Extended! November 3 – November 24, 2021 Writing Prompt “Prison”

Theme: Prison

The story must be in the theme of ‘prison’ (real or figurative).

Requirements:

  • two main characters: a man and a woman (but there can be secondary characters, too).

Word Count: 1,200

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  1. One story per author. You may post more than one, but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
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The writing prompt for November 25, 2021, will be chosen by RM York.

170 thoughts on “Extended! November 3 – November 24, 2021 Writing Prompt “Prison”

  • November 4, 2021 at 6:15 am
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    Signing in

    Reply
  • November 4, 2021 at 6:34 am
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    Ah yes, the Grey Bar Hotel. Open for business.

    Roy

    Reply
    • November 6, 2021 at 4:38 pm
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      Congrats on your win last week Roy. Couldn’t comment sooner as I was outside the, beyond the reach of the wireless Internet.

      Reply
  • November 4, 2021 at 3:41 pm
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    Freedom?
    That is just some folks talking.
    Your prison is walking through this world all alone.

    Reply
  • November 5, 2021 at 2:25 pm
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    The Eatery
    By Rumplefinkies
    Word Count: 978

    The vaulted ceilings and skylights give the feel of an empty church, which is why they once called these places “Cathedrals of Commerce”. There are few worshippers now. “White flight” and online shopping have reared their ugly heads, driving away all but the most devoted acolytes and nostalgic weirdos. Since I don’t ever buy anything, I guess I fall into the second category.

    I always dreamed of hanging out in the mall without any supervision. Me and my friends would become true “mallrats” and mingle with the other teenagers perusing the wares and loitering around the food court. But I never fulfilled that fantasy. 
    
    It took me too long to return to this place. Now it is dying a slow death and I am nearly forty. Many of the stores are blackened, and their steel doors will probably never rise again. There are talks of redeveloping this space, sure, but those kinds of ideas just keep getting kicked around without any action.
    
    So, I return here almost every day and waste my lunch walking in circles on the top floor. The security guard hates me because she has already caught me vaping twice, but I have become sneakier with my puffs now. Why they bother enforcing the tobacco rules is beyond me. They could stand to ease back restrictions and provide some incentives for young people to mill about. 
    
    You used to be able to smoke real cigarettes in here! Everything that was purchased would come home reeking of tobacco. All my memories, from collecting jellybeans at the candy store to wishing with a quarter at the fountain, are smoked in that smell like good barbeque.
    
    This crazy idea entered my head. All the nostalgia floating around must have gotten to me, because I developed this notion that I had to create something that would honor the legacy of this place. Something that would reawaken old feelings in people all over America. A story that would be a song from the pied piper to call back all those mallrats from long ago. 
    
    But I wanted to do more than just remind folks. I wanted to fashion a new urban legend around this mall. Maybe all the “creepypastas” that my children were reading made me want to emulate the pattern, or maybe the rotting decadence all around had infused me with a darkness that was contagious?
    
    It didn't matter. I had already formulated a plan that revolved around writing a story. The story would have to include a hideous murder that took place in my mall. All I had to do was find a few violent crimes from decades past, dust them off, polish them well, and put a fresh coat of paint on them that would make them fit into my contrived plot.
    
    Hell, even one murder would do the trick. A little grain of sand that the pearl forms around, that is all I needed.
    
    Horror movies do it all the time. They mention some “true event” that took place, and it makes the killer seem real, providing you don’t fight the power of the spell. Some part of each person WANTS to believe, and this lone “fact” makes it easier.
    
    But my mall had no serial killer. No killers of any kind, in fact. Just some isolated muggings in the parking lot and the typical shopliftings, no matter how hard I searched the internet. Nothing juicy.
    
    So, I decided to try writing down some ideas first. I had a loose framework that involved a werewolf who liked to stalk shoppers back to their car. He would sit in the food court and drink in the smells and sounds. His enhanced senses would make it more intoxicating because he could breathe in the foods and leathers and perfumes while he cased the joint and plotted his dastardly deeds, the titters of doomed mallrats echoing across the expanses and straight into his pricked ears.
    
    An entire hour of brainstorming in the completely deserted food court yielded nothing more than a single page of bullet points. The piped-in music from the overhead speakers was maddening, and the stains and stenches from behind the counters were nauseating. No one had bothered to really scrub up, they just ditched their equipment and went home. It was cold too, because management had turned off the heaters to that segment of the mall once they realized that it would only get traffic from shoppers who had lost their way.
    
    I balled my page of scribbles up and threw it in the trash bin. What was the point? No one liked werewolves, for one, and the whole crux of the thing was to have it molded around a real murder. That was supposed to be the reason why everyone stopped coming. Why it became a dying mall.
    
    This place had no corpses to hide, but I will admit that I WISHED for there to be a murder. That wouldn’t do either, I decided, because then the whole world would hear about it … and someone else would beat me to the act of milking it for money and fame.
    
    And it felt bad, wishing for bloodshed so I could profit. Exactly what kind of man had I become? It was different when Poe read about that skeleton in the wine cellar or when Craven read about the boy who died in his sleep. They didn’t have to ask for it. The Universe just produced the right inspiration at the right time, no guilty conscience necessary.
    
    I left the mall dejected and depressed, but I came back only two weeks later.
    
    They found her some thirty feet from where I had been sitting, and she had been there for two weeks.
    
    This isn’t a CATHEDRAL.
    
    It is a PRISON for her ghost.
    
    And I am just as guilty as the man who took her life.
    


    Reply
    • November 9, 2021 at 2:25 pm
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      Rumple,

      I don’t think you went too far. It wasn’t even gruesome. Here’s the deal. As I have mentioned recently, you seemed to have found your writing muse, because this one is excellent as well. Here’s the only thing I would suggest. The story is good enough, and in fact, I think, would improve if you simply placed the las three lines together without the italics (capital letters). The words are good enough that you don’t have to beat your readers over the head and tell them – hey – this is what I want to emphasize – they can see It for themselves. That’s all I got. Good job.

      Roy

      Reply
      • November 11, 2021 at 9:13 am
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        Thanks so much!

        Yeah, I did kind of scream at the readers in the end!

        Reply
    • November 10, 2021 at 1:46 am
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      Hey Rumple,
      I love the story, the need for wanting a reason for the abandonment, there must be something stranger or better than the facts. Malls are outdated, online shopping, population changes, who knows?

      I wanted a mystery and you gave it. They say it is true, where we die our spirit dwells until we go to the next plane. The steps to ‘heaven’ are many, so are our lives. Are we a young soul who has not learned the lessons and needs to be reborn to learn them again even harder? or are we an old soul who has learned all life’s lessons and them moves on?

      I loved the idea, the theme, the writing, the ending, the ‘morality’ and Wow. Thank you.

      Reply
      • November 11, 2021 at 9:06 am
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        Thank you!

        I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you are right. The narrator needed a better explanation for why the mall collapsed and he worked to fabricate one.

        Perhaps the smell wafted into his subconscious and influenced him to write the story that way?

        Reply
    • November 11, 2021 at 6:48 am
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      Rumple, such a creepy, atmospheric story. Reminded me of the book “What Was Lost” (forgot the author); it’s not that similar to your story, but they’ve got in common a mystery, and a mall plays a prominent part.

      I still don’t get the last sentence, though. Why does the narrator feel guilty? My best guess is that they had seen something but failed to stop or report it. Am I even close?

      PS. I didn’t get the chance to comment in the last round how gratifying it was to see a werewolf – and a werecat as well – in your story, and not just in your comments. 🙂

      Reply
      • November 11, 2021 at 8:56 am
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        Thank you!

        I talk too much, so I broke it off, but we all know that I would just keep talking if I wasn’t restrained.

        He wished and it came true, as if he actually caused it by praying for a corpse. Or was she there before he got the notion to write a short story about that very thing? How accurate was the forensic analysis?

        And causality isn’t quite the issue, is it? I mean, I always feel guilty when I fantasize about someone getting hurt and it comes true, but I know I didn’t magically cause it. Well, some part of me wants magic to be real, but the realist in me stifles that.

        I knew a guy who hit on my wife a few times and stalked his ex in a creepy way and well, he got stabbed by his own father. He lived, and I felt bad for him, even though I had wished for violence to beset him. Now he really is dead, and I still feel kind of nauseous when I think about it.

        Not survivor’s guilt, but wisher’s guilt?

        And I took too long to write the werewolf stuff, it is true. It is sad how proud I was of that, considering it was a bad pun I detonated on my wife before the story happened.

        Reply
      • November 11, 2021 at 9:11 am
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        I also wanted to question whether it was a case of the body being there first and him smelling it in the back of his mind and being inspired to add the macabre murder elements to his cheesy urban legend.

        Reply
    • November 13, 2021 at 11:56 pm
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      Great stuff, Rumples. I appreciated it particularly because I love abandoned buildings or photos of them (e.g. Chernobyl), and you depict this one very well. I remember seeing some time ago a series of photos of deserted malls in the US – very eerie. I thought this line was brilliant: “Hell, even one murder would do the trick. A little grain of sand that the pearl forms around, that is all I needed.”

      I’m glad that Vicki voiced her doubt about the ending because I had the same one. Your reasoning for it (in your reply to her) is good, but maybe, since at least two people had that doubt, it might need re-working just to make it a little clearer? (not too much otherwise it would be TOO obvious!) Lastly, why do I see your story in Courier? Is it just me? (Tough on the eyes!)

      Enjoyed your story very much.

      Reply
      • November 14, 2021 at 12:04 pm
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        Curse these gremlin fingers of mine! They are always messing up electronics, even when I type it all in Times New Roman and paste it as plain text. Sorry about that!

        I’m glad that you are into abandoned places and dying malls, because I was reading about them and watching urban exploration videos a few years ago, and I tried to draw upon that and appeal to that demographic.

        But the last bit about the guilt beats me – I can’t think of a way to convey that better, but that is the part that I think is “deepest”, if that is even the right word? Thanks to you and Vicki for the feedback about that, I didn’t realize how I internalize guilt for things and project that on my characters!

        Reply
        • November 14, 2021 at 1:09 pm
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          Thanks for your explanation. I get the guilt for wishing for smth bad & it coming true; it just seems exaggerated that the narrator feels “just as guilty” as the murderer for merely wishing.

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          • November 15, 2021 at 3:04 pm
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            Please bear with me, because this story needs to be put to rest and I can’t do it until I resolve the ending by either making it clearer or by continuing the plot further.

            I originally had tiny suspicions that it was the narrator himself who blacked out, committed the crime, and awoke in the chair at the food court with nary an inkling, but that is just so outlandish, like some overused “split personality” rubbish in a bad movie. It also didn’t ring true.

            But he is only guilty in a very weird and private way, because he whispered a request to the universe with his mind, and it answered with a roar that he knew was intended for him, even though everyone else blamed the real killer and the inept mall management that provided poor security measures and the people in her life who could have stopped it from happening (there were a few who turned a blind eye to her bruises, the obvious foreshadowing). But the narrator knew that he was there right before it happened and that it was not a normal “coincidence” at all.

            Like the story inside of it, the true power of this story can only be known to others if they think that it is real. Then the presence of a body seems horrifying, because it brings the horror from the screen and the page into the everyday life that one lives in.

            Since it seems contrived, her body is just a drop in the bucket of “recreational” deaths, or fake deaths that we create for various reasons (maybe to distract from the real ones?). She becomes a drop that is not seen, described, or even named.

            So the power of her death is lessened and the source of the guilt becomes confusing, though the mystery still has a little intrigue and the setting is ripe with imagery (mostly drawn from each person’s font of nostalgic memories of their favorite mall).

        • November 20, 2021 at 8:49 pm
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          Yo Rumster,

          I write in Times New Roman also, but refrain from posting it as plain text. I rarely have any trouble with my fonts. In fact, I don’t think I ever had a font problem. Things disappear, the separators for instance, but no trouble like you’re having with those type fonts. Maybe you should skip that step of posting in plain text? Just a thought.

          Reply
        • November 16, 2021 at 7:27 am
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          Rumple, I’m replying to this comment because there’s no reply button on the long one above. You have a whole backstory/ side story that there’s no inkling of in the main (submitted) body of your story. Perhaps you could add some little hint in the story about the narrator seeing a couple from the corner of his eye but not paying attention because he was throwing a pity party for himself; and later (eg after seeing the murder on the news) recalling raised voices, or that the woman had bruises, etc., and blaming himself for not noticing and not stepping in? Or is this too mundane? Alternatively, if you want to focus on the narrator internalising guilt for no rational reason, you could make it clearer: something along the lines of “I know I was long gone by the time the murder occurred, and I never even saw them at the mall, but I can’t help feeling as guilty as the murderer himself”.

