ol boy who was rambling on about his life in a very interesting way. I loved the little details you added and thought your finish wrapped up your story quite nicely.
    by Ken Miles
    (1,200 words)

    What was quite unusual this summer of 2019 was that nothing at all went on. The news-tap simply dried up.

    “What d’you mean, nothing out there to write about?” Boss thundered.

    “It’s a strange summer, Boss, nothing’s happening, everyone’s on the beach licking ice-cream…” Vernon defended himself.

    There was nothing else to fall back on. Vernon had exhausted his stock-stories. The ‘South Coast Chronicle’ had been, for weeks now, going to press in a reduced-page format. Vernon filled four pages with royalty-free comic strips he downloaded from the internet. Worst of all, advertising revenue fell drastically. “You’ve become the Beano!” one irked advertiser protested, wanting his money back.

    And now, Vernon Scables’s job was on the line. The Chronicle was a two-man act. Vernon did the write-ups and Boss ran the show. Boss understood nothing of journalism, except that his rag needed readers – or the ads stopped coming.

    “If everyone’s on the beach licking ice-creams, then go ask them why they’re not licking their ice-creams from left to right, or if that’s what they’re doing, why not from right to left!”

    Boss’d blown up his fuse. It was futile arguing with him. Vernon headed off to the beach, for whatever he could reap from there. He knew it wasn’t going to be much.

    The heat haze on the only road to the beach shimmered over the tarmac and it was so hot it was hard to breath. When Vernon stepped on the burning sand he was still at a loss as to what he even went there for.

    “What’s on your mind this summer?” he asked some beachbums. Scarcely lifting their heavy heads up, they looked at him kind of strange.

    “Relax! Relax! Relax!” That one word was on everyone’s lips. There was truly nothing newsworthy to gleam from the beach. And he wasn’t going to ask the ice-cream licking question Boss suggested.

    After a quick refreshing dip, he drove up to the first lay-by on the road back to town. He took a leak on the bleached grass, and that’s when an idea struck. He’d count the cars passing by, take statistics of their colors. Philosophize, perhaps, on what the colors meant, how they painted a picture of their drivers. He was good at that. Bullshitting. By sundown, 223 gray cars had passed by, 209 black ones, 188 silver, 162 white, seventeen red, twelve blue, one pink and one orange. He wrote what he’d made out of all that and the Chronicle was out the next morning with the clamorous headline: “Where Have All The Colors Gone?”

    Vernon only hoped that nobody’d bother reading his laughing-stock frontpage. But some did, and a good few, judging by the flood of scathing comments to the Chronicle’s Facebook page.

    Boss was furious.

    “There’s really nothing bigger going on…” the hapless Vernon insisted.

    “Nothing bigger? You say!” Boss tossed the day’s ‘South Coast Times’ at him.

    “Deputy Mayor Cheeseater Announces Snail Farm” read the headline. Now it was known that the Deputy was the uncle of Brad Cheeseater from the Times. He’d concoct so-called press-conferences in his own living-room, often skipping the Chronicle to give the Times an edge. But again, Vernon knew he’d only incandesce Boss if he reminded him of that.

    “Get me the news or you’ll be joining the jobless tribe tomorrow! It’s your last chance, boy… Now, get out of my sight!”

    Vernon stepped out of the one-room office into the empty, sun-baked townsquare.

    “Hey Jennifer! Business slow?”

    “Business’s dead!”

    Jennifer Lopez – his large butt earned him that nickname – begged right under Jefferson’s statue across the square from the Chronicle’s office. There was just him, in the whole square, and another tramp, who begged by the church, one dubbed Dangle, a nitwit known for dangling from high edifices. The townsfolk would call him if their cat or a ball got stuck atop a tree or a rooftop, and he’d bring it down for a dollar.

    “Dead it is! That makes two of us, then! For me, no news’s bad news!” Vernon told Jennifer, pitying both himself and the old tramp. It must be hard for a beggar, when there’s no-one to beg to.

    Wait! This can make an interesting story!

    “Tell me how you’re getting by this summer,” he asked Jennifer, “Will you? For a dollar? I’ll feature you in the paper.”

    “Don’t bother, bro. Nobody wants to know about me… But for twenty bucks… You know… I can hear a mosquito fart…”

    “Come again?”

    “Out here, I keep my ear to the ground, partner! Twenty bucks and I’ll find you something hot for the paper.”

    “Twenty bucks! Greedy son-of-a-bitch! I myself may be out begging tomorrow! Fired! That could be my last twenty bucks!”

    “You’re one funny little guy. That’s why, dumbo! Take me on, partner, and you’ll getta keep your job! Simple!”

    “Just what news – stuff – could you know of that’s useful to me?”

    “Come back at six tonight. I’ll let you know what I got wind of. Won’t let you down.”

    Vernon hesitantly pulled out two tenners from his wallet. Jennifer pointed at the hat on the floor in front of him.

    At six, Jennifer Lopez was still there where Vernon spoke to him in the morning, his large formless body sprawled over twenty square-feet of grimy tiles.

    “Rush to the Opera House! It’s on fire!” the tramp urged Vernon.

    Vernon got there and the theatre was one huge flame. ‘Turandot’ was playing that night and people had already congregated inside. First-aiders pulled out half-burned bodies and firemen battled hell’s own fire.

    By the time Brad Cheeseater of the Times got there, the fire’d been put out. All was over, really, anyone that mattered gone and the place cordoned off. The roof of the building, where the fire’d curiously started, had collapsed.

    “Got pictures of the fire, Scables?” Cheeseater asked Vernon.

    “Spectacular ones! You don’t know what you’ve missed…”

    “Can I see ’em?”

    “Sure! Tomorrow on our frontpage!”

    Back at the townsquare, well past midnight, Jennifer Lopez dragged his mountainous body over to the spot by the church Dangle called home. Something smelling of musty cheese and dirty socks permeated the air.

    “What’s that shit you’re eating?”

    Dangle nibbled furiously at whatever it was that emitted the awful smell. He looked up and sneezed, sending phlegm flying all over Jennifer Lopez’s face.

    “I think I’m allergic to bat-hair… Wanna try them? They’re good. Scaled them cliffs up to Lucifer’s Cave to get’em!”

    “Bats! I’d starve instead!” Jennifer Lopez replied, wiping his face with his baggy sleeves. “You set one helluva fire!” he changed subject, “I only meant the ticket-booth, not the whole damn theatre… Three died! Anyway, here’s your tenner.”

    Dangle’s sooty hands nursed the bill tenderly. He sneezed again, and coughed like a wild dog, just couldn’t stop coughing. Jennifer Lopez backed up, to elude the next slimy shower. That’s when he hit upon the next business deal.

    “On for another tenner, partner? Thursday’s market’s on tomorrow. Shuffle quietly some of your bats inside them shrimp crates. That’d freak out some shopping ladies! I’ll send our newsboy over to soak in the commotion. But keep it small, okay? I don’t want anyone dead this time…”

    • Hi, Ken M,
      Another refreshing story. It didn’t take me long to make out that Jennifer and Dangler were the ones responsible for setting the theatre on fire. As a reader, I’ll use all my will power so that their next plan doesn’t succeed.
      I like the way you have paced the story and held of the interest of the reader. The character of Jennifer of the swaying butt, has been delineated very competently. So is the character of Vernon.
      The dialogues are crisp and the title apt. Talking of the title, I am reminded of how differently you have used it. In Kolkata, the city I hail from, we are familiar with a saying that goes like : No news is good news, meaning as long as you don’t hear from the people you care about, you have to assume that all is well with them as well as with the world, You haven’t heard from them as they are all doing good and so on.
      You have used a different concept so far as the title is concerned. If there is no news, not much happening, it is a clear indication of the prevailing or impending doom. Had Vernkn not met Jennifer Lopez (one of my fave Hollywood actress), he could have been fired. That would have been bad news for him.
      I like your sense of humor, especially that part where Vernon spent the whole day counting the number abd color of the cars ! I also like the concluding conversation between Jennifer and Dangler.
      That leaves me wondering about the ethics of some professions like journalism. Reminded me of a story where the journalist hurried to the parents of the drowned man, whose body had just been fished out of the pond. He even asked them for a photo of their son without revealing the fact that their son drowned in the pond!
      Sorry for the digression but the I simply couldn’t help thinking of the other story, having gone through the conclusion of yours. Fantastic writing, Sir. Keep it up. Stay safe and enjoy life to the lees.
      • Thanks Rathin!

        I’m glad you enjoyed it. And sorry to mention your JLo in vain. For a good laugh, really.

        At what exact point in my story did you understand that JLo and Dangle were responsible for the fire? What made you realize this – a particular word or words, or the overall drive of the story in itself? It’s interesting for me to know, so that I test if I may have let the cat out of the back sooner than I would have like to.

        No news is good news. Yes, we say that too, and with the same meaning you attach to it in Kolkata. I tried to play with that expression in my title. After all nothing can be good (or bad) for everyone! One man’s meat…


        • Dear Ken M,
          It had to be the overall drive, the smooth progression of the story itself. A master story-teller that you are, you let the cat out of the bag only towards the end.
          I enjoyed going through it. Keep writing, mate. Stay safe.
        • Ken M,

          Wicked, wicked! The stuff that hot news is made of these days! Clever writing and Vernon’s desperation comes right through. Smokin’ hot fire.

          Question: How did he become bum chums with the tramps kinda escapes me.

          I got the inkling of trouble from this point..and guessed JLo was responsible. (Funny name. JLo would hate the comparison!)
          ….“Rush to the Opera House! It’s on fire!” the tramp urged Vernon.

          But why bats? Why would Dangle want to eat them? Wuhan connection?

          And journalist Vernon gets reduced to ‘our newsboy’ for the tramps. Ironic to say the least.

          JLo was pretty fair in the division of his cut. The poor look after each other in an egalitarian tramp govt: sort of way.

          Well done!


          • Thanks Marien, for reading and commenting 🙂

            Indeed, in the news-thirsty age we live in, I wouldn’t be surprise if such things do happen sometimes. Perhaps, not in such a dramatic (and unlucky) fashion, but still…

            To answer your question, I don’t think the tramp (JLo) and Vernon are exactly bum chums. They must have been acquainted with one another, since JLo’s usual begging spot was right across the square from Vernon’s news-office. And a news-reporter should have eyes everywhere, never discounting anyone. I suppose Vernon spoke to JLo on that fateful summer day as there was no-one else in the square except for him and the other tramp, Dangle. There’s also a little hint of camaraderie between them as Vernon contemplates what it would mean if he ended up jobless the next day (a real prospect for him). He’d be looking for his own begging spot, too, perhaps?

            Dangle and the bats: Yes a Covid connection is possible. But I wanted to leave that for the reader to make up. You’re the first to mention it, I think, so I’m glad it did come across… I’m not spreading any new conspiracy theory here… South Coast City (where’s that, anyway?), the new Wuhan? Well, Whu knows?

            There’s also a subtle hint at the news and the way it spreads being comparable to a pandemic (of bats and shrimps and germs and all that). It’s a tale of our times, in more than one way, I think.

            Thanks again, Marien!


    • Miles: No News.

      A clever enough story.

      The boss’d blown his fuse. (You don’t ‘blow up’ a fuse.) You set a fuse, light a fuse and blow a fuse.

      The ‘Jennifer Lopez’ character threw me off on the first read. Couldn’t figure out how a guy had a starlet’s name. (In honor of his big butt.) Jennifer Lopez, then you call him Jennifer, then Lopez, then he’s ‘the tramp.’ I would suggest that his friends called him J-Lo, that would clear up all the ambiguity later in the story. It’s risky giving a character a farfetched nickname.

      On the totality of the story, it’s damned clever. Making something out of nothing, in more ways than one.
      You wrote:
      ‘Boss was furious.’

      Really Ken, you must learn to cut words from somewhere other than four-word sentences. (Or change them, ‘The Boss fumed.’ The boss exploded. The boss was so mad, he changed his name to Angelina Jolie.

      I think Jennifer Lopez will take a lot of people out of the story. It’s a bridge too far. And the story would go down better without her famous name in it.

      • Ken M- Loved your story. I felt like you took a difficult prompt and spun it into a truly inventive tall tale. I beg to differ with Ken C. on the naming of your Jennifer Lopez character. I think people do get such nicknames all the time so it added a clever twist and sense of reality to your story in my book. I also liked your ending.
        • Hi Trish, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad you liked it!

          ‘Jennifer Lopez’ was a bit of fun. I’m pleased you found that entertaining in some way. It’s quite a wonder how the same thing may tick different people in totally opposite ways. I’m still waiting for Lopez herself to send me her complaint. Or she might have a good laugh. I don’t know. Never met her. I don’t know what kind of person she is.

          As Ken C. said, though, I should have written “Jennifer Lopez” in full every time. It’s a whole nickname, not like it was that guy’s name and surname.


      • Hi Ken (Cartisano)

        Thanks for reading and reviewing.

        That’s one thing I like about you! The way you clearly pinpoint my mistakes, instead of giving me generalized, fluffy critiques I wouldn’t know what they exactly refer to, like I sometimes get. I’d never again blow a fuse the wrong way after a precise correction like that! Those are the things one never forgets, once they’ve been pointed them out. So keep your mighty red pen handy, please!

        Thanks for the nice words too, of course.

        About the Jennifer Lopez thingy, I actually had Jlo at first, but then thought it might be lost on non-western readers who are not familiar with that abbreviation, or readers forty years from now. But I know, my bad I try to write with everyone in the world in mind, living or still to be born! I ought to narrow down my ‘intended target readership’.

        About, Boss, I thought of it as his name (I played for a while with Bossi, Bossman, Bosser, Bossboss, then settled for simply Boss), maybe nickname, but I should’ve made this clear the first time I mentioned him, I suppose.

        Indeed it’s a story conceived out of nothing. I believe that when Juergen created our prompt for us this week, he had in mind the very unusually eventful summer we’re passing through right now. I may be wrong, but I think that’s what… prompted this prompt. Coronavirus-Floyd-matters-lives-George-lockdown-covid-Trump-black-election-police-Beirut-cancelculture-protests-deconfinement-racism-mask-pandemic-unrest. Was there anything unusual this summer!

        So I thought I’d go in the opposite direction – a summer in which absolutely nothing happens. Which should be a good thing. As Rathin said, “no news is (usually) good news”. Nothing’s happening = relax. But it MUST be bad news for someone. For a news reporter! And then it took off from there and the rest got written by itself…

        Ken M.

        • Ken M.

          I think I’m just grumpy. Was trying to be funny, got a little picky. If Trish likes it, well, then that’s a good thing. She has good taste and great judgement.

          So it’s Jurgen’s prompt. I picked up on the potential uses of the story, but like others, the wording creates limitations. BUT… after I complain, I always find the solutions are fairly easy. I mean hell, we ARE making shit UP, here. So you make up a sentence that fits, there are so many words to choose from. (And a few that Rathin hasn’t made up yet.)

          Let me tell you about my story: Poop, crap, grass growing, worms wiggling, a great salt lake, the sun baking over a desert landscape, one of them geiko’s never changing color. A great air whistle at an abandoned factory. A bridge to nowhere. One more moose to feed. Ducks, nothing but ducks for as far as the eye can see.

          My story was so weird, I abandoned it. Two Main characters was a refrigerator. (I am not making this up.) And a hermaphrodite.Had to start over. Got a whole new plot, no sex organs necessary, but I have to keep adding parts to it. Like an iron butterfly, looks like it’s designed to fly, but it can’t possibly get off the ground. Too heavy. Was gonna write a story about senility too, but completely forgot.


          • Dear Ken the Original,

            I know the letter was not meant for me but I couldn’t help sneaking a peek! I have this freaking habit of reading letters UNMEANT (?) for me. Please, accept my apologies for that. Once I finished going through the letter, I knew straight away what I might have missed, had I decided to give it a skip.
            Only you can write such letters, Boss.EXTRAORDINARY!

            If you’re ever willing to listen to me, I’ll ask you not to abandon this story idea. Go ahead. Make a story out of the mere hints that others may spend a lifetime putting together. What’s that line about the ducks?

            A bridge to nowhere. One more moose to feed. Ducks, nothing but ducks for as far as the eye can see.

            God! I can’t stop visualizing this amazing scene, man!

            Ducks – white, beaky, fluffy, magestic ducks with their necks held straight and high, walking across, stumbling over each other as if the world belonged to them, as as far as my eyes could see.

            What majesty, purity, delight the sight and the scene brings to my tortured soul. And I’ve had barely time to pull myself together when I learn about the characters of the refrigerator and the harmaphrodite, and then the concluding lines :

            But I have to keep adding parts to it. Like an iron butterfly, looks like it’s meant to fly but I can’t possibly get off the ground. Too heavy. Was gonna write a story about senility too, but completely forgot.

            I’m just awestruck, thunderstruck by the power of your imaginative mind. Don’t throw the towel in so soon. MiI’m expecting something really cracking from you this time.

            Stay safe and have a gala time.

    • Alyssa Daxson
      Okay, yes I am 17, but I’m very, as my friends jokingly say, “uneducated” when it comes to things like this. So I’m just gonna go ahead and ask it.
      Who is Jennifer Lopez?
      (Now that is asked, I’m gonna be waiting in a corner, totally not hiding in shame)

      Since I don’t who this Lopez person is, I found your story Ken M, very enjoyable. I kinda figured that Lopez and his partner set the fire to the theatre, but it was very entertaining still.
      I like the way the poor Vernon came up with the counting cars thing. Cause, all honesty here, I wouldn’t put that past me either.
      Have you ever watched the Mark Rober thingys? My little brother love them, and one episode he put rubber animals out in the road to see how many people ran over them.
      The car counting reminded me of that. Maybe that’s what Vernon should do once those bats are all gone 😉

      Your story was great, and it took me along ride(in a orange car!). I was very entertained. Keep on writing Ken M, and let’s try not to go to the store anytime soon, ay? 😉

      • Ken Miles
        Hi Alyssa!

        I believe you when you say you don’t even know who Jennifer Lopez is. You’re 17, so JLo could easily be your grandma’s age. Or my mom’s. No, older sister, for me. I’d thought Jennifer Lopez had made a name for herself for posterity. But apparently not. Only for posteriority.

