Writing Prompt “Emotions in a Bottle”
Theme: Bottled Emotions
You live in a world where you can buy bottled emotions.
Word Count: 1,200
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The writing prompt for March 31, 2021, will be chosen by Ken Cartisano.
207 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Emotions in a Bottle””
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Let Chance Decide
By Christine Pfister
John Miller Esq. sat in his office reading Mr. “Chance” Walker’s final will and testament. He was surprised, and amused at his client’s last words. Mr. Walker earned the nickname “Chance,” when he purchased land near the Atlantic Ocean, that was once used as a dumpsite for the entire seaside community. He achieved multimillionaire status building St. James By The Sea, one of the most prestigious housing developments in the state of North Carolina.
John rented a boat, and headed out to sea. He would fulfill his duty to “Chance,” when he tossed the bottle overboard. Now it would be up to the Ocean to decide.
Cathy held back tears as she walked the beach. She had just buried her father, sold the beach house, and was devastated at the thought of having to give up their little cottage by the sea. Her father’s medical bills were overwhelming, and the sale of the cottage just barely covered the cost.
The bottle caught her eye as it bobbed up and down in the surf. Cathy picked it up and noticed the note and the key inside. After a few minutes, she was able to pry open the top.
Ten years had passed, when John received the message from someone in regards to a bottle, and a name he quickly remembered. He smiled as they spoke, “Yes, Miss Cathy Jones, please come into the office and bring the bottle.”
John hung up, and reveled in the pure irony of a dumpsite land speculator putting his total worth into a used, discarded, bottle, afloat at sea. The chance of someone like Cathy finding the bottle, and soon becoming a very rich woman was extremely entertaining.
Short and sweet. Interesting use of the prompt, and you sum it up pretty well. I would have liked to have seen a little more character development, but I’m OK with your story as is. In the first line, Walkers needs an apostrophe to show the possessive of his final will and testament. And, I don’t think ‘Now it would be up to the Ocean to decide’ needs a capital letter on ocean. And, welcome back. let’s see a little bit more of what you can do with a longer story.
But seriously I liked it and it reminded me of that famous story with the lost wedding ring that turns up inside a cooked fish that the couple order at their anniversary dinner.
Hahaha me too!
THE GET TOGETHER
By Prapti Gupta
“Mom are you ready?” I asked.
“Yes dear, let’s go” she replied.
Today my mom and I are very excited. Today we are going to meet with our father after a long time. I can’t really explain how happy and excited I am. After a lot of struggle and patience we are getting to meet him. But the sad part is the meeting period is very short, just 10 minutes.
On our way I was thinking what questions I will be asking him. There are so many but I can’t ask all of them. We reached the place after some time. Mr. Morgan was waiting for us. He was the medium through which we are going to talk with him.
He was seeing us in a very strange manner as if he hasn’t seen people like us before. Yes, I admit we are different because we are new to this place but yet we look like human beings.
“Good morning Mrs. Evans, I was just waiting for you and your son.” he said to us.
“Is everything ready? We can’t wait to meet him; hope you can understand” my mom said to him.
“Yes. The whole process is to be of 20 minutes and you can talk to him for about 10 minutes, not more than that otherwise it can be risky for me” he said.
Though we were disappointed upon hearing the time limit but still we nodded.
Then he took us inside a room. It was a dark room, in fact very dark.
Okay, let me clear the fact. We are going to do planchette. This is the only method and medium of our contact with him.
My mom and I haven’t talked with him since the day we two died in a road accident a year ago but my father survived!!!!
It’s really a special day for both of us.
Okay, let me be clear on the facts. We are going to use a planchette. This is our only method and medium of our contact with him.
You should fix this as soon as you can. I think it’s quite brilliant. Don’t change the word ‘planchette’. Just fix the grammar and it’s done. It’s an excellent story. In my opinion.
What you describe is referred to as a ‘seance.’ A planchette is the smaller board used in seances and with ouija boards as an indicator. I used one once, on a ouija board with my mother. The planchette took off so fast, I instinctively pulled my hands away. I didn’t show much interest in doing it again after that.
Nice original reverse twist on the plot, however, I’ve read this twice and see no reference to a ‘bottle’ of emotions, unless one stretches this and says, the two ‘deceased’ have bottle up emotions. I struggled a little bit with the repetition of: It was a dark room, in fact very dark. I don’t think it was necessary to repeat ‘how’ dark it was. Other modifiers may have been better, such as: Then he took us inside a room, dark and mysterious, only adding to our feelings.Or something along those lines. I’m beginning to catch on to the syntax you use, but I still have to stop and think about the word structure. Still, it didn’t detract from the story or the plot. Nice twist.
Please, call me Roy. I know you are 17, and I’m old enough to be your grandfather, but we are fellow writers. I appreciate the respect you’ve shown, but it isn’t really necessary.
We’re just one big happy family. Well, most of the time.
Looking forward to more of your stories and how you tackle the prompts.
A very nice short story with a very cunning twist.
Bearing in mind the 1200 word limit you could have drawn this out one a bit longer but that decision is for you to make.
I had to look up “planchette” and discovered it is a board on castors or wheels with a vertical pencil used by mediums to assist with automatic writing at a seance. Therefore, it fits perfectly into your story although, as Ken C suggests, you could alter the wording slightly as you can’t DO planchette ( I don’t think) but you can USE a planchette.
There are a number of parts of your writing that are a little awkward but I think we are all going to look forward to each story you write and it will be up to us to offer advice, if we think it will help and to get used to your own idiosyncratic style.
I thought that the mother and son were still alive and you tricked me until the part where you reveal that Mr. Morgan was the medium.
If you use another word instead of “medium”, like “interpreter” or “translator” or something, then people won’t figure it out as quickly and you could make this a much longer story.
Then you say that you look like human beings, which also gives away the surprise, but you could just say that he looks at you strangely and that wouldn’t reveal the secret yet.
The part about the dark room is a nice touch, because people that are reading will be confused by it, but in a good way.
It’s also a pretty cool way to show what it looks like to the spirits when they communicate with the living.
Planchette is a word that I might have read one time in my whole life, but that is because someone invented the ouija board about a hundred years ago and it became really popular in America (so we are less familiar with automatic writing and other methods of necromancy).
It is very masterful of you to have such a twist with such a brief story. Loved it.
Pity, I also had to stop halfway to look up the word “planchette”
Ok now that is damn funny!
I print them out on occasion and read them when I go to bed. It’s easy to put down when you finish one, unlike a novel, because they are short and there are no electronics in our bedroom. As my wife says, bedrooms are for reading and sleeping. There used to be a third, but I can’t remember what it was.
He couldn’t help but smirk.
Six years ago, to the day.
Eddie was always mumbling some George Thorogood lyrics to himself. That it was frequently, “I drink alone” only made the fact that now, Mel was sitting here, pouring out his fourth, or was it the fifth, glass of Johnny Walker Black that much more ironic.
Mel hated Thorogood.
They never saw it coming. When Danny went behind their back, took control, and had them tossed from the company they had all started together in Eddie’s garage, they were shocked. It really had come out of nowhere. Then again, Danny was always the ambitious one. Always the one that wanted to expand, even when it jeopardized everything.
They were drinking from the same bottle six years ago. One glass each, no more.
Then that bottle went on the sagging shelf in Eddie’s garage. Above the drafting table where they completed their first prototype.
They weren’t touching that bottle again until UniMED was in shambles, Danny was out in the cold, and Metrix was the only one left standing.
The same table. The same lights. The same stupid motivational poster Eddie hung on the wall six years ago. The edges were tattered. The corners were in shambles after half a decade of replacing thumbtacks. It was still easy to read thought, even after it faded.
“Determination – because you’re too stupid to call it quits.”
Eddie’s sardonic humor always loved those anti-motivational posters. Even before the tumors.
Mel poured glass number five. Or was it six?
That was just Eddie’s way. He wasn’t naïve, he just ignored the stuff other people took as red flags. Financing issues? There’s always another bank. Sourcing delays? He always had three other options.
“Just because people aren’t asking me the right questions, doesn’t mean I don’t have the answers,” he’d say. It was a quality you loved for a business partner.
Mel took down that last glass in one swallow. He wanted to feel the burn. He’d watched Eddie struggle to take a breath for almost two years. It was his turn to take some of that pain. The glass hit the table with a hollow ringing of glass on cheap laminate. It had the last four fingers of whiskey in it before Mel exhaled.
Three prescription bottles still sat on the table where Eddie finished the last prototype. Without thinking he threw a clenched fist at them. The plastic shards drew blood, as he withdrew his hand from the fresh hole in the garage drywall. He’d have to fix that before Ellen could sell the house.
Six years, to the day.
Eddie missed it by four days.
That the funeral was held on the same day of the formal announcement of the UniMED liquidation was a special kind of delicious, and they suspected it was coming, the speed with which it happened made the collapse that much more enjoyable.
Eddie would have liked that.
The business page announcement brought Thorogood to mind again. Danny, standing there in the photo, in front of the building, announcing “that a series of unfortunate developments brought us here.”
“yeeeaahhh, with nobody else…”
That was always how Danny liked to do it. On an island. Alone. His way.
More than 300 people worked for UniMED now. But there stood Danny, by himself.
Bested by the likes of two guys who might have had a little less ambition, but who always had a plan.
Six years ago, Eddie said, “not one more drop from this bottle until we put him on his ass. Then we’ll finish it.”
Damnit, that’s what Mel was going to do.
He stared at that fresh hole in the drywall, clenching and unclenching his fist. They did it, but it felt like such an empty victory to see that bottle run empty alone.
He held his breath as long as he could after he swallowed that last bit of whiskey. He tipped his head back and drew in a long, slow, breath and just held it. His eye clenched shut, holding back his desire to weep in Eddie’s cluttered garage.
He was still in that chair, head tipped back, when he woke up six hours later. It’s a good thing Eddie liked working in what amounted to a dimply lit cave that Osama Bin Laden wouldn’t see fit to work from. If there had been any lights to speak of, his headache would surely be even more intolerable.
As he adjusted himself, and leaned forward, almost unsure of where he was, the first thing he saw was the empty bottle of Johnny Walker Black.
Only then did he let himself cry for Eddie.
And this: who the hell is Ellen? Is she Eddie’s mom or wife, or even sister, and why will she have to sell the house? One other thing, up your scotch. Maybe Glenfiddich or even Glenmorangie, but JW Black? Come on man, live a little. Especially if you’re drinking it neat four fingers at a time.
Like I said, I like the story and you tell it well. Hope to see some more of your work. Nice work with the prompt.
There’s a lot of good stuff in this story that tells us about the break-up of a friendship and a business borne out of that friendship. Mel and Eddie are left with nothing whilst Danny took over and kicked them out. The whisky is central to this story and you tell in small pieces about Eddie’s two year battle with his illness ( and it helps to meet the prompt of “bottles.”)
I think Roy has already picked out a couple of areas for closer scrutiny as these don’t move the story forward but they are a little confusing.
By the way, is that poster on the wall motivational or anti-motivational. As I read it, you say both.
So, to conclude, there is far more positive stuff in this story than negative and I am looking forward to reading more of your work.
“He couldn’t help but smirk.
Six years ago, to the day.
His partner Eddie was always mumbling …”
Good plot and lovely ending.
I started by searching the local stores. Asking about what they sold and if they knew of my bookstore that had sent me here. One person knew. Informed me of a rather dubious position I was in. The person stated, matter-of-factly, that the bookstore comes and goes at a certain spot in the town. I asked if he knew the time of this spot changing. Think I was going nuts. I figured I best make sure I knew when I would return to reality. The man just waved me away as he walked away.
This left me rather confused. So I went into the next shop to see if the owner there knew of the bookstore. She did not however she was keen on knowing what had brought me here. I said, “I need a personality.” With that out of the way, she laughed and handed me a bottle of. Well, it sort of reminded me of wild flowers. Looking at it, I admired the bottle for a while. I asked, “What do I do with it?” She laughed again. It was like a rainbow or some sort of merry music. She just pointed to the directions which appeared on the bottle.
Now. Even though I have had many adventures from my bookstore in Bozeman, Montana. This laughter seemed wild. Even. Dare I say it. Fairy like. I asked where I was. The lady just laughed again and disappeared into the back. Leaving me with a bottle and instruction which when I tried to read were not in English.
Trying to be serious for a moment I went back peeked my head through the doorway. From my point of view, it looked like a lab of some sort. The lady seeing me ran over to me, pushing me back. I asked the price. She pointed at something that I had picked up a long time ago. Not sure if I was purchasing drugs or something even weirder. I gave her the book. She smiled and her words “Thank you.” And somehow I was out the door.
I then tried to find my way back to the bookstore via the exact steps I took getting there. Only issue I kept on returning to where I had entered this reality of sorts to begin with. The mystery was even greater when I tried to find places to eat. Meaning? Have you ever tried guinea pig stew? Not bad. Just not what I was expecting. The people loved to laugh here but seldom talked with me. So I got to reading the bottle just to see if I could make heads or tails out of the scribblings I had seen. And poof. Somehow the words were not in some gibberish but English or and here is the other possibility my eyes adjusted. Because now instead of just hearing laughter. I heard voices. All of them are very similarly sweet and lovely. Which was wild. Why? If you knew me. My voice sounds like Garfield the cat. To hear laughter of. I am guessing or speculating at this point of fairies was something that day.
Now I read it. The instructions were simple. Drink me. Figuring I knew a bit about Alice and WonderlandI wondered if I would end up small or big or what? I decided to investigate a bit more. I asked around the people of the bottle shop.Which somehow had disappeared too. I asked aboutBozeman and got the reply that only Star Trek conventions were held during the summer and those people were invited in however had to leave before the doorway was shut by midsummer night. This got me a bit excited. Why? Because I was in winter when I left originally and was gone for a few months. Well, I doubt if anyone would notice me missing was my thought. Sad to say. Being shy has left me. Not without associates. However friendless I dear say.
Now at that point in my life I was a bit distrubed. I entered. Well. It looked like a cafe. Cafe Shi to be exact. Inside I met the most lovest of ladies. Ever. Only later to find out she was partial to me because of a family history and her being a shape shifting dragon. Nevertheless, I had the best time drinking the whole bottle. That night sharing drink per drink with her on that cold winter night. And then? The next day or well. Time did fly. I walked out the door and there was the bookstore. I went in and asked how to get home. The owner with a hoot. Just pointed the way. I exited the door into my own world after just some eight hour delay.
I always wonder, was it a great book that took me away or the bottle I keep hidden away? Somedays I tell the stories I knew and people laugh and say. I do not recall the story that way.
I often go back to Cafe Shi these days. Not as that shy college kid who would prefer to read a book to hearing people talk. I talk with the lady for days and days. She of course laughs at my Garfield sounding voice. And at times we take a stroll to the bookstore. Where I spend all the time I can to learn more of the mysterious ways.
As for what was in the bottle? I found another source of that too. It was on a mountain top of Bolivia a long time ago. A man now died a while ago. Gave me another of those bottles. And that story I lived 14 days in a 2 day party. We danced until 2 AM each morning and got up at 4 AM and continued to drink and dance and party on the way. But that is another story and not about the first bottle I recall giving me a bit of personality in a way.
Gotta be honest here. I got lost at the bakery. What? There wasn’t a bakery? I don’t know I was so confused.