          Reply
          • November 17, 2021 at 9:48 am
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            Thank you for the help! If I ever do anything with this story again, I will try to expand on the guilt complex aspect of it all.

            There is one more layer to the mystery that I can’t reveal, though I probably have already said a fraction too much in my comments and provided enough clues for someone to uncover the truth. I am fighting myself to keep silent and failing miserably!

            On another note, my childhood mall has become a Covid vaccination site! Perhaps those plans to redevelop went somewhere after all?

      • November 21, 2021 at 2:18 am
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        Phil & Rumples,

        Hmmm, it seems as though I unconsciously appropriated (stole) the ‘pearl and grain of sand’ metaphor to describe the McDaniels story. Had I done it consciously I would’ve put it in quotations. (Or not done it at all.) Sorry Rumples, no offense was meant. As Phil points out, it certainly is a great line.

        Reply
    • November 17, 2021 at 8:12 pm
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      Rumplestiltsmith,

      ‘I never fulfilled my fantasy to become a mall-rat?’ That’s a funny line, (and slightly misquoted). Sounds like something Michael J. Fox would have said at one point or another in his career.

      Only one thing jumped out at me. What’s a ‘blackened’ store? Were they burnt? Darkened?

      Other than that, I love what you’ve done here. It’s intriguing as hell, and not the first time you’ve written a story this way.

      You begin, as you’ve done before, with an intro. Which has the flavor of an essay or documentary, but the second paragraph is the unmistakable beginning of a story.

      The narrator, a writer, seems to be simply writing an essay on how he, as a writer might go about producing a story even though it’s made up. (How To Develop a Story.) You start with research, but when nothing juicy about the mall turns up, the narrator gives up, and explains his reasons. Clearly reverting to an essay-like narrative again. (How I Failed at Becoming a Writer.) But when the girl’s body is found, it immediately becomes clear, once again, that this is not an essay, but a story, about a writer, who feels guilty that he has helped conjure a crime into existence merely because one wasn’t available.

      It’s all very cleverly done, sounds authentic, as if it’s not really all that fictional, which should be no surprise because you tell us, in the essay sections, how you will tailor a fictional backdrop to adorn the tiny kernel of truth that, alas, you simply couldn’t find. I think you’re using alternating story formats to construct your plot. Which, I don’t know, seems pretty unusual, or maybe because you’ve done it in a short story.

      My question is this. What was the reason for his return to the mall after two weeks? Was the MC summoned there by the police? Is it mere coincidence that he was there when she died, and returned the very day she was found? (You and I both know that the police never believe in coincidences.) And how does one miss the smell of a decaying body for two weeks? Surely the food courts at the mall, as bad as they may be, are not that bad, are they?

      It seems that this is the nexus of your actual story, the fact that he was there on the day of her death, and returns on the day of her discovery. But these two facts are barely mentioned and as a reader, when I begin to connect the dots, there are only those two, which is hardly enough to form anything more than a straight line. From scribe, to suspect.

      What say you, oh fairly rumpled one?

      Reply
      • November 19, 2021 at 9:26 am
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        You pretty much nailed everything that you said, but you don’t get a cigar yet.

        The essay parts are me waxing philosophical and deep, but I was always better at essays than short stories, so it comes across as a documentary or essay, even though I would rather it didn’t.

        The real truth is: I lied to you all.

        The only part that is fiction is the part where I said that I came back in two weeks. I didn’t come back that soon because I was so disturbed by it all. I came back a week or two after they found her, and there were other vultures everywhere that wanted to get a good look at the crime scene I felt responsible for.

        Everything else is completely true.

        The werewolf story was a clue that it was me, because, come one, who else would come up with that awful plot?

        I promised myself that I wouldn’t write the stupid werewolf story when I saw the news, but I ended up getting the confidence to try to write the story about the story. I didn’t make anything up. I actually withheld the rest of the story. It is deeply personal and it makes me sick, but here I am blabbing about it.

        Remember all that stuff I said about “writing to get out the pain” and all that self-pitying crap? This is that.

        You all nailed it, really. The narrator is me, just like always, but this time it is really me, and not just me because it is a character I wrote and all of my characters are just me swaddled in a thin layer of paint. The story might have a bad ending, but that is because it is the ugly truth, so it is ugly. And it didn’t end there, but that is ugly too and personal to others, so I broke it off at the part where I first realized, which is also the most profound part.

        I’m still an asshole for doing this, but I don’t want to profit from it. I don’t know what I want or why I do things, but at the moment, I just want to spill the beans.

        Go back and read my comments again, knowing what you know now. Some of them gave me a kick, because you guys summed me up perfectly when you were describing the narrator. LOL! Sorry about the dirty trick.

        Digest it. Judge me. I deserve it, and it is what I really wanted, maybe.

        Reply
        • November 21, 2021 at 2:33 am
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          Rumple,
          I have people looking for you right now. I didn’t have a picture so when they asked me what you looked like, I said, ‘A cross between Gene Wilder and a leprechaun. Search the malls first.’

          Reply
    • November 24, 2021 at 4:40 am
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      A very atmospheric piece, Rumples, fully capturing the allure of abandoned and nearly-abandoned places. The shopping-mall, which is a building but takes the proportions of a character (may even get the character vote from me!), seems to be somewhere in the transition from a living thing of sorts to an archeological site. Whole Western cities in both Europe and N.America, even the most “modern” ones, seem like fading, well past their glory days, as real modernity and “currentness” steadily shifts to Asia and the Middle East.

      I found the story a bit too self-conscious about the writing process – you may have overemphasized it. Also, throwing a few little breadcrumbs along the way could give it more coherence. Like other little things the writer thinks up along the way that actually materialize.Eg. “That’s where Rob and I had our first joint. It’s a special shrine for me. I wonder what’s up with him, Rob. If he’s still alive to start with.” And then somehow Rob shows up, or at least that hobo on the joint-corner does look like him…Something like that, but better, to walk us to the great ending in style.

      There is some philosophy in this story, as in how thoughts and wishes alter reality itself. It’s a fringe theory, but an interesting one… with little science behind it, but much anecdotal evidence from most of us.

      Cheers!
      Ken

      Reply
      • November 24, 2021 at 10:39 am
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        Thank you!

        Yeah, this is all just a true story.

        I don’t deserve any credit for creativity and I wanted to focus on the writing process part of it all because the alternative was to actually divulge the horrible details of the real murder that took place, the wait to capture the killer, my conversations with both the security team and a member of her family, and the events leading up to her death.

        I wasn’t supposed to tell you guys that it was real, but I couldn’t hold it together. And by the time that I came out with it, you had all moved on.

        That it the big twist and grand irony: there was a human body the whole time, but I didn’t feel like writing about her anymore when I realized how bloody, personal, and truly awful the whole thing is. Real murder is not fun like fake murder, but we often build our fiction (and fame) around dead bodies… like the sculptures in ” A Bucket of Blood”. It would appear that I lack the stomach and the writing ability to do what Poe and Craven both did easily, even though I had a plot fall right out of the sky and into my lap – and they had to do it from a distance.

        Which is why I, the narrator, and I, the John, both feel very guilty and disgusted and keep saying things like “I hope that I didn’t go too far”.

        I did go too far, but only if you truly understand that this was a girl that ran away and never came back, and I am some overgrown mallrat who wanted to make a buck off a murder. And then, when everything else failed, I just tried to pass it off as an original Rumplefinkies.

        Too far and not far enough at the same time? Yeah, because if you are going to do it, one should do justice to the soul of the departed… and make it worth it.

        And I don’t care if it wasn’t my fault. The whole thing stinks to high heaven.

        I’m sorry for being so insensitive and I’m sorry for lacking the words to properly tie this all up in a neat bow.

        I should have just kept my mouth shut, but that is probably the most unlikely thing that I have suggested so far.

        Reply
    • November 5, 2021 at 5:18 pm
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      Oh gosh, not too far at all.
      We’ve had MUCH more gruesome and grizzly stories submitted in the past than this. We’re all adults here, there ain’t no sense in being all pc…… 😏

      Reply
    • November 18, 2021 at 11:12 am
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      Hey Rumples,

      I have spent time this round trying to read all the comments. I think that the other writers in our bunch are pretty smart. They seem (to me) to have nailed down the potential areas for discussion and, if you wish, improvement.

      I for one am not convinced about the guilt associated with wishful thinking, despite the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” If that was true we would all be happily married to the partner of our dreams or single millionaires, living happy and successful lives, driving the car of our choice and etc., etc. I didn’t really find it shocking or scary as the main character didn’t resonate with me. Having said all this, there is a school of thought that suggests that there is a natural law of attraction and that if you think positive thoughts you are more likely to get positivity in return. So, jury’s out on that one.

      The notion of the mall being dead is a good one and I suspect that more will die as we get on board with the online buying revolution. It is a shame, I think as I actually enjoy the vibe in big shopping malls. We have a really big one in Bristol (UK) about twenty miles from here. It’s called Cribbs’ Causeway and you used to be able to get just about everything there for a price and there are lots of eating places. I haven’t been there for more than two years so it could have declined too if my lack of attendance is typical, Covid and all that.

      I liked Vicki’s suggestion about the narrator perhaps hearing raised voices or something like that but doing nothing. Then, the guilt could be more feasible.

      Ken C highlights the change between exposition and story. This might be true but as someone guilty of this I will let this one rest.

      The idea that the narrator was present on both the crucial days does raise an eyebrow. So true that police investigators don’t like so called coincidences.and yout two dots ( as Ken C highlights) simply draw a straight line to the narrator.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • November 24, 2021 at 4:42 am
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        (Rumples, my comment to your story went to the middle of this thread, instead of here, for some reason…)

        Reply
  • November 8, 2021 at 4:18 am
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    Becoming Tee.
    By John Filby.
    Word count – 1036

    Tee, has always been Tee, but change was forever occurring. Elle could just not accept that. It had always been the two of them, and the gang, well at least since their wild Uni days, ten years ago.

    Five of them in their posse with joined minds, they clicked together from day one. Elle, found and joined them, Tee tagged along as a first year and no friends from school or elsewhere. Bea, Beatrice on her birth certificate, she hated it. She happened with the luck to be born the year of Fergie & Andrew’s first born. She was forever a sheep and follower. Gai had known Elle briefly from part time work at Maccas whilst High School seniors. Lastly, Imelda McSwain, Mel for short, originally from Glasgow became known as ‘Aye’. As always throughout her life when trying to fit in, and to blend or immerse into anything new, like a country, a language or a culture, would always agree to anything and everything, with the Gaelic affirmative, ‘yes’.

    Tee first spied Elle across a crowded room at the ‘Uni- Bar’, colloquially known as the ‘Study Hall’. Open mic night ended the first week, where performances of poetry, music, interpretive dance, or karaoke without the screen of correct lyrics, just sung from memory. Whatever could and would be voiced and ‘enjoyed’ by the avid fans.
    This being the end to ‘O’ week, and all the freshman losers were now celebrating their growth into adulthood and independence from Mummy and Daddy, but not from the parental funds.
    Cocktails were ‘Two-for-One’, or ‘BOGOFF’ as the signs so eloquently stated at the bar and every other conspicuous position in the venue.
    On entering the performance space, with ‘A Prince Charming’ in hand, Tee felt the crushed frozen ice in the Marie-Antionette glass. So-called, as allegedly the shape modelled from her bare breast, nipple and all. The cheap cuts of sliced fruit jangled, sliding about the salt-encrusted rim, the pineapple, strawberry and kiwifruit. Or were they? The look and the taste were most deceiving.

    Elle projected her personal slam-poetry to the assembled, but inebriated, and most-likely inattentive crowd. Tee only catching the occasional angst-ridden line or verse but knew instantly, it was somewhat neo-feminist and arced towards equality for the genders. But leaning more towards showing superiority to her own. This anger-venting and versing should have been a heeded warning, back then.

    The gang were there for each other, through Uni, loves and losses. Young love ever-so intense, then lost, then renewed, then ‘just’ friends, and then there was LUG for some, ‘Lesbian until graduation’, followed by boyfriends and more girlfriends. No one stayed together except for Elle with Tee. There were the protests whilst students engrossing them.
    After graduation, the usual angst youth protests and marches for equality, feminism, refugees, veganism, or whatever the flavour of the month may have been. Protest, march and fight for any cause, just getting seen and heard, was the reason to protest according to Elle and her flock of sheep.

    The Five Muskateers, but it began to feel like Tee was becoming more like the fifth Beatles, Tee wanting to write different music and lyrics, and sing to different beat, but stuck. The bond of sameness had connected them at first, now seen the five become more of a four. They had mirrored and gelled them into one at first, and now Tee had felt reflected, rejected, neglected as the quintet became a quartet. Elle was instrumental in the breakdown without even knowing.