        Thanks, Alyssa, for reading and commenting. And for your nice words too, on this story and generally. That’s what I do when I’m bored outdoors – I count passing cars by color LOL! Orange cars, really, are the rarest. Mark Rober? No, never heard of him (you see, you’re not the only “uneducated” one in such matters!). That thing he does, with the rubber animals is more interesting than merely counting cars… Another idea for when I’m bored outdoors next time!

        I gave the Jennifer Lopez guy a mountain of a body that affects his mobility, so much so that he can hardly drag himself across the square where he begs. In fact, Vernon finds him sprawled over the same spot where he had left him half a day earlier. That was a bit of misdirection for the reader on my part, to eliminate at source any suspicion that JLo had gone down to the theatre, scaled the building to its roof and set it on fire. He just didn’t have the physique and agility to possibly do that. But maybe I gave a bit too much exposition about Dangle too early on in the story. It’s always quite a delicate battle between too little foreshadowing and too much bean-spilling… It’s probably the biggest plot-related challenge we have as fiction writers, I’d say.

        At what point did it occur to you that Jennifer Lopez and Dangle must’ve had something to do with that fire? I might pull out a word or two from a future re-use of this story, if I could keep the “surprise” till later on in the plot.

        I remember you being 16. So you’re 17, now? Must’ve had your birthday recently, then? Hope you had a happy one! Enjoy those great late-teen years. The twenties will roll much much quicker! Been there!


    • Ken,

      I didn’t make the ‘big butt’ connection, maybe because i don’t think Jlo has one. Ample, maybe, but not what i would call ‘big’. When it finally caught up with me, I realized you should have been using Jennifer Lopez the entire time, or at least Jlo as, I think Ken C., said. Honestly, I kept thinking who would name a guy Jennifer. Shows you where my head is at.

      I didn’t make the connection it would be Dangle, but I knew that Jlo would cause the news, instantly. Don’t know why. I didn’t think it was telegraphed, but then, again, maybe it was. He did promise news and how could he know he was going to find some unless he created it. So, yeah, you telegraphed it.

      Loved the ending and the complete lack of remorse. That’s what writing is all about. Making despicable characters come alive, and you did that.


      • Hi Roy, haha, yes your head is where it should be! Maybe mine isn’t it… with a guy called Jennifer. But I “love” that character, also for his ridiculous name.

        The butt? Well, I thought it’s part of common human consciousness that JLo’s posterior is XXL. Call it ample or large. But there you are. I remember, at Madam Tussaud’s of Amsterdam, for JLo’s figurine they emphasized the butt-factor and there was even some way visitors could measure up their own backside with hers and see how their bum-bum fares by world standards. So, as Alyssa would put it: I’m “educated” in such extremely useful matters!

        I took note of perhaps having let too much known too early about JLo being involved in the creation of the news. That I telegraphed it, as you put it. Many others are pointing out that premature revelation to me. I’d try to conceal it better if I were to rewrite this story, to keep the ‘surprise’ till the end.

        I’m pleased you liked the portrayal of the characters of the two tramps. These two rascals are indeed despicable, in the way they lead their wasted lives, and especially for what they do to earn ten bucks each. But… I’d point my finger, higher up, too. At Deputy Mayor Cheeseater. He who deliberately skipped Vernon’s paper for the news-conference, to favor his nephew’s South Coast Times, is the one who set off the dangerous chain of events that led to the burning down of the opera house (three killed, many horrifically burned) and possibly a bats-and-shrimps world pandemic. I’m certainly not fond of the likes of ‘JLo’ and Dangle, but I hold in even higher disregard people in authority who abuse of their positions of honor. That is an all-too-common story, unfortunately. I wanted it told here, too.

        Thanks again for your insightful review, Roy! You also gave me the chance to expand a bit more on what else is behind my story.

        • Ken, Maybe I see a different Jlo than you see. Ample is the ‘biggest’ I’d go in a description.

          Now, if you’d nicknamed him Kim Kardashian, now we’re talking big butts. Huge. It’s all perspective and in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

          Keep your excellent stories coming. I went back and read those stories of yours from a few prompts back. A little late, but great job, my man. I see why you won.


          • Ken Miles
            Kardashian, yes! But then I’d have had people conjuring certain other large wares of which she’s famous. Which my (male) tramp wasn’t particularly endowed with. You know what I mean.

            I’m honored to hear that you took the trouble to go back to the old prompts to read my stories. And double pleased that you liked them as much as you did! That’s very encouraging. Almost flattering.

            (It’s also a nice idea to go back in time and have a look at what was written for past prompts at The Place. I do that from time to time too. The old prompts shouldn’t be allowed to die! There are so many brilliant stories in here dating back a good number of years.)


    • Vicki Chvatal
      Hi Ken,
      That’s a pretty extreme way to create some news! At least it wasn’t Vernon the journalist setting up disasters just so he could write about them. Still, have people die, & all for ten bucks each…
      It must be a coincidence that there are two stories in a row of journos dealing with a slow news summer, though in very different ways.
      • Hi Vicki and thanks for reading and commenting!

        At first, in fact, I had Vernon creating the news himself so that he’d have something to write about. He deviously devised ways for a pile-up to happen along the main artery road, when he got bored of counting cars and their colors.

        But then I thought it worked better if I kept him blissfully innocent and had someone else (JLo) creating the news for him through yet a third party (Dangle) who makes a real disaster out of it all.

        And, yes, people had to die and many others got severely burned, for these two losers to make ten bucks each… That’s the way of the world, unfortunately… And the bats mixed with the shrimps don’t augur well, either!

        Thanks again!

  • When Darkness Falls
    by Roy York
    1194 words

    What was quite unusual this summer, was Tommy came to live with the McCafrees. Everything changed.

    Eight year old Peter’s eyes opened in total darkness. He was pretty sure they were open. He had told his brain to open them, but he couldn’t see anything. ‘How do you know your eyes are open if you can’t see any light?’ he thought.

    Mother and Father wouldn’t allow any light in his bedroom. It started when Peter was five. Peter remembered the night they took the light away.

    During a violent storm, he had run to their bedroom. Father would have none of it. “No son of mine is going to grow up afraid of the dark. The best way to stop this nonsense is for you to learn.”

    Father had taken him back to bed, and then carefully removed anything in the room that would provide light in the dark. He wasn’t even allowed to keep the computer on during the night.

    Peter lay still, his eyes wide open, praying his eyes would soon get used to the dark and he could see something – anything – anywhere in his room. The only thing worse than total darkness was something in the blackness – something alive. Peter didn’t think he was alone.

    There! He heard it again. The noise that had awakened him. A thump. Then another, louder this time. Now, he was sure he was not alone. ‘I’d get out of bed,’ he thought, ‘but whatever it is may be under the bed, just waiting for my feet to touch the floor.’

    “I should have hidden my flashlight in bed with me,” moaned Peter. Then, he heard his door creak. Slowly at first … wait … was that the door to his bedroom or his closet? “Please be the door to my bedroom,” whispered Peter. “Please. If it’s the closet then whatever’s in there is coming out.”

    Suddenly he heard clanging, like cymbals slapping together. His heart jumped. He swiveled his head toward the door. It was getting louder. His heart beat faster. Whatever it is, was now in the room. There was a tiny sliver of light from the hallway illuminating the floor to his bedroom.

    The door was slowly, creakingly, opening wider and then, he could see it. The mechanical monkey he had given to Tommy. Clanging it’s cymbals as it walked across the floor; it’s face in a wide, never changing, monkey grimace. Peter had always hated the toy, but Tommy was delighted.

    “”Ooooooohhh … I’m coming to get you, Petey,” Peter heard a voice, rising and falling, trying to imitate a ghost.

    “You stop it, Tommy. Or, I’ll tell Mother.”

    “T-o-m-m-m-m-m-y,” the voice oozed out slowly stretching the name. “Who’s T-o-m-m-m-m-y?”

    “MOTHER! exclaimed Peter, loudly. MOTHER!

    The door suddenly opened and Tommy stood there. “Stop it you big baby, before you wake them up. You know I’m just joking.”

    “Some joke, Tommy. You know I don’t like that toy.”

    “Of course. Why do you think I do it, scaredy cat? If you weren’t afraid of your own shadow, it wouldn’t be so easy.”

    “Go back to bed and take that stupid monkey with you. And, leave the door open. It’s too dark in here.”

    “You know what Father says, ‘No light for Peter until he learns to not be afraid of the dark.’ My favorite part is when he tells you, ‘Why can’t you be more like Tommy?’ ”

    Tommy picked up the now silent monkey and turned to leave the room. “Sleep tight, fraidy cat.” he said. “I’ll leave the door open, for you, little baby.”

    Peter watched him walk away. As he had promised, Tommy left the door open. He even opened it a little wider. Then the light turned off. Peter could hear Tommy snickering.

    Peter lay there flat on his back, afraid to move. The slightest rustle of the covers and it would alert whatever was under the bed or in the closet. Peter clenched his fists and closed his eyes tight. ‘There’s nothing there. There’s nothing there.’

    Peter swore he could hear something slithering across the floor. He couldn’t move. The noise was getting louder and closer. A rubbing, muffled sound of something crawling toward his bed. Something that was going to … then his covers were suddenly pulled off the bed.

    Peter’s heart jumped again. “Mother!” he screamed. “MOTHER, PLEASE COME! WHATEVER IT IS HAS ME!

    Peter heard the slithering noise fade away. Peter was relieved. He was glad he hadn’t wet his pants. Mother would be angry for sure. But then, lately, she was always angry.

    Peter heard footsteps coming down the hall, He knew it was Mother. As she walked he could hear her backless slippers slapping against her heels. His ceiling light came on. Peter covered his eyes from the glare.

    “Peter. What’s wrong. Did you have a nightmare?” Mother’s voice was not reassuring and there was no comfort. “Why are your covers on the floor?” Mother asked.

    “The monster pulled them off.”

    “We’ve had this talk before. There are no such things as monsters.”

    “Yes there are. And there’s one under the bed,” said Peter.

    Mother knelt down and looked. “Nothing here. Are you sure it wasn’t Tommy trying to scare you?”

    She knew. Hallelujah. Finally. “It was Tommy. It was, Mother. I just didn’t want him to get in trouble.”

    She pulled the covers over him. “I’ll talk to him. Good night.” With that, she turned and walked away, turning off the light and closing the door on the way out.

    Tommy was sitting in the dark, in his chair, when Mother walked in. He looked up. “Please, no.” he said. “I’ll be good. I promise.”

    “It’s too late for that. I need some sleep.”

    “I won’t like it if you turn me off.”

    “Really? What can you do? You’re a toy.” She reached behind his neck and pushed the ‘off’ button. “Come morning, I’ll turn you back on.” The tiny light went out. She left without seeing it come back on seconds later.

    As she climbed into bed, she said, “I will never understand why you bought that stupid robot for Peter.”

    “I thought he needed a companion. Someone like a brother.”

    ”It’s nothing but a toy, and I hate it.”

    “It’s programmed to be like a brother, and right now Peter needs a brother. He needs to learn there’s nothing to fear in the dark. Nothing. You know that as well as I.

    “I’m not sure Tommy is the right answer. It’s creepy and I’m afraid of it.”

    “Give it time. Peter has to learn to respect darkness and his own fears. Go to sleep, we’ll talk more in the morning.” As sleep overtook them, and with their backs toward the door, neither of them heard the door swing silently open, revealing Tommy standing in their bedroom doorway; a long kitchen knife in his hand.

    Peter pulled the pillow tightly around his head and ears, his eyes squeezed shut. ‘They don’t understand. I’m not afraid of the dark,’ he thought. ‘I’m afraid of what’s in the dark.’ Peter never heard their screams.

    • Roy. When Darkness Falls.

      It’s a dark, eerie story that really pulls you deeper and deeper into it. I suspected a monkey with cymbals, I don’t know how or why. Did not suspect the other twist. And how does a robot turn itself back on? Where’s the failsafe? The Three Laws? Something lacks explaining there. You invest too much effort into the false alarm, and the monkey toy, for what?

      I’m not sure if it’s foreshadowed, but it’s a nice closing statement, though. ‘It’s not the dark…. It’s what’s in the dark.’

      Excellent writing. Clean, dark AND creepy.

      But I think it could have been better organized and redirected.

      • Ken C,

        Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments. I agree with you regarding Tommy coming back ‘on’ and have addressed that, as I’ll show you later in this reply.

        Interestingly enough, I’m reading Robots and Empire by Asimov, and while it’s crammed with detailed info about the three laws of robotics, I decided awhile back that we writers have an obligation to write our own stuff, and while others may want to use the three laws in their robot stories, there aren’t any laws in my writing universe that says I have to use them, but, I reserve the right to use them, if I like.

        I have also discovered that I’m not as enamored with Mr. Asimov as I once once. I find his dialogue pretty stilted, but still, he was prolific, and a very good author. Maybe I’ve just changed.

        While I write stories for this, I also write for another venue, and when possible, I try to write this story first and then if I’m able to use the prompt, I use it for both. In this case I had to stretch it a little. However, I don’t have a 1200 word restriction in the other venue, so I can go in and fix things I find later, and as in this case, what other people find, before I send it off. I also wrote a different ending – much different. How’s this?


        Peter pulled the pillow tightly around his head and ears, his eyes squeezed shut. ‘They don’t understand. I’m not afraid of the dark,’ he thought. ‘I’m afraid of what’s in it …

        Alice McAfree woke up suddenly. ‘What is that noise?’ she thought. Her husband stirred next to her. “Do you hear that?’ she asked.

        “Sounds like that noisy monkey that Peter gave Tommy. Go back to sleep.”

        Alice ignored her husband and got out of bed. She sleepily stumbled down the hallway toward the sound. She didn’t hear her husband mumble “By the way, the off switch is shorted out on the robot. I’ll fix it today.”

        On the way, she looked in Tommy’s room. Tommy was still sitting in the chair where she had left him. The noise was louder as she approached Peter’s room.

        As she opened the door, she saw the monkey in the middle of Pete’s bed, it’s cymbals clanging, that eerie monkey grin never changing; it’s legs moving, but going nowhere. Peter was not in the bed.

        She opened the closet door and her scream stuck in her throat. She couldn’t catch her breath. Her son’s mutilated body lay in a pool of blood, eyes wide open, staring at nothing. She heard a noise and turned. In the bedroom doorway was Tommy, knife in hand, blood dripping from it’s tip.

        “I told you I wouldn’t like it if you tried to turn me off.”


        Thanks, again Ken for your comments, and thank you for adding your two cents (well, more than two cents, more about 43 dollars worth,) regarding Rathin’s illogical use of contractions. I wish now I hadn’t said, “I’s happy for you’, in a sarcastic manner at the end of my last note. He took it seriously, I think, thinking I came around, which is not going to happen.


        • Roy- I just saw your revision and from the story consistency side I like your revision a lot. That said, Some evil part of me liked the cruel parents getting their end from Tommy.
          • Thank you, Trish. I liked it better, too. I wanted to make the parents a bit more cruel, but just didn’t have the words due to the limit. Thanks again.


        • “I decided awhile back that we writers have an obligation to write our own stuff” I agree. The three laws are his opinion and not necessarily are they correct.
          The story is another reason that I’m not a big fan of robots.
          • Appreciate your comments, Robt. You generally don’t comment a lot, so that means something to me.


        • Roy,

          I agree with you on all points. (Ep, ep, ep, ep, ep….. don’t act so surprised.)

          One of Asimov’s books was the final impetus for me to trying my hand at writing. It was an old book I’d never read or heard of, it just turned up on my nightstand, obviously some hacked out crap that he probably did little more than lend his name to. Either that, or he was terrible at dialogue. (Which IS possible, I just don’t know.) But it was awful. I read the whole goddamned book, picked out a page at random, read that page very thoroughly and thought, I can write better than this. And of course, like most things in life, it’s easier said than done. Still, though I may not be another Asimov, I believe I’m becoming a competent writer, if not, at least I’m mildly entertaining from time to time.

          I think it’s wise and liberating to discard or ignore Asimov’s three laws. (I think that’s just more evidence that he was more of a science writer than a novelist.)

          If they work for you in a story, that’s fine, but the future is yet to be. And as sensible as the three laws are, where in history does sensibility play an important role? Even if some similar rules were adopted at some point, there’s an abundance of creative mayhem to explore BEFORE those rules might be adopted.

          Your revised version is more to my liking, it seems leaner and meaner too.

          As for Raithin’s contraction fetish, I think he’s yanking our yankee chains. (And he will swear that that isn’t so.)

          I also noticed the name confusion in the middle of your story, was going to point it out but forgot, but after I posted my comments, someone else noticed it and it was unnecessary.

          I’m looking forward to your impression of my story which, I really struggled with, and I’m afraid is too complicated and confusing.


          • Ken, I’m really not too surprised, but I am pleased. Thanks. And, I’m not sure Rathin is yanking our chains, but is truly pleased with himself thinking he has come up with some literary breakthrough. Perhaps he will abandon it, but I also notice he is completely inconsistent with it, so it will be interesting t see how it plays out with him. This will be my last mention of it, unless, of course, he writes an entire story consisting of illogical contractions.


        • Not bad at all Roy. I did like it but it does need a bit more polishing and extending. Great hook though.
          • ilya,

            Haven’t heard from you in a while and I am seldom on facebook anymore. Thanks for your comments. I have since polished it up and changed a few things here and there, but I’m leaving this story up as is for now. It’s just too much to ask to have people go back and reread a story after critiques. There are so many good stories, rereading one of mine so I can get a better finish is not the reason I write, and is just a time waster in a busy world for the people on this site.

            Stay safe. How did you find this site, or is this where we first met online awhile back? Refresh my memory if you would please.


        • Vicki Chvatal
          Hi Roy,

          Nice twist with Tommy being a robot! I didn’t suspect that until the reveal; originally I thought Tommy was some creepy kid who inveigles his way into a family and proceeds to ruin it somehow (there were a few movies with a similar plot a while back, one with Macaulay Culkin as the creepy kid, as I recall).

          Your revised ending in the longer version answered some questions I had about the shorter ending – whether the parents had fallen asleep or not before Tommy murdered them, and thus whether they had time to scream; whether covering his head with a pillow would really prevent Peter from hearing the screams. And the biggest one of all: whether Tommy murdered the whole family, or just the parents. Poor Peter. Poor parents, for that matter: whatever the faults in their parenting style, they didn’t deserve *this*. The extended ending also adds extra horror, since the mother saw her son had been murdered before being (presumably) murdered herself.