How does Garfield the Cat sound? On TV in the cartoons he has a nice, pleasant voice. In the comics I get to make up how Garfield sounds. But, you tell me you sound like Garfield the Cat as the narrator. I really didn’t get that. You might want to be descriptive instead, or pick a voice of which there is no doubt. Or, a real animal that one would be familiar with.
Honestly, your story wanders around, until I finally said, as I saw the end in sight, oh good. Where I learned you lived 14 days in a two day party, whatever that means.
Then again, there is your ending. But that is another story and not about the first bottle I recall giving me a bit of personality in a way. An old trick to mention another story to throw people off guard because you don’t have one for the story you are writing? And, it only gave you a personality – in a way? Come on, man, wither it gave you personality or not. Which is it?
I have to admit, I didn’t mind the stream of consciousness writing all that much if it would have been a bit neater, but that’s just me. Someone may follow this critique and tell you that they loved the meandering about and the journey on which you took them. I just found it to be a bit cliched. There are some grammar and punctuation errors that I could go on about, but I will spare you that. And, you’re probably thinking right now, thanks for that. Too many periods and not enough commas. Let’s just stop it there. Take my word for it, there are plenty.
Seriously, clean it up, give it a rewrite and let’s see what you can do.
I haven’t seen your work before as far as I can remember over the past couple of years. If you are new, welcome. A warning next: we do offer serious critiques on the basis that we also receive serious critiques intended to improve our skills as writers.
So, having said that, I think Roy has already pointed out a few things that are clearly in need of attention. The story seemed to wander about and left me behind on more than one occasion. Your readers need to be carried along and made to want to know what happens next. What Roy calls periods I call full stops and there are an awful lot of them in your writing. They make some of your sentences short, sharp and in some cases, incomplete. Example;
“I asked around the people of (in?) the bottle shop. Which somehow had disappeared too.” This is, in fact one sentence, the two parts joined by the word “which”. There are a number of other examples of this that you will find if you look for them.
Short, sharp sentences are all well and good if used intentionally and alliteratively such as for example, “short, sharp shock.”
I hope any such criticisms are received in the way in which they are intended, as suggestions to improve our writing.
Lover of dots…. long sentences and more betters – Liz
While I understand fully what you are saying, I don’t think critiquing is trying to make everyone follow any particular style of writing, where we all end up the same, but rather writing with clarity, and exciting the reader. Making them want to read more.
I am not a fan of stream of conscious writing that doesn’t go anywhere. I want my writer to take me places when I read something.
For example in the story above: As for what was in the bottle? I found another source of that too. It was on a mountain top of Bolivia a long time ago. A man now died a while ago. Gave me another of those bottles. And that story I lived 14 days in a 2 day party.
A man now died a while ago. ???? And that story I lived 14 days in a 2 day party. ???? Sorry, but neither of those sentences make sense to me, unless the first is, “A man now dead.’ The author just finished the other sentence as it being a long time ago. The second is ‘And in that story I went to a 2 day party (OK I’ll suspend belief and know you are going to a party that’s supposed to last for 2 days) and it SEEMED like 14 days, but you don’t LIVE 14 days in two days, which is what the sentence implies. Picky? I don’t think so.
While I don’t think I’m the last bit of advice on being a good writer, I critique to point out what I didn’t understand and how I THINK the author could have made their story better. I think this author has that opportunity with an already cliched story to make it better. If the author says, Hey Roy, back off, I write the way I write, I really don’t have a problem with that. It’s author’s choice. But if he or she is entering a writing contest (which this is) and wants to get to the top spot, it’s going to be tough, because I will pass over that story and vote for the ones I think are the best. It why we vote. I don’t write to win, but I write for affirmation. Phil may have written one of the best stories he has graced these pages with. I hope to beat it or come close. Affirmation. If I don’t then I know I will have to work harder to be the author I hope to be one day.
I have accepted you write … the way Liz Fisher writes. I’m OK with that. I even enjoyed you writing in your comment to Phil, about ‘yeh there are other stories too that are gooder than mine…’ because I thought it was funny, you using improper grammar to point that out. And, I like your stories. I fully understand why you are writing and reading on this site.
For example, I would never critique grammar unless the person is writing dialect and I don”t think they are dialect correct, in which case I would point that out. You can’t have someone from New Orleans sound like they come from Alabama just because you want them to have a southern accent. There are distinct differences. I think serious authors should research that and work on doing that.
I’ve rambled on enough. If it’s a matter of Clinton writing with English not being his first language, I’m OK with that, too, as long as I know that. One of the first things when this site started, and was discussed in detail, was if we should critique or not. The completely overwhelming vote was 100 percent yes. So, I critique.
Thanks for understanding where I was going. I sometimes worry how a new writer will take my critiques, then I think how I feel when someone tells me how ‘great’ or ‘wonderful’ a story I wrote was, when they really didn’t mean it, or, worse, they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. If I write something that’s crap, I want someone to tell me, but, more importantly, WHY they think it is crap. That way I can grow. And, I don’t have to agree, but, I listen.
We once had a writer on this site who insisted on using ‘red juice’ for the word ‘blood’ extensively throughout his story. I called him on it’s extensive use and he told me that not only was I wrong, but he would continue to use it and if people didn’t want to read anything he wrote, that was fine with him he would continue to use it.
We never saw or read anything he ever wrote again, and I suspect, neither did anyone else.
I believe critiques help us grow whether we agree or not. If writers want to ignore that advice, I really don’t have a problem with that. That’s their choice.
I don’t believe in participation awards. Tell me how to, or help me get better. Please don’t pat me in the head and tell me I’ve done a good job when I haven’t.
Regarding your point about critiquing leading to a blanket where everybody writes the same way, this is patently untrue and unlikely, in my opinion. There are many writers who have studied writing to a high level ( I am not one of them) and the world is full of a vast array of different writers’ voices, styles and from different backgrounds. What they have studied are the skills and techniques that underpin good writing and there are some general rules of grammar and punctuation that are generally followed.
If you have a look around at some of the writers’ forums and sites you will see that many also offer a feedback service where the writer pays to receive a critique from somebody who is deemed to be a good writer. Goodness knows how that judgement is made as even the best-sellers don’t suit everyone’s taste.
Like you I read mainly for enjoyment and, on this site, that is always my first reading. Second and third time round, I become more critical if I have questions that the writer didn’t answer but they don’t need to have done that to write a good story. Sometimes a good story finishes and leaves loose ends.
So, finally, I think we accept that this site offers and allows people to give and receive feedback. We will, of course, always write in our own style and long may that last. This FWG member certainly doesn’t think you are “out to lunch.”
Long live diversity in writing.
Before I found this site, I struggled just to write one page of a story, and then I usually deleted it without submitting or even printing it out.
But getting someone to READ one page of a story is a larger struggle.
Getting someone to critique your story is even harder.
At this point…I am so grateful for the reading and analysis part that I don’t care about the potential blows to the ego (unless you really go beneath the belt)!
Ken Frape, I use a series of short to increase the dynamic of an action scene; like a fistfight.
Rick and Morty parodied both of these works in two different episodes, but the whole “magic shop that mysteriously appears and disappears” thing is some sort of universal trope already, so no foul there.
I grew up loving Bruce Coville and reading all his collections of short stories (Book of Monsters, Book of Nightmares, etc.), so this all felt pretty natural to me.
The dragon girl reminded me of someone I met in a dream I had a few times…. but you were not trying to imply that this was “all a dream”, right?
I also loved Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, The Wizard of Oz, and the Chronicles of Narnia (all which involve children going on magical adventures in other worlds after some sort of accidental journey).
But the deepest layer of this seems to address how “fairy” worlds have a different flow of time in the stories that we have been telling about them for centuries. Children following music into the deep woods and returning the next day with gray hair down to the floor… that kind of thing. You partied for 2 weeks in their world, but you only lost 2 days in our world, right?
I would say that you have a good story in there and it just needs to go into the rock tumbler for a little while.
The moral of this story is: Never trust directions from the owner of a place called, “The Mysterious Bagel Emporium and Portal To Other Worlds Store.” Your character was just asking for trouble, And found it so easily I just assumed we were related. But he had magic powers which only came out between 2 am and 4 am, and only when those hours occurred in the morning. In Bolivia, on a mountain top. (Highly over-rated real estate.) So the conditions were just right, (or write) for another story, which, as Roy already proved, should be saved for another story.
But this is not the end of it. There was a point in the story where I wasn’t sure if the character was disturbed, or distributed, a huge difference, (corporeally) but they do occasionally overlap.
I have to say, I enjoyed the story and your imagination is excellent, but a more serious amount of editing is in order. Do not be discouraged by my jokes. If you write something and post it, as long as you make an attempt at using grammar, (and it doesn’t involve Tom Jones,) I’ll read it.
Hi. I’ll just lay these … here.
Now. Today I want to tell you something. You know those Emoti-bottles we were saving up for our old age? Well … I’ve started opening them.
I’ve figured out a way of just opening the cap the tiniest fraction. Course, it’s not the whole experience. I’d have to take the cap all the way off for that. Remember the first time we did it? We had that one from the holiday in the Gower – one of the first we got done. Man! That was such a blast! It had everything, didn’t it?
That day down at the sands. The howling gale, the exhilaration of it – fighting just to walk along. Arm in arm against the wind. And the laughs. It brought back that joy I always got hearing you laugh. I was getting that from the bottle and from you in the room. A double whammy! I’m getting it a bit just from remembering. A triple whammy!
It had the nights, too. I’ve never been so horny. You too, right? Must have been the wind at the beach that did it! And when the wave of it came out of the bottle and hit us … well, it’s what happens with those bottles, isn’t it? You feel those moments, and it brings them on again. I think that was the best … I won’t say the word, ‘cos of where we are (maybe I shouldn’t have said ‘horny’ – bugger, now I’ve said it twice … and now I’ve said ‘bugger’ – twice!) … it was the best you-know-what we ever had. The night we opened the Gower Emoti. Man.
I’ve still got the other bottle from the Gower. I’m saving that one. But as I said, I’ve found a way to just get a taster from each of them. All 200. Actually, 203. I counted them last night. I was thinking about how I could arrange them. Chronologically? Geographically? By type of event? By what I felt at the time? By intensity? A work in progress.
Anyway, I’ve begun cataloguing them, and I’ve retrieved some viddies to watch with each sip. Yes, I know, I should remember. But the fact is, with each passing year, the colours fade up here, things blur. Then again, it’s not the visuals those bottles hold, is it? It’s something much more … subliminal. And sublime. And important.
So I’ve started on them. I’m going to take just one little sip at a time. When I say ‘sip’, you know what I mean. A tiny feel for what’s in each bottle. They’re labelled, of course they are, but sometimes the emotions are really subtle.
Like that time we went to see the football match in Montevideo. The Centenário. The game – I can’t even remember who was playing, though it’s on the label. I had a ‘sip’ of that one last night. And it’s a kind of … now it’s tricky, because you’re trying to put a feeling into words. But I suppose you could call it ‘warmth’, or something like that. Being with you, with no plans, just watching a stupid football match that neither of us was really interested in. And being comfortable. That’s it. Warm and comfortable together. Not very intense, that one, but lovely.
So yes, the label doesn’t really help, until you get a feel of what’s inside and find out for yourself. And that’s what I’m going to do: take a ‘sip’ from each bottle, get an idea of what’s in them, then catalogue and organize them.
I’ve just thought. You always made fun of me for that. Organizing things. My socks. Our books. The spices in the kitchen. You can’t un-teach an old dog the tricks he knows, I suppose. And I’m not going to give up now that I’ve started. Those tasters. They’ve given me … a boost, you know? After so many grey days – black, sometimes – I’ve finally found some light. And it’s the light I had with you. The light that’s trapped in those bottles. And I’m going to spend the rest of my days enjoying … us. One ‘sip’ at a time.
Well, I’d best get going. The last bus leaves early on Sundays. I’ll just tell you what bottle I’m going to open tonight. It’s the one from that time we went camping. The night we got drunk at the local pub and cycled back to the camp – well, fell off more than cycled. And that policeman stopped us and told you your back light was out.
“It was on when we left the pub, ossifer,” you said, kind of giggling.
He knew that you were a bit the worse for wear, but I think he was used to seeing drunk campers round there. He went: “Let me see if I can fix it for you.”
So he opened up the back light … and there weren’t any batteries in it!
I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in my life – when we got back to the tent. You and me both. The drink helped. But then there was your laughter, and that was like a great big tequila shot to my brain. I want to feel that joy again, so that’s tonight’s bottle.
Must be off, then, as I said. Sorry about the carnations. Not your favourites, but it’s all they had. I’ll get to the shops earlier tomorrow and bring daffodils. I know how much you liked them.
Speak to you tomorrow, my darling.
This is a wonderful story, so evocative and thought provoking. As a story, in our competition, it will be hard to beat. Obviously, I intend to try to do just this but yours is a thing of beauty, emotion and reminiscence.
Reading this has really given my day a boost.
Then I thought to myself, ‘Listen, buddy boy, you can write a story that good, can’t you?’ So, unless something intervenes, I will be putting my story up. As soon as I can think of something that will be able to compete.
I’d like to think I subliminally gave you a good idea, because it is reminiscent of the story I posted a few weeks ago about the guy visiting his wife’s grave everyday for 14 years, but you handled this so much better with the prompt.
You made me wish there actually were bottles of spent emotion we could cap off and revisit every now and again, because in my lifetime I have some of those moments you described so very well with my companion of 57 years.
The only thing I really didn’t understand and don’t know why it’s in there, is why you said, ‘the colors fade up here’, unless you were referencing her being ‘in’ her grave, but at first I took ‘up here’ to be Heaven, perhaps, and wondered if I was reading the story wrong. A reread straightened me out, and I am going to assume ‘up here’ is above ground and still with the living.
As always, I have very little to quibble about with your stories, and sit here now, wondering just how I’m going to write something that’s going to beat this. Or, for that matter, if anyone is. I hope everyone gives it a shot, because that would be some terrific reading.
Got a little moisture in the eyes on that one.
Blown away. Like always happens with these stories of loss and reminiscences. But this is delivered with great finesse.
There is a lot in the words, but there’s even much more in the silence. The fact the narrator speaks and his better half doesn’t utter a word delivers most of the pathos. The silence reverberates, making the grief of loss palpable. But we can feel – we know – that she’s listening. This is a great execution of ‘show don’t tell’ spread out over a whole story.
What Roy brought up about heaven, although that wasn’t what you meant, gave me the idea that the bottles might be heaven in themselves, an eternal preservation of life’s most signficant moments. At church school they used to tell us that when we die we’ll get to see a video of all our life’s events, even those we have totally forgotten. Maybe it could be your bottles instead.
But, alas, eternity is still short-lived, the bottles’ contents still seem exhaustive in nature. The narrator is quite concerned about that throughout… Which adds to the emotional value of your piece.
(“The silence reverberates” – I should just submit it again for the next prompt …)
I’m hoping to contribute to this one, there’s definitely some emotions I’d either like to bottle up or buy!
(Don’t worry about this stuff.)
Thank you all for your kind words and wishes. My heart is sore but we had so many great memories together and they’ll hold me over until I see him again!
“until I see him again” – that’s very nice.