    Now a decade later, Tee has completed packing a suitcase. It stands in the hallway, and gazing down at it, then along the hall and into the adjoining rooms. Final glances and memories of the disastrous and unhappy relationship, this was not the time for sentimentality. Tee had been a prisoner and Elle was the warden holding all the keys, rattling them on occasion just to remind Tee who was in control.
    A feeling of forever being drained of individual freedom, and teasing at times, but always taking liberty away.

    The suitcase held very little, and this was how it needed to be. Came with nothing that needed to taken on the next journey. Memories were fading, the ten years of chains and locks were gone. Elle had wanted things that Tee could give, and would not back down on her wishes. Tee at first thought they were travelling on the same road, but it had forked a long back. Separate routes were in progress, a parting. Elle was stagnant and adamant, forever stuck in her cul-de-sac. Tee was on a highway speeding to liberation, the inmate had slammed the cell door behind, with the keys jangling freely, the opened, barred door, pointing the way out.

    Faint sobbing filtered down the stairway, Tee knew it was time to go, to move on, to leave. Those tears and incessant waling were meant to crush, soothe, challenge or change a decision already made. Those ‘Prince Charming’ days long gone, the tears of a crocodile were serenading the emptiness, symbolising Tee’s once troubled hollow heart.

    Past words spoken in vain by Elle, were they even real way back then? In the beginning to hook them, entangle together, we often hear what we need to hear.
    A decade ago, if time could turn back, could the flirting eyes and cheeky smile be avoided across that crowded room?
    Elle’s visage being ever so entrancing, enchanting and mesmerising, the pulling power drawn from across the room. This attraction was so strong, and against all free will, as is the pull of a compass point towards magnetic north.

    Hindsight, is a marvellous thing, but ever so ‘bittersweet’ when time passed with someone who would not allow you be yourself. Emancipation day had come triumphantly.
    Now Tee, forever evolving, due to the power of the ’T’ injections, Terri had faded and died, bringing Terry to life.

    Elle could not understand or even care to try, Elle is, has, and always will be, the ‘L’ in the LGBTIQA+ community, known fondly by ‘members’ as The Alphabets. Tee was now, as he had always felt, the ’T’.

    Reply
    • November 8, 2021 at 4:26 pm
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      This is very powerful and compact. I had to go back and look up “Uni-Bar” and “O Week” just to satisfy my curiosity, but they were not that hard and didn’t require the googling. Were you referencing the location in Griffith?

      But yeah the little details and references in the beginning helped to set the scene and paint a picture that you fleshed out more in the end.

      Reply
      • November 10, 2021 at 1:36 am
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        Thank you, I didn’t think that any more words were needed to tell the story. I am so glad you had enough ‘setting the scene’ to understand.

        I never did the Uni thing straight after high school, I was a mature-aged student, but I just imagined from things I knew or people in the know (youngsters) of the terminology. I know Griffith but was imagining a mish-mash of a lot of places for the story setting.

        It is ‘faction’ writing after all, part fact, mostly fiction. Don’t wish to end up in court for slander or misrepresentation or character assassination. LOL.
        Cheers again.

        Reply
    • November 10, 2021 at 10:30 am
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      OzJohn, for a second, I thought about just starting with OJ and then realized what an insult that might be, so I won’t go there. So, OzJohn it is.

      You write about something I could never attempt. I don’t know enough about the LGBTIQ+ community and have a hard enough time keeping up with the changing initials which have recently added A (for Asexual) and 2S (for two spirited people such as indigenous people use to describe their sexuality or gender), so the new tag is LGBTIQA2S+. With its ever changing identity I’m not sure how anyone in the community keeps it straight – no pun intended.

      However, I really liked the way you handled the storyline and the prompt. Between you and Rumple the two of you have set a high bar. I’m just gonna go with straight old prisons, I think, although I do have an idea lurking that might work.

      I’m assuming BOGOFF is Buy One Get One For Free. Over here we simply go with BOGO. Probably because BugOff is a common term and that would be too similar.

      Don’t have any quibble with your writing and/or any minor punctuation gaffs or grammar. If they are there, I didn’t notice them. The spacing could be improved, but I’ve found transferring stories onto the site will occasionally screw up the entire spacing which is a pain to correct.

      Any how, my friend, I liked what you did.

      By the way, what part of down under do you hail from? Just asking, I spent a lot of time in NSW and Queensland in ’93. Love Australia and have a couple of really good mates there.

      Roy

      Reply
      • November 11, 2021 at 11:59 pm
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        Hi Roy

        Thank you for your wise words and comments. There were hidden ideas in the story but maybe too hidden to be noticed, the play on LGBTIQ+ and the gang names. Anyway, the spacing is always difficult when you post or send in this kind of format.

        I write as I speak or feel, I don’t worry too much about grammar, punctuation or ‘rules’ as such as long as the average person can understand what is said.

        I am from the Hunter Valley (north of Sydney a few hours). I was born and raised in Sydney but could not wait to escape it. I have lives in a few different states Victoria and Tasmania as well as here in NSW. I bet you are overdue for another trip Down Under with us lovely larrikins.

        Thank you my friend,
        John

        Reply
        • November 12, 2021 at 10:43 am
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          Ozjohn,

          After reading your reply to Vicki, I understand why you were able to write so knowledgeably about the LBGTIQ community. Having grown up in a society where any form of difference was frowned upon, derided and in many cases horribly abused I was completely uninformed regarding the gay community.

          It took many years before it began to dawn on me that I was the one who needed to change. Almost my entire family prior to my marriage was also totally uniformed and went to their graves without enlightenment. Except for my father. He once walked out of a room when he watched the first interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Ohura appeared on Star Trek – a show he dearly loved = and swore he would never watch it again. He was even more prejudiced against anyone who was gay, and swore he would never associate with such people.

          Then he got sick and his girlfriend’s daughter and her partner nursed him back to health and took care of him over a period of several years until he passed away. Once, on a visit, he told me “I was wrong about a lot of things in my life, but none so much as being wrong about gay people.” Ah, the Era of Enlightenment was upon him. I only everyone could stop their silly hatred and learn this simple little fact.

          I digress, I would have already been in Australia for a second visit until illness and the Covid restrictions for travel there derailed our plans. If my health maintains at its current rate, we may be in line to get there yet. A lot depends on both, and, of course, the money to get there. I have a couple of friends I would dearly like to see.

          Stay safe, Ozjohn,

          Roy

          Reply
          • November 15, 2021 at 8:10 am
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            (It was supposed to be Spock, but the Cap’m got all jealous and insisted that they switch, so the story goes)

    • November 11, 2021 at 7:25 am
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      Ah, your story takes me back … 🙂 I felt like being back at Uni (although I never heard the term “freshman” in all my years there; I thought it was purely an American thing).

      The plot is great, and not too common. Your final twist, and especially keeping the reveal secret right till the very end, is masterful.

      I did feel, however, that your story is somewhat … “unbalanced”. The ‘gang’ is given a whole paragraph right at the start of the story, only never to reappear again. On the other hand, the main conflict feels a bit rushed through, and at times I felt there was more “telling” than “showing”. I’d like to see more of the unravelling relationship (and perhaps more glimpses into the past – it lasted 10 years, after all). The friends add colour, but they belong in a longer story where you could show their reactions to the breakup and Tee’s transition; for a story as short as this, I’m not sure they need to be in it at all.

      There also seems to be a minor infestation of commas.

      Reply
      • November 11, 2021 at 6:26 pm
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        Thanks Vicki. The feedback was most positive and helpful.

        I am in Australia but try to use words or phrases that anyone might know, we don’t say Freshman in Australia but everyone knows it is a newbie, or first year. I am trying to write ‘universally’ and as different people than me, a middle-aged gay white man from Down Under. It is not always successful. But I try.

        Vicki where you live? Australia or another place?

        Sometimes with word limits I find it easier to tell rather than show. I am getting better at it. The ten years of relationship was not well mentioned because Tee was trying to forget but only remembered that it was not great and could be true to self.

        The mention of the gang was there to expand later but decided if it was necessary or not. There was a subtle but not obvious hint in the gang names related to the acronym. Elle was L, Bea was B, Gai was G, Aye was I and then Tee became T. I guess I could have made it a bit clearer but did not wish to give too much away.

        I don’t often follow the ‘rules’ of grammar and punctuation, sometimes it is intentional, other times I am not aware. I have the belief that as long as the words and message can be understood by the ‘average’ reader then rules can be bent or broken.

        Reply
        • November 12, 2021 at 3:07 am
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          John, you’ll still confuse the hell out of non-Aussies with things like “Uni”, “O-week” and the like. Americans just don’t get abbreviations, even the most obvious ones like “Uni” (they call it “college”, anyway) and “sunnies”. 🙂 Trust me. It’s always a balancing act between being universal and using the version of English you know and love.

          I currently live in Israel, but used to live in Melbourne until a few years ago. (Incidentally, I went to Monash U). This group has another Aussie and current Victorian, Ilana. We’re slowly taking over. Mwa-ha-ha!

          I also find the word limit means you have to chop things off left and right to make the story fit, so subplots and extra characters often fall by the wayside.

          BTW, the play on the gang’s names proved too subtle a hint for me. 🙂 And what does the “I” stand for? I can’t keep track anymore of all the letters in the acronym; I know the L, G, B & T, and there seems to be some disagreement about the meaning of “Q”, and after that I’m at sea.

          Reply
        • November 12, 2021 at 8:46 am
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          I noticed that their names were all one syllable and that there was some kind of letter trickery going on, but I think “Aye” threw me off because of the spelling and the comment about it being the Gaelic affirmative. I should have just read their names aloud, maybe it would have clicked? You did good if you wanted it to be right in front of your face, but not instantly obvious. And then you said at the end that two of them represented two of the letters, so I guess then it becomes even more clear, but I still didn’t figure it out because I didn’t focus on the rest of the gang as much!

          Reply
        • November 16, 2021 at 8:02 am
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          I don’t know if this is still relevant, but the question of how to reconcile “showing not telling” with Tee’s reluctance to remember any details of the relationship kept bugging me. Perhaps some little incident surfaces in Tee’s mind as he’s about to leave, despite his best efforts to forget. Some occasion when Elle had not let him be himself and caused him to feel imprisoned in the relationship. I think a one-two sentence description would work better than merely saying that she’d made him feel like that.

          Reply
    • November 14, 2021 at 12:22 am
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      Hi, John. I think your story portrayed well the first weeks of Uni (abbreviation understood by this Brit!) and the intensity of first meetings, and the fall-out from the break-up is also well shown (the suitcase, the sobbing). The reason for the break-up is a monumental one, but a relief for Tee after, as you describe it, ten years of ‘imprisonment’, and although we don’t know all the details (which, as Vicki says, could be addressed in a longer version), it still resonates.

      I’m glad I read the other comments first because otherwise I’d be repeating things, but yes – the mention of the gang and their names seems a little superfluous (albeit clever). You say elsewhere that you just write and don’t worry too much about grammar, but I did find the inconsistency of verb tenses a little distracting at times (just needs a bit of a review before posting). Isn’t this saying the same thing twice?: “Forever being drained of individual freedom and taking liberty away.”

      I like the subject matter of this, though – it’s a part of modern life/society I don’t think about enough, and your story helped to uncover a corner for us to take a peek.

      Reply
    • November 17, 2021 at 9:20 pm
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      Ozmeister66,

      I am not ignoring you. I have commented on your story to the tune of 835 words. It appears as though you have opened up a can of wormholes, and all these worms simply will not go back into their holes. Fortunately, since the prompt deadline has been extended, I will make use of the extension to revise my remarks to make them suitable for the Internet!!! This is not to say that your story bothered me or deserves special treatment or discussion.

      Amazingly, I don’t have any significant issues with gay, lesbian, transcendental queer bisexual mermaids or friends of squirrels… HOWEVER, I have been known to come off a little harshly when I’m insulting large swaths of the population. This is the case here. While I would like to post my comments and impressions on your story, I must first submit to some sensitivity training, which may involve some sort of mouthwash and a baseball bat or something. I will, in due course of time, edit, refine, delete, re-edit, and finally post my comments to your story, which is very good and worthy of serious comments, in the not-too-distant future.

      sorry for the inconvenient delay.

      Ken

      Reply
    • November 18, 2021 at 11:34 am
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      Hi Ozjohn,

      Like others, I appreciate the nuances of your story in our modern world of constantly changing perspectives and sensitivities.

      I read other comments before writing this so the letters for names conundrum was already out in the open for me. Still clever though, my friend and educative.