          • Vicki,

            Thanks. I forgot that I wrote the new ending in a reply and didn’t change the original story – in retrospect, that’s what I should have done, but it’s something I seldom do, unless it’s a small thing, and I never rewrite after critiques because I think that’s writing to win, not to get better and try to learn from the critiques.

            So yes, in the original, it’s the entire family by the time the crazy robot finishes up his night’s work, that doesn’t see morning come. When I originally started the story, I had no intention of killing anyone, just cleverly hiding the fact that Tommy was a robot and have that be the big reveal. Somewhere down the line, as the story was being written, that part of my brain which keeps those sorts of wicked thoughts buried came to life and took over the story. Scary thought, huh? Sounds like there’s a story in that sentence. A writer who writes his stories and then finds himself in real life with similar thoughts and the story is if and how he acts them out of prevents them from happening.

            Thank you for your comments and from the other comments I’ve received, apparently, I’ve succeeded in sufficiently scaring the bejesus out of a few folks. Makes my day.


    • Alyssa Daxson
      Roy, after reading your story, I’ve decided that caffeine is my best friend now. Who needs sleep! Certainly not me!
      It was a very creepy story, with a great twist. I did not at all suspect Tommy was a robot, so that was quite a shocker.
      Despite all the other comments, I actually liked your ending. For me it showed that Tommy actually had a (dark)mind of his own, and wasn’t governed by a mere power switch. It adds a supernatural element to it, and based my recent stories, you know how much I love those!
      Great story that was very creepy and dark, annnnd showed me how bad sleep is, and how awesome caffeine is! (Cause who needs sleep when a killer robot is stalking you)
      • Alyssa, I appreciate your comments. And, I hope you eventually got some sleep. I’ve always, all my life, have had this ‘darkness’ thing. I have completely scared myself half to death walking down a dark hallway and seeing someone in the dark causing my blood to run cold, then realizing it was my own reflection and it was me that scared myself.


        • Roy, Maybe it’s time for a face lift. Are you ‘weatherbeaten’? I scare myself most when I KNOW it’s me. Have been known to say, “Oh Jesus, that IS me!”
          • Maybe, Ken,

            I’ve tried the body lift and all that’s done is create more problems. I’m afraid to have some one take a knife to the only thing I have left, a rather mundane face with a Santa Claus beard, and make things even worse. I can now enter an ugly stomach contest and be relatively sure I will walk away with the top prize.

            Went to Lake Michigan and while on the beach, couldn’t help but notice all the teen age girls looking my way and then turning to their friends making comments. I remember a time 58 years ago I was looking for that sort of thing, but not at this stage in my life. I did throw a T shirt on to spare them from the pain of looking.


    • Ann WJ White
      Very Ray Bradbury like, enjoyed the twists.
      • Why, thank you Ann. Appreciate the comment and the comparison. He’s one of my favorite writers and I do go out of my way to write in his manner. I’ll be good for the rest of the day now.

        Didn’t you submit a few stories from time to time in the past? Refresh my memory. Things are a little blurry these days with the meds I’m on. Recall, which used to make me a Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit Champ, takes longer these days. Usually occurring sometime in the middle of the night or the next day, or when I don’t need it any more.


    • Dear Roy,

      That was a creepy read. A horror story plot! A robot murderer who turns itself on and goes on a rampage.
      Who’d want that? Do hope it’s not the future. A ‘Tommy’ always turns out creepy!

      It’s written very well. Though I must say this genre is not my cuppa. Why do people write scary stories? Good psychological question to probe into, would you say??

      The end is scary and sad. Peter left as an orphan now with his fears being compounded.

      ‘As she walked he could hear her backless slippers slapping against her heels’- terrific evocative language here.

      It brought back memories of the time as a kid crawling into my parents’ bedroom when I heard foxes at night. We had cashew forests close by.

      There’s huge talk here of contractions.LOL! No ways would I agree to I’s.

      But this one is surely a typo? Definitely a bad contraction from you.
      1: Clanging it’s cymbals …( its not it’s)
      2: it’s face in a wide,…

      Keep writing the good stuff.
      Get strong. Psalm 27:14 for you.

      • Marien,

        thanks for pointing out the it’s factor. I have auto correct, except when I do make typos and it’s a real word, it doesn’t change things. And, in my rereading and several beta readers this was missed by three separate people, so yeah, thanks. I will change that.

        I generally don’t write horror, so I’m chalking this up to the dark mood I’ve been in struggling to get my body’s health under control. Recent changes in my medicine seem to be helping and I am doing a bit better strength-wise, and exhaustion-wise. I would get tired out picking up the mail and reading it. And even sitting and typing stories and making comments is a strength robber. But, as I say, much better today and hoping for even better tomorrow and continued success thereafter.

        Thanks for your wonderful comments and pointing out the backless slippers line. That was with help as I had it different and my wife (MY #1 beta reader) said I needed to change it, so I did, and I liked the result so much better.

        Oh, by the way, and not to ruin your day with this picture in mind, but you must have skipped over Peter’s bloody demise, as that’s what Mother was looking at when she heard Tommy at the door and turned to hear him say, “I told you I wouldn’t like it if you tried to turn me off.”

        Stay safe,


  • So, when Tommy the robbot came to the McCafrees, everything changed. Peter needed a brother that he never had. Tommy needed a brother too?
    Mrs. MacCaffee annoyed Tommy by switching him off, Tommy evened up by killing both the husband and wife.

    This is the first time , I am sorry to say, Roy, that one of your stories has failed to satisfy me and doesn’t look like yours. It started off well though. Initially, I thought that eight-year-old Peter lost his eyesight due to something horrid. Fear of the dark or whatever. I got extremely curious and raced through the rest of the story with my pulsating heartbeats.

    As I came towards the concluding part, my curiosity petered out just like that! I was shocked at the rather dull and drab end of what promised to be a blood-curdling, nerve-wrecking scary story!

    I read the following paragraph twice to make sure that I wasn’t wrong in thinking that you meant Peter instead of Tommy here :

    “It’s programmed to be like a brother, and right now Tommy needs a brother. He needs to learn there’s nothing to fear in the dark. Nothing. You know that as well as I.

    Then I felt that a veteran writer like you couldn’t make such a mistake. Was I not etting something all right, I asked myself. I thought of the title then. I thought of the last paragraph with Peter covering his ears and head with the pillow, whispering to himself about him being not afraid of the dark and so on.

    The dialogues, along with the last line, had your quintessential stamp all over it. Peter couldn’t hear his parents scream with his head hidden under the pillow. Things at The McCafrees this unusual summer weren’t going to be the same again!

    I won’t hide my disappointment to some extent, mate. I would have appreciated such a story from most of us, but you, Phil, Ken C, are masterclass writers and have raised the bar by some notches, over the years.

    Take care, man, for this site needs you to churn out many more of your trademark stories. Stay fit and healthy. God bless you always.

    • Rathin,

      You were correct in pointing out an egregious error by me in saying Tommy needed a brother. And, it’s not clear I meant Peter instead of Tommy and it does change the tempo of the story. Thank you for pointing that out. I will ask Carrie or Alice to change it, so the other readers don’t see the same thing. Sorry it threw the story off for you, and I would certainly understand if you were gleefully surprised at finding it and being able to hoist me on my own petard after the public thrashing I’ve been giving you regarding your care free use of contractions.

      That being said, I will stand my ground and say that if it doesn’t sound right, a contraction should not be used, whether you think it’s whimsical or not. But, that again, is me. I could be a lone voice in the wilderness with others saying, “Get off his back, Roy, you aren’t the patron saint of contractions and their use.”

      This is a site for writing critiques. I will continue to write them, and when my foibles are pointed out, I will endeavor to change my wrongs and become a better writer. In the meantime, thanks for your words of encouragement. Just about the time you left this group awhile back I became ill and have still not fully recovered, although I am much, much better and am able to write more. The down side is my medication makes it difficult to concentrate, but that, too, is getting better. I’m not blaming my medication of the Tommy/Peter gaffe you pointed out, by the way. That was just idiocy on my part. And, my beta reader missed it, too. Oh well, such is life.

      By the way, you never did answer my question regarding cousin brother. It’s such an unfamiliar term. Am I to assume there is such a thing as a cousin sister?

      Stay safe,


      • Dear Roy,
        I must have told you many a times that I adore your letters. There is something about each of them that resonates with Life. I liked your ‘public thrashing’ bit a lot. I really did.
        I am sorry that you had to go through such an ordeal. Get well soon and take good care of yourself, Roy. I respect you a lot and your honest opinion always carries a lot of weight for me, no matter however much I try to adopt that lackadaisical attitude!
        Regarding the use of the term ‘cousin’, I have my cousin brothers (my uncle’s sons) and my cousin sisters ( another uncle’s daughters). Now, imagine a situation where I have to talk about the cousin sisters. Saying simply my cousins, may confuse people. In that case using cousin sisters may solve a lot of unnecessary problem. Anyway, I am aware of how odd the term ‘cousin brother’s or ‘cousin sister’ may sound. But that is how I grew up addressing them unless I had to call them (I’m speaking of the sisters here as the cousin brothers are all older than me) by their first or maiden names.
        I would have loved writing some more to you, Roy, but it seems I have been hogging a lot of space on this site here lately. Before everyone starts braying for my blood, I think it is wise for me to retreat to the Himalayas for the next few, days at least.
        Till then, stay happy and healthy, Roy. God bless ye. Iam not sure if I love or respect you more. Whatever, like I told you some years back, YOU ARE A GOD-SEND IN MY LIFE and I mean it.
        • Roy York

          Have a good rest in the mountains. I’s happy for you.


          • Roy,
            This has to be my last. Sorry about the mistakes. By the time, I noticed them I’d already posted it.
            One question – you wrote and let me quote, “Have a good rest in the mountains. I’s happy for you.” I am/is/was happy? That boils down to the same thing – my win-win debate about Contractions.
            Stay safe. Keep forgiving and smiling. Regards.
          • Roy – your story was horribly good. Very evil spin on the prompt which I enjoyed immensely. My only tiny comment is about how Tommy reactivated himself. That needed some type of explanation I think. Other than that, fab story!
            • Thanks, Trish. I did fix it in a different venue, as I explained to Ken, and I agree, I should have fixed it in this story. I thought it going off and then coming back on would be accepted as some kind of malfunction, but there are too many sharp eyed and discerning writers in this group. Thanks for your comments, and pointing it out. It’s how I get better.
  • Vicki Chvatal
    Would anyone object if I changed one word in the prompt – “this” to “that”?
    • Madam Vicky,
      I saw your post in the morning and thought of replying. I changed my mind at the last moment. I am a retired teacher. When I taught my students about Story Writing, one condition was that their stories had to be prompt-based. That they couldn’t change a punctuation mark in the prompt while writing their stories. If the last line of the prompt is “I’ll have the cup of coffee now, Tina”, the last line of the story has to end with that line down to the last word!
      There must be a reason why the prompt-maker wanted that name to be used. Otherwise, he would have given some options regarding the use of the name like :
      ” I’ll have the cup of coffee now, Tina/Mina/Rina/Rita” whatever.
      I know this site is mainly meant for adult writers, not school kids. So, most of the friends won’t mind such a negligible act on the part of the writer. But there ought to be some rules regarding the use of the prompt. So far as I am concerned, believe me when I say that I could have written a far better story if that crucial word in the prompt was ‘that’ instead of ‘this’. Most probably, I would have started my story in a flashback then.
      Anyway, please don’t mind my unsolicited suggestion as most of the friends will be supportive of such minor changes.
      Take care. Stay safe and blessed. All the very best.
      • Vicki Chvatal
        Hi Rathin,

        I wouldn’t normally ask, but in the last round there were a couple of writers who made slight changes to the prompt (eg there was a ‘Meryl” and a “Tuna” instead of ‘Tina’), and they got the go-ahead for it.
        On second thoughts, it’s not that important.
        Take care.

    • Vicki,
      Why on earth would you do that? That would make a grammatically correct phrase all in a uniform tense. Where’s your sense of adventure Vicki?
      Or should I say ‘Why on earth will you want to have done that? Where will you go when you took your sense of adventure?

      What was quite unusual this summer is Vicki’s sense of adventure.

      I wouldn’t mind, Vicki. Make your story work. I think a little rule bending is okay in the interests of a good story. (Of course, I don’t make the rules around here, usually. I just break them.)

    • Carrie Zylka

      Hi Vicki,
      You are more than welcome to change the word, but your story would not qualify for voting.
      Doesn’t matter if the first line is grammatically correct or not, it’s the requirement that everyone has to work around, sometimes the first and last line prompts are more challenging than the others.

  • @ALL –
    I was looking for a plugin that would allow people to edit their comments.
    Even assigning “editor” or “author” profiles to everyone does not allow editing comments.

    I did find one that allows someone to edit their comment for a selected amount of time, I set it to 7 days.

    Please let me know if you have any problems. And please let me know if you find yourself able to edit other people’s comments or posts or anything you should be able to.

    NOTE: This only works for comments made after the plugin was installed about 30 minutes ago.
    SO if you posted a story that needs editing before this comment you will still need to email us so we can fix it for you. But going forward the option should be available.

    • This is a test of the emergency editing system. It is only a test. If this were a real emergency, you would be given instructions on where to go, and what to edit.

      We are testing the editing feature and countdown function upgrade. We repeat, this is only a test.

      The story titled ‘Flight Simalacrumb’ can cause unwanted symptoms and side effects. Such as joint pain, dry mouth, wet willies, ear wax, clumping nose hairs, and chiming of the whiffies.

      Exercise caution when reading this story. If you’re allergic to excitement, or experience symptoms of vertigo, ambergris, Carthage or Lumbar Jacks, stop reading immediately and contact your librarian for assistance. She will know what to do. (message no. 671 – whiffies)

    • The “edit” works. WOW is that gonna save you guys a bunch a work.
  • So, just to test out your theory, Carrie, I’m going to include an error in this paragraph, which is “I’m happy.”

    Then, I’m going to try and edit it, afterwards. Let’s see how it goes.


  • Carrie,

    The edit works works. You just have to wait for the editing monitor to show up and it gives you a countdown. I told you yesterday you were wonderful, and meant it, so now, my dear, you are even more wonderful. Later, I’ll see if I can edit anyone else’s comments, just as a test.

    By the way, the error edited was, of course, I’s happy to I’m happy.


    • Awwwwwww thank you!!!

      I’m so glad it worked!

    • Also I’m glad to see we do not get a second email when the comment is edited. We get so many as it is, I’d hate to add “this comment was edited” emails to the stack.
  • Roy York
    Of course, the nefarious among us could write a glowing review, wait for the author to answer it, then go back in and write something entirely different. Nobody would do that, would they?

    Maybe seven days is too long.


  • Phil Town


    “What was quite unusual this summer … “

    James interrupted me. “THIS summer?”

    I think I rolled my eyes, but apart from being an inveterate pedant, James was also socially very naïve and wouldn’t have noticed it if I did.

    James – my oldest friend. He’d pick you up on any tiny slip of the tongue. It was very tiring having a conversation with him, and I often wondered why I bothered, to be honest. I suppose it was habit more than anything. As you get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to make new friends (at least I’ve found it to be), so you tend to hang on to the ones you have, even if you’ve grown out of them.

    “No, James, not THIS summer. The summer I’m talking about – 1968.” I was aware I’d just said that in a tone more befitting a Primary School teacher explaining playground rules to a five-year-old, but once again, James wouldn’t have noticed.

    “Ah yes, 1968.”

    “What was unusual about it was I didn’t fall in love.”

    “Why was that unusual?”

    James was also very keen on ‘why’ questions, like the same five-year-old on a bus journey with his mother: “Why do trees have leaves, mummy? Why do they fall in the autumn? Why don’t they fall upwards?” etc.

    “Because …” I took a deep breath. This particular conversation was taking a record amount of patience on my part. The ‘why’ of what I’d said would have been obvious to anyone but James: because, by implication, I always fell in love in the summer, but this one was different.

    “… because I always fell in love in the summer, but this summer was different.”

    I half expected another “THIS summer?” from him, but by now I think it was clear which summer I was talking about.

    “And why didn’t you fall in love?” This ‘why’ question was acceptable, I decided, since it elicited the progression of my story.

    “A very good question. Well, do you remember Margaret Jones? Lived near me?”

    “WHO lived near you,” James corrected. I thought it was a question.

    “Margaret Jones!”

    “… who lived near you, yes, I heard you, go on.”

    I realized my misunderstanding of his correction, but as James had invited me to go on, I did.

    “Margaret Jones. Do you remember how beautiful she was?”

    James started digging a little hole in the sand next to his towel. The answer took its time.

    “She was very beautiful, yes.”

    “I’d been taking the bus to school with her all winter and into the spring, trying to summon up the courage to ask her out. But you know how shy we were as boys.”

    The hole James was digging was getting bigger.

    “Anyway, at the beginning of the summer holidays, I thought to myself: ‘Right, get a grip! Fair heart never got fair maiden.’”

    “Won,” James said.


    “Never WON fair maiden.”

    I sighed. He was right, but he was killing my story.


    James nodded and continued with the hole, smoothing the sides of it now, patting the loose sand into compact walls.

    “So I decided to tell her, just before she went on holiday, that I was in love with her. I was sure I’d had signals on the bus, you see – the odd smile, her brushing past me deliberately close, and–


    I wasn’t even going to dignify that with a pause or a correction – I was going full steam ahead with my story.

    “… a giggle here and there, that sort of thing.”

    “Hardly proof of interest.”

    “I know, but I was 15, remember!”

    “Both of us.”

    “Yes. So I went round to her house one evening and knocked on the door, hoping it would be her that would answer and sure enough, she came to the door. Ah …”

    Here I lay back on my towel, observing the beauty of the rich-blue sky and puffy white clouds edging their way across it.

    “She was … gorgeous. I can still see her now, in my mind’s eye, standing there in shorts, her long legs, the pony tail, those blue eyes.”

    “And you told her?”

    “Well, not as such. But I did ask her where she was going on holiday, and then I asked her if, when she came back …”

    I paused and swallowed because I knew what was coming.

    “… she’d like to go out with me.”

    I expected some sort of reaction from James, but he was intent on his excavations.

    In the absence of a question from him, I continued.

    “She smiled – Those lips! Those teeth! – and I thought ‘She’s going to say yes!’ But it was a smile of sympathy. ‘Sorry … Peter, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘I can’t because, you see, I’m in love with someone else.’”