By Victoria Chvatal
I wake up with the mother of all hangovers.
Arrghh, did I have to chug a whole bottle? … No, it was two whole bottles, wasn’t it? But still, it was Grandma, and she pretty much raised me and all. I really had to. I couldn’t have gotten through the funeral sober. Or faced the family, hee-hee.
There’s a video call. It’s Dave, my boyfriend.
“Hey babes,” I giggle at his somber face.
“Have you been drinking?” he grimaces with distaste.
“Hey! Grandma Libby just died. So yeah, I downed some “Loss” and “Heartbreak” before the funeral.” A bottle of each, to be precise. Couldn’t stop blubbering all day. “Which you didn’t bother coming to, hee-hee-hee-hee-hee … And now I’ve got a hangover.”
“Look Tessa, I’m sorry, but … you know things haven’t been so great. I think we should break up.”
“Okay,” I manage before cracking up. We’ve been together two years. Talked about moving in together. The hangover makes it the funniest thing ever.
“Is this the best you can manage, after everything? Even with a hangover.”
Dave oozes cold disapproval. It’s hilarious.
“That “everything” didn’t … hee-hee-hee … stop you dumping me, did it? What have you been drinking anyway, “Stick-Up-The-Arse”?”
“”Clear Rational Thought”,” Dave shoots back, nose in the air.
“An’ you think you’re better than me? Ah-ha-ha … Remember how we met? At that party, playing spin-the-bottle?”
“What does …”
“We both took a sip, didn’t we? “Love at First Sight” We’d never have gotten together otherwise, haha … ” I’m laughing so hard I have to stop and draw a breath. “And we’d never have lasted as long as we did … heh … if we hadn’t – well, me anyways – if we hadn’t been pissed on “Love” or at least “Affection” all the time …”
“Your hangovers were terrible!” Dave counters accusingly. “We had the worst fights every time.”
“Well, I can’t afford to be off my head all the time, you know.”
Eventually, the hangover passes.
I need a drink. I’m looking in the bottle cabinet to see what I’ve got. I’ve still got half a bottle of “Love” left – but no, you gotta share it with someone, otherwise there’s no point. “Euphoria”? Naah, not right now. I’m all out of “Loss” and “Heartbreak”, not that I’d want to drink those for a while. “Concentrated Effort?” Hmm, it could help get that promotion at work … Nah. I never touch the stuff unless I’ve got enough days off saved for afterwards. The hangovers are a bitch. Damn, why don’t I have any decent stuff? I really need a drink.
I’m stone cold sober, and I’ve no idea how I should feel.
Terrific use of the prompt. Great story. And, perhaps one of the best endings and last tines ever. Kudos, gal. this is one great story. You used the various emotions throughout in a weave of excellence. Love it. Good job and now, I’ve got to finish writing my entry and see if I can keep up with the Towns and Chvatals.
What an entertaining story. Good, creative, interesting take on the prompt. Well-written too. Succinct. It strikes me as both concise, and whimsical: a great combination. I also enjoyed the selection of drinks she had to choose from, a humorous (if somewhat cynical) allusion to alcohol and relationships.
What Tessa really needs is a cure for hangovers, and you’ve clouded the line between drunk, and hungover, but that’s no literary crime, or even unreasonable. I really enjoyed the story.
By John Mansfield
Word Count: 1,167
Al hated competing for business in the dingy little square where he hocked his wares. The rival vendors always had their beguiling aromas wafting about, drawing all the customers away to stuff their faces full of free hot pastries with every purchase (and other such gimmicks). This meant that he had to work overtime to appeal to the other senses of the pedestrian shoppers, but he had a flare for stoking the fires of their imaginations.
Carefully positioning the cart so all his bottles caught the morning sun didn’t hurt either, as it forced those percolating by to pass through his rainbow of little shadows. A crafty look flitted across Al’s face as a large cluster of intrigued but nervous hipsters meandered right into the splash of color. He readied the bellows and let loose.
“Euphoria for sale! Buy some delicious, invigorating, grade A, responsibly sourced, FDA approved Euphoria today! Forget the daily cycle of laboring for your pay and sink into the arms of Bliss! Sip the nectar of the gods for a mere pittance!”
The passersby seemed interested, but no one was comfortable enough with the manic look in the street vendors eyes or his odd choice of words to stop at his cart. Instead, a portion of the people passing through would subtly decelerate so they could hear and see as much as possible before they ran out of sidewalk and had to cross the street or round the corner. A few of the bolder folks would linger at the crosswalk like they were waiting for it to turn green, but no one was fooled.
“Or how about Pride and Joy? They are my pride and joy! Anyone? No? Be sensible and take advantage of this week’s Jane Austen Special. That’s a fifty percent discount on Sense and Sensibility, ladies and gentlemen!”
Al rolled his eyes when he saw no one stepping forward. All this apprehension was hurting sales in an already fragile industry. One guy on the other side of the country drains a bottle from a bad batch and goes into a coma. Next thing you know, people stop drinking the stuff. It was a lot like moonshine: Everybody wants some, but no one wants to have the first drop!
Such wanton indulgence as he offered used to be considered worth the risk… back before the whole fad had started to lose its luster. Everyone knew that there was probably some consequence down the road, just like when vaping turned out to be not-so-healthy or how cell phone radiation was cooking us all alive for years. But Americans had instant gratification to achieve, and so the voice of reason faded into the background.
What was the fuss all about?
Humans now had the option to be whomever they chose and feel however they like. Intense emotional responses were recorded from donors, converted into a chemical analogue, mass produced, and distributed amongst the populace to be imbibed recreationally. Hilarity and debauchery ensued. It was like Prohibition lifting, but with a more diverse array of drunks cavorting about. America loved customizing their poison, it would seem, and they preferred maximum strength!
In time, even this practice became old hat, and the discerning customer base became increasingly bored and harder to please. Some folks went back to virtual reality (which had become much more immersive and realistic since the turn of the century, though it had a known but small risk of causing some nasty neurological disorders). Others lost their passion for the “Simulation Revolution” entirely and returned to just drinking alcohol. When that poor fellow took that fateful gulp and blew his mind, he inadvertently ushered in a new wave of lotions and potions that sought to steal the crown.
“Perhaps you tire of reliving the joys of others, of basking in their dirty bathwater just to catch a glimpse of their triumphs? Perhaps you seek fantastical, exotic wonders unlike any offered by the snake oil salesmen you passed on the way here? Seek no further!”
A deep indigo cloth imprinted with glittering moons and stars was dramatically cast aside to reveal a newer, shinier cart. It was laden with a small apothecary’s worth of multicolored bottles. Al must have been a little too dramatic, because one of the bottles had shattered in the process, spilling a luminescent green glue that crackled pleasantly as it fumed. His gnarled forefinger selected at random a hapless stranger and jabbed forward.
“Tell me… does a honeybee enjoy sipping nectar from a flower? Can it truly feel “joy” or “satisfaction” with the nerve cluster that it calls a brain? Does the purr of a cat really bely “content”? Do elephant mothers who cry for their stillborn calves feel “remorse”? Many would argue that these are just crude approximations of emotions and not the real thing by any means……”, he trailed off for effect while the man he was still pointing at stammered with bewilderment.
“Hogwash! Hear this brothers and sisters: I have tasted these feelings myself and exulted in their purity!” Fanatic vigor seized and animated the man that now stood in the center of a rapidly growing throng.
“Anyone can feel human emotions, but what I offer is the thrill of the wild! Swim with the dolphins! Run alongside wolves as they take down their prey! Soar with the eagles! What’s that you say? Scared of heights? No problem! You won’t see a single cloud or distant treetop, but inside your heart of hearts, you will FEEL the untamed power of the king of the SKIES!”
And just like that, the private tent around back was quickly filled with a dozen patrons that were eager to sample his wares. Each of the men looked sheepish, defiant, and excited. Liability waivers were signed and promptly collected just before the beverages were selected and carefully poured out. Within minutes, every single seat held a relaxed form that would emit the occasional bark or squawk as an internal journey of animalistic psychedelia unfolded. Al paced up and down the aisle like a demented usher while he waited for his cocktails to seep deeper into their gray matter.
Without warning, foam forcefully ejected from the mouth of a man who had been drooling peacefully only a moment before. He tumbled to the floor and began to roll this way and that as Al watched in horror. All around, those who had partaken of his liquid offerings were seizing and writhing, though they did not seem to be aware of their actual bodies yet – some of them were even smiling as they continued along inside their bestial hallucinations.
“Drat. I must have overcooked and undertested that last batch. Like Reno all over again. Botheration.”
It was tricky, but “Al” managed to change out of his costume, dispose of any incriminating evidence, collect the wallets from each customer, and make his way down an adjacent alley before the first worried wife poked her head through the flaps of the tent.
This wormed its way out of my mind before I could stop it!
If only someone “in the real world” could have talked me out of it before I posted!
(I heard that 3 or more exclamation marks is a sign of insanity, but I am good because those were separated by sentences).
Great writing, fabulous story. Very entertaining. I agree with Phil wholeheartedly. (Although skipping over the expositive detail does, in fact, make him ‘a bad person.’ But I’m worse, so who cares? ((But I don’t skip over details.))
I thought the ending was rushed, I was fascinated with the plot and the story, although I found the futuristic details intriguing, one can’t get carried away with prognostication at the expense of an otherwise good story. (All this, of course, most of us already know but, as writers, we tend to get carried away with our own fiction.)
You seem to be an excellent writer and the concept of bottling animal emotions made me say ‘woah’ right out loud. I didn’t see it coming and it never occurred to me as even a concept until I read it in the story.
On a completely separate note:
I find it hard to understand how a man with your obviously impeccable sense of fashion could find it hard to secure a proofreader, sounding board or feedback. I will gladly volunteer for the position in the event that this should ever happen again. Although this would ruin the surprise of the story for me, affect my objectivity in the voting, break some of the rules, piss everybody off and damage my already compromised reputation, I’m still willing to do it for the common good.
As for the bely? I think it should be bespeak, convey or indicate. ‘Does the purring of a cat indicate contentment?’
But it’s dialogue too, so technically, your character can lie, bend grammatical rules, and use the wrong words if he chooses to. (Of course, we know that YOU would never do any of these things John, but your characters? They’re clearly not as sophisticated as Phil. Nor am I, as I thought the word was correct until Phil pointed it out.)
One last thing, rushed as it was, the great thing about the ending is that your character gets away. He’s a great villain, and his escape opens the door for a sequel, which I would love to read. (As soon as you write it. Get on that, will you?)
Y’all are so right: a little voice told me not to exposit like that and I should have listened.
My wife is supposed to be my canary in the coal mine…I mean proofreader, but I spared her this time.
I just found out that my usage of that word is archaic and no one spells it that way anymore – double drat.
Forgive me… your pal The Fink-meister grew up reading a ton of books about cats and this word is frequently used by “cat people” to convey the way certain things that cats do can betray their inner emotions, like a purr… or a barely twitching tail that could mean you are about to get scratched.
I won’t make that mistake again and I also won’t ever use “eschew” (didn’t mean what I thought at all) or “alight” without serious consideration. I used that last one for a bird leaving a branch, but it should be for when a bird lands on a branch. I think technically I could try to say that I was using it as an alternative for “descend”, but we all know that I just messed up!
I’m a cat person too. (Though one of my cats denies it.) So I say, “Then how do you explain your presence here?” and the cat says, “You first.”
p.s. Here is my original critique, which got temporarily lost in the infirmament, then reappeared in a desperate attempt at recognition. (I swear, some comments will do anything to get read.) You can compare the two comments and see what it’s like to live inside my head for a minute. (You might want to take some aspirin first.)
Well I thoroughly enjoyed this story, John. And, if I may be so bold, you are a (yet another) gifted writer. (Who, sadly, must be discouraged at all costs.) I’m pleased to confess that I agree with you and Roy while at the same time disagreeing with only you and Roy. (At this time.)
You said you had no one to give feedback before posting your story.
I would gladly give up the pleasure of seeing one of your finished stories to help you develop it, which, by my estimation, would require very little effort on my part. (I might also suggest that if you’re asking complete strangers in the grocery story, wear a different hat.)
Honestly though, I loved the story and the writing, and agree that the ending seemed rushed. I will also go so far as to say that excessive description is always tempting. (Even Jesus, two fish, all those people? Come on.) Anyway, even if people agree with you, they didn’t come to your story for that. And by your own admission, you’re sacrificing characters. For that!
I would change the main character’s name. I kept thinking A.I. every time I saw it. It’s the future, bottled emotions are a thing of the past, I just kept seeing A.I.! (What’s wrong with ‘Elmont’?)
The concept of animal emotions caught me completely by surprise, I think I said ‘woah’, out loud. Great descriptions of what it likes to be an eagle, etc. You should devote equal time to the demise of at least one of the participants. Leave a moment of doubt. The guy who is foaming and smiling goes first, drag it out a bit. He’s not sure anything’s wrong until the second guy falls off his chair. The fact that he gets away is great, that’s the important factor. You could probably skip changing costumes. He always has a back door’ or something like that. This is really a great villain.
The ending leaves room for a sequel, and my question is, what happens when he gets the formula right? This could easily turn into a novel. Or a series of short stories. It’s very original. (and your writing does it justice.)
When I babble too much in the real world, I can see the eyes start to roll back and I can just divert the conversation to save myself (and my poor victim) in time.
But when I do it in writing it is totally different, because I can’t adjust on the fly and I can’t tell exactly when I broke the readers spirit and lost their interest.
I am beginning to understand how it all works a little better, but slowly.
Oh yeah about Al… it was going to be “Alphonzo the Absurd” or something and then you find out that he is a retired plumber from Brooklyn named Al, but it all fell apart on me.
Here is to the next prompt!
You called it – he was a heavy influence.. but I am getting over him now. 🙂
I will try to be good, but I feel like bad things might happen to those puppies and flowers if they wander into my little world during the wrong prompt!
The writing in this is skillful, and some of your phrases were so on point, I felt as if I were standing there listening to this guy in person, it was that good. Then, nothing but foam, and a ‘drat’, just like “Reno”, comment and he skulks out of town to kill others. Umm … sinister indeed. The Pied Piper of Emotions, Snake Oil Salesmen at their very best.
Nice plot, great action, good dialog, everything just right … except the ending … for me. It is very obvious you can write, and I like your contributions comment wise and in story form. Hope to see a lot more of you on these pages. With great endings, of course.
This one hurt me to write because I could feel that it needed help but I couldn’t find anyone to read it for me before I posted…
I also wanted to introduce another character (who might have made the ending more interesting), but I spent too much time on the exposition about virtual reality and the evolution of American recreation and ran out of words.
My ending was abrupt and kind of disappointing to me too….
It was emergent in that I didn’t start out with that development even remotely in mind….. I guess that makes the ending more like a doodle improvised out of spilt ink than something that I settled on out of frustration, but both are true!
You have given me lots to think about!
I’m fairly thick-skinned so welcome all criticism…I think.
One from the Top
“Give me one from the top.” Direct, not sullen. No point in wasting time on niceties.
“Absolutely. Blue bottle or green one?”