      One question; “Did you say all you wanted to say in 560 words?” We often struggle with the word count but you managed with less than half of your allocation. That’s mightily impressive.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
    • November 18, 2021 at 10:39 pm
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      I have reviewed and edited by piece. I took all the comments into consideration and hoping it has more depth or explanation, rather than the ‘assumed’ which I had but readers did not. Cheers.

      Reply
    • November 22, 2021 at 10:29 am
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      Filby, (Ozgood66)

      My initial reaction to this story was colored by an encounter I had recently with some neighbors. Over the years, all the gay and lesbian people I’ve met were nice people. I’m a big fan of Pete Buttigieg. (That guy is way more bad-ass then I’ll ever be, and smart too.) But this recent encounter was with what I guess is a bisexual and a transexual couple in transition. They renamed themselves, refer to themselves with special pronouns, which they expect other people to learn. (At which point I stopped her, him, them, and said, “Wait, let me guess your age. You’re twenty-seven, right?” And she/they were amazed at my intuition. “It was just a lucky guess,” I assured her/they.

      They claimed to be Q-anon followers. When they asked me why we purchased a place so far off the beaten path, I could only speak for myself and told them I simply liked the peace and quiet. I didn’t’ mention the part about escaping from the crazies, the news, and the turbulence of modern semi-suburban America.

      So naturally the irony was lost on them. Kim and I went to all that trouble to avoid crazy, only to find ourselves sharing a driveway with it. They weren’t objectionable because of their sexual preferences, it was because they thought Hillary Clinton was eating babies in the basement of a pizza parlor. That’s not politics, that’s batshit crazy.

      But that has nothing to do with you or your story. (I realized.) You’re here to get honest feedback and hopefully some appreciation for your stories. That’s what you deserve, and for the most part, I think you came to the right place.

      First: In your comments, you mentioned several philosophical points, one of which is to write with a broad audience in mind. I have preached this approach repeatedly. Local spice is a great story additive, but one should use colloquialisms and idioms very judiciously. I believe we are in complete agreement on this, and other writing related topics. This is a long way of saying you seem amenable to feedback and focusing on pleasing the reader. Me too.

      For example, based on the feedback from other writers, you rewrote and expanded the story. I would suggest you care more about the grammar, but I too am more concerned with the actual story. Obviously, you can change the meaning of a sentence with a misplaced or absent comma, so I try to point those out along with omitted words, extra words and duplicate words in the same paragraph, this is the extent of my proofreading objectives.

      Second: I think you should heed Vicki’s advice, she seems to have a keen eye and no-frills suggestions. She pointed out things that I didn’t even see. Such as the general irrelevance of ‘the gang’ in your story.

      This line: ‘Tee first saw Elle across a crowded room…’ that’s where your story should start, I think.

      Coding the entire gender fractional community into your story went right over my head. (But it is, admittedly, a very low head.) But I think it was a clever idea that somehow miss-fired. I’m sure that members of that community would get it right away. (Although, having assessed the concerns of ‘Tree’ and ‘Twig’, I’m not sure that those particular individuals would.)

      As for the whole LGBTQ2E=MC Squared? That is stuff that, to me, is like telling me what positions you like while having sex. AND I DON’T WANT TO KNOW THAT. On the other hand, the thing that is of great value, is any story that reminds the narrow minded among us, that all people are essentially the same, they suffer similar doubts, similar challenges in life, and that love and interpersonal conflict is a universal constant, no matter what your gender status.

      The movie ‘Philadelphia’ comes to mind, which conveys this concept so well it moved me to tears. Big fat, salty, streaming tears, from BOTH eyes. (Damned good acting too.)

      I suspect that much of the acting out of ‘rainbow warriors’ is the process of social self-assertion that oppressed people exhibit when demanding the equality that they’re entitled to, but it’s important to acknowledge that they’re not the only ones whose rights are still being infringed.

      I would say that your story could use another re-write, honestly, and that you should, as Vickie says, forget the gang for this story, or shorten it so much that you merely get the flavor of it. After some thought, I guessed that O-week is probably Orientation. ‘Uni’ however, completely baffled me.

      And this newest version of the story seems much more cynical than the earlier version. Cynicism appeals to me, but I think a pruning of the social commentary and a focus on the main characters would improve this story’s impact. I hope you didn’t find my attitude or comments discouraging because they aren’t meant to be. You write well, have a unique perspective and appear to be an honest writer with a philosophy that compares well with my own.

      Ken

      Reply
  • November 9, 2021 at 11:44 am
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    It is too quiet in here and it is too quiet at work.

    I keep going out into the sunshine to watch all the bees enjoy the wild daisies on the hill, but duty keeps dragging me back in.

    All in the golden afternoon.

    Remember that song?

    Reply
  • November 11, 2021 at 12:51 am
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    ESCAPE

    Her rubber soles squeak as she makes her way along the corridor, accompanied by a guard, whose boots click-clack on the same scrubbed floor. Matty doesn’t take any notice of the noise; she’s preoccupied with what she’s going to say to Frank.

    They go through several barred doors, white-paint-chipped. Each time there’s a loud buzz as the electronic lock is released remotely. But even this punctuation of their trajectory doesn’t shake Matty’s concentration. The words have to be right; there must be no doubt as to their meaning or her intention.

    Various inmates catcall her as she passes. She’d feel humiliated if it wasn’t a state that she was inured to. She looks over at the smirking guard and spits against the wall. The guard stops, thinks about letting Matty feel a crack on the back of the legs from his night-stick, then takes her more-or-less gently by the upper arm and propels her forward; she is Frank Jessup’s woman, after all.

    They come to a grey-steel door with a reinforced window set in the top half. Through it she can see perhaps half a dozen couples already well into their conversations. On his own in a corner, looking sullen as usual, is Frank. He sees Matty looking at him through the window and treats her to one of his cold stares. Once again, frequent contact with these has deadened her reaction to them. She cold-stares him back.

    The guard taps on the door with his night-stick. A colleague appears at the window and lets them in.

    On the far wall is a clock. The guard points to it.

    “You’ve got five minutes.”

    “But visiting’s…”

    Matty stops; the guard has walked off with his colleague.

    Frank’s cold stare doesn’t soften as she sits down opposite him.

    “You’re late.”

    His face is a stony mask, the only animated feature his eyes, which flicker over her. Behind them is contempt, perversely mixed with desire. Matty knows this combination too well.

    “You’re lucky I’m seeing you at all,” she says. She’s actively forcing her tone to be even; she feels like vomiting from the anxiety of the moment.

    “What did you say?” Frank’s mask has dropped, replaced by a look of surprise.

    “We’re through, Frank. I agreed to see you just to tell you that. And I wanted to tell you it to your face to show you that I’m not afraid of you anymore.”

    “You fucking–”

    “Whore? You say the nicest things.”

    “You think you can just–?”

    “Leave you? It seems I’m finishing all your sentences for you, doesn’t it? Yes, I think I can just leave you. In fact, I know I can.”

    “You’re as good as dead, you filthy …”

    This time Frank can’t finish his own sentence. He’s suddenly uncertain of his ground, despite himself.

    “I thought you might say that, so I’m taking some precautions,” Matty says, gaining in confidence as she speaks.

    “I’ve got friends, you know? You can’t–”

    “Escape your reach? There I go again. You see, Frank, I’ve been around you too long. Just as I’m predicting what you’re going to say, I can predict exactly how you might try to get to me. And it’s all sorted.”

    Frank’s blue eyes are flashing with hatred now – at being stood up to, and by a woman.

    “I’d like to see that,” he says. Matty notes the slightly tentative way he says this and smiles inwardly.

    “You won’t. I’ll be gone. Vanishing into thin air, like so.” She snaps her fingers.

    The other couples create a hubbub that Matty appears to notice for the first time. She looks around and nods.

    “These people here. Half of them are bad ‘uns, but I’m looking at them and seeing love, or at least affection. We never had that, did we?”

    “I treated you all right.”

    “What? Furs? Jewellery? That’s not love, Frank. That’s … wanting to own.”

    Frank frowns. He doesn’t understand; these are the finer points of relationships, and he’s never taken that subject.

    “You’re right. I do own you.”

    Matty breaks into a real smile now and wags her finger.

    “Nope. I’m gone. I’ve changed my name. Got a new passport. When you get out of here, you can look for me, but it’ll be like trying to grab a handful of mist.”

    Frank has never seen Matty so confident. He’s shaken; he opens his mouth to speak but nothing comes out. Matty carries on.

    “You know how you feel in this place? Well, that was me, Frank. And you – you were my prison.”

    She can see Frank’s knuckles turning white. If they weren’t here being watched, Matty knows that those fists would be working on her – and not for the first time.

    “But now, you’ll be stuck here, in this … shithole, and I’ll be free.”

    At this, Matty stands, leans forwards and whispers.

    “Free as a bird.”

    She turns and strides away.

    Frank leaps to his feet.

    “You get back here, bitch! You hear me? You get … you’ll be sorry! I’ll …”

    A guard crosses the room and grabs him by the arm, pulling him towards the door that will take him back to the cells.

    Matty waits on the other side of the room, at the first door leading to a bright new life.

    .

    Reply
    • November 11, 2021 at 7:31 am
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      Great plot twist, Phil! I was sure right till the end that Matty was the prisoner and Frank – the visitor (and expected something along the lines of her feeling more free in jail than in their relationship). You surprised me. I’m a bit confused where a visitor would have to walk past inmates, but then, I’m not very familiar with prisons. And fantastic dialogue, as always.

      Reply
      • November 14, 2021 at 1:06 am
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        Thanks, Vicki! Yes, the inmates … I was actually visualising some of them doing jobs like scrubbing the corridor or something. Note to self: don’t just visualise it next time! 😉

        Reply
    • November 11, 2021 at 10:44 am
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      You completely shocked me with that bit in the end. Great setup and reversal!

      Reply
      • November 14, 2021 at 1:06 am
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        Cheers!

        Reply
    • November 12, 2021 at 12:08 am
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      Hey Phil,

      I always love a twist and the unexpected, so I was not disappointed. I could see the characters as real and the action happening, I like that the dialogue was also real for them and that the interaction, finishing sentences and other behaviours show that they knew each other well.

      I also like head speak, I do it a lot as I am not great with dialogue. The descriptions of the characters and prison were spot on to let me know who they were and where it was happening.

      Well, done, my friend,
      John

      Reply
      • November 14, 2021 at 1:07 am
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        Thanks, John! All very reassuring.

        Reply
    • November 12, 2021 at 1:09 pm
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      Phil,

      Interesting. Unlike Vicki, I never got the sense Matty was anything but a visitor. As usual, your dialogue is cracking good and you made both characters very believable . Good story, and I don’t know what’s missing, and I found it enjoyable, but not as ‘dramatic’ as I would have liked, for lack of a better term. I don’t really know what I’m trying to say because I don’t know what I need you to do to make it better for me.

      Perhaps Frank gets to her before the guards can cross the room and tries to throttle her, but is foiled. Then, as she stands by the door, waiting for her new life rubbing her sore neck, she understands what she is escaping and how close she came.

      Or, Frank’s last words were “You think you’re free? You’ll be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life! You’re in a prison as much as I am.”

      And, as usual, feel free to chuck these comments into the closest waste basket. I offer these only for speculation. Imagine me telling you how to write. Ha! I’m having a good laugh over that myself.

      Roy

      Reply
      • November 14, 2021 at 1:11 am
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        Thanks very much, Roy. I can see what you mean about the drama. All of your alternatives sound great. My crunch moment was supposed to be Matty telling Frank that being wth him was like being in prison, and throwing her freedom in his face. But very probably not dramatic enough.

        Reply
    • November 17, 2021 at 8:23 pm
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      Phil,

      (I’ve been waiting a long time for this. A little over a year.) I was also fooled by who was visiting who in your gritty prison story. The plot is perfectly constructed, great character portraits, but the dialogue, which is great, is the real reason for me to celebrate once again, as it contains your sixth mistake in seven years! You thought I wouldn’t catch it eh? Just because I’m out of town? Pah, you’re such an optimist.

      You wrote: (and I quote) “And I wanted to tell you it to your face to show you that I’m not afraid of you anymore.” Should ought to be: “I wanted to tell you to your face to show you that I’m not afraid of you anymore.”

      Since it’s dialogue, I guess technically it’s not a mistake. But since it’s you Phil, technically, it IS a mistake. If you keep bolloxing up your stories at this pace Phil, you’ll be averaging one mistake a year. Then what? Buy another eraser? Your third eraser since 1990? What are you going to do with yourself?

      Listen to me. We all make mistakes. If it’ll make you feel better about my obvious glee, pull my picture up on facebook, (or whatever it’s called now, ‘Meta-humper’?) light up a big fat cigar, and blow smoke in my digital face. (I hate it when people do that. Even though, technically, I don’t know they’re doing it. But if I did, I would hate it.)
      I’m not sure about Rumplies reservations about parading visitors past the inmates. I’m not going to admit that I’ve seen the inside of any prisons, but suffice it to say that I’ve seen enough prison movies that where prisons are concerned, practically anything is possible and therefore believable.