    There was still no reaction from James. I raised myself onto one elbow and looked over at him to make sure he was listening. He had his back to me, but I could see that he was still messing with the hole in the sand.

    I imagine the lull in the conversation got too uncomfortable for him because he asked, over his shoulder:

    “So what’s that got to do with your not falling in love that summer?”

    I scoffed loudly.

    “Because I was bloody broken-hearted, weren’t I?!”

    “Wasn’t.” The correction sounded unusually perfunctory.

    I ignored it and felt angry. I’d opened myself up with a story I hadn’t told anyone before, and he was picking me up on my speech.

    “And you know what?” I concluded. “I think that traumatized me for later in life. It’s affected how deep I’ve been able to go with women, I reckon. And why I’m still single, 30-odd years later. I’ve never really had a relationship that’s as satisfying as that – as the one I’d dreamed me and Margaret Jones would have.”

    By my side, James filled in the hole with a sweep of his hand and lay back on the towel, his forearm covering his eyes.

    I haven’t seen him since that day at the beach, what? – twenty years ago now. Despite his infuriating pedantry, I kind of miss my old friend.


    • You’ve done it again, Phil. Gone to town with this fantastic memory of a summer of unrequited love gone by.

      Every summer Pete fell in love? And this happens at 15!! How old was he when he started? 🙂

      I’m thinking it’s that pedantic fool of a friend, James who stole Margaret away. And Peter didn’t know. Right or wrong?
      Even if such friends are pain in the … they’re still something to remember.

      Peter is now 65? Did I work that out right?

      So enjoyed this story. Somehow the ‘corrections’ reminded me of this very forum.. lol! But all to be taken in good spirit. Who doesn’t need a diversion these days?

      My first read on this thread,

      • trish
        Phil – I really enjoyed your story. I liked the way you described the give and take between James and the narrator. The inner monologue of the narrator seemed very realistic. And I thought your bittersweet ending was perfect. I had a different reading than Marien – my thinking was that James had a crush on the narrator and when he realized that his attachment was misplaced James let the friendship die off. If I’m right in my inference, I thought you hinted that beautifully by letting me draw my own conclusions rather than spelling it out. Very well done!
        • Trish,

          Thank you for explaining that. Assuming that you’re correct, and I assume you are, I never would have figured that out. And I read it twice. Somehow, I came away with the impression that they were brothers. Now that you’ve added that dimension to the story, well, you know what they say in Damascus, ‘Once you add a dimension, you need to look at your suspension.’ I’ll have to read it again with that in mind.

          And here I thought Phil was screwing around, taking the week off as it were.

          I’m not sure that you’re correct about what Phil is implying with his story, Trish. I read it a third time, with the bias you gave me, and still wasn’t sure if that’s what he intended. They certainly weren’t brothers but it’s clear that they were good friends. But I felt like James was mentally challenged, more than anything else, a kind of Idiot-savant. The only two things to support your interpretationare that 1. the narrator is looking for a reaction from James. And, 2. It’s his oldest friend. So that might imply that James was at the ‘social’ age where he was figuring that out. Whereas the narrator was way beyond him.

          But I don’t understand the narrator’s anger. As if he was the one who was jilted. And he was, but he was jilted by the girl. I’m confused. It’s possible I’m the idiot savant.

          • Thanks, KenC.

            I’d intended the interpretation that Marien gave. If it’s not clear, I wonder if it’s necessarily a bad thing?

            The narrator gets angrier as he speaks – fuelled by James’ corrections. Angry because this incident/summer (with Margaret) seems to have f*cked up his relationships later in life.

        • Thanks, Trish.

          Your interpretation is a good one! (But not the one I intended – see Marien’s comment.)

      • Thanks, Marien!

        “Every summer Pete fell in love? And this happens at 15!! How old was he when he started?” Personally, I fell in love every summer from about the age of five! (And it’s still happening!) When did you start? 😉

        You’ve hit the nail on the head with your interpretation … at least that was my intention. Others here have other interpretations that are also valid, though.

      • Thanks, Marien!

        “Every summer Pete fell in love? And this happens at 15!! How old was he when he started?” Personally, I fell in love every summer from about the age of five! (And it’s still happening!) When did you start? 😉

        You’ve hit the nail on the head with your interpretation … at least that was my intention. Others here have other interpretations that are also valid, though.

        • (Sorry … this comment found its way down here … I hope you see it, Marien.)
    • Phil?,

      I’m afraid I had to read your story twice to reach the following reaction. Good riddance to that bloody James anyway. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

      I had a tough time with the ending, and the beginning. Your first four paragraphs (give or take) are an assault on the prompt, even though, or despite the fact that you didn’t really use it. You didn’t even attach it to anything. Which I thought was a clever strategy. I did a similar thing, I incorporated the prompt into dialogue, but I finished the sentence.

      And it wasn’t easy, (this is no offense to Max, if you’re reading this Jurgen, because actually, it WAS easy.) but if I could do it, I know you could have done it better, Phil. Therefore, E Pluribus Ipso Facto, I suspect that this is your way of taking a knee.

      You’re rebelling against the prompt. If you were to turn this prompt into a story, it would ruin your streak of 870 stories without a grammatical error. Because if you finished the first line with any sentence that YOU could write, it would be erroneous. A sticky wicket indeed. But you could do it. I know you could’ve done it. You could do it with half your brain tied behind your back.

      Therefore, as I said, E Platypus, Flipse Dixit, clearly, this story is a symbolic sign of resistance to people who invent contractions. I totally support your cause, brother. We must remain vigilant against the surging tide of the erroneous. The Erroneous, aye, how they vex the correct (of us.)

      I feel your pain, but wasn’t sure I got the real heart of your story’s twist, if twist ‘twas.

      This story makes my story seem like a feature length movie. (With Brad Pitt.)

      I’m probably going to come back later and edit that out.

      But not until after you read it. Probably.

      (But it’s true!) It has a hole in it. You weren’t trying. A nice neat hole with nothing in it. And then you cover it up. That symbolism is not obvious to me, unfortunately. (That’s a weakness of mine.)
      This comment, is your reward, for that story.


      • Two comments! Not sure if that reflects well or badly on the story …

        “I incorporated the prompt into dialogue, but I finished the sentence.”
        Me too!:
        “What was quite unusual this summer … ”
        [some verbal to-ing and fro-ing]
        “What was unusual about it was I didn’t fall in love.”

        “You could do it with half your brain tied behind your back.” I like this and may use it in future (since it kinda belongs to my story, it won’t be plagiarism! Not really. Maybe a bit. Ok, it will be. A lot.)

        The hole … given Marien’s interpretation (and my intention), James begins to get uncomfortable as Peter’s story unfolds as it was him (James) who was the third person. So he begins to dig a hole out of nervousness (and, I suppose, it’s a physical manifestation of the old “I wish a hole would open up and swallow me”). The hole is also a little bit of ‘business’ for the character to be doing as the dialogue takes place.

    • Phil,

      – as the one I’d dreamed Margaret Jones and I would have.


      • Roy … I was half-hoping that someone would pick up on that ‘mistake’. As Peter’s story unfolds, and James realizes the part he played in it (and feels more and more guilty), his corrections get more and more perfunctory until in the end they disappear completely, and he doesn’t pick up on the one you mention. Yes it’s a mistake from Peter, but intentional from me (and one I’m quite smugly pleased with!)
        • Phil,

          I realized after I reread it this morning, that I should have written “Sigh;” first. Making it even more obvious. I’m glad you hoped someone would pick up on it. I was waiting for your response to give you my critique, which is, there is no critique because there isn’t anything to critique. There were several great dialogue stories this week, I thought, and yours is no exception to that statement. A good. solid, love story without love. And, who needs friends like James, anyway. Family you can’t avoid. Friends, ah … that’s a different story.


    • Vicki Chvatal
      Hi Phil,

      I had the same interpretation as Marien, before reading all the comments. You left it nicely ambiguous, though. Great use of details throughout.

      I’ve noticed a worrying trend, though – I your story, as well as in Rathin’s – where an unrequited first love messes a person & their relationships up for life. We’re not talking about a traumatic experience here, just a routine disappointment like unrequited love, or the love interest not taking the relationship as seriously. I mean, Margaret here let the narrator down fairly gently, she wasn’t cruel or anything (except maybe unintentionally, when she couldn’t quite recall his name). Lots of teenage loves are unrequited. If this is so common, kids should really be taught resilience, how to deal with disappointments & move on from them.

      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Vicki. You may be right about Peter’s exaggerated reaction. But who’s to say? I mean, I personally have various ‘Margaret Jones’ figures from my past that still make my heart miss a beat when I think about them, decades later.

        (Then again, maybe I should just grow up properly and get a life … (?) )

  • Alyssa Daxson

    Voices Pave The Way;
    Written by Alyssa Daxson
    Word count-1035

    “What was quite unusual this summer was—“
    A loud obnoxious laugh cut Cory off, and the 60 year old man pursed his lips together into a thin, hard line.
    “Shut up old man, we don’t wanna hear any of your boring stories!” A unknown man yelled. Cory surveyed the bar he was currently sitting in, scrunching his nose up in distaste, the smoke filled air making his eyes burn. Men and woman were crowded around him, their bodies intermingling, some of them dancing seductively to the slow music playing overhead.
    One man in particular, Tomas, lobbed an empty beer can at his head, and Cory ducked, the metal can brushing past his face.
    “You guys are gossiping like old woman, shouldn’t I be able to chip in?” Cory asked, raising one brown eyebrow(maybe it was grey, but he wasn’t ready to accept that yet).
    Tomas scoffed, while several young woman glared at him, riled up by the sexist comment.
    “You’re old. None of your stories are interesting. We don’t need to hear another tale about the “good old days,” Tomas sneered.
    Cory felt offense rise up. His wife had told him that yesterday. She said he needed to stop gabbing and get his life back in order.
    “Lies. Your wife was wrong,” a voice hissed, slithering into his brain like a snake.
    A smile lit up Cory’s face, and he lowered his voice saying, “You’ve come back?”
    There was a slight pause, and Cory could just imagine the voice smiling maliciously. “I always come back,” the voice said, “Unlike everyone else who has abandoned you.”
    Cory found himself nodding along, accepting the half truth. “Why are you here? After yesterday…” he trailed off, remembering blood, all that blood and the knife that he used, slashing the soft skin open, hearing the gurgle as— “Hey! Pay attention when I’m talking to you!” A voice yelled, and a hand shoved Cory’s shoulder, snapping out of his dark thoughts.

    Tomas’s red face came into focus, and his mouth was moving, but no words came out. All Cory was focused on was the voices in his head, whispering instructions, the atrocities he could inflict on this bastard.
    “Kill him, rip him, break him,” the voices chanted, fill him up with righteous anger.
    His hand, currently leaning up against the greasy counter bar, fumbled around, latching onto a nearby knife.
    Immediately, as if he was being controlled, his hand swept to the side, and then plunged upwards, straight into the soft flesh of a gut.
    The outside sounds slowly returned, and Cory found himself looking into Tomas’s shocked filled gaze.

    The knife, buried up to the hilt in Tomas’s gut, twisted savagely, and a scream filled the air. Several bystanders gasped, and the few people who had sense bolted out the door, cash and other belongings forgotten.
    Cory felt himself get up, and the knife, pulled sharply out of Tomas, was raised high.
    “Kill them all,” a single voice said, and Cory nodded solemnly.
    “And he said; for the wage of sin is death,” Cory mumbled softly, reciting the ages old bible verse. The knife, still raised high, glinted mockingly, before it fell down, sweeping across the room as everything faded to red.

    Blood covered hands cradled broken bodies, gently closing the glassy eyes and crossing the arms serenely. A knife laid abandoned on the floor, gore dripping sluggishly off of the sharp tip.

    “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.
    He restoreth my soul;
    He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
    for Thou art with me;
    Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
    Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
    Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
    and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
    The words faded away as Cory crouched down next to Tomas, his placid gaze observing the pale face before him.
    “I’m sorry I had to kill you,” he murmured, patting a cold cheek softly. “The voices said I should.” There was a pause, as Cory remembered Sasha, his wife.
    “She wouldn’t shut up, y’know. Called me an old coot, said I was crazy. I had to retaliate, and those voices helped me.”
    There was no answer except for the cold wind blowing outside, and faint wail of sirens.

    Getting up, Cory borrowed a soapy rag from the kitchen. “Don’t worry, I’ll give it back,” he told the bartender, who was slumped over the counter, a gaping hole in his abdomen.
    He wiped the blood off the counter, watching as the soapy water turned red, running off onto the floor. Flicking the last bit of blood and bone off the wooden slab, Cory sat and waited, his eyes staring at nothing as the sirens steadily grew louder.

    The police swarmed over the crime scene, taking pictures, examining evidence and ferrying away the mutilated bodies.
    Cory was immediately placed into custody, handcuffs secured tightly around his wrists as he was shoved into the back seat of the cruiser. Police investigated his house, and found the rotting body of his wife Sasha in the basement laid down in a bed, seemingly asleep, except for the red smile that was slashed across her throat.
    The sentence was quick, no legal loopholes or escapes. Cory Hammond was declared guilty of slaying at least ten people and his wife, who he was married to for 35 years.
    A death sentence was inevitable.

    Two years later, as Cory sat in the chair, syringes poised to eject the killing liquid into his veins, he turned to the crowd gathered outside the small room.
    “What was quite unusual this summer,” he began, “was how I learned that the voices will follow me, guiding me down the road, straight into the fiery pits of hell where the Devil will be waiting, arms spread in a welcoming embrace.”

    • Your story was my second choice after Phil’s last time, Madam Alyssia. You have all it takes to be truly a very good writer.
      If you don’t mind being corrected by someone whose mother tongue isn’t English, let me point out a couple of mistakes at first.
      A unknown man yelled.
      You guys are gossiping like old woman,
      I’m sure I don’t have to talk about the first. Regarding the second, I think that the sentence should either read like;
      You guys are gossiping like an old woman, or it should have been – you guys are gossiping like old women.
      I’m sharing all this with you as a writer like me with poor sense of contractions or grammar, is kind of looked down upon. Forget about a non-enriry like me but you are not supposed to make such mistakes. As far as I am concerned, I delight in being lebelled a rebel and taking the untrodden path. Last time, I jokingly called someone close to me a silly goat. The thought that “silly goat” can be blended into “SIOT” occured to me next, and a new word was born! Whether others come to accept it in due course, is imperative as long as I’m happy with it.
      Now coming back to your story, it is another classic from you. The character of Cory has been masterfully portrayed. What was he, by the way? What were the voices in his head? That he was some kind of nuts, psychopath is clear but why did he involve in all those brutal killings? He murdered his wife Sasha because that’s what the voices told him. And what was her fault? She dared to call him “a coot’, ‘crazy’?
      There is something horrible about the ruthless manner in which he killed Thomas, the bartender and a host of other people! But the reason or reasons why he let out sheer mayhem in the bar, hasn’t/haven’t been stated very explicitly.
      It was only towards the end that I realized that the voice was not that of his conscience but that of the Devil, who led or misled Cory ‘down the roads straight into the fiery path’ to Hell.
      You seem to have reserved your best for the end, Madam Alyssia, with your language, characterization of the protagonist, Cory reigning supreme.
      Keep it up, Madam. Thanks for sharing another gory, blood-curdling, psychic story. I really enjoyed going through it. Good Luck.
      • Alyssa Daxson
        Hey Rathin(am I right?), thanks for reading!
        First off, the gossiping like an old woman, was actually meant to be gossiping like old woman’s. So that was a typo, that you found for me(thanks for that lol)
        I do enjoy sometimes twisting grammar, bending the rules a bit, but for the most part I stick the basic rules. I don’t think you know, but a couple people, the Ken’s in paticlaur found out that I wrote a couple books. My very first book was horrendous, the grammar was…. it was like someone threw up all over it. I literally had NO periods at all through out the whole 200+ page book. Luckily I learned from my mistakes, and now my other three books are grammatically correct(thank the lord!)

        For the last part of your comment, I intentionally left the reason for Cory’s madness unspecified. I’ve never done that before, so it was, in my opinion, kinda messy ending. I wanted to let the reader decide wether Cory just snapped one day, the voices in his head driving him too far, or was it some otherworldly matter, like what you said, the Devil reaching into Cory’s mind and driving him to murder.

        Thanks for reading!

        • Alyssa Daxson
          Women* not old woman’s
          • trish
            Alyssa – What must go on in your mind that you were able to create such a gruesome tale! Very impressively gore-ish and creepy story, I think. I liked the way you set the bar scene with the beer bottle being thrown at Cory. On a tiny note, the side comment about Cory’s eyebrow color distracted me from the story as it reminded me that there was an unseen narrator describing the story. Since this narrator doesn’t come into play during the rest of your story, I think you can leave out the aside about Cory’s eyebrow color. But that is just one gal’s opinion – great story!
    • Alyssa,
      A lovely story Alyssa. (You deviant misfit.) I felt that the blood and gore was nicely complemented on the front and back end with a delightfully judicious blend of insanity and brutal state sponsored justice. The subtle bouquet of imaginary voices pastiches the mystique of that recent movie, ‘The Joker.’ (With alarming accuracy!)
      Nicely done.
      The dialogue assists were pretty useful this time. I know I’ve criticized you in the past for overdoing the (what ever that’s called. You know – “You’ve come back!” He hissed, with ill-humor, and a toothpick stuck up his nose.) That kind of stuff. But you’ve done it well in this story, and I can see how it can enhance a story if the information is relevant. (I still think you could tone it down, but hey, I think everything could be toned down. Except Phil. Phil is already at 1. The first setting. As low a tone as you can go. But we’re not talking about Phil, we’re talking about you.

      It’s a good story. Well told. Nice ending. Pretty impressive. (How old did you say you were? I’m being rhetorical so you can answer as many times as you like and it won’t matter.)
      You do crazy well…so… (I hope you never find out where I live.)
      One small, ‘the needles, poised to inject’, not eject.

    • Geezo Peets, Alyssa,

      And I thought my story was gory. So you can’t sleep and I stay away from bars. Sounds like a deal. I have a question for you. Did you know that Cory was going to drive the knife deep in Tomas’ gut, before it happened, or after it happened? Sounds like a crazy question, but that happens to me all the time. I reread what I just wrote the character did and think, ‘Wow, didn’t see that coming.”