This was the part he used to get stuck on. Take the almighty high of the blue, experiencing emotions he hadn’t felt in years that filled him with joy, elation and a sublime sensation of perfection or drag himself into the mire of the green and the immense despair and solitude that came with it. The high or low wasn’t what made it a tough decision though – it was the feeling that followed it that made his choice for him. Extreme grief and sadness from the green would be followed by a period of lightness as he came out of his bottled nightmare, or his extreme elation would invariably be chased by a sadness as the blue wore off. There was an inevitable pay-off to think about when making his decision.
He lived in a permanent state of apathy, not knowing how to feel anymore. Since his family had been killed all those years ago he had gone through everything he could possibly imagine – hatred, fear, sadness, rejection and most of all pain. Unbearable pain. Pain that grew uncontrollably into every part of his body, sending his nerve endings into a frenzy of activity until he could stand it no more. The pain that comes with true loss.
That was until he took the Pill.
‘Eliminate the hurt’. That had lured him in, the idea that he could live without the loathing and aching that he woke with every morning. ‘Banish your demons’. Well, they were well and truly banished thanks to the Pill.
No-one ever really reads about the side-effects of these drugs, do they? They hadn’t truly warned him of the potential issues associated with it, although they do say ignorance is no excuse. The Pill took away his pain, but it took away much more than that. Senseless. Emotionless, his other feelings eliminated and discarded. He was numb. Neutral. Beige.
He hadn’t realised at first, incorrectly assuming that his inability to feel was a symptom of his family leaving him. So he couldn’t laugh. That was normal, wasn’t it? Eagerly anticipating something was surely a thing of the past. There were no more surprises, no more satisfaction or joy. Nothing could scare him anymore. A part of him had been removed the very second the car had hit the bridge.
They were clever those drug companies, targeting them in this way. He knew others who had taken the Pill, others who had experienced the same grief and undergone the same journey as him. Others who had become robots. These victims had been found in grief counselling sessions, at funerals, in graveyards and hospitals, preyed on by the corporations. Victims of loving someone too much and leaving themselves exposed to exploitation. The more people who took the Pill and stopped feeling, the bigger the bottle market was. The more bars that sprung up, the more people took the Pill, fools thinking life would be better by controlling what you could feel when you want to. The most vicious of circles.
Drinking used to be an evening or weekend affair, but this was 24/7. Relentless. Bars rammed with customers hoping they could feel human again, hoping they would regain a modicum of who they were before. They didn’t know what exactly they wanted, but they knew they didn’t want this. What was the point of existing if you weren’t able to feel? A life without emotions was a life without direction, without meaning. Streets full of people, but devoid of emotion. Laughter a thing of the past. Quiet households apart from the young, the unblemished.
He had wanted to forget that night and the gamut of emotions that had come with it. He could still picture the events but did not feel the sadness unless he wanted to. He could watch the home videos of his daughters without a tear, unless he wanted to. He could decide to look back with fondness on the photo albums and the frames that adorned his walls, but only if he decided to.
He looked around the bar, remembering the night his family died. He desperately tried to reminisce but there was nothing there, at least nothing that he wouldn’t have to pay for. It was a bar like this he had left with them, the four of them laughing, arms interlocked as they staggered to the car. He could picture where they all sat, his hands and arms busy as they left the car park. He could picture all this without the sensations that came with them, memories without foundation.
“I’ll take a shot of green,” he replied.
He needed to feel the pain, the despair and the hurt. It was the only emotion that really made any sense to him, the only reaction to his life. He hadn’t chosen the blue in months, knowing that it wouldn’t be right, that it would be disrespectful to their memories. He braced himself for the thirty minutes that would follow, thirty minutes of hell that he knew he deserved. He didn’t have any emotions left except one. Guilt.
I can tell that you have pondered the nuances of addiction, self-medicating to alleviate sorrow, and drinking your worries away, but I am not calling you a junkie!
You definitely explored some of the stuff that I only mentioned in passing, and skillfully at that.
Your “Pill” bars reminded me of the “Milk” bars in A Clockwork Orange (the film) and they made it more realistic….. you know….because all you have to do is convert existing bars into Pill bars or just build new ones that look like regular bars…. but the populace can easily adjust to the new recreational drugs faster in a familiar environment.
Your story lays down a troubling plot-line, and then doggedly pursues that line without any sense of deviation. I think it dwelled on the ‘causes’ of the character’s mental distress without offering much insight. I’m aware that Phil and John feel differently about it, but I felt bogged down in the middle of the story to the extent that by the ending, I was less concerned with which bottle he chose, and instead wished him to drink both, for everyone’s sake. (But I did not skip over it.)
However, I want to make it clear that my reticent comments are a reaction to this specific story, not your obvious skill and writing ability. While I don’t believe in the dictum ‘less is more.’ (A nonsensical slogan designed to sell something.) I do believe that less is often better, but doing that is much easier said than done.
Welcome to the looney bin, Mike.
Welcome to the best online fiction writing site on the planet, in my humble opinion.
The others have pretty much taken the same path I would have regarding your story, and the only other thing I will point out is the fact you called the pill, “the Pill’ and it didn’t make any difference if it came from the green bottle or the blue bottle, it was still called the Pill. Which, leads me to believe Phil Town was right and a couple of clever names for them would have enhanced the story.
What you did very skillfully, I thought, was admit to being the drive of the car without telling us that inso many words. Well done.
I’m interested in seeing more of your work.
I can see so much of how things might be in the future, in your story. There is so much sadness, hurt and despair in the world right now, that if you set up a bar like the one in your story, you would be overrun with customers. Mind you, hasn’t alcohol performed much the same function for generations?
I think some very useful comments have been made by others already but I am really looking forward to seeing more of your crisp, incisive and imaginative writing.
Still a fledgling writing career but already looking forward to the next prompt!
by Robt. Emmett
The Air France flight from Idlewild could have been better, but it wasn’t. After I tossed my cookies after eating the stuff served for supper, the high point was an invitation to spend the weekend with the forty-something flight attendant. I smiled, thanked her, but declined.
While waiting in the airport at Le Bourget for my flight to Port Vendres, I noticed two things. The place stunk like a urinal. Second, a Russian dancer caused a shuffle and a scuffle because he didn’t want to go back home with his KGB minders. My one-hour between planes turned into a two-and-a-half-hour layover.
I foolishly tried to order lunch. The waiter couldn’t or wouldn’t understand me.
No one here, it seems, comprehends English. I wondered what all these non-English speaking French travelers would do to survive for a week in the States.
Starve … one could hope!
The flight to Port Vendres via Airlinair is another story. There are two kinds of landings. An excellent landing is one where the people are unhurt, and the aircraft is reusable. The landing at Port Vendres, at best, was almost good. Back on terra firma, I checked the plane’s tires. They needed air.
The sweet-faced customs agent in the form-fitting uniform glanced at my papers and, in lightly accented English, asked, “Monsieur En-der-sun?”
I smiled at her, “Lyle Henderson, but you can call me Skitch; everyone does.” She ignored my cheap pickup line and asked, “Business or pleasure?”
With you, I thought, it would be a pleasure. However, as the reason for this trip is to get a name, I said, “Business.” She raised a neatly plucked eyebrow and stamped my papers.
After checking in at the Saint Elme Hôtel in Port Vendres, I took the concierge’s suggestion and tried the new café on the corner. In the shadows of the palms and behind the shrubbery at the Café Tranontane, I watched my back trail. It seemed clean. I ordered a hamburger and fries. France had yet to discover the wonderment of Ketchup. I dragged my fries through watery mayonnaise and enjoyed the view of the Mediterranean’s placid blue waters. Toward evening, I stood and drained the last gulp of warm wine. About to drop a few francs on the table, I remembered tipping was a nasty American habit. One little appreciated by the French. So I’d heard.
Entering the Saint Elme, the concierge motioned me over. “Messier Krupa, a gift for you.”
I thanked him and took it to my first-floor room. The reason it’s called the first floor is that it’s above the ground floor. In the US of A, it would be called the second floor. Go figure!
In my room, I set the fruit basket on the table next to the bed and unloaded the obligatory apples, oranges, and single banana onto it. The reason for the gift, my new passport and credit cards, were at the bottom of the basket. I destroyed the old ones. After meticulously examining the Army 1911 and the three loaded clips, I set them on the table. The French 7.63 mm Mauser revolver was marginally serviceable but would have to do. It had a custom-made silencer. Curious, I held it to the light to read the inscription: Acme Corporation, Wile E. Coyote, proprietor. Someone has a sense of humor.
Armed, I was ready to meet the first interviewee on my list, Sébastien Williams. We’d meet in front of the Le Bon Hôtel.
I arrived at the Hôtel one hour early, just before sunset, and ate supper across the alley at Domaine de la Marquise. The pa amb tomàquet (bread rubbed with tomato) served with some kind of mystery meat was scrumptious. The house specialty was a chilled dessert similar to a chocolate mousse. The waiter also recommended a deep-fried, sugarcoated pastry filled with crème brûlée, called xuixo. Exercising good judgment, I passed. Tomorrow’s another day.
I slipped through the semi-lush shrubbery at the rear of the Le Bon and up its dark side. Sébastien, his back to me, was waiting at the curb. I cocked the silenced Mauser as it touched the back of his neck.
He raised his hands to shoulder level and said, “Marvelous sunset.”
“And for knowing the correct password, you get to see another.”
He turned. “So, is it Mister Henderson or is it Severinsen tonight?”
“They were … last time. I’m using drummer’s names this time around. It’s Sander L. Nelson, but you can call me Sandy.”
“Still using musician’s names, eh?”
“Yeah, I like to keep it simple..”
“I understand you’re upset about a dozen Algerians trying to kill you. How can I help?”
“Only three of you knew where I’m from, and one of you sicced a pack of mad dogs on my friends and me. They shot up the parking lot of the Country Club. The Club manager’s Scottish burr becomes un-understandable at the mere mention of my name. My new girlfriend won’t talk to me. And the police chief won’t let me date his daughter.” The revolver went into my pocket. “Since you didn’t try to ambush and kill me, I’ll assume you’re not the double-crosser.”
“So, Sandy, what’s the plan?”
“We’ll get a coupla bottles of excellent wine and get drunk. Then, tomorrow evening, we’ll interview Jean-Baptiste and question Pierre the following night.”
Sébastien stood,” I’ll arrange it with them.”
Jean-Baptiste arrived on time. As usual, he looked like a Gestapo in his black leather trench coat, fedora, and surreptitious look. He wasn’t the guilty party and got to live.
Near the la Marquise, I watched a black Renault pull up and park in the shadows of a hedge across the highway from the Le Bon. The two people in the Renault watched the Hôtel too intently for their own good. Not having the correct credentials earned each of them a free 7.63 mm slug and seventy-two virgins. I emptied their pockets and took their wallets, their identity papers, and a small hand full of francs: pocket detritus.
At the appointed time, a Peugeot 403 sedan arrived. Pierre parked in the shadows.
“Evening,” I said, slipping into the sedan’s passenger seat.
He froze at the sight of me, guilt written on his face in capital letters.
He looked as he looked the first time I’d set eyes on him, a two-bit actor from a French ‘B’ movie, a dirty beret and all.
I promised him if he’d confess, he’d live. I’d turn him over to his SDECE bosses instead.
He confessed. After his father died, his Muslim mother took him to the Mosque where he converted. As an SDECE agent, the imam had recruited him to help Algeria’s struggle for independence from France. He gave me the name of the person who’d ordered the hit on me.
“Pierre,” I said, “a suggestion, never believe the word of someone you’ve twice tried to kill.” The Mauser’s slug, like my suggestion, when in one ear and out the other. Fortunately, the driver’s window was open. I removed the silencer, wiped the Mauser clean, and put it in his hand. I dropped the pocket debris onto the seat.
That’ll mess with the gendarme’s minds.
— ℜ —
I do have a number of cousins and cousins once or twice removed living in CA. I’ve met most, liked a few. The others, like On-Ree, distance is best.
As others have written, the style of the story is a big part of its appeal. You’re a skillful story-teller and it really shows in this fast-moving tale.
It’s an extremely entertaining story. I felt, as I read it, that I had read it before, but too much of the story was a surprise for that to be true. Through much of the story, especially the aspects of traveling in foreign countries, the minor inconveniences and such, I found myself nodding, and saying ‘yes’ and ‘exactly’.
I believe these sentiments are widely held, but only by Americans.
I have encountered French vendors who knew how to speak English but did not, until I pulled a wad of cash out of my pocket. Made multiple requests for ice, only to have two cubes delivered by armored car and tongs. The first-floor room on the second floor. French culinary snobbery. As far as I know, no one east of the Atlantic knows how to make a fucking cup of coffee. The list goes on. (It’s coffee, not rocket science.)
A fun read that brought back a lot of funny memories that I’d completely forgotten about.
One hiccup. You wrote:
He turned. “So, is it Mister Henderson or is it Severinsen tonight?”
“They were… last time. I’m using drummer’s names this time around. It’s Sander L. Nelson, but you can call me Sandy.”
(Clearly, a sentence is missing, or the dialogue is so clever, it leaves the reader a bit puzzled. But that’s the only error in the entire story.)
Your comments, as usual, help explain the subtle points of the story that I cannot do. Thanks for your in-depth reading skills.
Now the explanation of the missing sentence.
It’s not missing
Meaning, Henderson and Severinsen were the names the last time “He” was in Port Vendres to steal-back fifty-seven pounds of radioactive materials the Muslims had stolen to build a nuclear device to blow up a Parisian landmark. He changes several times. It’s a pain in the butt for the people in the Special Service Dept, but that’s why they earn the big bucks.
This time, HE is Sander “Sandy” L. Nelson, an R-n-R drummer from the 50s.
He turned. “So, is it Mister Henderson or is it Severinsen tonight?”
“They were… last time. I’m using drummer’s names this time around. It’s Sander L. Nelson, but you can call me Sandy.”
“So, is it Mister Henderson or Severinsen tonight?”
“No, that was last time. I’m using drummer’s name’s this trip. Call me Sandy.”
“You got it.”
Well done, my man. a modern CIA action Film all dressed up in a thirties film ‘Noir’ detective story. Good job, I enjoyed it, and the random, wanton killing going on. Took me away from real life for a couple of minutes. That’s what reading is all about.
Great stuff. Really good story.
Very short comment as all my others this morning won’t send so this is something of a test.
Will do well in the voting I figure.
She looked out her window and the bottles in Shirley’s yard were still there. It looked like a bottle tree. It looked like a problem to Amanda.
She sat on the couch and thought about the situation and how it could be corrected. She headed to the kitchen to make some tea but stopped and picked up the phone to call Dee.
Dee’s mother answered … “oh, Hi Mrs. M., is Delilah there?” she knew better than to ask for “Dee”.
“Amanda”, she replied, “I’ve told you before, no nicknames… it’s either Mrs Mire or Alice, you can just call me Alice.”
She immediately wished she’d asked for “Dee” if Amanda had to listen to a scolding it might as well be for something she cared about.
“Anyhow”, Mrs M continued, “Delilah isn’t home, she’s out, said she’d be back around 4 pm, I thought she was with you.”
Amanda hung up the phone and wondered where Dee was, normally they knew what the other was doing. She worried about Dee knowing her rela- tionship with her mother was often fraught. Dee hated the name Delilah, it all seemed to center around the Tom Jones song “Delilah”. Evidently Mrs. M had a drinking problem, a bottle and Tom Jones seemed to go together.