      Seriously, this is another pretty damned decent story, Phil. Whether you vote or not, I expect this story to come in somewhere in the top three. That must be very reassuring to everyone who visits the site. You don’t even have to vote and you still place in the top three. Sort of like winning ‘Best Dialogue’ category without any dialogue. (There’s something about Phil.) Be that as it may, I would only speak more at length on this topic in private, so have your people call my people Phil, so I can tell you it to your face. (LOL)

      Reply
      • November 21, 2021 at 7:26 am
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        Thanks, KenC, for your encouraging words … but I have to disappoint you on the ‘finding-me-out’. That’s not a mistake.

        “And I (Matty) wanted to tell you (Frank) it (news of the split) to your (Frank’s) face (front part of the head) to show you that I’m not afraid of you anymore.”

        It may be a little awkward, and I might prefer your alternative (might!), but wrong it ain’t, ol’ chap. Soz.

        Reply
        • November 23, 2021 at 12:17 pm
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          Whaaa? Tuh?

          Nice try Mr. Philippitus one. The ‘it’ is implied, if not implied, then ‘it’ should be ‘that.’ I would gladly put my eleventh grade English teacher up against yours any day, pal. (Except that she’s a hundred and thirty-years old and in no condition to take on your English teacher…) who is probably still finishing up her/his/its doctorate in Technicalities 301.

          But okay, I take that back. If you want to torture the English language in a feeble attempt to preserve ‘the Empire’ — I get it. No problem.

          Seriously though, Speaking of ’empires.’ This country is in such shit shape, that when someone commits yet another atrocity against innocent people, we look at each other and wonder whether the crime was intentional or accidental. As if it matters. (Is this a terrorist, a psychopath, a hardened criminal, or one of the ex-presidents lawyers? We just don’t know anymore.)

          Okay, well, in the interests of international relations, if you say it’s correct, I’ll accept that and reduce your mistake score back down to–what was it really? Two? It’s always fun matching wits with you, Phil, even though I know I’m going to lose.

          Reply
    • November 18, 2021 at 11:56 am
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      Hi Phil,

      This is such a well crafted story. I had to reread it several times to unwrap the subtle nuances. The way the guard was tempted to give Matty a whack on the legs made me think she was in the prison but then as I read on it seemed that Frank was too, perhaps they were allowed a so called conjugal visit from their respective cells. A clever piece of misdirection.

      Great dialogue too that also made me have to work to identify each speaker. So much better than he said she said, eh?

      This will be hard to beat my old friend.

      Kind regards,

      Ken F

      Reply
      • November 21, 2021 at 7:22 am
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        Thanks, KenF. Yes, the guard … I cheated a little to make it seems like Matty was in prison. I’ve written a new draft where she doesn’t spit, and the guard’s idea of cracking her with the night-stick is merely wishful thinking. Cheers!

        Reply
    • November 24, 2021 at 5:51 am
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      Hi Phil, this was a highly enjoyable and rewarding read, written in a convincing style of English, and with a tangible emotional feel and buildup: Marty’s cold rupture from Jessup, while he’s locked up in misery no less, is as liberating for her as it’s liberating for the reader on learning what kind of partner Frank had been to her all along. Her noting the loving bonds demonstrated by the other conversing couples is very effective as a “double-blind control test” backing up, by contrasting comparison, her words about Frank.

      At first I thought she was the one in jail, being walked to her visitor. In fact I was a bit confused why the other (female) inmates would cat-call her. But that should have been enough for me to understand that she was herself the visitor. Maybe I wasn’t attentive enough, or you intended that trick on us.

      The guard’s hesitation to use his night stick on her leg because “she’s Frank Jessup’s woman, after all”, is a great sentence in my opinion, speaking volumes: all by itself it showed me who we’re talking about, what kind of piece of meat this Frank Jessup was…

      The dialogue and style play well into pushing forward the nervous narrative, snappy throughout, as one expects in such circumstances. Only once you went, IMO, a little overboard in verbosity, with Matty:

      “Escape your reach? There I go again. You see, Frank, I’ve been around you too long. Just as I’m predicting what you’re going to say, I can predict exactly how you might try to get to me. And it’s all sorted.”

      What about a snappier, “…I can predict what you’re gonna say; I can also predict what you might try to do (to get me).”? Or “tell” instead of “predict”, like I suppose Matty would say; “predict” might not be in her active vocabulary.

      I also observe, in life, that uneducated people don’t use the gerund too often when they talk (I think most gerunds are a written-language construct), and I sometimes
      confuse them when I use it myself. (I don’t know this Matty, but I’m just supposing she’s not overly refined. That spitting business told me something or two about her…not to judge by the cover, but she doesn’t have too many PhDs, I’d say..).

      Just that, but on the whole I loved this story very much.

      Cheers!
      Ken

      Reply
      • November 25, 2021 at 4:34 am
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        Thanks very much for your positive words, Ken. Yes, the thing about the inmates … I was a bit too extreme with Matty and the guard’s reaction (spitting and wanting to hit her legs, respectively). The spitting especially would make it seem (too obviously) that she was an inmate herself.

        Reply
  • November 11, 2021 at 5:19 am
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    OF YOUR OWN DEVICE

    Walls. Thick, dark stone walls. Ben couldn’t recall how long he’d been here. There was nothing to keep track of time with. He ran his hands over the walls again. No chinks, no loose stones, no cracks, no way to make a passage out, even to the next cell. The walls pressed down on him, stopping just short of crushing him to paste.

    Ben couldn’t even recall what he’d done to be placed in solitary. He missed his old cell, dangerous as it was to be the lone “political” amongst seasoned criminals. At least their leader Vlad, the terrifying Russian gangster, owed him a favour. Ben wasn’t sure how long that was good for, but at least he’d be safe for now. If he ever returned to that cell. … He wondered if his friends’ accommodations were any better. He hadn’t seen them since the trial, and they hadn’t had the chance to speak since the arrest. … When had he last seen another person? Not even the guards who brought him food or escorted him to the bathroom.

    Stone. Come on, who even built jails like these anymore? Ben recalled the news of a prison reform, not long before his arrest. They talked about “cost cutting”. But this? They may have saved on personnel, but all the real estate was a huge money sink. What a joke!

    The tiny window set high in the door shone with pale electric light. The cell was shaped like a giant chimney, really, with a sort of skylight covered with a grate right at the top. It was too far up. Even air escaped up, up and out, leaving Ben with nothing to breathe. The walls had no footholds, of course. He braced his arms and legs awkwardly against opposite walls – he could barely reach both at once, small as the cell was, and climbed towards the light. His long-unused muscles gave up too soon. Ben landed with a thud.


    Every muscle was in agony. They were going to give out right now. He had a long way to fall. Ben inched his way up, towards the light. The holes in the grate would be too small to squeeze through. There were guard towers outside. Didn’t matter; he had to reach the air, for one last breath. The grate was within reach. Ben squeezed through painfully, leaving fabric and skin on the metal; he was bleeding from a million places. He was stuck. With the last of his strength, he pushed himself through, scraping off the remaining skin …

    Ben looked around his spare bedsit. No cell. No guard towers. What? Bits of the prison reform news came back … something about neural implants … getting something from the convicted felon’s mind … They’d all thought it was ridiculous. So he’d been home all this time? Nothing looked out of place. Well, someone had disabled the smart fridge, so now it just kept the food cold. His neuro-connector chip was disabled; his smart watch was missing… even the crappy antique laptop that barely worked anymore. It figured. Some packaged dinner sat defrosting on the counter. Had he been feeding himself without realising it? Did he go out shopping too? Probably not. So someone delivered the food …

    … Did this mean the others were all in their homes too? Ben stepped out the door. He likely had a tracker implanted, cameras in the flat; he didn’t care. Lucia was the obvious choice: her place was closest. He briefly glanced at the lift – no good, they all had cameras – and jogged down eleven floors of stairs.

    The bus was out of question – all stops were equipped with cameras. It didn’t matter; the walk to Lucia’s block of flats took barely a quarter of an hour. Lucia – full of light, just like her name. Ben flew through the cold wind and drizzling rain, and felt alive.

    “Ben?! I … didn’t know we were allowed visitors.”

    Lucia’s bruises were gone. How long had it been?

    “Erm … yeah … How are you, Luce? … Umm … what’s your cell like?”

    “Pretty much like this,” she swept an arm around with a slight smile. “All vines, braided into walls. Wasn’t your cell like this?”

    “Er … no, nothing like this.”

    “You know, I was afraid of being strangled by them at first, but they’re not … Actually, it’s very … therapeutic. Living green walls are so calming. I can see the sunlight through them, feel the breeze. I even hear waves lapping outside. I think all jails should be built like this. It’s great for rehabilitation.”

    “Aren’t you lonely?”

    “No, I like it. Although … solitude could be a problem for people. We should think on it some more.”

    “OK, but … it’s so easy to leave. Come on. Come with me, Luce.”

    “Sorry Ben, I … need more time. I’m not ready to be beaten by cops again,” said Lucia with a crooked smile. She looked so tired.

    “Hang on, you aren’t supposed to be here, are you?” her expression turned to alarm. “Go, go, before you are caught!” She almost pushed Ben out physically.

    “Come with me,” he tried one last time. “You’ll be safe. You’ll rest, I’ll break the others out, and we’ll make new plans.”

    “Sorry, maybe later … I need some rest. Go, and stay safe!”

    “I’ll … visit again,” Ben muttered lamely.

    He walked out with a heavy heart. Oh, Luce … Now, who was his best bet? Con, Trini, Alex? Who needed him the most? …


    “Superintendent, inmate Cellin Benedict has escaped.”

    “Yeah? Give him the standard-issue virtual next time. Initiate recapture.”

    Reply
    • November 11, 2021 at 10:43 am
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      Oh man put me in a cell like Lucia’s right now!
      Can I customize the landscape and furnishings?
      What crime do I have to commit?
      Good job!

      Reply
      • November 12, 2021 at 3:16 am
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        Thanks Rumple!

        A big part of it is the mental image of a prison that the person has – whether conscious or subconscious. That’s what the neural implant picks up to create the virtual reality for the prisoner for the duration of the sentence. The other part is trickier to control: Lucia’s green prison was originally more nightmarish, but her subconscious registered that she was traumatised and turned it into more of a shelter/ safety cocoon. (Likewise, Ben’s subconscious provided an escape route.) So your best bet is to cultivate the mental image of a jail as a nice, comfortable place with a handy escape route in case you get bored. 🙂

        Reply
        • November 12, 2021 at 10:45 am
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          “The barrier of loneliness: The palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man. Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting… in The Twilight Zone.”

          That is from “Where Is Everybody?”, the episode of the Twilight Zone where that soldier is placed in an isolation chamber and equipped with an experimental virtual reality system. I spent the whole episode thinking that he was trapped in a dollhouse neighborhood or in Limbo, just to find that I was way off!

          It is cool how you represented the path to escape for Cellin (just got the humor of that name btw). I also like the title and how it pretty much explains what is going on.

          When he was “flying” down the street, I really felt his freedom and power and it felt very punky and anti-authoritarian, like something from Ray Bradbury, where the human spirit can’t be held down, no matter what tech is thrown at it!

          I even got a little bit of A Clockwork Orange (Alex had experimental treatments used on him so that he could be released back into society, but HE was just a monster, whereas your characters seem like activists and hackers with better motivations, and your treatment is much more benign).

          Your digital cells seem like they could really be used for good and healing, in a kind of shamanistic way.

          Reply
          • November 14, 2021 at 1:28 pm
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            I’m not very familiar with The Twilight Zone in general, & not at all with the episode you cite in particular.

            Ben Cellin is actually named after Benvenuto Cellini, who once escaped from a supposedly inescapable prison (as part of a very colourful life). Only after reading your and a couple of other comments did other possible interpretations occur to me. Perhaps my subconscious made a joke without informing me. 🙂

            Sure, the VR environments can be used for good, but also cause a lot of harm. Just imagine someone whose mental image of a prison comes straight from Ken Frape’s story … I get the feeling that the authorities in-universe thought they were being humane and whatnot, but didn’t think things all the way through before pushing through the prison reform.

    • November 12, 2021 at 1:41 pm
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      Vicki, Interesting story. I had to reread it a couple of times to really get the concept, but once I did, I enjoyed the story. I didn’t really understand the part about the two cells for Cellin (like Rumple, I loved the name). Maybe I still don’t.