      A couple of typos here and there, the use of a instead of an in this phrase – A unknown man yelled – the use of woman instead of women, but otherwise, with one exception a well written story. Kept me eagerly reading ahead to follow the action.

      Two things. Thought the ending could have been a bit tidier, but I don’t know how. I was just unsatisfied with the little speech at the end. And, I don’t think you needed the entire Lord’s Prayer. But, that’s just me.

      Otherwise, I truly enjoyed some of your great writing, such as – seemingly asleep, except for the red smile that was slashed across her throat. Probably my favorite line. (BTW, you didn’t need the words ‘that was’.) Try reading the sentence without it. See, I just save you two words and the impact and meaning is still there.

      Since we both wrote slashers this week, I’m wondering if there was something in the air. I seldom write in this manner, but I kind of enjoyed it. I may have to revisit the horror genre. Keep on writing youngster, you may be able to be one of those rare people who can make some money doing it. It’s not that easy, believe me. Stay safe.


    • Vicki Chvatal
      Hi Alyssa,

      Horror seems to be a theme this time around :). I could see the atmosphere in the bar and the nightmare inside Cory’s mind.

      Only later did I notice a few small errors like the use of “woman” instead of “women”, or the incorrect tense of the verb “fill” in “the voices chanted, fill him up with righteous anger” (should it be “filled”, or “filling?). Why should Cory apologise to the corpse of Tomas, who’d attacked him first, rather than any of the numerous innocent victims? I also don’t think his wife’s body had time to start rotting before being found by the police, if Cory murdered her only a day before the massacre at the bar.

    • Hi Alyssa,

      Well done on being the real winner this time round. I have been following your recent stories and it is about time that you sat on the throne, even if only until the next prompt when everyone will be seeking to replace you. Dog eat dog, writer eat writer.

      I noted from other comments that you are quite a young person but as they say in sport, if you are good enough, then you are old enough. Of course, when reading your work, age hardly enters the mind except that I might have been heard to say I wish I had been as good as you when I was much younger.

      Looking forward to reading your future work as the one and only Ken Frape rather than one third of Lowall Hartman.

      Well done,

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

    By Marien Oommen

    What was quite unusual this summer of 2020?

    Allow me to start at the very beginning. I knew in my bones this year was going to be tough, but it seemed nobody lissuned, nobody cared.

    Today here I am, just lying down here minding nobody’s business and nobody minding mine.
    I finished my morning workout while those gardeners were pottering around, driving me crazy with their blowers, mowers and pokers.

    Welcome to my diocese.

    The blasts I heard all over town, watching fireworks shooting over the horizon heralding 2020, was ominous.
    Mind you, I spent it all alone. That was the time the shivers started coming all the way down on my lower right leg. Now I shake without warning, my heart beating fast.
    I think I got a ‘condition.’

    We are all at home, everyday now, every single minute. If that isn’t unusual, what is?

    Papz just moves from room to room. He works on that big black thing, snorts, wiggles his shoulders, then gets up, does a stretch, and inches towards the frijjj. This is when I play my strategic looks of ardent love toward him, melting his heart.
    I get my returns. He gets his. Fair deal.

    Strange! Mamz sometimes goes on a ‘doom rant’ tawlking about the past years when we took everything for granted, all gone! Sometimes I hear her tawlk about a gweedy planet with gweedy people sporting synthetic smiles, living self absorbed lifestyles, destroying the ecosystem.
    Ain’t got no idea what she’s wambling about. I’m just grateful I’m alive.
    I vouch I did nothing to destroy this land.

    Then there’s these burrday cakes they bake. They fuss around it, blow one big candle out, sing a snappy-happy song, hold me up, take some chelfies, then they eat. I don’t get any cake.
    It’s the same candle every time.

    But yetherday was special, my lil’ sis, Rheez, turned 25.

    Mamz told her, hey girl, it’s time you thought of getting mawwiied. You know, like share your space with a guy. Make it all good an’ legal.

    Brown girls are not encouraged to date, I kinda get that. But when the time is ripe, an hombre magically appears on the horizon and things generally work out. That’s how big sis’ got herself a spunky superman.
    Now there’s a wittle guy who vies for attention.

    Yetherday Mamz said, “Would you like to meet Mathaii?”

    Rheez rounded her mouth, wez about to puke at the sound of the name.
    (I mean who would choose that name?)

    “Okay, then is it Alexander Selkirk, you pwefer?” Mamz asked.

    “Don’t be ridiculous, mamz.” Rheez replied.

    (Served mamz right.)

    Don’t push her, mamz. She’s got to find herself. It’s what young people do these days- take time off to find themselves.

    “So you’ll settle for Dolce, like a companion forever?” Mamz continued.

    “Awww,” she said, reaching for the bronzy Havanese.

    I totally get that.

    A downside these days is that nobodeh’s coming home. No parties, no delicious smells from the kitchen. It’s always the four of us, eating healthy. Papz is being extra grumpy about food and I can see mamz is not likin’ it one bit.

    I heard with my little ear, him tell her, the veggies for soup should be cut diagonally slanted, not cubular, tubular. Mamz is an expert in the kitchen, I tellya’. If she wants them tubular, tubular it stays.

    Diocesan Tribunal Reporting.
    For peace sake, he shouldn’t be entering her territory.
    I’m fair like that.
    Besides she never tips him on how to build homes or where underground cables gotta be laid.

    Long nature walks are all we do when we go out now. Over the sand dunes, jumpin’ over cactii, onto the beach, into the golf course. It’s a lot of fun but now it’s gotten real hot, I can only handle short walks. They don’t want me dehwydated and falling flat on my chest.

    Once when we were walking, having the time of our lives, a strange out-of-this-world phenomena happened.
    Phenomena are always owt of this world, you think.

    Darling mamz’ heart almost stopped.. hearing a long, plaintive wail coming from the bushes. She thought of Moses immediately and was sure it was a baby.

    We got closer and they, being taller, peered from the top of the bushes while I just watched from my eye level. The wails continued and mamz started talking sweetly, coo-cooing. I edged in a wee bit closer.

    Then suddenly, out of the blue, a huge dark, black and white monster with outstretched claws, leapt out with a WWHHEeeengggggg at us. It was hideous, extremely nasal and Mamz got the fright of her life.
    That’s when her mask fell off.

    She hollered, “You lousy pretender. Trying to win us over with wails and then snarling at us? Who do YOU represent on this planet earth? Sweet talking, plaintive cries, double crossing… WHOOO can we trust?”

    I pulled mamz away. When she is in this mood, there’s no stopping her philosophizing. We carried on with our walk, silently admiring the red orange sky.
    There’s not a plane in sight, the air is clear. No bugs even.
    Then Mamz gets all weird. She raises her hands to the sky and says, “Thank you Lord, pwaise you Sawiour!”

    I think this Lord had something to do with my making. A good soulful moment! I feel in my bones.

    Once a week, my family drives to the store and Rheez starts her process.
    She’s given herself the title of Sanitation Inspektriss, taking on the arduous duty of spraying the home, all store bought provisions, and the car with nose stuffin’ dettolly disinfectants.

    Being the self instituted Mask and Glove sentinel, she’s pretty stwikt with papz and mamz becoz of their age.

    Mamz is forever insisting she ain’t that old to be isolated. She zooms in the morning, evening, and at supper time. I’m so totally zoomed out. No visitors, guys! There’s no footwear to chew on. The screen never throws balls.

    Mamz is distraught she can’t go sing at church. Papz and Rheez are pretty stwikt about that. So she sings to me.
    Sometimes I let her tears fall on me. Sad but pretty comforting too. That’s when I nuzzle up to her and put my cold nose on her arm.

    Strange! I hear it’s because of some unseen predators. A dust mote, it seems, has humbled and humiliated even the most powerful. So all are lying low this summer.

    I’ve got way more chutzpah than that idiot germ, yet Papz orders ME to shut up when I yelp at the maintenance guys.

    If that isn’t humiliation!

    Usually in summer, the family gets away leaving me alone with Dalya, the nanny. Then I sit by the window the livelong day and look out at every big monster carr whizzing past thinking it’s them.

    But this year they’re stuck with me and me with them.
    Pure joy, I say. Almost chicken heaven.

    We, Havanese, be like gotta protect an’ love da family.

    (Extract from the pages of the diary of the Diocese of Dolce.
    Sealed with my paws)

    • trish
      Marien – I truly enjoyed your story. I thought it was quite endearing that you gave your narrator a speech impediment, and I liked reading about the narrator’s description of his day. I was a tad confused as to why the narrator referred to his home as a diocese, but it didn’t distract from my enjoyment. Nice story!
      • My narrator is my pet doggie. Dolce, by name, a Havanese. So I gave him a doggie language. That’s how I talk to him 🙂
        When he snuggles under the curtain, the lace trimming just over his head, he does look like a bishop. I wrote something about him earlier- From the Diocese of Dolce based on a photograph. Makes sense only if the photo is seen, I know.

        But I didn’t want to reveal that it’s a dog at first.

        Thanks so much, Trish, for reading and happy that you enjoyed it. Means a lot.

        • trish
          Yes, I loved the fact that your narrator was a pet doggie! I thought you did a great job of hiding that fact until the end and it was one of the more charming parts of your story, in my opinion. Great job!
      • Interesting story and an interesting take on the dog dialect. Although having a younger sister who is twenty five means that dear doggie is older than twenty five. I found that a bit of a stretch, because I was trying to decide if the character was indeed a dog and at that point said, “Nope. Can’t be a dog, it would be too old.” Otherwise, I enjoyed how you did it. Clever writing, clever girl.


        • It’s a dog, it’s a dog.
          And a (small sized )doggie year equals 5 human, or so they say. Don’t ask me who’s they.

          Fo bigger dogs, it’s 7 years.
          So my Dolce is 6 now, he’s 30 in human years. Voilà!

          Thanks for your compliment. It’s huge.

    • Marien,

      This is a cute and fun story. Someone else mentioned your style, (Trish maybe) and how it really works for you. I came to that conclusion independently. (I told Philip one time, that he had no discernible style, which I meant as a compliment, because (okay, I can see myself digging a hole here) because, he doesn’t depend on style, Phil is all content and execution. Anyway, he was insulted. Because, style is not a handicap, I was seeing it as a crutch, but it’s an asset. And Phil already knew that, and assumed that I did too. But I didn’t, and I digress.

      In this case however, your style is well, it’s certainly not irrelevant. But the story seems pretty simple, a story about a dog going for a walk. (or a pig, or a hamster, or a cat).
      It seems innocuous as hell, but it’s about how wonderful this moment in time is for somebody’s pet. The entire story is told from the viewpoint of the pet. (bouncing up and down).

      I once read a book that was supposedly told by a sheep, (or several sheep.) I find the subject of animal intelligence really intriguing and intelligent or not, the means to tell a story from an animal’s point of view interests me. (But this, surprisingly, is not the reason that some people think I’m nuts. No.) So I’m always impressed when I come across another writer willing to put themselves in the mind of an animal.

      You did it very well here, Marien. That’s what I’m trying to say.

      This is an entertaining story for its style, and content. (Boy, if only I’d just said that first.I could’ve saved both of us a lot of time..)

      • Dear Ken C,
        Whoa! Love that you take the circuitous path to get to the point! Great reading all you write about everyone.
        They give me the necessary chuckles you need to survive this time. I totally get you, ‘coz I too should not be taken seriously- most of the time I speak nutty. Can’t ever read or write about blood and gore.
        ( do like that phrase… speak nutty).

        And yay!! You got my gist. Yes, it is my faithful dog speaking. He is Dolce, the havanese. Google these dogs. They’re wonderful. I’m forever having great conversations with him!! Coz he listens, unlike the man 🙂 heels to lissun, not stand up to argue! Another chuckle’s coming right on.

        The vet tells me that dogs and cats are behaving more nervous now. It was pretty easy to write from his heart.

        Thanks again. Keep writing, keep commenting. So worth reading every word.


  • Flight Simulacrum.
    k. cartisano (1197.)

    “What was quite unusual this summer, if you ask me, was the sudden upsurge in crime. Don’t you think, Detective? Seems like there’s a lot of hardship out there.”

    The detective nodded. “Yes sir. Desperate people do desperate things.” He set a recording device on the table and pushed the on button. Then recited the date, time, subject and their own identities: Detectives Robert Tanner and Jeff Graves. “All right Mr. Morton, we’re recording. Please state your full name for the record.”

    “Fredrich W. Morton.”

    “Very good,” Tanner said, “and you’ve waived your right to an attorney. Is that correct?”

    “I don’t need one.” Morton said. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

    “Very good, Mr. Morton. In your own words, please, tell us what happened.”

    “We were flying at eighteen-thousand feet when the navigator entered the cockpit, pulled a gun and shot the pilot. It was an execution, a cold-blooded murder. Horrible.”

    “I don’t suppose you attempted CPR?” Detective Graves asked.

    “Only later, but by then it was too late. I assumed the hijacker was going to shoot me next, I had my belt on so I was strapped into my seat, couldn’t fight, couldn’t run. I just shut my eyes and waited, when he didn’t shoot me after ten or twelve seconds, I opened my eyes.”

    “And?” Tanner prompted.

    “It’s very hard to think when you’ve got a gun pointed at your head.”

    Tanner said, “But he didn’t shoot you.”

    “No. But I thought, I had to force myself to focus my attention on the instruments, the plane. I checked our speed, altitude, heading, the auto-pilot, the radio—before working up the guts to sneak a glance at the hijacker. It was the navigator alright, a new guy. I didn’t know him, and couldn’t remember his name. Still can’t. He had a very steady hand though, I remember that.”

    Detective Graves and Tanner said nothing.

    “I asked him what he wanted, very meekly. He released the pilot’s seat belt, tugged him out of the chair and dragged him to the floor. Then he plopped himself into the pilot’s seat and says, “I wanted a place to sit. I guess that makes you the Captain now. What’s our status?”

    Detective Graves held up a hand. “Hold on. Why did he call you the Captain?”

    “Because responsibility transfers to the next officer should the Captain be incapacitated.”

    “And that’s the kind of thing that pilots and navigator’s know.” Tanner observed.

    “Yes. So I said, ‘Would you like me to report our status to ATC?’ I was trying to rattle him.”

    “ATC is that Air Traffic Control?” Tanner said.

    “Yeah, we use acronyms for everything.”

    “Sure,” Tanner said. “So do we. What happened next?”

    “My ploy had no effect. The guy showed no emotion. He says, ‘What do you think, Captain? Do you think that’ll help your situation?”

    This guy’s a cold-blooded killer, I just watched him shoot the Captain in the back. I wasn’t sure what he really wanted, and I wasn’t about to guess. I forgot all about the radio, and he says, ‘I think you just made a wise decision.”

    Morton appeared to shudder, then continued. “So then he gives me these coordinates, which I gave you gentlemen earlier, and says, ‘Fly me there.’ And you know the rest, it was only a few miles off of our flight plan, he grabs a package, opens the cargo door, and jumps out.”

    The two detectives studied Mr. Morton, until one of them said, “How would the hijacker know which package to take unless he had a scanner? You didn’t see him use a scanner?”

    “No.” Morton says. “I don’t know.”

    The detectives were sitting on the edge of their seats. “You think maybe the package was passed directly from the Captain to the hijacker? You said it was a small package, right?”

    Morton nodded. He was happy to watch them kick errant ideas around.

    Detective Tanner said, “Don’t planes carry a thing called a black box?”

    Graves noticed that Mr. Morton did not seem worried by the question. It was still worth looking into though. Morton could be bluffing. Graves pushed himself to his feet and said, “I’ll see what I can find out.” He was huge. And polite. He said, “You want a coffee or a soda, Mr. Morton?”

    “Soda. Please.”

    Graves nodded, “I’ll be right back.” He moved with all the grace of a Stegosaurus, or how Morton imagined one would move.

    When Graves returned, he pushed a can of soda toward Morton, smothered a chair, and said to Tanner, “You buyin’ into any of this guy’s horseshit?”

    “Sure,” Tanner says, “along with Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. Why, what’s the problem, Graves?”

    “Well, for one thing, his company doesn’t use navigators. Seems like something he should’ve known. And his record is, how shall I put it, less than sterling?”

    Morton was not caught off guard. “I understand that, Detective. Now. At the time though, I had no idea. He came with authorization forms and papers claiming the policy was new for transcontinental flights. I was just the co-pilot, this was already settled by the Captain before I boarded the plane.”

    “Then your Captain would have to have been incompetent to accept an imposter aboard his plane, for a position that didn’t exist.”

    “I don’t know. I suspect he may have been compromised in some way. I think he knew the guy.”

    “Uh-huh. If he knew the hijacker, why wouldn’t one of them shoot you? Doesn’t make sense. Are you aware that you were under investigation by your company?”

    Morton shook his head.

    “You had no idea they suspected you of theft?”

    Morton knew that very well. Instead he said, “Oh please, detective. I haven’t done anything and I haven’t been charged with anything. And really, if there was any proof that I was pilfering cargo, wouldn’t my bosses have fired me already? You seem to be going out of your way to find some complicated explanation of events when it’s all pretty straight-forward. It’s my word against the hijacker’s. When you find him, you can ask him.”

    “I’m not so sure about that,” Tanner says. “I think you’re trying to pin this crime on a man that doesn’t exist. Pretty tough to get a conviction under those circumstances.”

    He turned to his partner, Graves. “So what’s the deal with the aircraft’s black box?”

    “Well, it seems that those recorders run on a loop and they only record the last 30 to 60 minutes of a flight.”

    Tanner could see by the smirk on Morton’s face that he was aware of the technology’s limitations. All Morton had to do was fly around for an hour to erase events on the in-flight recorder. “That’s the real reason he didn’t report the event immediately.”

    “Correct. However, I was informed by the coroner, that the pilot was cooperating with company investigators.” Graves said.

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Morton asked.

    “It means that the pilot was wearing a wire when you killed him, Mr. Morton. If only you’d tried to give him CPR, as you claimed, you most likely would have found it.”

    • trish
      Ken C. – I liked your story a lot. I think it is hard to do a good murder mystery in 1200 words and yet you succeeded. One tiny comment is that I would have liked you to emphasize a little more in the beginning of your story that Morton tried CPR – especially since that fact weighs heavily in the impact of your final line. Other than that tiny critique – very well done!
      • Hi Trish,

        Thank you for your comments. This story reminds me of a root canal I had once, where they pulled the wrong tooth by accident, and then tried to glue it back in. (This is a metaphor, of course, no dentist would ever do such a thing. Unless he were entirely conceived by a demented writer. Not one of my best stories, not one of my worst.