Right… bottles what about the bottles next door. Amanda walked out on the porch to go over to the neighbors thinking … well she didn’t know what she was thinking. She stopped as she realized the bottles were gone.
She turned back and saw Delilah pulling up in front of her house.
“Hey, Amanda, what’s going on?” asked Dee.
“Oh, The bottle tree seemed to be a waste of resources”, replied Amanda, “I was just going to talk to Shirley about it.”
“What bottle tree?” said Dee.
Amanda said, “Yeh, that’s what I’m thinking .. it was there a couple of hours ago and it just disappeared. I called you, your Mom said you were out and thought you were here.”
“Oh great” said Dee, “did you call her Mrs.M ? I’ll have to listen to a 15 minute rant about my friends not having any manners and somehow it’s all my fault.”
Amanda replied, “Yes, I did, I’m sorry… I did remember to ask for Delilah, so at least I missed the Dee lecture.”
“You know”, said Dee,” I really like it when you call me Dee to my mother. I know it irritates her and believe me she deserves it and please keep calling her Mrs. M. for the same reason”.
I twigged it for a few moments before I responded. “So I just don’t under- stand why you have such a thing about being called Delilah, it’s a pretty name.”
“Yeh, for sure, replied Dee, obviously you’ve never listened to Tom Jones sing Delilah.”
“But I have and I like it” said Amanda.
“What do you like about it?” asked Dee in an ominous tone.
“Well, it’s a love story about loving someone and then the great loss”, Amanda said with a little trepidation cause clearly Dee was having a meltdown.
“Think about it, will you?”, her voice rising with each word, “a drunk mother splayed out on the couch, a half full bottle of booze, Tom Jones singing about Delilah and me just wanting lunch or dinner or maybe someone anyone who cared about me.
Amanda had difficulty picturing the Mrs M as Dee was painting, she turned and gazed out the window and saw the Bottle Tree back and hoped this would be the distraction to calm Dee.
“Look Dee, the Bottle Tree, come look.” Dee gave a big sigh and walked toward the window where Amanda was looking out with a smile as if she discovered gold bottles.
“What are you looking at?” Dee asked Amanda…
“The bottles on the tree there” said Amanda
“There’s no tree or bottles..what are you talking about?” replied Dee
Amanda turned and rushed to the door telling Dee to look outside and she would see the Bottle Tree. They went out the door and stood and looked at Shirley’s empty yard.
“I don’t understand it,” said Amanda as she ran inside to the window, “I can see it here in the window…can’t you see it?”
Dee answered softly, “no honey, I see your reflection but no bottle tree, are you feeling okay? Is there something bothering you maybe you’re bottling up your emotions and you’ve just filled them up and they’re spilling over.”
“Maybe you’re right,” said Amanda, “I’ve been worried and stressed lately and one of worries has been you and your mother… you seem to be get- ting angrier recently and I don’t know why.”
“I keep telling you to listen to Tom Jones sing Delilah, I thought you’d fig- ure it out. I mean it’s my mother’s favorite song, all she needs is her bottle and the song…I remember hearing it since I was six years old…she’s played it at every birthday party and every day with her bottle. She’d tell me this was the song that named me… can you imagine how that feels, it seems like a part of each day there’s a moment when I wonder is this go- ing to be the day…”
Amanda wondered as she stared helplessly at Dee if this was the same as when her Dad sang Jezebel – ‘If ever a devil was born without a pair of horns it was you Jezebel it was you’… as a girl she laughed and thought it was funny but when she got older she wondered if her Dad really thought she was an evil devil. She asked Dee if it was like that.
Dee burst into tears and wailed, “no not at all.. I just wonder if this is the day I’ll be stabbed.”
Amanda stood there watching Dee and she realized she could solve the problem and slowly walked to the kitchen.
I am intrigued, but still uncertain.
I like Tom Jones but I had never heard this song, so I just had to listen.
You made the song so integral to the plot in a cool way…… like how that Rolling Stones song in “Fallen” was used creatively.
It is really dark to bring this up, but I was reminded of that song “Hungry Like the Wolf” and the way Diane Downs listened to it obsessively………. I won’t go further but yeah… powerful stuff!
I’m sorry, this critique will sound a bit harsher than I intend, but it is a gut reaction without much nuance to it.
I didn’t understand the punchline. I don’t care for Tom Jones. Can’t stand the song ‘Delilah.’ And was not aware that someone in the song expresses fear of being stabbed. And, I’m afraid I don’t care enough to research it. The bottle-tree’s appearance and disappearance added an element of additional confusion. These, (bottle-tree’s) are as inconvenient in real life, as they are in fictional stories. They should be banned from literature. (Or at least from your story.)
In fact, I’m only giving each story one read through this time around. Either I get it, or I don’t. Sorry. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, (the quality of the writers visiting this site these days is scary) your writing skills are clearly evident, no question about your talent, Liz, but the subject matter left me waiting for the next bus, but I would lay the blame squarely at the feet of Tom Jones.
Okay, so, this information is for Liz’s eyes only. This is confidential and extremely embarrassing. That’s how you know it’s true, because it’s embarrassing.
Either way, thirty years ago, I had a girlfriend. (No, it’s true, I really did.) Different from the one I have now. (But just as pushy.)
So one day, over a bucket of chicken and a Star Trek re-run, I mentioned to her (my girlfriend, let’s call her—Caprice) that I read an article that said that Tom Jones was 5’4”. Well, my God, you’d have thought that I’d told her that Jesus was Jewish, or worse yet, Arab. She accused me of some pretty harsh things. (Said my mother wore Army boots, for instance.) And I said, “I read it. I’m not making it up. Besides, he does wear those high-heeled shoes, he sweats a lot and has a big head.”
And her head spun around, 360 degrees. (I’d only seen that in the movies.) And she said, “He’s 6 foot 2, anybody can see that just by looking at him.” I later learned that nothing could be further from the truth.
But at that moment I vowed, (silently of course, lest someone hold me to it) but I vowed to myself, that I would find out how tall, Tom Jones really was.
Now, here’s where the story gets really boring, because this was back in 1986, or 1990. (Honestly, I don’t remember.) But the point is, the Internet was restricted to 4 computers in the library and only one of them worked, and two people were already using it. (Back then, we used to actually share computers. Seems weird now.)
I went to the reference desk, they directed me to the entertainment section, they handed me over to the microfiche machine and 80 years of newspapers and magazines. Article after article, review after review, interview after interview, and nowhere—was there any mention of his height. Until finally, I hit a number, six foot. ‘Tom Jones is six feet tall—(continued on next page). I went to the next page ‘—some say. But no one really knows.’
Some say? No one knows? I kept searching. More numbers turned up. Apparently, I’d uncovered the tip of a controversy. Five-eleven; five-seven; five-eighteen; car 54… the numbers were all over the place. In the process of trying to determine the true and accurate height of Tom Jones, I learned that he’s Welsh, rich, successful, a hell of a performer, sweaty by nature, and never, ever, EVER,,, stands close enough to anyone to allow one to gauge his height. I learned an awful lot about Tom Jones, and I was able to surmise that Mr. Jones does not really want people to know his height, what ever it is, and he has been fairly successful in that effort.
My mom likes Tom Jones too, Liz. But it would be very difficult for me, after all Tom Jones has put me through, to work up any further interest in anything involving Tom Jones, whatever his height. Even a story by you, Liz. I hope you understand. It really doesn’t have anything to do with you or your story. It’s a much deeper and more profoundly disturbing issue between me, and Tom Jones.
An interesting take on the bottle theme. Re. the bottle tree, I am guessing that it was an empty bottle added each time it was empty. Not sure why it disappeared again.
There were some aspects of this that did not read smoothly and the ending was a puzzle to me.( hang on, I am just going to read the story again…back in a minute or so…) Aha, it’s in the lyrics of the song!!! Good one, Liz.
Just for fun, go to u tube and type in a singing group called “The Magnificent AKs” and their rendition of Delilah. It’s brilliant.
Welcome back! How is Sierra Nevada? So you’re Liz again. Not Kiz, Kez…
I loved the underlying humor throughout the story, which works very well with the dramatic overlay.
I mean bits like this: “…evidently Mrs. M had a drinking problem, a bottle and Tom Jones seemed to go together.” I personally find this kind of sentence very funny. And there is a lot of that throughout your piece.
The ending took me a little by surprise. I think one needs to have knowledge of the lyrics or Tom Jones’s “Delilah” to really get it. I know the song, but I wasn’t aware of this detail of the stabbing. I think you can solve this by actually running the relevant part of the lyrics inside your story, whey you mention Mrs. M. listenining to it. You need to put it in some breadcrumb somewhere for the ending to work. Unless you post this story in the Tom Jones Fans Club Writing Corner… Lol!
Once there is familiarity with the way the song goes, then it’s a really good ending for a life tragically based on that song…
I thought this sentence could be more in keeping with the overall theme and title if it was:
“Is there something bothering you maybe you’re bottling up your emotions and you’ve just filled them up and they’re hanging on that tree.”
INSTEAD of “…spilling over.”
That’s just my opinion, though. Others might find it cheesy.
By RM York
Jay Sandoval stared at the faded ceiling, head deep in a pillow freshly plumped by his energetic nurse. “Are you comfortable Mr. Sandoval? Is there anything I can get you?”
He turned in the direction of the nurse as she turned her attention to the IV drip. “I could use something to make me more comfortable. This pain really sucks.”
“I know, Mr. Sandoval, but the doctor won’t allow any type of narcotic. He’s totally against them.”
“Look, I got what? Maybe three, fours months at best. Just give me something that will stop the pain.”
The nurse took his hand and squeezed it gently. She was a pretty young thing, not at all like the nurses he remembered when he was young. “Mr. Sandoval, we’re doing all we can to make you comfortable, but I can’t override doctor’s orders. Why don’t you try to get some sleep.”
“Sleep? What’s that? I hear every noise on this floor at night. I’ve been here so long I can tell who’s coming down the hall and which room they stop in on their way here. Please, I’m begging you. See if you can get me something. My pain level is over a 7. Please.”
Sandoval knew that occasionally he could throw the pain level above 7 card at them and sometimes they would respond. It wasn’t that high, but he was getting desperate.
The nurse frowned. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Sandoval turned to look out the window. His room was situated on the sixth floor and through the window, he could see cars and trucks zipping by on the freeway in the distance. It helped to pass the time mindlessly and take him away from the pain and the bleakness he anticipated until sleep or death overtook him. He didn’t care which.
As he was deeply absorbed in thought he heard a voice he recognized. “Are you behaving yourself, or are we going to have to address a lawsuit brought by the nurses in this hospital for patting them on the ass?”
He turned his head toward the voice. It was his brother, Dave. “What brings you to town. I thought you’d be back on the East Coast all tied up in that lab of yours inventing the world’s next vaccine.”
“The big guys have that covered. I’m just a poor boy working on changing the world one drug at a time. It’s why I’m in town.”
“That’s why you’re here? You didn’t come to see me? You’re just working nearby and throwing me a bone by stopping by to visit your dying brother for a couple of minutes. I’ve been here for three months. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.” Jay turned his face to the window.
“Jay, grow up will you? Jesus, it’s just like when we were kids. I specifically came to see you and I brought something for you. Check this out.”
Dave looked around the room making sure no one saw him, then opened his coat. Sticking up from his liner pocket was a bottle of clear liquid. “Just a little something I whipped up for ya.”
“Looks like vodka.”
“Oh, no buddy boy. This is way better than vodka. A sip of this, and you’ll be forgetting all your troubles. Dr. Feel Good is in the house.”
“Come on, Dave, my doctor’s got this thing about narcotics.”
“That’s just it. It’s not a narcotic – just something that will make you forget all your troubles and make you smile for the first time since you found out you were terminal. Trust me.”
“Then why are you hiding it like it’s illegal?”
“Because it’s not approved for sale yet. Something I and the team stumbled on accidentally. As soon as we found out what it could do, I thought of you.”
“What does it do?
“Makes you forget what’s wrong, and makes everything right. No hangover, no nothing. One minute you’re in pain, the next, you could kick some serious ass, but if you don’t, you’re OK with that.
“Is it safe?”
“No one has had any bad reaction at all. Trouble is, we don’t know all of the side effects that may happen over time. But … since you don’t have that much time left … I mean … you know what I mean. Side effects down the road can’t hurt you.” Dave looked down at the floor. “Damn, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Jay looked up at his brother. “It’s OK, Really. Just feeling a little sorry for myself. I’m ready to try anything, even if it kills me. Quick, before the nurse comes back.” He picked up his glass and gave it to Dave.
Dave poured a small amount into the glass and said, “This is just the first dose, no more until tomorrow. Got it?”
“Yeah, yeah, got it. Help me sit up.” Dave set the glass down on the bedside stand and helped his brother up. “No sissy straw for you, huh?”
“Nope, taking it neat, just like my scotch. Down the hatch.” Jay laid back down on the bed and closed his eyes. Within seconds he felt better than he had in years. He felt … perfect.
Jay opened his eyes – the room was darker, and he turned to talk to his brother. Dave was gone. He looked at the clock. Several hours had passed. He heard someone come in the room. It was the young nurse. “I just talked to the doctor, and it’s no go on the meds.”
Jay smiled weakly. “Thanks for trying. But right now I feel great. I mean really great. Maybe I don’t need it.”
* * * * *
Jay heard voices in the hall as the nurse was leaving and recognized his wife’s voice. “How’s he doing this morning?”
“He’s looking as good as he has in weeks. We’re all mystified. He might be turning a corner.”
“Or, it’s just the calm before the storm,” Sheila said as the nurse walked away.
Sheila Sandoval walked to the bed and kissed her husband. “Wow, the nurse is right. You do look good.”
“I’m feeling so much better. Dave was here last night.”
“Yeah, my brother Dave.”
“Jay, I just talked to Dave on the phone on the way here. He’s in Rhode Island.”
“Did you call his cell phone?” Sheila nodded. “Then you have no idea where he is,” he said.
Jay opened the drawer to the cabinet by his bed. In the drawer lay the bottle Dave had placed there; his brother had come by. “ You’re probably right – maybe I imagined it. I’ll give him a call.”
“I’m sure he’d like to talk to you, dear.”
“Believe me, he will,” he said. “I’ve thought things over and want to spend what time I have left at home.”
“Honey, are you sure?”
“I’m positive. I’ve never felt better since I was diagnosed.”
“You’re serious. Let’s talk more about this tomorrow. Then we can decide.”
“That’s the nice thing about tomorrow,” said Dave as he laid back.
“What’s that, dear?”
“There’s always a tomorrow to look forward to. Could you be a sweetheart and hand me that bottle in the drawer?”
Funny, the two times I was hospitalized for something serious my doctors had two different views. Back in 2010 I was handed all the high strength Oxycontin I wanted, in 2019, the only narcotic I was allowed was morphine to which I react badly, so that was out. Gotta tell ya, Oxycontin was better, but I did learn to cope with my pain.
By the way, kudos on your story. I like where you went with it. I will be commenting on it soon. I always like to reread the stories after I’ve read them once and some time has passed. I sometimes get a better feel for where and what the writer was doing. Great line, “I just wonder if this is the day I will get stabbed.” My, my, my Delilah.
I am a dreamer, so I always hated the way endings are cleaned of all magic and wonder just before the credits roll.