      Anyway, I loved the concept of metaverse cells (shades of Facebook) and how you approached it. At home in our own cell of our choosing, maybe, I think that’s where you were going. See how confused I am?

      Good dialogue and nice tension with good descriptions.

      Roy

      Reply
      • November 14, 2021 at 1:45 pm
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        Thanks, Roy.

        Which two cells are you referring to? The cell which Ben shared with criminals vs the solitary? Well, since Ben’s memory’s surely been compromised, I guess we’ll never know whether the former was real (s.a. a holding cell where Ben had been held pre-trial), or the product of Ben’s mind like the other one.

        It’s fun to see different interpretations of the story; I don’t know if I can claim the “definitive” explanation, or if mine is just one of several equally valid ones. Anyway, my take is that the prisoner experiences a VR prison created by their own mind (though not necessarily “of their own choosing”, at least not consciously). Objectively, they sit at home and don’t make trouble. An added benefit from the authorities’ POV is that they don’t have to maintain jails, hire guards, worry about violence between prisoners … They just didn’t take into account possible breakdowns/ self-harm caused by those VR experiences.

        Reply
        • November 15, 2021 at 11:08 am
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          It kind of reminds me of the “Panopticon” design for prisons that got floated around a bunch: you build a watchtower in the prison that gives one guard a view of 100 cells, but the guard’s silhouette is obscured with interior shadows and curtains in a way so that none of the prisoners know if they are being watched at any particular moment (but they know that they COULD be watched because of the angle).

          Then they feel all paranoid and watched and don’t feel like they can get away with tunneling and conspiring. The prisoners watch themselves in this system, or that was the idea. I don’t think that it got implemented like in the original blueprints except for a prison in Cuba that I saw online, but the concept survived on and a bunch of prisons have approximations. It was supposed to cut down on costs and increase efficiency in a time when they had lofty ideas for prison reform, but that was in the 1700’s and one could certainly argue that we have not progressed as far as we should have in that department!

          In your system, the prisoners create the walls, bars, toilets, guards, and everything else! No guards need to be paid, and instead everything becomes IT expenses.

          I read just a little about that Cellini guy after you mentioned him, very interesting and wild stuff!

          And Twilight Zone is basically the original “Black Mirror”, just minus the extreme content and in shades of black and white. Rod Serling was the host, and he is one of my heroes! His monologues were so epic and he fought for good, if you know what I mean!

          Reply
          • November 16, 2021 at 8:09 am
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            That “Panopticon” prison design sounds rather like your average open-plan workplace (pre-Covid, anyway).

            I have to admit that I knew even less about Black Mirror than Twilight Zone until you brought it up (I had to Google it). At least I was generally aware of Twilight Zone, though I remember actually watching only one episode – the one with a mandatory exam for all kids of a certain age, where the kids who do too well get killed.

        • November 30, 2021 at 3:34 pm
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          Vicki,

          Now that I’ve read your response, I don’t know where I got the two cells either. I guess after he landed with a thud, and then was able to make it on his next try, I assumed there were two cells. Mea culpa.

          Anyway, I’m just now getting back into the game. I’ve lost a couple of close friends these past few weeks and I wasn’t I’m the mood for writing and chatting, although I should have done it, if nothing more than to take my mind off the thoughts I was having.

          I liked the story, and the concept.

          Roy

          Reply
    • November 14, 2021 at 12:44 am
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      Intriguing, Vicki – like a few steps on from the ankle braclet. Prisons of the mind! You create a pretty frightening futuristic society with the minimum of description – the mere sophistication of the technology gives us an idea of when it’s pitched. Also, the fact that Cellin and the others are political prisoners tell us lots.

      One thing I didn’t really understand is how Cellin is hurt after he falls to the floor … if the cell is only virtual (did he just fall out of bed?) Or maybe the pain is virtual too?

      Very thought-provoking.

      Reply
      • November 14, 2021 at 1:50 pm
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        Thanks, Phil.

        Yes, the pain is virtual (specifically, the nerves respond to stimuli they are fed, so the pain is real but there’s no bleeding, bruising, etc.) In light of things like psychosomatic illnesses, I’d say the more traumatic VR experiences can cause some real and lasting damage, not least leading to breakdowns and/or self-harm, though not in Ben’s case.

        Reply
    • November 17, 2021 at 8:27 pm
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      Vickinstein,

      Very creative story. Virtual Captivity. I can’t believe no one else (including me) thought of it. Your story indicates there are at least two versions of VC. And one is harsher than the other.

      This seems like a kinky little nuance to your VC creation that bears… bares? No, bears. (Sorry. No internet. But the dictionary, it’s right there, just a few feet, across the room, too far. Can’t-reach-it. Who left this piece of fucking kryptonite on the coffee table? Dammit! How many times do I have to ask you kids to put that shit away when you’re done playing with it.)

      Okay, forget the bears for now.

      There’s a clue in your title, ‘by their own device’, but does it mean each prison was fashioned by the prisoner? Subconsciously? And Ben’s mind is different than Luce’s. Stronger? Seems to me there’s more here than meets the eye.

      The transition between Ben’s failure to scale the wall, and his ultimate success at scaling the imaginary wall seems well handled. At first I thought it needed something more (like a simple (not for this site) separator) but I got the gist of what was happening without any ‘fancy’ gimmicks or devices, so I think it worked out.

      But then I read in the comment thread that you HAD placed a separator, or intended to, but it had to go through a special, super-secret and high-tech process to have the separators installed which involves sending the whole document to the moderator, who must feed it into a word un-processor, then its demoded, across the space that nothing crosses, where a company of ex-cookie makers places the words onto the website one letter at a time, ensuring the proper placement of all letters, words, periods and separators. I hear it’s very time-consuming. Like my comments. Think of this as virtual comedy, Vickie. Designed and inspired by your story. (The real comedy would be much funnier, I think.)

      Let me simplify my comment. (Forget everything you just read. You’ve already done it? Wow, that was fast.) What was meant by the last remark? About the ‘standard-issue virtual’ next time? So then was the first experience some kind of non-standard-issue virtual incarceration affected by the virtually incarcerated themselves? Is that what this means? That’s the reason they would resort to ‘standard-issue VR? Because it’s less friendly? Harsher?

      Reply
      • November 25, 2021 at 9:32 am
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        Thanks for your comment, Ken. Well, at least one person thought of it. 🙂 Really, the concept of “prison” offers so many possibilities (especially if it doesn’t have to be literal) that it’s no wonder every writer here had a different take on it.

        OK, so the “default” VC is built out of the prisoner’s own mind (whether conscious or subconscious) by means of a neural implant. The result is a combination of the prisoner’s personality, mental concept of what a “prison” is (as such, I would strongly recommend Ken F. to avoid such virtual incarceraton at all costs, based on his story below), and even specific circumstances. As such, there are as many variations as people, and even more. We can see how differently different people cope with incarceration in real life. Eg I feel that Luce experienced trauma during her arrest (and possibly after), so her mind accommodated by turning her virtual prison into more of a safety cocoon. If this doesn’t work (like in Ben’s case where his mind provided an in-built escape route), there’s the “standard issue” virtual jail – something bland, clinical and escape-proof. It isn’t necessarily more harsh than the ‘self-created’ VC; the aim is to make the convicts stay put and not make trouble. Though in Ben’s case, it would be like the irresistible force vs immovable object. Feel free to bet on who’ll win.

        BTW, I never had a chance to thank you for your effusive praise a prompt or two back. I was tickled pink that you still thought of me as someone who kicks ass even after I’d gone MIA for a couple of months.

        Reply
    • November 18, 2021 at 12:11 pm
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      Hi Vicki,

      I have had a good look at the other comments and seen what I might have missed from your excellent story. A prison can be “virtually” any place or environment that you don’t want to be in. It can be an actual place or a relationship or even a state of mind.

      The final line tells us that Ben has absolutely no control over his life. He is little more than a pawn on a chessboard.
      Great writing,

      Kind regards,

      Ken F

      Reply
      • November 25, 2021 at 9:35 am
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        Thanks, Ken!

        Perhaps some of the virtual convicts experience their “jail” as an abusive relationship or never-ending shopping trip (the latter would be me :)).

        As for the last paragraph: it wouldn’t be much of a dystopia if the powers that be were stupid/ easy to thwart. I wouldn’t completely discount Ben’s (and others’) chances, though.

        Reply
  • November 11, 2021 at 7:33 am
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    Hi Carrie,

    The section breaks have disappeared from my story (they were marked ***), and I don’t have the editing option. Can I please edit the post?

    Reply
    • November 11, 2021 at 1:53 pm
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      Hi Vicki, they are gone on my end too. I’d add them back in but I don’t know where they go.
      Do you want to email me the copy of the story and I can copy and paste it for you?

      Reply
      • November 12, 2021 at 3:27 am
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        Thanks! I’ve e-mailed the story.

        PS. How come there’s an editing option on comments (some) but not on stories?

        Reply
        • November 12, 2021 at 5:12 am
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          Hi Carrie,

          The question about the editing facility being available on comments but not on the story, is one I have been meaning to ask. Can we edit our stories after posting?

          It’s not a complaint as I really appreciate all that you do. It’s just a query.

          Ken F

          Reply
          • November 12, 2021 at 9:36 am
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            It should be enabled for all comments, it’s odd that it won’t allow you to edit the story comments.
            It might have something to do with the code I add when I turn the font blue.
            Let me look at some other comment editing plugins and we’ll see if there’s a better one.

  • November 12, 2021 at 5:02 am
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    Ken Frape

    1200 words November 12th. 2021 Prompt; PRISON

    Nine by Six

    The arrest was sudden and violent, ripping the prisoner from his family in the darkest hour of the night. He had already been tried and found guilty of “acts of treason” in absentia by the new President, leader of the puppet government. No court appearance or trial was deemed necessary.

    Three burly guards threw the prisoner into a cell, hurling him across the threshold to crash headfirst against the far wall. He lay there, momentarily stunned as the heavy steel door shut with a ringing clang, the bright sunlight quickly diminishing from full glare to a sliver then to nothing.

    The effect of that door closing was stark, instantly plunging everything into blackness from which shadows and images would normally gradually appear as the eyes became adjusted.

    But not here.

    The prisoner slid his hands over the floor around him and found it to be damp, and sticky. He held his fingers up to his nose and sniffed. It was excrement mixed with urine. He recoiled in disgust, wiping his hands on the wall. He was reluctant to move in any direction, lest he should encounter further olfactory horrors. As he waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness he fought against a tiny wave of terror and a sudden urge to vomit. Nowhere is truly black, he told himself but his belief was soon challenged as he continued to be unable to see anything, not even any lighter patches of darkness. For the first time in his life he was in utter, complete darkness. Even the hand that had famously written so many political speeches was not visible in front of his face. He knew that the longer he stayed in this dark hellhole the more his eyesight would deteriorate and wither, even into blindness.

    His torture had begun. Official, state approved torture, solitary confinement in darkness, sensory deprivation, expressly forbidden in the Geneva Convention. He knew they would come for him and would continue to do so until he broke down or confessed to crimes he had not committed. They would try to break his spirit.

    Then he raised his clenched fists into the air, lifted his chin and roared at the top of his voice. Then he laughed, his voice reverberating around the tiny metal box. Finally, he spoke in that deep, richly resonant voice that was so revered in his country before the coup.

    “You think you will break me? Then think again! You will NOT break me. I am Magnus Persimon.”

    Persimon began to explore his prison cell. It didn’t take long. He stepped forward, holding his hands out in front of his body, sliding his feet forward cautiously. Within moments, he came up against the back wall, he could almost touch the sides. He was in a steel box, approximately six feet long by nine feet wide, height unknown.

    There was no bed. In one corner was a small hole in the floor and the overpowering stench coming from it made its purpose clear. A thin pipe attached to the walls in another corner descended vertically from above. This pipe stopped at head height and as he ran his fingers over it a small drop of water dripped onto his hand. By standing on tip toes, he was able to put his lips to the pipe and suck like a pet in a cage.

    “At least you are not going to let me die of thirst” a voice said and as he heard those words he realised that he had spoken out loud.

    He closed his eyes, a futile gesture in such blackness but it was a simple, involuntary action and one that allowed him to gather his thoughts. In his head he could see light and colour and he could feel the warmth of the sun and the texture of his beloved wife’s hair as she tightly embraced him and surrounded him with the musky scent of her body.

    Those few moments strengenthed him, for then he knew he would endure. He must endure. His people needed him to endure so that they, in turn, would endure.