        Morton did not try CPR, since he was the murderer. All I could do, (which is not a bad idea) would be to allow(?) that the victim did not die so quickly, and Morton was aware that CPR might have saved him if he had been inclined to give it.


    • Ken,

      Well, I have to disagree with Trish for the very reason you point out at the end of the story. If he’d tried to give CPR, Morton would have discovered the wire (in all probability). You approached this like a Columbo writer. Knowing all the while the real answers, yet leading the perp into finally answering the key question wrong. “Just one more thing, Mr. Morton … and so on until – gotcha.

      Dialogue, excellent. Flow, excellent. Story plot, excellent (even though a bit worn – but then, there are only so many plots – so still excellent), writing, excellent. So, why didn’t I feel Wow at the end of the story? Perhaps you needed to make Morton more of a smart ass (which you are so very friggin’ good at) and develop his character to be so dislikable that the reader was rooting for the cops to get the goods on him.

      I think that’s it. Everything about the story is so good, but I came away unsatisfied. I have the same problem with a lot of my stories lately and maybe I’ve just solved a problem of my own in discussing this with you. Maybe. I’ll see how it works in the next story line.

      Otherwise, an enjoyable story and I can’t find a lot of fault, except for my comment above. Just my personable opinion, but you are one of the better writers in this group, and you have written how many now? One every two weeks or so for four or five years, give or take? I don’t know how long that’s going to last with the crop of writers vying for attention each week.

      I am so impressed with the talent in this group. Really. Still don’t understand why one of us hasn’t had that miracle moment and make a living at it. I’m talking fiction here, not commercial writing. I know we’ve had some who do that. Back in 2014 we had a writer you may remember, Nita Wilson – we called her Nits at her request – who wrote for TV and so on, but, unfortunately, she went in for an appendectomy and died during a reaction to a pain killer. She and I had been personally communicating and it was a real bummer. She was an excellent writer.

      Anyway, I digress. I liked your story.


      • trish
        Ken and Roy – no, I got it that Morton was the killer and that he got caught because he lied about doing CPR since he would’ve felt the wire if he’d done CPR. What I was trying to say was I thought it would have been more effective to stress more obviously in the beginning that Morton claimed to have done CPR (you have Morton say “Only later, but by then it was too late.”) I think having Morton more obviously claim to have done CPR you allow the reader to fall into the lull of falsely thinking that Morton is innocent, thus getting a bigger payoff for your punchline when it is revealed that Morton couldn’t have done CPR. Just one gal’s opinion. Keep on truckin on…
        • Trish,
          Aha, I see what you’re saying. That’s an excellent suggestion. Obvious, in fact. (Except to me, also obviously.) I’m going to incorporate that into the story. Thanks Trish. Say hello to your cats for me. (What are their names?)
    • Vicki Chvatal
      Hi Ken,
      A very neat murder mystery, solved in under 1,200 words. This Morton guy is not as clever as he thinks: why invent a navigator, a position that doesn’t exist, if he could just claim an unknown hijacker, one of the passengers perhaps (unless it was a cargo only plane?). Not that it would have saved him in the end, since the pilot was wearing a wire…
      If the story was longer, I would’ve liked a hint of Morton’s motive for the pilot’s murder. It’s not clear to me what he was hoping to achieve, since he was only suspected of theft.
    • Nice story, Ken. I’m glad that I could make time to read it. I liked everything, well, almost everything about the story.
      Stay safe and happy. God bless.
      • Thanks Raithen, Glad you found the time to read it. What did you not like about it?
    • Hey Ken C,
      A good plot and equally good dialogue. Read it thrice to get to the nitty-gritty.

      What’s in the package?
      What’s this wire around the dead pilot? Just as Trish says, if Morton had lied about CPR, who’s to know anyway?

      I’ve read so many of your hilarious comments that I can’t digest serious murderous plots from you now.
      My bad.


  • Rubber
    (a short story by Lowell Hartman, 1200 words)

    What was quite unusual this summer was the lightning.

    Ten minutes earlier the sky was blue. Now, it was raining so hard I could barely think. I was lingering by the exit along with a few other prudent people when an impatient stranger brushed past, snorting at our cowardice, I suppose. Moments later, the blinding flash of half-a-billion volts fused him to the asphalt. He was dead before he knew it.

    The rain stopped. The sun came out. A few of us ventured out into the open, casting nervous glances toward the sky from time to time. We crouched around the scorched victim, nobody wanted to touch him, except one woman. I recognized her as a cashier in the market. I read her name tag. Tammy. She poked him with her finger.

    We moved aside for the EMTs, watched them load him onto a stretcher, cover his face with a sheet and drive off. The small knot of witnesses started to drift apart.

    “Hey Tammy,” I said. “Need a ride home?” I’d seen her walking down the boulevard in her uniform from time to time. She glanced my way at the sound of her name, but seemed unreceptive to my invitation, which, I guess she viewed as a fate worse than touching a burnt corpse.

    “Say, weren’t you married?” She said.

    “Suzanne? That’s over, that’s been over.” I know I sounded pathetic. “We signed the papers six months ago.”

    “Well I, I have to work late tonight, so…”

    She was overheard by the store’s manager, who had just stepped outside. “You’re not working late, Tammy. I just checked.” He looked around. “Did I miss something?”

    “Just me offering Tammy a ride home.”

    He nodded and grunted. Stripped of her excuse, she accepted my offer, albeit grudgingly. We hadn’t left the parking lot before she tried to roll the electric window down. I rolled it up and locked it. ‘You can thank me later,’ I thought, but didn’t say it. She spoke only to give directions after that. I pulled up in front of her apartment, gotten a real bad feeling, reached across her protectively and said, “Wait. Don’t move.”

    She shrank from contact with me as if I had leprosy, “Don’t touch me,” she hissed.

    Lightning struck the building, glowed like a hellish wreath around the metal front door, and then the whole thing exploded, pelting my car with smoldering shrapnel and chunks of debris.

    She screamed. “God not again! You’ve gotta help me,” she said, holding her head in her hands and sobbing as tears coursed down her face.

    “Sure, I’ll help. What can I do and what do you mean not again?”

    “Same thing happened in my last place, only I was in it at the time.”

    “You were in the house?” I was amazed. “How did you survive?”

    “I dunno. Maybe my rubber shoes? Don’t you think I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times? I was in the bathroom at the time, sitting on the toilet.” She looked a little embarrassed as we hardly knew each other.

    “There was a terrible crack and a hissing sound and then a huge bang. The house collapsed around me and there I was, out in the open, sitting on a toilet full of boiling water. I jumped up, real fast.”

    She looked at me like a frightened child. She wiped away her tears and took a brush from her bag. With a clean face and brushed hair, she looked real cute. I wanted to hug her but wasn’t sure if it was for the right reason, so I held back.

    “So much for lightning not striking twice in the same place and all……..”

    “That’s bullshit,” she said forcibly. “Any science book will tell you that. Now I feel like the lightning’s got my name on it.”

    “Well, it’s certainly got your address,” I said quickly, stupidly trying to lighten her mood.

    “Not funny,” she replied, turning her pale blue eyes in my direction.

    ”Sorry. Anyway, you got off scott-free though, not injured.?”

    “Well, almost scott-free,” she said. “Come with me and I’ll show you…”

    I followed her into her garden and we stopped by the ruined porch. She felt around in the rubble and removed a light bulb she found from its casing. It was miraculously unbroken.

    “Watch,” she said. She held the bulb by its base and it instantly lit up, far brighter than a normal bulb. She put it down and it went out. Mystified, I bent down to pick it up. It was so hot it burned my hand and I dropped it, to break on the ground.

    I stepped towards her and she immediately took a step backwards.

    “No, don’t touch me,” she said. “I’ve already killed one person.”

    I didn’t touch her, but I did offer her my spare bedroom. We kept a respectful distance from one another. I didn’t dare cross her – ever – for she had the power to light me up like that bulb. Thanks to that too, perhaps, something grew between us. An odd kind of love.

    Suzanne must’ve got wind of something and I found her one day, on returning from shopping, lying suggestively on my bed. She’d kept a key to my house!

    “So, this anorexic salesgirl’s a better fuck than me? Bet she isn’t! YOU know she isn’t!” She propped up her large breasts upon each word she emphasized, “You never were my quality kinda man. You’re HER quality. Loser!”

    “It’s not like that at all! Tammy’s a bright woman. I enjoy being with her. I never even touched her, if you must know!”

    “Never touched her!” she laughed loudly, “What is it then, a Plutonic relationship?”

    “If anything, Platonic. But no, not that…”

    “Are those stupid-looking shoes you’re wearing hers?”

    “Nope. Mine,” I said


    The main-door key turned. Fuck! Tammy was already home. She closed the door, holding the doorknob with a rubber glove.

    “OCD! You got a sicko in here, darling! Good match, I’d say.”

    Tammy, taken aback on seeing the other woman, held her hands behind to avoid a handshake.

    “She’s Suzanne, my ex-wife,” I intervened to control the damage, “she’s here to finalize some loose ends…”

    “You work at that shithole, Rory’s?” Suzanne guessed from the uniform, “I wouldn’t step inside if I won a voucher!” Suzanne remained belligerent.

    “It’s not that bad,” Tammy replied politely, “At least I’ve got a job…”

    “Don’t bother with her,” I abandoned peacemaking, “She has no idea. Never worked in her life!”

    Tammy made the mistake of oohing at that, unintentionally slighting Suzanne.

    “Screw you jackass!” Suzanne would’ve gone for Tammy, but I held her back.

    “Don’t!” I screamed, but she bit my hand and I let go.

    Suzanne grabbed Tammy’s neck. Both women shook violently. Tammy recovered, but Suzanne dropped on the floor like a swatted fly.

    “I’m sorry!” Tammy wept.

    “She did it to herself…”

    I hugged Tammy tightly. She froze, expecting me to go Suzanne’s way. I pointed at my ridiculously high-soled NeonGal rubber shoes.

    “I finally found them! At Shoes4You. Like the ones that saved you in the bathroom, that day…”

    I looked silly in neon-pink girls’ shoes. But better silly than fried.

    • Vicki Chvatal
      Hi Lowell,
      Loved the originality of your story.
      A couple of small details bothered me: Why did Tammy poke the dead man’s body at the start? And why did it seemingly prompt the narrator to offer her a ride? To me, that would be… creepy.
      But otherwise, it was a very believable description of normal people dealing with a crazy situation.
      • Lowell Hartman
        Hi Vicki,

        Thank you for your comment 🙂

        Well, I think Tammy was curious to find out if any life was left inside that man the narrator described as a corpse. We get to know, later, that she’s herself a survivor of a similar lightning strike, and she’s still amazed how she remained alive and (relatively) well. I think that’s why she poked him. To confirm how lucky she was herself. Perhaps she expected she might “light him up”, bring him back to life? Who knows. Maybe I should have added there, “…and she pinched herself too, as if to confirm that she herself was truly alive.”

        Why did the narrator offer her a ride home? He’s recovering from a recent divorce, and he’s apparently been eyeing Tammy walking down the boulevard in her Rory’s Stores uniform for a while. Originally, I had the phrase “I yearned for some female company” right after the sentence where he offered her the ride, but I removed it because it sounded a little cheesy, and I was still well over the word-limit!

        Your points are taken and much appreciated, Vicki, and I’d consider some tweaking to the story if I publish it somewhere else in the future (and more words are allowed).

        Low H.

        • Vicki Chvatal
          Thanks for your response, Lowell. To clarify my earlier comments, I assumed that the man was very obviously dead since you described the corpse as both scorched and fused to the asphalt. So could Tammy have assumed there was some spark of life left in that? And how come the narrator saw a woman poking a burned corpse and not too grossed out to consider her date material, no matter how lonely or horny he was?
    • Low, (If I may, since you signed a comment that way)

      Since I haven’t seen you grace this group and these pages before, I’m going to assume you are new. If I’m wrong, please correct me, but in either case, you’re new to me, so welcome to the group.

      I found your story extremely well written, funny, a bit perverse, and overall, jolly good fun. Well done. From beginning to end, I wasn’t disappointed, the dialogue was snappy and your descriptions were on spot. I’m just wondering what they told the police. Umm … they did call the police didn’t they?

      Two great lines and the ones that sealed the deal for me that you have some writing chops: Moments later, the blinding flash of half-a-billion volts fused him to the asphalt. He was dead before he knew it. Loved them, and couldn’t wait to get further into the story and see where it was going. A simple boy meets girl plot, but with so much meat. I realize in 1200 words you can’t really flesh out the characters, but you did it well enough for me to realize that they were going to come together at some point before the story was over, no pun intended.

      Yep put you into my top three immediately, and I would like to see more of your work, and I hope this isn’t beginner’s luck. I don’t think it is.

      Roy York

    • Hi Lowell,

      Welcome to the fray. I mean group. I can see that you place a great deal of importance on a story’s opening paragraphs. First impressions being all important to a story’s success. (They teach this in books, so I’ve heard.) The story starts out with a jolt, but it seems as though you were distracted in the middle, and got conked on the head towards the end.

      No need to defend yourself, Lowell. I’m only kidding. I always confront new and talented contributors to a dose of my acerbic wit, in order to drive them away before they start hanging around and eventually realize how little talent I have.
      You impressed Roy right out of the chute, and that’s no small achievement, as Roy is very frugal with his praise. (At least, he is with me. Hey, wait a minute.)

      All kidding aside, it’s as good a story as any good old story ever was. (But don’t quote me on that.)

      • Ken C.,

        Just trying to be friendly right away so he comes back, then I’ll start looking more closely, like you and I do with each other. I’ve been told that I’ve scared a few new writers away to never return by being a bit more exuberant about their errors than I perhaps should have been. However, in Lowell’s case, it was easy to be nice, because he in fact, does have some ability to write and it’s evident.

        You, my friend, writer extraordinaire, have been scribbling some pretty impressive stuff of late. Good on ya. Especially in the repartee department. I’m jealous.


  • Dear Mr. Lowell,
    Having read “Rubber”, I have this question yelling at me,
    ” Who is Tommy? ”
    She must have been smart, sweet, smashing and so on as we learnt from the conversation between Suzanne and the narrator. He told her that he enjoyed being with her, My curiosity was aroused when she asked the narrator not to touch her twice. Then, I heard her telling him that she had already killed one person. She had killed yet she didn’t seem like the usual kind of murderess.
    Suzanne was already in the narrator’s room when Tommy came back. She made the mistake of ‘ohhing’ her (Suzanne) which led to the hand-to-hand scuffle between the two. Then Suzanne dropped on the floor like she was struck by a flash of lightning.

    Who is she? Who is she? My mind kept on asking me. I’s still wondering about the question when my eyes chanced on the line where the narrator hugged her. God! Is he going to fall down dead too?
    But our worries were put to rest as the narrator pointed to his shoes. So, Tommy was ineffectual against anyone with rubber shoes. I recalled how she escaped miraculously from the flash of lightning that brought her house down. She was saved when everything else around her was collapsing. She was saved as she had her rubber shoes on, That explained the significance of the title to me. But the question was still unanswered : Who was Tommy, the mysterious lady? Was I missing out on something in the story? Dear Mr. Lowell, I am sorry to say that till the end, I couldn’t find out the answer, for the life of me!
    Anyway, “Rubber” is an intriguing story in which symbolism, I reckon, plays a key role and has been used very effectively. There is a smooth quality about your language that leads the reader on. The dialogues and the characters are realistic and interesting.
    Keep writing and entertaining, Sir. Stay safe.

    • trish
      Lowell – I thought you wrote a crackerjack story. It was very creative and I read eagerly to find out how you would finish it. I’ll admit that when the two main characters were in the car and Tammy kept saying “don’t touch me”, I thought that you were heading your story towards some kind of abuse/rape scene. Perhaps I am just pleased your story didn’t take that turn and instead veered into more original territory. Well done.
      • Thanks Trish, that’s very kind of you and encouraging too. A rape/abuse story would have been too run-off-the-mill, I suppose, in this context. So, I allowed this story to flow to wherever it wanted to go… It went to many other places, I can assure, in earlier drafts, until it finally settled for what you’ve read!

        Low H.

    • Lowell Hartman
      Hello Rathin,

      Thank you for your long and detailed review.

      Tammy is not a murderess (btw it’s Tammy, not Tommy. It’s enough that someone else further up called a man “Jennifer”; you’re now calling my gal “Tommy”!). She carries death along with her wherever she goes, but that’s not a talent of her own choosing. She’s lucky for her own narrow escape, but anyone touching her has to pay the price. She does her best to avoid that scenario, not allowing anyone get close enough to her and living a rubber-gloved life. Which makes her existence unbearable, I suppose, if it weren’t for this very understanding “respectful distance” narrator. (gloves, distance… this is starting to sound like covid, now!).

      The bottom line is that Tammy’s a good gal, and her only victims are accidental ones. In an earlier draft, I had her going to jail, for failing to inform the authorities of the danger she poses to others (only to end up having inmates touching her and dying too). But I took that out and opted for the safe-hug finale instead.

      Another way to go would’ve been for a would-be rapist trying to assault her – to his own great detriment. But that would have probably been an outcome too easily foretold by most readers. (It’s usually a rapist trying his luck with what turns out to be a black-belt karate gal, in real life). Perhaps, the person Tammy says she’s killed was such a rapist (there was no space in the story to develop that angle). Certainly the second person she “killed” was her rival for the narrator’s heart (to some extent), his ex, who still doesn’t seem to have completely gotten over the divorce…

      Rubber plays an important part in the story, as you also noticed. And hence the title. As to symbolism, I doubt if there’s any that was truly intended. But often, I suppose, some symbolism may arise of its own accord whenever words are put near each other in interesting ways… Maybe, here, in the way we say “electricity flows” meaning that there’s intense love (or lust) between two people. So I’ll leave that up to you to decipher, my dear reader 🙂 In any case, watch who you touch from now on. Especially if they look electric! (Or are coughing, have a fever and have reported a loss of taste).

      Low H.