“And you were there, and you too, and you were a scarecrow. Oh Aunty Em!”
In the book version of “The Wizard of Oz”, there is no attempt to explain the magic away as feverish hallucinations, and I prefer it that way for multiple reasons.
You didn’t have the same kind of magic, but it was still a kind of marvel of science that might as well be magic.
Good job in the ending – it would have made me sadder any other way, but instead it was uplifting.
Thank you for your kind words. I really had several different endings in mind, and toyed with them for days before this ending which was the most satisfying for me. And, as you said, uplifting.
I’m one of those people who believe in science and don’t have a problem with scientists making us better including genetical manipulation.
It came down to two endings, the other being they find him with the bottle at his side, and him dead, implying he decided to choose himself when he was going to die and not the terminal illness, BUT, I decided if the drug his brother brought him worked as described, he wouldn’t care when the day came, so why leave early?
The original ending paragraph started with ‘After all, tomorrow is another day’, but thought the ghost of Margaret Mitchell might haunt me for the rest of my days. We’ll see if our younger writers get that connection.
Thanks for your kind words. The bleakness and despair part truly came form laying in a hospital bed for over 35 days without being able to drink water, eat food, and not a smidgin of any kind of libation. Time passed as if in a clogged hour glass. I wasn’t able to take any narcotics, and when I was given a couple of pseudo narcotics, like Dilantin, it reacted with the Benadryl they were using to help me try and get sleep. That caused terrible psychotic hallucinations that were akin to the ‘trip’ one reads about caused by LSD. No thank you.
The new drug I invented for this story – if ever made – will change the world.
I’m still deciding on a name for it. Any suggestions?
Oh, and please, regarding your story, I meant the subliminal part to suggest a husband going to a grave site to talk to his deceased wife, as was my story. Other than that, the similarities stop there. I thought your story was phenomenal and will still be tough to beat, although Ken F., just came up with something I need to reread and decide.
35 days?! Blimey! (I bet you were glad when you came out the other side of that!)
I meant … shouldn’t that be Sandoval?
“ ‘That’s the nice thing about tomorrow,’ said Sandoval as he laid back.”
Here’s my suggestion for a name. How about “Narcomort ” where your dreams go on forever. It’s a marketing dream.
Great story, as ever.
i have been having real issues this morning with writing comments on every story and then the site won’t post them and they disappear. Hence, I am reluctant to write a really long and meaningful comment. However, I have read all the others and I think we are all agreed that you have hit your usual high standard.
I am very excited to see so many stories so far, I read the ones posted by Sunday and I’m looking forward to reading the rest today.
A quick note to remember: if you go back and edit your story it removes the html code that makes it blue. I don’t receive a notification a comment has been edited so will not see it reverted back to black text unless I see it. The permalink remains the same so it’ll still be in the story list, but just pointing that out.
Also – if you don’t include a title I’ll assign one for voting purposes. Usually something in the first line. But it makes voting that much harder when we have a bunch of stories called “Untitled”.
“You’ve been open for a day.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Bliss sells like a son of a bitch.”
Pocketing my coins, I tipped my hat towards the vendor, though disappointment was settling in, and I didn’t need a bottle to feel it.
“If you’re not buying, bugger off.” The gravelly voice accompanied the distinct smell of liquor. Both belonged to a man that didn’t look like he favoured compromises. Not wanting to go home with a black eye, I sidestepped closer to the door. “Bottle of Lust” he said to the vendor.
As I left, I heard the bottle land on the counter, without a thanks from the drunk desperate for a lover. To be fair, I wasn’t much better. You’d never catch me buying Lust, but with both my parents dead for seventeen years, and no contact with my brother in five, isolation was a familiar friend.
Some time after exiting the store, I began to choke on smog, consequently realising where I was. I’d missed my street and had wandered far into the factory district. A slew of voices carried on the wind, distracting me enough to make me roam further. When I got nearer, I noticed the crowd, united outside a factory. Even through the smog, I could see handheld signs. “Man is never free.” “We are born in chains.” The Labourers Coalition: campaigning against inhumane treatment of factory workers. Reluctantly, I ignored the crowd, instead hiding in an alley beside me. Truth be told, I felt sorry for them. We all wanted what they wanted, but some of us learnt it’d never change.
Both my parents owed their deaths to machines. Three months apart, but the same factory. I begged at the knees of the manager for information on their deaths and received nothing in return. No amount of protests will stop that for others. Knowing how the campaigners liked to guilt-trip people into joining their cause, I stepped further into the alley. For a second I thought it was a blind alley, until it widened into a square, with two other alleys.
While the smell of urine snaked its way into my nostrils, I slowly looked around the area. But another smell was lingering. As I squeezed my nose shut between my thumb and forefinger, someone chuckled. Although he was of a similarly intimidating size to the stranger in the store, he was dressed a lot worse. “It’s the rotting flesh.” He said.
“What is?” I mumbled.
“That smell. It doesn’t sneak up on you like the piss does, it’s heavier, it never leaves, and it comes from the bodies.” He pointed at a pile of bodies, buried in the shadows of one of the other alleys. I recoiled in disgust. “Hooked on Bliss.” He continued.
“What?” My voice sounded higher than I would’ve preferred.
“Them. That Bliss is toxic.”
“I thought Emotion Bottles were the safest product on the market.” I tried not to stutter as I spoke.
“Oh that they are lad, but you see, Bliss ain’t an emotion.” His eyes glinted as if he revelled in my confusion. “It’s a state of being. Underground manufacturing, selling them as almost identical copies. The legitimate Emotion Bottle business can’t shut it down, because they don’t know how it operates.”
“So Bliss killed all of them?”
“Those ones. But there’s bloody tons of ‘em out there. Bliss, Panic, Lust. You think you’ve seen ‘em all, and then they make more, and you see more bodies the next day.” I thought back to the man in the store who bought Lust, now knowing he’d be dead soon. Then I thanked a higher power for there not being any Bliss when I tried to buy some.
He grabbed a bottle from his coat, though from what I could tell, it was only liquor. “You want some?” He reached into his pockets and pulled out three bottles. He was donning a smile disturbingly wide now.
I did stutter this time, declining the offer and avoiding eye contact. Once a few seconds of chilling silence had passed, I sprinted back through the alley. Factory smog swiftly replaced urine odours. With the occasional glance over my shoulder, I strayed further from the alley, towards my house. Night had fallen and I desperately needed sleep.
The next day, I wandered down a street far from the alley, taking extra caution to prevent another encounter. Desperate for a mundane day, I headed towards a nearby newspaper stall. I flipped through the paper, briefly seeing something about a protest. “You read it, you buy it.” He told me. Tired of confrontation, I counted the coins in my pocket, and handed them over to the stall owner.
Trudging away from the stall, in no particular direction, I opened up to the page about the protest. My eyes bounced between the words and the ground, only comprehending parts of sentences. “More deaths in factory… manager denies it all… triggering protest…” I muttered to myself, as I realised it was describing what I’d seen the day before. “Too barbaric… mass panic… bluecoats blame insurgents.” No surprise there, considering every factory manager had an agreement with the constabulary. Not disclosed to the public of course, but you hear things.
“Police interrupted… not all fled the scene… bow our heads…” I offered momentary silence for those that lost their lives in the stampede, undeterred by the fact that I recognised none of the names listed on the paper. At the end of the list was one name I did recognise. My brother’s.
Our parents’ death had undeniably affected him more, on account of the fact that he was much younger. I don’t think he came out stronger for it. But his youth made him more impressionable. More likely to join a protest. Mother always used to say I was the cynical one. She proved me right from beyond the grave as I found myself without tears. I’d never been much of a crier; I hoped something would come to wash out the pain.
It hurt. Knowing I was the only one left. Nothing to fight for. Not even contributing to society, ignoring human rights protests left and right. Mother knew more than she thought. Loneliness had been waiting for me for a while, but it didn’t soften the blow. The reality I was facing never truly felt like a possibility. If anything, I’d expected myself to die first. I dropped the newspaper and continued up the street, towards a store I’d visited before.
The store owner greeted me as if I were a regular customer. After realising there was no queue, I approached the counter with coins already in my hand.
“What will it be today, my good sir? We’ve restocked the Bliss, if you’re still thirstin’ for it?”
I’d never wanted to see the bottom of a bottle more in my life. “Please.”
Great job. When the prompt first appeared I wondered about how i was going to do it justice and had an initial thought about a shop that had sold out of the emotion I wanted. After that, my thoughts petered out, unlike yours.
You took this on and turned it into something that I could not. Kudos, my friend.
This should do well in the voting.
I understand what you mean with his reaction, and I tried to justify it through his cynicism, but couldn’t quite nail it. Oh well. And yes, I definitely agree with the small sentence change – I believe it was because in a draft, I had already mentioned the existence of the stall owner, and so the “he” would’ve been clear. But I suppose I edited that part out, forgetting that the pronoun was still there. All in all though, thank you for the compliments, the kind words I hear are always mentioned to my friends, simply because they make me happy (one emotion that isn’t bottled up, that’s for sure).
This is an excellent story, Peter. The pace is quick, you maintained my interest and attention throughout, you have a nice rhythm and tempo to your writing too. I think this story highlights your ability to create realistic characters. Not heroic, not simpletons, just ordinary people, in this case, going into a downward spiral.
I totally agree with Phil’s observations. And I read your replies to other comments and found your description of how your plot unfolded for you to be intriguing as hell. You made your story sound like the Frankenstein monster, but many of my stories ‘fall’ together from various unrelated impressions and evolve after I’ve started on them, just as you mentioned. It’s a quirky thing to explain.
I don’t know much about William Blake, but his profound poem ‘Tyger’ is my all-time favorite. It elucidates the very paradox of faith. ‘Did he who made the lamb make thee?’
Always a pleasure reading your stories and comments, Peter.
Tyger is in the collection we’re analysing, but I don’t think it’s on the syllabus (unfortunately). I’ll have to have a look at it sometime though. For now, here’s to hoping my Frankenstein-esque style conjures something up for the next prompt.
by Ken Miles
It used to be crystals. Some would swear by them, others derided them. But now it’s these colorful little bottles all over the place. Bottled emotions. Yes, you heard well. Welcome to the 2030s.
You can buy them online for 99 cents a bottle from Taiwan. And Harrods has them for £400 a piece, if you can spare that kind of money.
“If Dad was still around, he’d think you’ve completely lost it, Mom!”
“You mean the bottles?”
“I mean it could be a bit of fun. One or two of ’em bottles. I know, they’re all the rage right now. But you’ve turned the whole house into the very Temple of the Bottled Emotion!”
“Don’t you feel the love, Son? Here, take this one with you…”
She hands Daryl a little vial-like glass bottle containing a foamy liquid the believers call ‘æther’. The young man looks at it for a while, and affords it a broad smile, before slipping it inside his SEAL uniform pocket. It’s not a ridiculing smile, but a sympathetic one towards his ageing, superstitious mother. She never really filled up the emptiness Dad left behind.
And now it may be him next. He can’t tell her about the deadly top-secret mission he’s just been assigned to. His team will be going into the separatist region of New Missouriland. The objective: to kill self-proclaimed President Cassius “Silko” Williams, no less. Coming back alive was far from guaranteed. The previous incursion in the region by 200 SEALs returned 200 corpses. Silko’s men were made of steel.
Daryl’s mother had no idea that this could be the last time she’d be seeing him. His smile disappears, and he only just restrains his tears.
“It’s bottled love”, his Mom fills him in on her gift, “Unscrew the lid just slightly, breathe in a little, and love will come to you, whenever you want it.”
“Love, huh? I’m in the military, Mom, not in a dating club.”
“That’s why. There ain’t much love in the military. Keep that bottle with you for when you need it most.”
o o o
“I want Silko’s head this time!”
Although years have passed since Silko’s troops totally savaged Commander Hudson’s force, the Commander’s mouth still foams when he speaks of that man. He wants to go for Silko again, eliminate him once and for all. What’s different now? Hudson’s Intelligence discovered the secret behind Silko’s troops’ indomitable passion to fight for their leader.
But he’ll have to get the President to buy into the idea first.
“You said ‘bottled emotions’? Like that shit every silly girl carries along in her handbag these days?” the President can’t believe what he’s just heard, “Seriously, Hudson, tell me another one! You don’t really think that snake-oil is…”
“I don’t think. I know, Sir.”
“Æther is real, Sir. We tested it and it does trap emotions! Place it next to two love-birds, say for a day, and it captures the vibe of love, Mr. President…”
“Even if so, what are we gonna do with some bottled love?” The President trusts Hudson, considers him a friend too. But this idea just seems too off.
“It captures love, but it can capture any other emotion: rage, spite, fear, dread. My boys found out what Silko did two years ago…”
Hudson pauses to ensure that the President is with him, then goes on, “He had a thousand of his own men beaten up to death with sticks. Seventeen hours of torture. Their collective rage was captured in bottles, which were then placed in the air-vents of the army barracks for the soldiers to breath.”
The President’s permanent grin has now all but vanished. Hudson is serious.
“Our SEALs, armed with nothing but machine-guns, seemed like a bunch of sissies facing those enraged wild men! That’s how they slaughtered our best-of-the-best… Now that I learned the trick, with your permission, Mr. President, I wanna beat Silko with his own weapon.”
“My permission? To torture a thousand men? Suck out their rage? I can’t let you do that.”
“No. That’s what Silko does. I’m gonna outdo him…”
“We’re going to the zoo! The lions’ cage. That’s the kind of rage I wanna collect and feed our SEALs. Lions’ wrath!”
o o o
The battle is fierce, but Silko’s soldiers succumb to Hudson’s beastly-enraged troops. Hudson and the President watch the bodycam footage on a wall of two-hundred screens as each one of their men penetrates the enemy headquarters and with feline ferocity clears every Missouriland fighter in their path.
Excitement is high when SEAL-157, Daryl, enters Silko’s own lair.
A toilet in Silko’s compound has been ripped out of the floor and Daryl catches up with Silko, who tries to escape through the sewage duct. Daryl points his gun at the defenseless Silko, and is about to shoot him point-blank.
But for some strange reason he feels pity for the man. It was one thing ravaging enemy soldiers from afar, but actually making eye contact with this unarmed man crunches Daryl’s heart.
Daryl withdraws his gun, and helps Silko crawl out of the sewage pipe with him.
“Are you freaking kidding me? Why didn’t you shoot him!” Hudson yells in vain at the live footage of Daryl and Silko, now enlarged to fill all two-hundred screens.
Back in the compound, Silko offers Daryl some brandy. He then attaches a medal to Daryl’s chest.
“That’s the highest decoration our Land can confer,” Silko tells Daryl, “the greatest honor, for saving the President.”
Silko pauses, and then continues, “It’s a real pity you’re from the enemy’s fold. No personal hard-feelings, boy, but I’d have to stick to principles and have you executed.”
Daryl tries to grab his gun, but it’s too late. Some of Silko’s men are already in the apartment and they drag Daryl violently to a lock-up room. The lion in Daryl is gone.
Hudson can’t believe his eyes.
“We had Silko in the palm of our hands! Just what the hell got in that kid’s head!”
He doesn’t need to wait long for an answer. The phone rings and the zoo-keeper is on the line. He sounds panicked.