    Time was impossible to measure in the absence of any way in which to gauge its passing. Later but how much later he could not tell, a panel at the bottom of the cell wall slid open with a faint swish and Persimon’s searching hands found a metal bowl that had been placed there. Those few fleeting moments of blinding light were like further torture; painful on his eyes and tantalising to his spirit, a taste of what he was missing, with freedom so close. The panel immediately slid shut once more and the darkness enveloped him in its unwelcome embrace. The bowl contained a crust of soggy bread and a thin soup, the taste of which was disgusting but like Pavlov’s dogs, he soon found himself salivating each time he heard the sound of the door panel sliding open.

    Persimon fell into a kind of routine, based around his food. On waking, he sucked mouthfuls of water from the pipe and transferred some to his hands, running them across his face in an attempt to keep clean, telling himself that being treated like an animal was no reason to become one.

    “I am Magnus Persimon. I have dignity.”

    He repeated this mantra over and over, whilst his ears sought out the swish of the food door.

    In order to keep himself mentally alert he devised a series of physical and mental exercises. He would count backwards from a thousand in threes, or sevens or nines, recite passages of poetry, create amazing puzzles in his head, reinvent gadgets and machines and perform any and every physical exercise that the space allowed.

    Persimon’s torture was brutally interrupted when his cell door burst open without warning and he was dragged into the open air. He was beaten by the guards even as he tried to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun.

    “Do you repent, prisoner?” The President, standing outside, screamed at him. This was personal. A confession was essential. It would legitimise the prisoner’s execution.

    Persimon, leader of the ousted ruling party, shook his head. Standing up to his full height, tall and straight, he bellowed, “I have nothing to repent!”

    Each time the President had him dragged out of his cell he refused to repent. He was beaten again and again.

    In the disused football stadium hundreds of identical steel cells populated the pitch. Each cell contained a dissident. In the centre circle a scaffold had been erected. Every prisoner who “repented” was hanged for “crimes against the state,” having admitted their guilt.

    Persimon remained resolute. The despotic President’s regime was eventually overthrown by a people’s rebellion. Persimon was released from prison after nearly seven years in the darkness.

    Persimon became his country’s first blind President. Whilst he was being sworn in, the deposed President was abducted from her prison cell and lynched by the mob. As the country celebrated, her bruised and battered body swung in the breeze from the scaffold on that same football pitch, surrounded by now-empty cells as birds feasted upon her flesh.

    Revenge or justice?

    Reply
    • November 14, 2021 at 1:03 am
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      Terrifying, KenF, because not far from events we have seen or know of in history (I was reminded of Chile with the football stadium). The nature of the cell is really frightening: I remember reading once of experiments of similar mini-cells, and how a couple of hours in one could turn your mind. You describe the cell and Persimon’s coming to terms with it really well (though this reasoning comes right after he’s been thrown in there, so maybe a bit premature?: “He knew that the longer he stayed in this dark hellhole the more his eyesight would deteriorate and wither, even into blindness.”)

      Probably constraints of length, but I did think the last couple of paragraphs felt a little rushed and exposition-y. Glad the President bought it, though (Justice!). Clever little twist that it was a ‘she’ (I’m sure everyone would have been expecting a ‘he’). Any reason for it, despite wanting a twist? Maybe that anyone can be cruel, regardless of gender?

      A nicely uncomfortable read!

      Reply
      • November 14, 2021 at 11:23 am
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        Hi Phil,
        Thanks for your comments. I am not sure if this will be my final version and I take on board your critique.
        I very much felt the constraints of the word count in this one.
        It was not my original intent to put a twist in the ending but the prompt says there have be two main characters , one male and one female so I decided to hold back the feminine character until the end, hence the twist.
        I haven’t had the time to read all of the stories and comments yet as my wife has an art exhibition all week and I have been in the gallery every day. Hope to read and comment ASAP.
        Keep well,
        Ken F

        Reply
      • November 16, 2021 at 12:53 am
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        The president is the main female character! Sorry – I hadn’t realised this before! D’oh!

        Reply
    • November 14, 2021 at 2:08 pm
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      I second most of Phil’s comments. Your prison is truly terrifying. The football stadiums reminded me of public executions by the Taliban; while some of the victims of Stalin’s purges did escape death by not confessing to fabricated crimes (though the ones who confessed had to go through a show trial before being executed). I don’t know if your cells have a real-life precedent, but they are the stuff of nightmares. Your Persimon is an admirable character, probably inspired by some real-life person/people, but he stands on his own.

      I also felt that both the opening paragraph and the one of Persimon’s liberation were rather “expositiony”, but I can’t see how that can be changed within the word limit. (It’s funny, I think you’re the only author this round who used the entire allotment of words.)

      One point on which from I differ from Phil is whether the deposed President’s lynching is justice. At the start of the story, she is described as the leader of a “puppet government”. Makes me wonder if she herself was a puppet who got thrown to the wolves while the real puppet master/s escaped.

      Reply
    • November 16, 2021 at 6:09 pm
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      My comment on your story where I sounded real smart and composed ate itself – darn.

      This was visceral, hardcore, and realistic. I also liked the question at the end, because I felt something like pity for the deposed official, though I don’t think it was deserved.

      Very well done!

      Reply
      • November 17, 2021 at 4:39 am
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        Hi Rumples,

        Thanks for the comments. They are much appreciated.
        It is my intention to devote some time this afternoon (Wednesday) to rereading all the stories and adding my own comments.
        Watch this space, as they say.
        Ken Frape.

        Reply
    • November 17, 2021 at 9:00 pm
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      Yo Ken of the Frape,

      Revenge or justice? Both.

      Exquisite exposition Ken Effington. This is the kind of writing that few are capable of emulating. (But I’ll continue to try.) It’s just, outstanding. I won’t quibble over the ending nor Phil’s muted reservations since the beginning is so good, the villain could have been a flying spaghetti monster and that would have been okay too. Fabulous writing Ken.

      As for constraints, that foul, cruel and arbitrary limitation of words that buggers us all week after week. Anyway, I swear that I am not making this up, I named my story ‘Constraints.’ Each version of the story is filed under the name ‘constraints.’ But just before posting, I settled on some other title. (whatever the hell I settled on. I don’t even remember what I finally named it. I just know it wasn’t ‘contraints.’)

      I’m sitting in my vehicle outside of the only diner for 30 miles around, (and it’s closed) just so I could send you these insignificant (maybe) but not indifferent words of approval and validation. In other words, this story rocks, bro.

      Reply
  • November 17, 2021 at 3:59 am
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    A TOKEN OF GENEROSITY
    by Ken Miles
    (927 words)

    Sergeant Morris pulled up his pants quickly and shifted himself to a more natural position in his chair upon hearing the door of the police station opening. He turned the monitor on his desk back from TV to security-camera mode, and swiveled it away from him.

    “So much for a quiet night in the suburbs!” he mumbled to himself. Who could it be at this unholy hour of the night?

    Nothing much happened at Berrywood Greens, even by day; by night it was a distant, quiet patch of darkness. One wonders why they even set up a police station there; for the officers assigned there it was really money for nothing.

    The Sergeant was still buttoning his pants, when this smashing twenty-something walked into his office. The last button gave him ample trouble, as he tried to pack in his sprawling middle-age beer belly. But he frantically got it fastened by the time the blonde with an exquisite but tormented look on her face – and in nothing but her semi-transparent nightie – reached his desk. She seemed to have fallen right off that late-night flick.

    Just that she had a large screwdriver in her hand. And it was stained in blood.

    Morris ran the sleeve of his uniform over his brow to dry the sweat, recompose himself; try to hide from this mirage lady the fact he’d been busy on himself just before she presented herself to him.

    “I killed Mitch,” she said without even saying who she was, “And I don’t regret it. I’ll pay whatever price I gotta pay now. He slept with that bitch again, lipstick doesn’t lie. To hell with him…”

    “Sit down ma’am. Let’s recap – did I understand well that you killed your partner, husband? with that…”

    “Husband. Of two years.”

    “Okay. Husband. You killed him with that screwdriver, because he had sex with someone you don’t like – that bitch – which you found out about from some unmistakable lipstick she left on him or on his clothing?”

    “On his fuck’n buttocks”

    “Okay. Interesting… let me see… has anyone witnessed the event?”

    She gave him a puzzled look.

    “I mean, you just killed him, not long ago, just before coming to me, right? Does anyone else know what you’ve done except for you and I?”

    “No. Nobody. Just you and I – and Mitch. But he’s burning in hell now. Why do you ask?”

    He weighs his words for a few seconds, then makes his proposal.

    “Listen, – – -?”

    “Debra McKenzie.”

    “Debra, you now have two choices. I know you’re agitated, but it’s important you choose well. The rest of your life relies heavily on the choice you’re about to make.”

    He drew a deep breath, then continued.

    “What you’ve done to Mitch is understandable – I mean, I personally get it – but this is a cruel world. In this State you’ll get locked up for life in a dark pit with murderous angry lesbians for what you’ve done. They’ll tear one like you apart. Choice number one: I’ll open one of these,” with that he patted the tower of brand new paper folders he had on his desk, “And I’ll write down in it all that you’ve just told me. Every single word of it. I’ll sign at the bottom. And off you go for a life of utter misery. I’d hate to see you off that way.”

    He let her absorb all that for a few moments in harrowing silence.

    “Choice Two. I’ll rid you of that screwdriver. We’ll drive up to your place, kick the front door open and tomorrow tell the story of the robbers that visited you under cover of darkness, how they panicked and killed your husband when he resisted them. I’ll back you up with what I’ve found when I happened upon the attack on my night beat, how I nearly got them, and how I saved you from being killed too, if it wasn’t for my tempestuous intervention. It would do miracles for my promotion file – and you’ll be a free gal again ready to conquer the world…”

    She just stared at him, with deep hollow eyes that scared him. Yes even him, the seasoned big guy who had seen it all.

    He tried to pitch his sale further. “You’re lucky, you know? Your stars are aligned tonight. I’m hardly ever alone here. Two other officers should’ve been with me, but as fate wants it, not one but both called in sick. Now, I’m sure they’re eating some pussy somewhere while their wives think they’re on nightshift here. But that’s beside the point. What matters to us – to you and I – is that no-one else knows a thing about your story. Which gives you the luxury of those two options…”

    She still didn’t react to his words.

    “Think well, Debra. All I ask of you is just one favor – and only if you want to honor me with it, no stress. Should you choose Option Two, your salvation, I’d so much love you to come down on me, dear…”

    He swallowed some saliva on saying that, then went on, “You don’t have to, if you don’t want to. But it’d be nice. Just a token for my generosity. I’m your best friend right now.”

    She finally spoke.

    “There’s also an Option Three,” she said, her voice drenched in anguish.

    She picked up the bloodied screwdriver from where she had placed it on his desk, leaned violently towards him and without warning lodged it in that narrow gap between his eyes. Then waited patiently for the day-shift round to call.

    Reply
    • November 17, 2021 at 10:37 am
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      All – I’ve had two people reach out and ask if I could extend the submission time a few hours today, I would also like to participate as well but work this week has been crazy. So I am extending the contest one week out!

      Reply
      • November 17, 2021 at 12:30 pm
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        Carrie,
        So glad about the extension. Been very busy so this really helps me too.
        Thanks Carrie,
        Ken Frape

        Reply
    • November 17, 2021 at 9:41 pm
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      Excellent story Ken Kilometers.

      Do you hear me? Excellent. Some real nice lines in it. ‘a few minutes of harrowing silence.’

      ‘She just stared at him with deep hollow eyes that scared him.’

      ‘tempestuous intervention.’ (I have never seen these two words hanging out together. Who knew?)

      One drawback (One mistake too. ‘choose’ not ‘chose.’) the drawback is the title. Halfway through the story I knew what would happen because the title gives it away.

      How about, ‘A Token Of Generosity.’ That’s a nice phrase too.

      You have a gift for stringing great phrases together, which, as I understand it, is the underpinning of good sentencing. (If there’s a pun in there, disregard it.)

      Well, goodnight all. I have a big day ahead of me tomorrow. Or was that yesterday? Doesn’t matter.
      I’ll mention pumpkin pie here, and that’s all anyone will remember or talk about, pumpkin pie. (with whipped cream.) I know, I know, I’m a cruel son-of-a-bitch. When you’re typing, no one can tell that your mouth is full. It’s an amazing convention.

      Chee-ow.

      Reply
      • November 19, 2021 at 6:17 am
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        I hear you Ken!

        Thanks for both your praise and the suggested corrections (which I’ve already incorporated. Does that now make you a co-writer? If Ken Le Frape also suggests something viable, I’d have to change my name to Lowell Hartmann’s lol!).

        I had a (faint) feeling that my original title might be a little big spoiler… and you confirmed that. The Generosity one is a more apt title and it hopefully gives nothing away. (Generosity that gives nothing away? This pun was not intended, it happened all by itself, not of my making. I swear. God exists and he has a good sense of humor.).