      • Hi, Mr. Lowell,
        Thank you very much for the detailed explanation. Now, you have done it, I look at the story with a better understanding.
        I must say that that you have done a fantastic job, Mr. Lowell. When I voted in the wee hours of the morning, I tried to do so from memory. A great blunder as your story completely eluded me. From now on, I’ll only vote with the notebook in hand.
        Let me also tell you that I make such promises to myself with as much regularity as I fail to keep them. Thanks for “Rubber”. Keep writing and stay safe. Best wishes.
  • trish
    Vicki – I thought your story was quite inventive and I enjoyed reading about your Crazy Goat Lady. I wondered why you had the sheep eating the fire instead of the goat. Since your punchline is that the goat is bleating fire, it seems like it should have been goats that were eating the fire too. I would have liked to have read more about the world you created.
    • Vicki Chvatal
      Hi Trish,
      Thanks for your comment! Basically, the goats breathe fire; the sheep eat fire. Crazy Goat Lady couldn’t pass up the opportunity to raise such a rare breed of goats, & then had to acquire the sheep for damage control. 🙂
      I wouldn’t mind exploring the universe a bit more myself: there’s probably a few more fun things tucked away in remote villages somewhere. 🙂
  • Carrie Zylka

    Never Judge A Book By Its Cover By Carrie Zylka
    © Copyright 2020

    “What was quite unusual this summer was that she even allowed the madness to continue for so long.” The visiting Countess spoke from behind the privacy screen. “If I’d have known, if someone had told me how things would turn out, I certainly would have done things a bit differently.” She stepped out, adjusting her gown.

    Rachnel, one of her handmaiden moved forward to lace up the corset. “Hold still please.” The waif of a girl spoke, oddly authoritative.

    The Countess grunted as the ribbon was pulled tight. “Ugh, too many sweets lately.” She muttered.

    “How are you going to fix it?” General Wychin asked from the doorway. “How the hell are you going to fix it?” The frustration in his voice bled through the gruff. He ran an exhausted hand over his beard.

    “I have no clue. Keep killing people until I win?” She smirked.

    “Funny.” He snarled.

    She sighed. Truth be told, if she’d realized the magnitude, she probably wouldn’t have used poison. And certainly not in the wine that servants emptied into the general water supply.

    The Countess looked over at him. “What’s done is done.” She shrugged. “I could not have known the poison would be that powerful when mixed with the water. I simply wanted to make sure the idiot king and his inbred family died. This country has been ruled by the same lineage for too long, it’s poor people suffering, and the available wealth is being squandered. How could I have known that the stupid queen was with child and wouldn’t be drinking?” Anger bubbled to the surface. “Or how could I have known that on a world covered in salt-water the moron servants wouldn’t be more careful about what they added to the fresh water supply? I mean who does that? What moron thinks that’s ok? What I don’t understand is the new ruling Queen’s refusal to purge the fresh water supply pipes and refill them. The woman is more of an idiot than I ever anticipated. Which is why she must go. I’ll have to devise an even more clever way to get rid of her, since I’m sure she’s on high alert now because of this whole mess.”

    “And my beloved Anita? It is only by the love of your father that I haven’t sworn revenge on you. It is only because of the blood oath sworn to him in battle, as soldier brothers, so many years ago, do you even care that you’ve torn out my heart? She was an innocent in all this.” He spoke, his voice low and dangerous.

    The Countess looked over at him at the mention of his wife who, like so many other innocents, had succumbed to the accidentally poisoned water. And for just the briefest of moments he saw a flash of the little girl he watched grow into one of the most devious women on the planet. He saw a glimpse of empathy, of pain and sorrow and regret. But only for a moment before the door slammed shut on her soul. Her eyes intense pinpoints of darkness.

    He suddenly felt the urge to see that humanity in her again, to justify his loyalty, an unwavering allegiance he would not break, even though she’d been responsible for the death of his beloved wife. “Don’t you feel any remorse for what you did to them? To me?” He rasped.

    She squared her shoulders as she looked him in the eye, her expression one of cold marble. “I do not.”

    “Then I will not feel any remorse for what I’m about to do.” With an arcing movement his blade sung through the air.

    Startled, she threw herself backward. She landed against an ornate couch. His sword slammed into the wood carvings inches from her face.

    Rachnel drew her own weapon, an ancient dragon’s tongue short sword and launched herself at the General. He twisted to face the attack, his heavy broadsword clashing with her lighter blade. She grimaced as she flicked her throbbing wrist and the blade of his sword slid between her sword’s split blade, effectively locking it in her grip. She lashed out with a foot and connected with his knee, he cried out in pain, and she kicked out again, satisfied by the crunching sound.

    The tiny girl heaved with all her might, twisting her sword, and deftly unarmed him. He produced a dagger and using his weight to his advantage, heaved forward with his good leg. Rachnel stepped back and cried out as her foot caught on one of the many discarded dresses laying precariously on the floor. She cursed as his heavy body collided with her, knocking the breath out of her as they tumbled to the ground.

    She screamed as the dagger entered her stomach, her scream turned to a gurgle as he twisted it upwards and into her lungs. He shifted his bulk to get a better vantage point to shove the blade deeper, hopefully into her heart, but his eyes unexpectedly widened, he opened his mouth to speak and blood gushed forth.

    His body slumped and slid to the side.

    Rachnel tried to get a breath as she struggled to sit up.

    The Countess stood over her, blood covering her entire left arm, a slowly dying heart in one hand. She knelt there, eyes deep black pools, she looked every bit a dark angel, except her wings were wrong, dark, and sleek, oily almost. Made for water, not air.

    “I needed the strength the transformation would provide.” The Countess muttered, speaking slowly through pointed teeth.

    “I didn’t have time, or I’d have eaten his heart out myself.” Rachnel wheezed.

    “My dear Rachnel, I know, rest. I need a moment to transform back and get a healer. I’ll not have you dying on me just yet. We have a planet to conquer.”

    • Carrie,

      That’s one hell of a handmaiden. Lots of action in this. I was confused by these two lines.

      “And Anita? It is only by the love of your father that I haven’t sworn revenge on you.” He spoke, his voice low and dangerous.
      The countess looked over at him at the mention of his wife who, like so many other innocents, had succumbed to the accidentally poisoned water.

      I don’t get it. Who is Anita? The wife of the General? Is he her father? No, because you say, ‘at the mention of his wife who,’ also died from the poison. His wife, not her mother. This is supposed to clarify who is who in the story, but it doesn’t. Since she’s ‘the countess’ she must also be part of the moronic ruling clan.

      I found the part of the story about the poisoned water to be the most fascinating. I wanted to know more about that, and the royal family of ruling morons, (sounds familiar), and how would the countess finish the job on them? The action was interesting, but the intrigue was fascinating. I wished you’d developed that part of the story more fully. Since the General didn’t swear an oath of revenge, … are you sure? Cause it sure looked like an oath of vengeance to me.

      • Carrie Zylka

        Thanks Ken, for the kind words! You know I love a good sword fight! 😀

        In my head…she’s a visiting Countess from another land (maybe even world since she and Rachnel are actually both water monsters or maybe body snatchers – I couldn’t really decide which way I wanted to go so I left it up to the reader to interpret). trying to take over.

        The General was friends with her father who watched her grow up, and he brought his wife Anita along for the “visit”.
        I was trying to convey that his wife was an innocent victim. That she accidentally drank the poisoned water and her lack of remorse was such a slap in the face that he just couldn’t stand it.

        I have an extra 400 words or so, I might try to clarify my point a bit.

        Appreciate the feedback!!

        • Vicki Chvatal
          Hi Carrie,

          Your reveal of the Countess’s supernatural (?) origins (I didn’t pick up on the water monster, but it’s obvious she and Rachnel aren’t human) certainly explained how she succeeded to poison an entire city’s? country’s? water supply with the contents of a few poisoned wine bottles, which wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

          What I don’t understand is how the General, who’d seemingly known her all her life, had never suspected anything. Is this where the body-snatcher part comes in – that she took over the body of the real Countess? Or did she masquerade as human all her life, in which case at least one of her parents must have been in on the secret, and perhaps of the same species?

          • Hi Vicki, appreciate the feedback, honestly I hadn’t quite decided. It’s always hard to take what is essentially an unwritten 90,000 sci fi novel completely in your head, and condense it into 1200 words.

            It’s a great question and one I’ll have to expand on before I record it for the podcast, which luckily doesn’t have a time/word count constraint hahahaha

            I feel like maybe the shapeshifter/water angels/monsters took the place of the Countess more recently, and is maybe an agent for her species.

            Not sure yet.

          • Vicki – Literally the worst response to story feedback EVER…I know, I know 😄😄😄
      • Carrie Zylka

        Hmmmmm I added “The visiting Countess spoke from behind the privacy screen.”
        And updated the two paragraphs where she explains what happens and where he speaks low and dangerous.

        Not sure that I’m happy with the edit, not sure it clarifies things very much, but I just woke up, and sometimes when I just first wake up and write, it’s either brilliant, or it’s pretty dumb. 😂😂😂

        I have to chew on the story a little bit, I really like it, and want to make sure it makes sense before I record it for the podcast!

    • Carrie,

      Good story, but I’m confused on a point. In the story, the general is talking to the countess, and draws his sword and tries to kill her, but Rachnel (nice original name, btw) is the one who is doing the fighting for the countess. I think it might have had a better introduction to Rachnel;s duties and abilities. I have no problem with her fighting, it was just abrupt and I was confused, taking me out of the story.

      Found this little mishap: Rachnel, one of her handmaiden moved forward to lace up the corset. Should have a comma after handmaiden, which also should be handmaidens. A descriptive phrase which can be removed without changing the sentence needs commas at both ends, but … you know that. I’ll just chalk it up to getting a story in at the last minute. I do that same thing all the time. But, if this is a 90,000 word story crammed into 1200 words, you do need to be a bit more careful on the final edit.

      Still trying to figure out how Rachnel survived a dagger into her stomach into her lungs, so you must have really tough characters. Then again, in all the guy movie shoot -em ups, the hero manages to kick hell out of 36 different guys each handing the hero his head, yet, after they are all laying on the ground, he’s picking up the girl and carrying her off like nothing happened. So, I guess I answered my own critique.

      Good story, Carrie, glad you got a story in. You almost always have a swashbuckler and you never, never disappoint.


    • Vicki Chvatal
      Carrie, I’m commenting on the story itself because your responses to my original comment don’t have a reply button for some reason. IMO your responses are great: I’m happy if my two bobs’ worth helps clarify something in your own mind.

      So for that novel/ podcast, another question: how does the Countess being a (supposedly) foreign visitor serve the plot? She’d need some cover story for getting involved in another country’s politics to the point of staging a coup. Why would she even care how inept the royal family is, if she can just pack up & go home at any time?

  • Vicky (Vicky)

    This is an entertaining story, coarse in style, but colorful. Pretty basic, nothing to it. Goats, fire, crazy woman. What more does a story need? They eat the fire, for sure, I knew it. (It’s possible they were really just eating the grass, creating a firebreak, of course, that’s all it is.) No, no. They were really eating the fire. You’re quite clear on this. This should be shocking, but because it puts the fire out, it’s totally acceptable. And the heroine and her goats are still subject to ostracism. Very realistic touch there. Then you drive home the point of impossibility with your fire bleating goat. Nice touch, all the way around.

    You describe the landscape, the sheep, the color of their coats, the farmers, the heat and the fire. And you do it in very simple terms. It’s all very effective and very good writing. For some reason, I picture you as rich and vibrant. I can imagine you as an Egyptian royal, dictating her story to an educated handmaiden, before ink was invented. Is that not weird?

    • Vicki Chvatal
      Thanks, Ken! This is high praise indeed. I’m both flattered and mystified by the comparison to Egyptian royalty. 🙂

      I see the woman not ostracised as such – she’s an eccentric loner who prefers the company of goats to that of people, so her neighbours leave her alone in turn. She may even become more popular than she’d ever wanted – that is, unless word gets out that her goats probably started the fire in the first place. 🙂

  • What was quite unusual this summer was that it was the start to my third summer in two years. The summer of 2002 changed my life. It was the year after some extremists dove two planes into some faraway building in America.
    September first in Sydney Australia was balmy and warm. My second year back after nearly seven years in Israel. We had arrived back in 2000 and had two summers in a row that year. I didn’t cope well with that as I like cooler weather better than heat. Israeli summers in Tel Aviv can be a soupy heat that soaks you in a sweat bath. The hamsin weather clothes you and your pores in grit and dries you to a husk of your rainy season self. Sydney is a nicer heat, but the city stinks and all those high buildings, people charging down streets near the harbour, Circular Quay, noisy double decker trains and buses pregnant with people smelling of sweat, stale cologne, greasy takaway foods, slimy hair shampoos and soaps that disgorge at stations to allow new pungent smells to pour in on the backs of another crowd that will press you against the metal seats of tired graffitied interiors.

    I returned to Australia because of many things and one of the things that obsessed my mind then, was my parents aging. Another was I was in love with the father of my son and still to this day, that love has clouded my psyche. Our son was not yet born. That was to happen the year after my father’s death from cancer, a war and infidelities while I was pregnant by my son’s father. I had envisaged us setting up business in the rural area of NSW and we had talked about it. Even to the extent that when I did get pregnant after five years of trying, in November of 2001, he encouraged me to take up an offer of a teaching position in the Riverina area bordering NSW and Victoria.

    “Things will be different.” He told me. “There are too many temptations in Sydney. I need to be my own boss. No one should control me.” Easy for him to say that when he could not even control himself. He liked women who flattered him; especially when they told him he looked like Wesley Snipes an American movie star. I began to despise women who loved Wesley Snipes and thought of some very cutting things I could say to Mr. Snipes and his rather smutty admirers. Trouble is, some of these women liked drink and other substances above looking after their children. I did not feel sorry for them, but felt sorry for the children and the fathers of those children. Especially if they had to chase a movie star lookalike to get their thrills.

    “You are not at all empathetic.” He told me, when he had to run out at 4 am to help a woman who was sobbing on the phone to him because DHS had come to take her children away. She was a heroin addict trying to get her life straight. “She needs help. She has no one.” He said.
    “She needs a kick in the head.” I said. “And luckily for the children, DHS is taking them. Drugs and children are not a good mix.”
    “You’re so heartless. How would you feel if you had no one?” he roared at me. Then he told me to get out of the house. It was New Year’s Day. I went to visit my cousin and an aunt from my paternal grandmother’s side of the family. I was six weeks pregnant. I did not tell them my husband had said he was divorcing me because I was nasty and did not want phone calls at 3.45 am from women screaming that DHS had taken their children and they were being arrested for drugs by the NSW police. I wanted peace in my life. I always have wanted peace.
    Anyway, we made up and moved on. I took an offer to teach in the country. I was sad to leave the school where I was teaching and so were my fellow teachers. They tried get me a position there, but it was a city school and I had only been with the department for a couple of years.

    He was going to come down after finishing some painting job in Parramatta. He was going to change his ways. No more gambling away his money. No more late nights at the Auburn RSL or Auburn Hotel. No more flirtations and he was happy to be a father. Like a fool I believed he would change and all we needed to anchor our lives and make a family were children.
    I took the job. We moved some of our furniture to the rural town were I was to stay three years. I had a teacher housing house. I was going to take maternity leave for six months and then go back to teach after finding a good babysitter for our child. He would set up a business painting and decorating and would renovate old houses that we would buy and then sell. My income was assured, and it would be good. Life at last.

    However old dogs do not learn new tricks easily and he fell into old patterns of behaviour and developed newer ones that were even more worrying. No poker machines in Israel, but he discovered them in Australia. They had him in their grip and they would not let him go. He even took up with a woman older than I. She had a successful divorce from some fellow and money to burn at poker machines and I believe helped him believe in luck. I was blamed for his bad luck as I made negative comments about poker machines and stopped him from winning.

    It was exhausting. I was pregnant at forty eight years old, pretty fit, teaching full time and my patience was being stretched to the limit.

    Five days after the first anniversary of my father’s death, he told me our marriage was finished.
    “I am with a younger woman. She will have more children than you can. We will be happy.” He told me. “You understand.”
    Strangely calm, I asked him, “and what about our child? The one I am carrying?”
    “Oh, that,” he answered, “At your age, you will miscarry. You cannot carry to term.” I heard whispering in the background and realized he was not alone. Then he said, “I won’t come down to Narrandera for the school holidays,” he paused “But you can come to stay in Sydney with me and my girlfriend. We invite you to stay.”
    “How kind. Thank you. Of course, I will consider it.” I said and hung up. Then the chest pain started and I began to pray begging God not to hurt my child.
    I did not miscarry but gave birth to our son, my son four months later at the end of winter.
    It was an unusual year and a particularly unusual summer.

    • Hi, Madam Ilana,
      I had barely enough time to glance through your story. Correct me if I am mistaken but the autobiographical elements of the story make it a good read
      You have written the narrative in the first person. Throughout, I had the feeling that I’s going through a memoir rather than a story. If it is a story, then the clmax happens towards the end when the Wesley Snipes look alike husband ditched the narrator for a much younger woman,
      There is some kind of pathos prevailing over most parts of the story except, may be, the last two sentences when a healthy son was born to the narrator.
      I am sorry for not being able to make out the connection between the three summers in two years.
      I have always enjoyed reading your stories, Madam. There is a freshness in most of your stories that freshen up the air.
      Stay happy and healthy, Madam Ilana. God bless and all the very best wishes.
      • Ilana Leeds
        Thank you for your comments Rath. Always thoughtful. I could have rewritten the story where I go to Sydney to stay with my ex-husband and his “girlfriend” and kill them in the night, but you go to jail for that type of behaviour and did not want to jeopardise my child’s future further as he needed at least one responsible parent to care for him.
        My exhusband did come to stay and I resisted the urge to make him into a stew and feed it to my two dogs. I even paid for the divorce which I thought was very benevolent of me. He was not paying child support or attempting to divorce me. Besides he had no grounds except for the fact I have a sharp tongue and make lots of cutting remarks.
        The madam who he had taken up with was replaced by another and another and another. Such is life. I have had a son to raise and he has had meaningless flings with floozies who have offered him nothing but a body stripped of its soul for the night or several.
    • Vicki Chvatal
      Hi Ilana,
      Glad you could get your story in this time.
      I’m not sure how to comment on such a personal story; all I can say is that calling that summer “unusual” is an *enormous* understatement.
      • Ilana Leeds
        Yep LOL at least I can laugh about it 17 years later. 🙂
    • Ilana (lana bobanna, banana fanna fo fanna, me mi mo manna, Ilana.