“A student investigating lions’ behavior was checking surveillance-camera footage, Sir,” the zoo-keeper spits out in one breath, “I think we captured more than we bargained for in those emotion bottles. This damn squirrel got inside the lions’ cage, I’ve no idea where it came from… Lions can actually be quite playful once they’ve eaten. They just licked and played with that ball of fur! Quite adorable, really… but I don’t think that’s what you wanted to end up in your bottles…!”
o o o
Silko doesn’t execute Daryl. Instead he insists that the SEAL takes him to his Commander. On arrival, he embraces the incredulous Hudson and offers him a generous peace deal.
“What the hell’s going on, boy?” Hudson, still in Silko’s arms, whispers to Daryl.
“I dunno, Sir. Only now I’ve realized I must’ve dropped this little love bottle my Mom gave me, in Silko’s apartment most probably, when they manhandled me away. It must’ve got smashed on the floor… and Silko breathed the whole lot of it! Anyway, it’s not in my pocket anymore…”
Yes, it’s quite a lot for 1,200 words (I had more words, originally, before I brought in the axe). Hmmm, I didn’t think it would be confusing, though. Maybe I axed out something that was critical at some point?
But well, be prepared. That’s what’s upon us in the 2030s. Like things are not complicated enough already!
Thank again for reading and commenting (I commented on your story too).
This was a real rollercoaster of emotions and twists and turns. You made me think one thing was going to happen, then it didn’t and then you led me down another blind alley until I was unsure of where it would all end. This is masterful misdirection.
I am keeping my comments short as I am trying to comment upon everyone’s writing and the site has blocked and lost several of my comments today so I am reluctant to write something long and then lose it.
Hope this one gets through.
Yes, I’ve made it a habit lately to throw in quite a few twists and turns in my stories. That’s not ideal for flash fiction, perhaps. More like suitable for a Netflix miniseries…
I’m pleased to hear that my misdirection worked well with you. Not too much as it did with Liz (who said above that she was thrown off the rollercoaster!), but just enough to reserve for you some surprises along the way.
Hear! Hear! re the difficulty to upload comments on WordPress, sometimes, when it just wouldn’t cooperate or just makes disappearing acts. The other time I coudn’t even upload my story, and Carrie had to do it for me!
Thanks for reading and commenting (I also commented on your story, in the meantime)
You guessed the outcome? How? You must have been involved. Are you one of Silko’s men?? Who knew!
I fully agree with you about the last paragraph. The reader would have added one and one, if I simply had Daryl allude to where the bottle had ended up. And that would have freed me some precious words to use elsewhere.
Also about the beginning. I was aware of the intro paragraphs being a little detached from the storyline itself, but I didn’t think hard enough of how to integrate that info inside the story. Your suggestion is a good solution. Thanks.
In the first draft, the story takes place in some dodgy separatist region in the former Soviet Union, in that trouble-filled area along the Silk Road (that’s why I called him SILKO – the Warlord of the Silk Road). But then I thought of bringing the whole thing over the United States for a better overall effect. We should never take anything for granted. As you pointed out, after Trump, there is enough division in the US for anything to happen. Well, the divisions were always there, I suppose, but now they’ve become more evident than ever since the Civil War. So “Novo-Chechny-Barnosh” became “New Missouriland”… I’m glad you picked that out!
I tried to infuse a comical effect throughout the piece (like when Hudson and Silko hug), to defuse a bit the absurd pseudoseriousness of the story. The toilet scene I got it from ten years ago, when Colonel Gaddafi of Libya was found (of all places) hiding in a sewage duct.
Thanks for your feedback, Phil. I also wrote a comment to your story.
And stop hanging around with the likes of Silko, okay?
I did not quite get the paragraph about the Zookeeper’s call?!
Chronologically speaking, the battle was being fought fiercely, “Silco’s soldiers succumb to Hudson’s beastly -enraged troops” – that clearly means the “rage” bottles they collected were effective.
What happened with SEAL Daryl was a different “bottle story”
The end was already predictable. Hence the last paragraph is literally spoonfeeding the reader!
The bottles worked for some time because the lions’ rage had been properly collected in them. But somewhere in the mix, the lions’ relative “adorable” compassion towards the defenceless squirrel was also captured.
That’s what showed up in Daryl when he had Silko right in the palm of his hand. The defenceless squirrel was a metaphor for the defenceless Silko, also in the way it brought out the more jovial side of the lions as well as Daryl’s kinder side. Dangerously enough.
When the zoo-keeper calls, he informs the Commander that besides the useful aggressivity, the bottles must have unfortunately also captured the lions’ amiable attitude towards the squirrel, which is not a good thing for the soldiers at war.
I’ll have another look at that paragraph. Maybe it needs some ironing, to make it clearer. It’s a bit too long and long-winded as well, for a man talking in a panic. It may do with some clipping…
I agree about the ending. Daryl could just wonder where the bottle ended up. And then the reader will add the dots and realize what on earth happened to Silko. Again, it was a very long-winded paragraph, that needs more axe-work on it!
Thanks for the precious feedback.
We are shown that the whole team of seals is fighting like lions thanks to the rage potion, but then the story focuses on Daryl alone. He is the only SEAL to act differently then. Therefore, it makes sense that Daryl’s kindness is due to his personal love bottle (nothing to do with the Zoo, since the rest of the team were only pictured as savages)
The focus is on what happens to Daryl as he chases Silko. It is the squirrel mess-up inside the lions’ cage, while the rage was being collected, that compromises Daryl’s rage factor, and not his mother’s love-bottle – that bottle will come in later. I assume that the mistakenly collected compassion due to the squirrel’s entry on the scene diminishes the other soldiers’ fighting capability too, but what happens to the other soldiers is not exactly central to the story. I may however decrease some of the confusion if I were to bring it in.
In the first draft, I had a mate fighting alongside Daryl, and he also felt some degree of compassion creeping in him, while adding the value of some dialogue over description (Roy’s suggestion).
Daryl: “Can you shoot him, I’m just not feeling it…”
Mate: “Me neither. I just can’t…!”
But I then took out the mate, to avoid involving too many characters.
Another solution would be to show the other soldiers giving up the fight on the 200 screens:
Commander Hudson: “What the hell is going on? They were doing so well, why are they retreating, putting down their guns?”
The President: “The rage is wearing off?”
Hudson: “Can’t be! We injected them the full dose – it should last the whole day…”
The President: “Look there – our men on Main Street, and on Jefferson Square, they’re getting killed!”
Hudson: “To hell with them! As long as we get Silko.” He turns to the technician, “Give me SEAL 137 on full screen.” All two-hundred screens merge into one showing SEAL 137, Daryl, inside Silko’s compound…
This will, in one sweep, show the compassion element affecting all the soldiers and not just Daryl, tell us how the rage-in-a-bottle aether had been administered to the soldiers (eg. by injection), give us a glimpse of the ruthlessness of war (Hudson’s words) and introduces Daryl to us as SEAL 137.
Thanks for your comment. These reactions will help me improve this story in the event of using it somewhere else in the future.
Thanks for reading and for your feedback.
Let’s hope America won’t get balkanized the way I portrayed it here! The world needs a good, properly-functioning America. But the warning is out!
I will be commenting on your story. Watch the space.
Strong story, but I feel compelled to tell you how much better it would have been if you had shown us instead of tell us.
You are a talented writer with a vivid and story telling imagination and I for one am pleased you were able to overcome that eyesight thing a while back and keep on contributing to these pages. I like you so much in fact, I feel I can tell you this and not have you go into denial on the other side as you read this.
Let me give you an example of tell vs show, IMHO, in your story.
Excitement is high when SEAL-157, Daryl, enters Silko’s own lair.
A toilet in Silko’s compound has been ripped out of the floor and Daryl catches up with Silko, who tries to escape through the sewage duct. Daryl points his gun at the defenseless Silko, and is about to shoot him point-blank.
To me this sounded like I was catching up with the second thrilling episode of a cliff hanger. It is all tell.
Something along these lines would have made it a little more informative, again, IMHO.
Excitement is high when SEAL-157, Daryl, enters Silko’s own lair. Silko is trying desperately to fit himself into a hole where a toilet once sat and escape into the sewage system.”Silko,” shouts Daryl, holding a gun at point blank range, “It’s over.”
Am I making sense to you? More show; less tell. I realize we all need tell in our stories, as in fact, that is what we are doing, but when you paint the picture for me as you can do so very well, it makes the story that much more enjoyable.
And, I loved how you took the prompt in a great direction. And, figured out how to prevent wars in the future. I am a member of Rotary International and when I used to talk on the subject of why we spent so much time with exchange programs with other countries, including Russia and all the satellite nations, I used to say, if we are all friends, it’s tough to make war. Just a little brotherly love goes a very long way – or sisterly love, but not in the biblical sense, if you get my drift,
No need to comment on my story. (I know it’s great.) It’s fair to note that I would’ve been hurt by the omission of your comments… IF… I had feelings. Which I don’t. So, no worries.. (Butt-head.) I was busy.
Your offering was very typical Ken M. fare. Complex plot, misdirection, strife, bad guys getting all lovey-dovey. Revolting Americans shooting themselves in their big, fat, ugly feet. Italian mother with a love potion, a Navy SEAL strike force, Lions, and toilets and squirrels. Oh my!
I thought it was damned clever, and bore similarities to Mansfield’s story with the bottled animal emotions. I think it could’ve used more polish, which may have hurt it a little. But I think the real problem (for others) was the thin thread of ‘squirrel compassion behavior’ that got accidentally captured with the lion emotions.
I have a solution for that. (I should charge you for this.) Also, why would you have college interns alerting the General on the ‘squirrel problem’? No government scientists available?
Doesn’t matter. Get rid of the squirrels, nobody believes that shit. The problem, is that they used emotions of male and female lions., Female lions have kittens, mothers and sisters. Male lions are born loners. And they’re ruthless.
The problem was that the female lions have a deep, hereditary streak of compassion that male lions simply don’t have or need.
Solution? Collect emotional substance from male lions only. Voila! Sans squirrels.
Throw some science in there, Ken. Don’t resort to squirrel psychology for your … have you ever heard of deus ex squirrelina? No? Exactly.
Good story though. It was both dark, and light-hearted. I’m disappointed that more people aren’t getting what you’re doing but, we must remember, they are just people, Ken. Not everyone liked Vonnegut either, or what’s his name, the other guy. Whatever, just keep up the good work.
Seriously, I liked it Ken. It could’ve used more words, sure, but I would’ve tried different ones first, in just a few select places. I don’t agree that the show and tell aspect was the problem with your story. (I didn’t think the story had a problem to begin with. A lot of good stories come in 32nd place. Around here.) It certainly would’ve solved the problem with the paragraph Roy used as an example. Which was from your story. So he wasn’t wrong, with his example.
I totally agree with Philip on the arrangement of your first three paragraphs. He has a good eye and caught a lot of errors this week. From me as well. I should…. Probably be nicer to him.
From time to time. (Don’t want him to go into shock though.)
Ken Cartisano (the first, and last.)
From: The Life of Ril. Ch. 11101.
By K. Cartisano
Ril was an outcast, even among these interstellar pirates. Curious, but passive by nature, his attachment to the crew was not of his choosing. Shanghaied from a ‘thane bar on Betelgeuse V, his eventual escape was a foregone conclusion, unless the Captain saw fit to kill him before the opportunity arose. Until then, his goal was to be as useful as possible to the ruthless bastard, and somehow hold his own against his crew of amphibious, interplanetary cut-throats.
Ril was an intelligent creature that excelled at camouflage, that’s why he was utilized as a forward scout. Sent down to the planet’s surface on a chemical leash, a time-released bio-toxin coursing through his veins that could be rendered harmless with the proper antidote. This was to ensure his return. It was one of many means by which the Captain measured the risks of plundering a planet.
He was summoned to the bridge for his customary de-briefing, which also served as entertainment for the hard-shelled Captain and crew. Despite his eight arms, Ril was small in stature and invertebrate by design; certainly not known for his physical prowess, he did not mesh well with the crew.
But he was observant, and that’s why, when he mentioned the ‘strange liquid’ to the Captain, he couldn’t help but notice a few furtive glances among members of the crew.
“The water?” The Captain bawled. “We all know all about the water, they’re stewing themselves in it.” This drew a cautious chuckle from the crew.
“Yes sir,” Ril countered, “but this isn’t water. It’s different.”
The Captain’s feelers turned toward Ril. “In what way?”
“It seems to affect the inhabitants—emotionally.”
This remark was followed by silence, as the crew waited for the Captain to indicate whether it was important or not.
Evidently it was, as the Captain propelled himself back to his chair and said, “Aye, I’ve heard of such things. Is it common here?” Some of the crew eyed Ril in a whole new light: if only for the moment.
“It’s pervasive. They use it for everything.”
“Medicine too?” The Captain queried.
“Well, that’s stretching its benefits, but there are some kinds, and situations…”
“…in which the benefits are obvious.” The Captain finished for him.
“The variety is endless. Although…”
“It’s all basically the same thing.”
Ril nodded. “Yessir.” Again, the Captain had neatly ‘taken’ the information before Ril could give it to him.
At this point, one of the more boisterous crewmembers said, “So it’s just so much more water…”
The Captain raised a claw, the navigator fell silent and Ril addressed the Captain directly. “It can have a similar appearance, but it’s a much more complex molecule. It’s often mixed with water despite their divergent properties.”
It should be noted here, that interstellar pirates are not common. The glue that bound this unique band of galactic scum together was the Captain’s gift for telepathy. He could read your thoughts and had no reservations about telling you his. This gave him quite the advantage over most rivals, friendly or otherwise.
“Please explain, Ril” the Captain said, “to this assortment of potential space ballast, an example of divergent properties.”
“Well uh,” Ril paused, “you could start a fire with one, while you’d use the other to put a fire out. That’s pretty divergent.”
“So, one is flammable and the other isn’t.” The Captain translated.
“The difference could be deadly.” Ril added.
The Captain agreed. “It does. It sounds toxic, and it’s a fluid, so I assume they drink it. But how much does it take, and what does it do?”
“Well no, Captain, they don’t necessarily drink it.”
“Then how do they ingest it? And why?”
“They don’t ingest it at all.”
This drew a fair amount of murmuring from the crew. They’d never seen anyone correct the Captain three times in a row, and live.
“Then what do they do with it, Scout? Smoke it?”
“That’s just it, Captain, they don’t ingest it, they cover things with it.”
“Cover things? What do you mean, cover? How do you cover something with liquid? And why? And how would that affect your mental equilibrium?”
“Well, I don’t know, Captain. I just know that the liquid varies in thickness, it’s applied with various tools and techniques, it seems to solidify and harden, at which point the participants seem satisfied, ecstatic, or, in some cases, somber. At times, they examine the results with inexplicable solemnity, and begin the whole process all over again.”
“Does this liquid have a name?” The Captain begged, and, at a nod from Ril said, “Mind your manners Ril, and whisper its name in my ear pocket.”
What followed was a moment of vast universal import, as if star-sized gears were disengaged while galactic shafts spun free and wobbled in surprise. The Captain sat back in his chair. “So, they think, if I understand you correctly, that adding a new shell to an old object, makes the object new again?”
“Something very much like that, Captain.”
“Of what use could such a planet be, to creatures of our advanced natures?”
Disappointment produced a mixture of reactions from the crew, from swearing and farting, to spitting and sliming: Knives were sheathed, claws retracted.
“Enough!” The Captain bellowed in their heads. “Break orbit and set course for the Centauri sector.” He appeared to leave the bridge but reappeared a moment later. “And clean up this mess by sixteen bells, or mark my words,” he aimed his eyestalks at each horror in turn and said, “I’ll paint every last one of you.”
Others have mentioned the two things I would have pointed out, like the whisper to the Captain and the chemical leash (which I also thought was brilliant), so I won’t delve on them.
Otherwise, a fine story sir, with a twist ending that I had to think about for quite a while, wondering why being painted by the Captain would be such a bad thing. The crew members could have had a contest on who was most loved by the Captain by the results of the paint job. You know, the best colors, the best coated, the least coated and so on.
Or, do they already know as he tells each of them telepathically, “I like you the best”. I mean, who’s to know, except the Captain.?
You have to read the stories, and the comments from the top down. What are you, part Chinese? Come on. Okay, next contest, I’ll read the last two paragraphs of your story first, then we’ll see what happens.
“The lights came back on, and we found the missing puppy, hiding under the pizza box. And that’s why we named him Domino.”
“You’re right though, he does smell like cheese.”
Don’t do that to me.
Seems like a while since I commented upon your work. Where does the time go?
You have written a story that is so visual that I feel I have also seen the film. That’s the beauty of magical realism in sci – fi writing…you can invent any creature you like. Just love this and so enjoyed reading it.
I’ve had problems this morning getting my comments to be sent, several disappeared so, with limited time, I am keeping things short.
Suffice to say, you have hit Cartisano Heights as usual and I think this story should be well received by the other writers as much as it was by me.
That’s a good catch, both of them, actually. I forgot that the Captain could just read his mind. (Duh. Well clearly, both of my characters were smarter than me. I was one of the crewman.) And as far as the clue, ‘starting fires with one and putting them out with another.’ Artistic bullshit. Oil based paints are flammable, but we all know I was talking about water-based paints. (Well, I was.) Does that make me a bad person?
Believe me Phil, whatever is wrong with this story, it is still so much better than the other one I abandoned. Oh my God it was horrible. How horrible? The writing in that story was more horrible than the creatures in this story. That’s how horrible it was.
Thanks for the feedback, Phil.
I am a big fan of the original Star Trek series (I wasn’t born or raised a Trekky, but I acquired the affliction in adulthood), so I am biased, but this is still just good science-fiction.
The part with the chemical leash is brilliant and having the main character feel out of place amongst the crew made it way more immersive (I could identify with his discomfort).
This felt like a fun episode of Star Trek with serious originality.
BTW…..There is a compelling little game with simple graphics called “FTL” that is ten dollars I think and it is basically Oregon Trail meets Star Trek, complete with telepathic captains and raiding parties…..you should check it out some day if you get bored enough and like a challenge.
By Ken Frape
Mama Evergreen was my maternal grandmother but everyone called her Mama. Even in the grocery store where she bought all of her kilner jars and storage pots ,bottles and jam jars, she was Mama Evergreen and she would not have wanted it any other way.
I spent a lot of time with Mama and Gramps. I was an only child and my parents thought that was one too many. When they were working or meeting with friends or just taking a break somewhere down the coast, my presence was not required so me and Mama and Gramps welded ourselves into a really tight team.
I loved the outdoors and the three of us used to follow the seasons in all their abundance. On the ten acre plot that we called Evergreen Farm there were fields full of potatoes, tomatoes, beans and peas, sweet corn and carrots. There were strawberries and gooseberries, raspberries and loganberries, apples and pears, juniper and elderflower. I bet there was other stuff too but you get the picture.
I learned so much in those years about planting and cultivating and harvesting, bottling and preserving. One of the main things that sticks in my mind is that, according to Mama Evergreen, you could bottle just about anything. If more people did this, Mama insisted, there would be no need for hunger and starvation. You can keep bottles for years, eat what’s in them when times are hard and sell the surplus when there was a bumper crop. Nothing need go to waste.
The kitchen and the cellar were the key rooms at Evergreen Farm. In that kitchen, I learned to identify the smell of every vegetable and fruit, just like you can tell birdsong. Every one is special and every one is different. Hanging from hooks way above my head were vast saucepans and tureens that were big enough to bathe in. Massive wooden spoons and ladles stood to attention in a big bin in the corner, like a family photo going down in size from Pa to baby.
Every pot, pan, spoon or cooking utensil had a name. The biggest spoon was Abigail and the tiniest, used for pinches of spice was Zena, no bigger than my littlest finger nail.
“Go and fetch Melanie,” Mama would say and I would come back with the exact spoon she needed. Or, “Can you get me Greta” and back I would come with the right knife for chopping vegetables.
Almost every day Mama would wink at me and then say to Gramps something along the lines of, “How are those beans doing, Gramps?” Or perhaps it was, “How are those strawberries coming along today, Gramps?” Gramps would know then that Mama had already been in the field or the orchard or the hedgerow and she knew what was ripe for harvesting, some to eat right away but most to be prepared for bottling. Gramps would give me a sideways wink that we could all see and out we would go to gather the crop whilst Mama got things set up in the kitchen.
Gramps and I would fill as many trugs and baskets as we could and by the time we got back into the kitchen the biggest pot, Annabelle she was called, would be bubbling away ready for blanching the crop or for sterilizing more glass jars.
By the evening, I would sit with Mama and Gramps and watch the line of bottled fruits or vegetables or jams and chutneys that were cooling by the open kitchen door. After supper, when everything on the menu was homegrown, Gramps and Mama would tighten the lids and then Gramps and I would carry each precious jar down into the basement. Down there, under the house, Gramps had lined the walls with strong shelves to carry the hundreds and hundreds of jars. Every jar had a handwritten label, like “Green tomato chutney” or “Raspberry Jelly,” with the date neatly inscribed beneath. We could have lived in that cellar for years if the bomb had gone off and we had to hide.
There was a windpump outside that supplied water for the house and the crops. It came from deep underground and it was always cool and fresh and clear as daylight on a Summer morning. Gramps had taken a t –piece from this and laid a pipe into the cellar. He had also installed a sink and a toilet so we would have been pretty safe down there. In the corner there was a big old stuffed leather sofa and on the few quiet days when Mama let Gramps alone, he used to snooze there, surrounded by enough food to last for years.
Time passes and in spite of what we tell ourselves, it seems to speed up as we get older. When we are young we are impatient to get on with our lives, to have our first kiss, our first alcoholic drink, our first cigarette. By the time Mama Evergreen and Gramps were in their 70s, they had learned to slow everything down, like holding their finger over a hole in the hourglass of their lives, savouring every moment, not wasting anything.
They got to their mid eighties and Mama and Gramps continued to sew, grow, water, harvest, bottle and preserve and then they died, just weeks apart. I was twenty then, away at college, still not aware that Evergreen Farm was to be mine. It was only after the memorial service when Mum and Dad and I went to check that the place was secure that we saw the letter on the kitchen table held in place by a jar of jam made when I was 15.
I cried when I read the letter and my parents went to sit in the car. Their plans to sell the place were now in tatters. They wanted the money to buy a holiday place. They knew what I would do.
I wish you could have met Mama and Gramps as I don’t think any words I can use would do justice to the kind of people they were.
One thing that Mama Evergreen said has always stuck in my mind. “You can bottle pretty much anything,” she said. So let me introduce you to them. This is Mama in the green bottle and Gramps is in the blue one.
Liz, I didn’t look at my pinkynail … neither of them. We’ve been close, very close for a looong time.
I could have filled a jar of tears while reading this.
Tears of sadness and of joy…maybe two separate jars actually 😜
Mama Evergreen & Gramps, two beautiful humans everyone would love to have in their lives.
Mama EVERGREEN – what a fitting name! 😍
Here you are again with what you do best: a very evocative piece of writing that transports the reader (certainly, this reader) into another place and time; feeling, smelling, touching the details of everything you described.
It’s a journey back in time many would perhaps relate to, in some way or another. For me it was my Grandma’s legendary sandwich with tomato paste and olive oil (from a jar and a bottle, there we are!). I still somehow remember vividly when I was three and she hadn’t yet prepared it for me when Mum needed to leave for home with me and couldn’t wait. But I insisted there was no way I would leave Grandma’s house before I’ve had my fave sandwich. And I was going to take my time to eat it. Mum left and said she’ll pick me up later, then. She didn’t. On her way home, a massive lorry ploughed her car into an unrecognisable mass of metal. If it wasn’t for those goodies in a jar and a bottle, I would have been in that car and wouldn’t be writing this to you now…
(Btw, my mum actually survived in the end, but at the hands of excellent surgeons, and not before the last sacraments had already been administered…)
The ending did hit me a bit as macabre, coming after such lyrical writing. I’m just saying, not complaining. I like an ending with a bit of a punch. And, you know, from my previous stories and comments, I have no issue with macabre!
Bottle it up and shelve it because this is a quality product!
“A long time since you commented on one of my stories?” You wrote.
A long time? It seems like forever. As if time had run out, wound to a standstill, the planets, all still in their original order, cold, dark and stationary. The sun, devolved into a tightly spinning ball of neutrons the size of New Delhi, but far denser than any American politician, has lost so much momentum it barely turns, like an old music box, its tiny ballerina in a dance of death.
It seemed even longer. If you can imagine that.
(I just wanted to prove that I could exaggerate as well as you.)
So, were was I? Oh yes, I owe you a critique. Your story, which everyone loved, struck me as a bit of a prank. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But…) I had no idea you were that devious. Setting me up with grammakins, and pappykins, all happy and canning their asparagus for the hard times ahead. In the meantime, treating childerkind to Hay rides, pancakes, and, was there a hammock? No? Okay, well, he was treated, well.
Now, clearly, the parents reappear at the end, expecting to get the house, on the death of the grandparents, but they get nothing, that seems fair, who can find fault with that? But the old folks in the bottles?
What are they doing in the bottles, Ken?
Ever see the movie ‘Phenomenon’? With John Travolta? Your ending reminds me of that movie.
This is a pleasant read. While the ending didn’t trouble me, I still found it somewhat perplexing. Such is life. Congrats on the second place finish. Clearly the story, and/or the writing struck a rewarding chord with the hoi polloi.
Hi Prapti – stories must be posted by Wednesday at 12:00 central time.
So in about 26 hours from now.
What time zone are you in?
Btw i’m not receiving in emails or notifications.
Check out this link if you are not receiving the email notifications.
Ok writers! Time is up!
You officially have 24 hours to vote.
— You must vote for your story to qualify
— You may not vote for yourself
— You may only vote once and must choose a different story for the 1st-5th slots.
The voting link is here: https://fictionwritersgroup.com/voting-bottled-emotions-2021/
If you don’t see your story listed for some reason please let me know asap. I’m pretty sure I got them all…. 😉
We have had a lot of people sign up for the newsletter and I think you writers are sharing the links – so I’m happy about that.
We’ve had 40+ people vote for stories with 40 minutes left in the voting window.
For these three stories to qualify, I am waiting on votes from: Trent Marsh, Clinton R. Siegle, and Ken Cartisano.
I would like to make public that I voted for Phil’s story for best character. All the other votes were a compromise between several possible options (this good story or this other good story?). But I knew at the very outset that I’d be assigning my Best Character Oscar to Phil.
And that’s for the way he delivered a character without really bringing her in. This is what I wrote in the vote note field: “CHARACTER NAME: No name. For me it’s the deceased partner of the narrator that is the loudest character. Her silence, as expressed by Phil’s masterful pen, simply haunted me.”
Good luck everyone! Got to get up from here and stretch now!!
Without further ado…..here are your winners!!
1st Place winner is Phil Town with his story “Daffodils”!!
2nd Place: Bottling things up by Ken Frape
3rd Place: The Get Together by Prapti Gupta
4th Place: The Hangover by Victoria Chvatal
Coat of Arms by Ken Cartisano
5th Place: The Trip 1961 by Robt. Emmett
6th Place: Hair of the Dog by John Mansfield
7th Place: One from the Top by Mike Rymarz
8th Place: Pushing It by RM York
9th Place: Blissful Ignorance by Peter Holmes
Smirk by Trent Marsh
Magical Bookstore of Portal Worlds by Clinton R. Siegle
10th Place: Bottled Emotions by Ken Miles
11th Place: Let Chance Decide by Christine Pfister
12th Place: Bottles and More by Liz Fisher
The story with the favorite character was Mama Evergreen from “Bottling things up” by Ken Frape
The story with the favorite dialogue was “The Hangover” by Victoria Chvatal
Onward into … the silence.
Well done, my friend. You got my vote and it is a privilege to take second place behind you and in such a strong field.
Well done to all the writers.
Let’s hope that the response to the next prompt IS NOT silence!
And the next prompt is posted!
Thanks to everyone who commented on my story, & sorry I didn’t have the time to respond.
Forgot to vote, thought the deadline was today. Despite the oversight, it was nice of you Carrie to show my approximate placement in the rankings. Somewhere between fourth, fifth and Betelgeuse VI. I’m having a little trouble with my ‘timer.’ Not my ticker, my timer. (It never worked right to begin with.) I thought yesterday was Saturday on top of everything else. But the garbage men are here today… I guess I got the garbage pickup mixed up with the story voting, what with all the stress I suffered over the Tom Jones story. No no, It’s okay Liz. I’m okay. I’m over it. It’s only been 34 years. It just takes time.
I’m not surprised that none of my characters were in the running for fave, but if the category was, My Favorite Crustacean? He would’ve cleaned up.
What a bevy of talented writers.
Congrats on the story, Phil. Personally? I thought it was maudlin. Oversentimental. No way it would’ve gotten my vote. No way. In fact, didn’t Roy do something like this a few months ago. The old man, driving the car to the cemetary, every day to see his dead wife. After his death and burial his son finds the photo of the couple lying in the grass next to the gravesite. ??? Anyone remember that?
But hey, I’m taking notes here. If that’s all it takes to win. A dead wife, some flowers, an old car. (Any lobsters? No?) Wine, cheese and flowers. Still, I’d have to write like Phil, and that ain’t happening, so, there goes that idea. Right out the window.
Seriously though, some great stories and wonderful writing. Can’t wait to see how you all mangle the next prompt.
Congrats to all the writers who voted, themselves. Voters who write for themselves, and boaters who righted themselves.
(There was no room for ‘blighters’ or ‘bloaters.’)
Oh I don’t doubt that for a second. (BTW, The writing was excellent Phil.) I missed you and Roy’s comments on the similarities to his story, or I would have merely noted my agreement. And there were of course, differences. As others have pointed out.
You wrote a dialogue with only one character present in the flesh, (and living.) That was the reveal, but, I had it figured out by the fourth, fifth and sixth paragraph. There were no quotation marks for the first eleven paragraphs, so either the narrator was talking to me, a parrot, or himself. It seemed obvious that this was a memoriam of some kind.
I’m not complaining. I’m filing a writ of Hatteras Catterus, You’ll all be hearing from members of my crack legal team, ‘Hickory, Dickory & Sons, Etc., P.A. I’m not taking this lying down, Phil. You’ll see.
And congrats on the win.
(the children know that I’m kidding, right?)
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