      This is a bitter sweet tale. Sometimes the fruit of the union is sweeter than either tree. But the fruit isn’t mentioned much, mostly the heartache and pain.

      There are some really good sections here, one of them is where you compare downtown Sydney to a kind of giant biome, I think.

      I would’ve reworded the prompt sentence and deleted the two immediately after it. The second paragraph is great. Sets the scene and the tone of the story. Pulls you right in. Whereas the first paragraph is just odd.

      Where you do yourself a disservice Ilana, is in those times when you toss out dates, times and numbers. It was the start to my third summer in two years. (I don’t know what that means, but more importantly, I don’t care what it means.) You’re better off without a sentence like that. You do it again in the second paragraph: “…my second year back, after seven years in Israel. We had arrived back in 2000 and had two summers in a row that year.”
      Huh? It adds nothing.
      Things like that detract from what is an excellent, if heartbreaking story.

    • Hello Ilana,

      Some of the best stories written are the personal life stories a person lives through.
      This seems so real and heartfelt, it could be true.

      But I didn’t quite catch your first line…maybe you got to rewrite that?

      Aging parents, a dying dad, a scoundrel husband. There’s high drama.. I visualize a movie now.
      And the bloke has the nerve to invite the mother of his child to his hideaway.

      The living child is the grace of God! So I say it’s a story that ends in hope.. I like that very much.
      Don’t kill… only forgive. It makes life much richer.

      And this woman loved the father of her kid very much. How sad is that!

      It’s a tortuous tale told on a sad summer’s day.

      But hope springs eternal,

    • You write from the heart, Crazy Goat Lady and I love you for it. Boy, did you pack a lot into this:

      Sydney is a nicer heat, but the city stinks and all those high buildings, people charging down streets near the harbour, Circular Quay, noisy double decker trains and buses pregnant with people smelling of sweat, stale cologne, greasy takaway foods, slimy hair shampoos and soaps that disgorge at stations to allow new pungent smells to pour in on the backs of another crowd that will press you against the metal seats of tired graffitied interiors.

      I have a different visceral memory of the Circular Quay and Sydney itself when I was there, but as a tourist, and we were in a hotel right above the Quay, over looking the bridge and Opera house. Now, I wish we had to ride the trains and buses because I never got the seamier side of Sydney and that’s a shame. Anyway, your story is excellently written and reveals a lot about where you are in life now, as I’m fairly certain this is an autobiography, with artistic license.

      You’ve ridden a hard life as far as you can ride it girl, and I hope it slows down for you and allows you to smell the roses. I hope writing helps relieve some of the pain that you carry. Use it as a cathartic to release those little memory gremlins that are whisking around that imaginative brain of yours.


  • Well, Victoria. Probably the craziest story I have ever read in recent times, but very enjoyable. Didn’t understand the goat instead of the sheep setting the wash on fire, but that’s me. Nice narration and the story flows easily. Good job.

    You haven’t been here long enough, but Ilana Leeds is this writing group’s personal Crazy Goat Lady and we love her; at least I do. An excellent writer, but truth be known that’s all I could think about as I read your story. Not that Ilana is crazy, but she’s the only one in the group I know of that raises goats. She talks about them all the time, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they ate fire. Not at all.

    Anyway, Good story.


    • Vicki Chvatal
      Wow, thanks Roy! I’m so proud to take the “craziest story” in a group always brimming with crazy ideas. 🙂

      RE goats and sheep: goats breathe fire; sheep eat fire. So you’re thinking of raising the goats, better get some sheep too – for damage control. 🙂

      Funnily enough, I know Ilana IRL; in fact, she introduced me to this group. I would never call her “Crazy Goat Lady”, but it occurred to me that she might enjoy a story with goats. Personally, I think Ilana is too sensible to think raising fire-breathing goats is a good idea, especially in a flammable country like Australia. But only she can tell which of us is right. 🙂

      • Ilana and I go back to 2013, when this stuff all started, and she and I have a mutual love respect for each other’s stories. She is an excellent writer, and has some of the most descriptive phrases ever to grace these pages. She fined off a couple in her story this week, which I shall comment on when I reply to her. I don’t think she’ll be too upset with me calling her our own personal Crazy Goat Lady … she knows I love her.

        You are a welcome addition to this site, so we have Ilana to thank, huh. Great … and keep writing.


  • Dear Carry,
    I’m writing to inform you about the problem I’d regarding the stories in this round.
    Normally, I love going through all the stories, making some small notes afterwards, and commenting on most of them as per my understanding. Only yesterday did I come to know, while going through the email from you kept aside in the “Starred” folder regarding the theme for this round, that there were more than six stories. The last one was written by none other than yourself! Clicking on the link, I could read yours but missed at least a couple of stories in the process.
    I received a separate email each time some new comments were made but how did I miss those stories?
    Believe you me when I say that I wouldn’t have overlooked those stories deliberately.
    I know how overworked you and Alice are. I am thankful to you two for the “edit” option now made available to us. But won’t it be nice if we can get straight to the page of the stories as and when a new story is added to the list? I know it is easier said than done but do please give my request a serious thought.
    Take care, Carrie. Sorry, I’d to refrain from commenting on your story. Stay safe. Stay blessed.
    • Hi Rath,
      I understand completely. It is hard to differentiate stories from long form responses and critiques. I actually really like that people have been adding a title in CAPS, it helps me see the stories as well.

      Unfortunately the only thing that can be done is bookmarking the top comment with the stories listed.

      For example, the permalink for this thread is here:

      I can not initiate an email send when a new story is added, once I “comment” I can update going forward but the system doesn’t allow a new email to be sent.

      I’m not sure if there is a solution but I will think on it.

    • I just sent out an email blast to all of our newsletter subscribers, if you have subscribed to the newsletter you’ll get it with the list of emails too.
      The best I can think of off the top of my head!
  • 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!

  • What about a prompt where everyone has to submit their final, AND ther first drafts. (Insert evil laugh here.)
    • Alyssa Daxson
      (Insert eviler laugh here)
  • Dear Vicki,

    That was a total bleat! I know there are tees made for such crazy goat ladies who love their goats.
    I enjoyed your story very much following the fiery trail of your imagination!

    The sheep ate fire without a second thought. The Sheep Extinguishers.
    Dangle from the other fire story doesn’t stand a chance with these sheep around.

    And that sinister Daisy? Sheep ate fire, but the goat spews it out.
    When did the fire exchange take place ‘tween them?
    Besides wet clothes don’t catch fire easily, or do they?

    Goat thought to ponder:
    There are trouble makers everywhere, even as some put out the fire, somewhere else it burns.


    • Vicki Chvatal
      Dear Marien,

      Thank you for your comments, and for making me laugh with your clever puns.

      Dangle has one advantage over the sheep: they can’t climb to high places. 🙂 But it’s funny how fire has been one of the recurring motifs in this round’s stories.

      In response to your comments: the goats and the sheep didn’t exchange fire. Basically, there’s a (rare) breed of goats that breathes fire, and a (rare) breed of sheep that eats fire; and anyone who wants to raise the goats is strongly advised to keep some of the sheep around as well.

      The clothes on the line were dry or almost dry – enough to catch on fire, I just didn’t write it out explicitly.

  • > Ken Cartisano
    > Robt Emmett

    We are just waiting on your votes.

  • Carrie,
    Just a few minutes more. Sorry for the delay.
    • Carrie Zylka

      No problem!

  • Without further ado the winner of the First Line Prompt “An Unusual Summer” is….

    1st Place – Rubber by Lowell Hartman

    Congrats……. (I’ll let the 3 Ken’s explain…)

    2nd Place – Voices Pave The Way by Alyssa Daxson
    3rd Place – No News is Bad News by Ken Miles
    4th Place – When Darkness Falls by Roy York
    5th Place – Dinner Date with Death by Peter Holmes
    6th Place – Flight Simulacrum by Ken Cartisano
    7th Place – Fighting Fire by Victoria Chvatal
    8th Place – What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted? by Phil Town
    9th Place – Summer of 2019 by Robt. Emmett
    10th Place – The Diocesan Summer Of 2020 by Marien Oommen
    11th Place – Never Judge A Book By Its Cover by Carrie Zylka
    12th Place – he Summer of 2020 by RNB
    1th Place – Untitled by Ilana Leeds

    Story with the favorite character: Neil from “The Summer of 2020” by RNB
    Story with the favorite dialogue: “Summer of 2019” by Robt. Emmett

    Congrats to all!!

    • Ken Miles
      Alyssa! You made it, you’re number one, you know? You won this contest! Let me explain, this rubbery Lowell Hartman is a conman. Sort of.

      Guys, let’s put our hands together for Alyssa. She’s come a long way, started off with a clear display of talent last year, improved at every turn, got second place the other time and she’s tops now! At the nice young age of 17 she’s beaten all of us ripened writers (well, some of us at least are) at our own game. And deservedly so. It’s now her game. I’m a fan, Aly.

      I came second, by the way, not third (thank you all!). And congrats to Roy for the remaining spot on the podium. All the rest, you’re all one notch higher in the rankings. Lowell Hartman will have to pull out. Will. Have. To.

      Well done also to Rathin and Robt Emmett for the Best Character and Best Dialogue Oscars. Wow!

      As for Lowell Hartman, I certainly didn’t vote for him. The story is okay, but Ken C. will tell you more why we don’t like him. Or Ken F. will. Just where the hell is Frape btw?

      • Alyssa Daxson
        Hey Ken! So you all three Ken’s teamed up! Sneaky sneaky!
        I quite liked the story Rubber, and I’m not surprised that it got first place

        Thanks for the compliments! I’ve been a year since I joined, and my writing skills have improved drastically thanks to everyone here! Everyone’s comments and critiques have helped immensely.
        See you in the next story, maybe I can pull in another win….. 😈

        • I’ve been just over a year in here (only joined a little bit before you, I celebrated my first anniversary in style a little while ago with the embedded names top-hat story, remember?) and I can also attest that in a year I’ve totally improved my craft. I was always passionate about writing. But passionate is one thing. Good at it another. And I’m far from ‘there’, but I feel I made progress in leaps and bounds thanks to being here, as you also said.

          Ken Cartisano and Roy have been sort of gurus to me, and I thank them for the time they took on me. And I also got a lot of more succinc, perhaps, but valuable advice from others too, in particular Ken Frape, Andy, Phil, Ilana and Sarig. All are great at what they do and us rookies can only learn from hanging around with them. And then I learned a lot by simply reading others’ stories and trying to emulate some of the good stuff I saw. And learning from my own and others’ mistakes too.

          So we have quite a similar story to tell about our experiences in here. You only soared faster, I must say!


    • Roy York
      From what I’m reading, and I can read between the lines as well as anyone, it appears to this literary sleuth, Sherlock Bones himself, that the three Ken’s are indeed, Lowell Hartman. Is this true, then well done. Good writing is good writing.

      Ha ha ha. We’ve been nicely snookered I think. My hat is off to the three of you.


      • Roy, You are correct, oh sleuthful one.

        Lowell Hartman is an amalgamation of the three Kens. We decided to collaborate on a story this week. It was Ken’s idea. He ran the idea past Ken, who seconded the motion, and when they asked me, Ken. I said, “Wait, who wants to know?”

        And so, it is with a heavy heart, and a forked tongue, that we three Kens confess our duplicitous charade, and surrender the title to the true winner, and current title holder-in-chief, Alyssa Daxson. We wrote the story in three parts, ‘fused’ them together with superglue, duct tape and ball lightning, compressed the entire body of words with bacon fat, cheese cloth and cow poop, distilled out the final solution with steam, electrolysis and an old French Coffee press that Ken had laying around, And Voila! A story worth it’s weight in block chain technology. In other words, Zero.

        We agreed, in advance, to a disdainful and stern-faced Carrie, that this was an experiment, and no votes would count, but we left it in the contest to see how it would stack up against the other stories.

        I don’t want to take any more limelight away from Alyssa, (sit down Alyssa, I’m not done yet) but, I just want to add that, the trouble with collaborating is, when three colossal egos try to fit their enormous intellects into one teeny-tiny story, well, let’s just say that, now that it’s all over, even though we’ve never even met, none of us Ken’s, ever wants to see any of the other kens, ever again.

        It was that traumatic. Don’t try this at home, kids.

        Congratulations Alyssa. Again. This is your second win, isn’t it? All others move up one space as well.Ken, Roy and Peter. Nice job by all, as I had a very tough time voting this time around.

        • Alyssa Daxson
          Thanks for the compliments Ken C, very touching I’d have to say. You’ve warmed this old(not all actually) fools heart.
          You said you Ken’s have never met? Well what are you waiting for! Jump on a plane and go! Well except for the virus and the borders being closed… that might be a slight bump😉
          How bout you guys schedule it after the whole craziness ends? Deal? Good, I’ll hold you too it(or at least try to. Idk how well that will work)

          I think your rubber story was quite marvelous, and while I didn’t vote it in first(Peter’s story with Death was my favorite) it was close second I think, my memory is failing already.
          I shall being seeing you all in the next prompt, hopefully I can’t add another win to my racket

          • Ken Miles
            We did it at a safe distance from one another, Alyssa. You really want us three to meet in person? Would you offer to referee? (in the soccer sense of the word, with yellow and red cards at hand [you’d be needing them with a trio like us!]. You play soccer, right?). Actually, we did bring up that possibility – of perhaps meeting up one day – Ken C. offered to lure us with cigars and brandy – perhaps in person we’d be more accomodating to one another. Everything post-Covid, of course.

            Btw. thanks for your second place vote for our ‘Rubber’, Alyssa, and we’re pleased you liked it. I actually had your ‘Voices Pave The Way’ in first, my clear fave. I’m sorry I didn’t have time to comment this time (with so much going on!) Though, I might, still – why should a prompt die after its deadline?.

            As Ken C. said above, the a priori agreement with Carrie about ‘Rubber’ was that it won’t count in the vote and that it will be pulled out of the contest. Also because Ken C. and I already had our own personal stories in the vote, and it’s against the rules to have more than one story running for the same contest.. ‘Rubber’ was only included in the list for the sake of the ‘experiment’, out of fear that, in the frenzied run up to the vote, nobody would read it unless it seemed like it was taking part. I had out-of-contest second stories posted sometimes, and they seemed to have gone ignored. We also wanted to be incognito, to avoid any preconceptions which would have placed ‘Rubber’ on a disleveled playing field vis-a-vis the other stories. That’s all. But it’s not part of the contest, never was. I wish Carrie had the time to re-write the winners list without ‘Rubber’ factored in it, for the selfie with the screenshot with your name in first place. But that’s up to Carrie. We may have already giving her enought trouble with this prompt!

            So, well done again! Keep them wicked stories coming! And I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of you at the top.


    • Ken Frape
      Hi All,

      It may have become obvious by now that there was something afoot with the story “Rubber” by Lowell Hartman.

      The truth is there was so much interaction between the three Ken’s that I suggested that we should write a joint effort under an assumed name.

      Believe you me, it was quite a challenge not least because of the geographical distances involved as well as the fact that we are three very different people.

      We wrote 400 words each and whilst we were reasonably satisfied with the end product I think I can safely say that we did not expect it to win. I wonder if anyone noticed it was us ( but then, how would you?) and can you tell who wrote each part?

      We ran this past our administrators Carrie and Alice and I did not enter a story at all under my own name. They agreed that we could enter our joint effort.

      On the basis that Mr Hartman does not exist Alyssa Is the real winner this time round and we hope that we have not reduced the impact of this for her really excellent story. She really deserves a long overdue accolade for her writing.
      Kind regards,
      Ken Frape

    • Without further ado the winner of the First Line Prompt “An Unusual Summer” is….
      1st Place – Voices Pave The Way by Alyssa Daxson


      2rd Place – No News is Bad News by Ken Miles
      3rd Place – When Darkness Falls by Roy York
      4th Place – Dinner Date with Death by Peter Holmes
      5th Place – Flight Simulacrum by Ken Cartisano
      6th Place – Fighting Fire by Victoria Chvatal
      7th Place – What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted? by Phil Town
      8th Place – Summer of 2019 by Robt. Emmett
      9th Place – The Diocesan Summer Of 2020 by Marien Oommen
      10th Place – Never Judge A Book By Its Cover by Carrie Zylka
      11th Place – he Summer of 2020 by RNB
      12h Place – Untitled by Ilana Leeds
      Story with the favorite character: Neil from “The Summer of 2020” by RNB
      Story with the favorite dialogue: “Summer of 2019” by Robt. Emmett
      Congrats to all!!

  • Phil Town
    Congratulations, Lowell … and welcome!
    And congratulations all!
    On to conjured memories …


    Bravo, KKK!
    (oh, hang on …)

    • Thanks Phil… on behalf of the other K&K too… KKK, no not good…! It took us a while thinking up our combined pseudnoym. We didn’t want one that would’ve given us away. So, in the end Lowell Hartman was born out of a mere internet random name search engine. In case anyone was wondering where he came from…

      Now forget Lowell. Congratulate Alyssa.

  • K3 (formerly Lowell Hartman)
    So, now that the cat is clearly out of the bag… we have some questions… the story ‘Rubber’ was written by three different persons, of different linguistic backgrounds and different writing styles and temperaments. We did our best to iron all that out with the final product, but we’re quite convinced that some of the incongruences still show through… But maybe we’re mistaken.

    Did anyone notice anything (fishy? octopussy? shrimpy?) at all?

    The story was also written in three more or less equal parts by each one of us, pretty much independently of one another. Following the revelation, can anyone tell whose hand is where?

    And where the seams are or had been?

    All this is being conducted in the name of literary science research. Is there even such a field of studies?

    Thank you,
    Ken, Ken and Ken
    (formerly known as Lowell Hartman, Low H., High 5)

  • Peter Holmes
    I’m a bit late to the party, due to the fact I don’t have access to the computer until my dad’s stopped using it for work. But I’d just like to say to Ken, Ken, and Ken – you cheeky buggers. I’m not sure if you expected to get first, but from the way you talk about it, I don’t think you expected for it to be so successful. Although from the minds of you three, I’m not surprised it was.

    Congrats to everyone (and an extra congrats for all moving up a space…). Sorry I didn’t give feedback on anyone’s stories, but I read a lot of them, and enjoyed them.

    Oh and Alyssa if you’re reading this – I’m glad you liked my story so much. And while we’re all admitting things – yours was my favourite too.

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