        Well, the stringing of words into great phrases is something I admire in others who do it well (like there are two here who also go by the name of Ken, and others too, of course), so I try my hand at it, when I’m in the mood and the word limit allows for BOTH a plot and some word-play. It’s good to hear that it all pleases your ears (eyes).

        This was a story I wrote really quickly, this time, in no more than 30 minutes on my phone (I had no more than that much time to spare – other things to do!), and perhaps it’s better that way. Granted, I had a rough sketch of the plot somewhere in my mind already before I set out to actually write it. It’s perhaps true what Bradbury said in that interview I’d sent you a screenshot of, that its better to write fast and let be, and avoid over-intellectualizing through too much revision and rewriting…

        But I’m still waiting for some feedback from others round here. It’s good, though, that I got yours first, so I know I’ve got you in! You’re too often in no-internet-land, which is a shame…

        I’m still to read the other stories (good move Carrie, for giving an extra week for that – it would have been impossible for me to write my story, read all the others and vote in the only 30 minutes I had at my disposal!!). Once I get to reading yours, I hope to drop you a comment on what I think of it. Or else I’d go on a guilt trip…

        Ah, and the pumpkin pie… Good chee-owing if you’re still at it!

        Ciao! (I got no pumpkin pie!)

        K.M.

        Reply
    • November 19, 2021 at 2:27 pm
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      Heavens! I clutched my pearls and blushed for this one, and I don’t want to wade into “violent lesbians”, but the writing was good! Very Quentin Tarantino-esque. Are you a fan?

      I have a complicated relationship with his work, but I have watched so many of his films and I talk about them all the time, because I still think that a lot of the work is really nifty (despite my beefs).

      The only thing that really bothered me, because I am a bug nerd, is the name “Midge”. I know Midge was Barbie’s friend and it is a name for different kinds of gnats/small biting flies, but I never heard it used for a male before.

      But then I knew a Stacey that was a guy and a Jim that was a girl, and I know that names are fluid and dynamic and basically anything goes, when it comes right down to it.

      It just confused me and made me think that she killed her husband’s girlfriend, is all, and just for a second or two, is the only reason that I am mentioning it. And now I feel like a little punk lol.

      Reply
      • November 24, 2021 at 6:44 am
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        Oh, I must have given you an uneasy, bad day with this one, then? Tarantinesque? I suppose I can take that as a compliment, despite your complicated relationship with Quentin himself. I only watched Pulp Fiction (it’s his, right?), and it’s still very vivid to my eyes after all these years. But I don’t suppose that makes me a fan. I’ll try to watch some more…

        I intended the name Midge as a diminutive pet name (in both form and meaning) of Mitchell or Mitchum, hinting at an otherwise cosy relationship between him and Debra. The fact she still calls him by his pet name after she’s slaughtered him creates some queasy irony, I thought. But I didn’t know that it’s also the name of Barbie’s female friend (I know, I should’ve known. But Ken has eyes only for Barbie.). This gender confusion certainly got you unnecessarily off your tracks with my story and maybe other readers too, so I fixed the name and it’s now plain and masculine Mitch. Also to leave those gnats and biting flies alone.

        (Btw there was a fairly successful pop singer called Midge Ure, on this side of the pond, a Glaswegian I believe. And he was a man. But Barbie’s friend must be more popular worldwide.)

        Thanks for you review and advice:-)

        Cheers,
        Ken

        Reply
          • November 24, 2021 at 11:54 am
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            No, no … it was a valid argument on your part, and I fixed the story as per your advice 🙂

    • November 20, 2021 at 8:36 am
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      Ha ha, KenM – he certainly got what was coming … to him. Terrific beginning! It sets up the whole of the action, and it’s fun to be directed to his naughty act by suggestion (the trousers round his ankles, switching the monitor image, the buttons). It was a shame, I felt, that you thought it necessary to proceed to hit us over the head with it (“She seemed to have fallen off the sex flick he had just been watching.”) I don’t think any reader would be in two minds about what was going on before the woman arrives. The sergeant’s plan is nicely dastardly, but maybe it comes out a bit too readily? There could be some deep thought on his part before he lays it out, and perhaps a little bit of back story to show us why he’s so desperate. As KenC says, this is a great bit of foreshadowing: “She just stared at him, with deep hollow eyes that scared him.” We know that she’s unhinged, and the Sergeant seems to suspect it too (“scared”), but his randiness is stronger than him. Great resolution, and a very enjoyable read.

      Reply
      • November 24, 2021 at 8:02 am
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        Thanks Phil for the nice words and the good advice!

        I so totally agree with you about the overly expositional sex flick sentence, that I decided to modulate it (you can have a look). I didn’t slash it off completely. I removed the direct reference which you rightly found unnecessary. But I kept the element of the visitor seeming like falling off the screen, because I like it and I think it’s a good visual connector between what Morris was up to and this woman walking in. (Visual enough that the naughtiest amongst us wants a picture of Debra from me – guess who?)

        As for some backstory wrt why he’d risk his career (and life, as it turned out) for some casual sexual move, you’re probably right, the story would live well with some more input there. I thought he’s pissed off enough about having been left all alone to hold the fort while his colleagues evaded the night-shift to do their thingy with other women. But, after reading your comment, maybe that wasn’t strong enough a motive.

        Thanks again and cheers!
        Ken

        Reply
    • November 22, 2021 at 11:56 am
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      Hi Ken C,

      I hope this doesn’t sound odd but I know that I wrote a comment to you about your story and now, guess what? I can’t find it. I’ve scrolled down a bit, (obviously) and up a bit (not so obvious) and still I cannot find my words of wisdom. I’ve looked around the back of my PC and found only dust and some staples and that cable I was looking for to fit that appliance that I got rid off last week because I didn’t have the cable to go with it. My words aren’t under the bed (more dust and the rest of that throat sweet, a sock and an unpaid bill ….and some other stuff!!). So, guess I’ll have to start again.

      I’ve rarely read about a more despicable character than Morris. Having said that, if he had been sitting in his office picking his nose, would that have made him any more appealing? Probably not. Both “habits” are intrinsically human so it’s not the masturbation (there, someone finally has the balls to use the word!) that sets Morris apart. It’s his abuse of power that upsets people, I guess. In his febrile little Neanderthal mind, a cog turns and he sees an opportunity to turn his baser instincts into more than an erotic fantasy but at Debra’s expense. Man in authority seeks to exploit his power over a woman. Hmm. Sound familiar? It’s a great theme for a story. It’s not a very uncommon theme but you handle it with great skill and a couple of house bricks to ram home your point, as does Debra.

      I like Debra, I’m rooting for her, she really doesn’t deserve to have men like Morris and Mitch define her life, although I’m not sure I would want to be married to her. I can’t help feeling that she misdirected that screwdriver though. That final paragraph could have said, and it would have delighted your readers, well this one at least, if she “had lodged it without warning in the little gap between his legs.”

      By the way, you don’t happen to have a photo of Debra, do you? I’m just sitting here at my computer with not much else happening. There are no screwdrivers to hand.

      Just asking.

      Kind regards,

      Ken of the Frape

      Reply
      • November 23, 2021 at 7:14 am
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        Hi Ken M,

        That comment I wrote about your story was addressed to Ken C by mistake.
        Hope you get to read it and all of us three Kens read the correct comments.

        Ken Frape

        Reply
      • November 24, 2021 at 11:19 am
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        Hi Ken, kenfusion apart, I think I got to read the comment that was intended for me and which ended up, you said, with Ken C… I’m not sure about the comment you said you wrote to me and lost (and which led you to an adventure in the lesser visited areas of your home… which in the end only got you to discover an unpaid bill. Alas, it always ends up with one of those in the end. Never a bag of cash forgotten behind by the previous tenants…).

        Yes, the story is very much about the theme of abuse of power, the other bits are there to color in the scene. I mean it could have been a drug dealer, instead of Debra, and Morris proposes to let him off if he gave him his cut. But it’s spicier with Debra. And, no, sorry I don’t have a picture of her. I have a photo of a large screwdriver, though, if that is of interest to you.

        Ah, the other gap, between Morris’s legs, the one you proposed, would have been more topical and in theme. But that would’ve created me some technical problems, since the guy was seated and his lower end was behind the desk. Yes, I know, Debra could have pretended to go for it – and then, wham, strike once his family jewels were exposed to her. But I’d be running out of decent vocab if I went down that road… But I get your point.

        Debra for best character award? Okay, I’ll accept the vote. I’m voting Rumple’s decayed mall as best character. The first time a place has been so vividly described that it deserves the prize, I think… Phil’s Matty too. But the prize going to the dying mall would be crazier…

        Is it against the rules doing electoral campaigns in here, btw?

        Cheers!
        Ken

        PS I hope your unpaid bill wasn’t too much.

        Reply
    • November 25, 2021 at 1:50 pm
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      Ken, every time you come back with a brilliant story, and this time is no different. I first read the story when it was still called “The Third Option” and immediately knew where it was going, but that didn’t detract from enjoying the story in the least. I love how three-dimensional your characters are. I was barracking for Debra there, even though she’s no angel – come on, killing the husband was overdoing it, what’s wrong with divorce? – but Morris totally asked for it. Not only is he a slimy arsehole (though he gives Debra a choice, or at least an illusion of one), but he’s just too dumb to live – he saw all the signs and still decided to go for it. Your last line, where Debra “waited patiently for the day-shift round to call” takes on somewhat sinister undertones – is she waiting to turn herself in, or to off any other sleazy cops who proposition her? I get a feeling that those “murderous angry lesbians” better watch themselves around Debra – after all, they say the first time is the hardest, and it only gets easier every subsequent time.

      My only quibble concerns a couple of descriptions of Debra. The first one, of her having “an exquisite but tormented look” on her face sounds awkward; perhaps “exquisite” comes from Morris’s perception, but it doesn’t jell with “tormented”. The second, where Debra speaks in a “voice drenched in anguish” (just before she kills Morris) – “anguish” doesn’t seem to fit the situation. I’d have expected some equivalent of “royally pissed off” at this point.

      Reply
  • November 17, 2021 at 8:18 pm
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    Guilt Trip.
    K. Cartisano
    ©11/17/21

    Mac Gruden thought his problems sprang from the troubling disappearance of two friends who had vanished without a trace within a week of each other. Both men were high level government agents, men of proven integrity, and yet despite his inquiries, no one seemed interested in their disappearance.

    Two guards approached his holding cell and rapped on the open metal door. “Gruden, your counselor’s here. Stand up and turn around.”

    They clamped chains on his wrists, waist, and ankles, then prodded him into the hallway like a cow. Hampered by the leg-irons, he was reduced to shuffling rather than walking to their destination. Bright-yellow lines on the floor indicated where he could and couldn’t go. When he carelessly shuffled over the line, the guard used his baton to push Gruden against the wall. “Watch your step, Gruden.”

    He was led to a small room with a table and four chairs, bright overhead lights, soundproof walls and a ring to which they attached his shackles. The guard growled “Wait here,” and left.

    “Good advice,” Gruden mumbled, “idiot.”

    Ten minutes later, a pale, harried woman entered the room. She dismissed the guard who seemed unsure of his obligations, or her authority, by closing the door in his face. She placed some folders on the table, and took the seat opposite Gruden.

    “I’m Lynn Torino. You can call me Lynn, I will call you Mr. Gruden.” She pulled a folder from the pile and opened it, read the first page, scanned the second and glanced at the next before closing the file and lacing her fingers together on the table in front of her. “I’m here to execute the details of your adjudication, Mr. Gruden.”

    “What? Adjudication? What does that mean?”

    “It means I’m here to implement the court’s verdict.”

    “The verdict was not guilty. I don’t understand—what am I still doing here?”

    “I’m sorry, I meant the court’s instructions, I’m here to implement the court’s instructions, not its verdict. That was stupid of me.” She looked at her watch. “We have fifteen minutes to discuss your options, which are not endless, but I would make the most of my time if I were you.”

    “But I was found not guilty. I don’t understand…”

    “Everyone’s well aware of that.”

    “Then you’re letting me go?”

    “You’re being processed.”

    “But why am I being processed? And by who?”

    The court’s instructions are binding, Mr. Gruden.”

    “I’m being processed for being innocent?”

    “No, Mr. Gruden, your actions have nothing to do with it. You’re here because of your parents.”

    “My parents? I haven’t seen those two lunatics in decades. They could be dead for all I know.”

    “I’ve already said too much, Mr. Gruden. I work for…”

    “Aren’t you my counselor?”

    “No sir. I’m working on behalf of the court, for you. I’ve been empowered to obtain and secure a variety of court-mandated travel papers, currency and temporary accommodations.”

    “Uh-huh. What for? Why would I need accommodations? I’m innocent for God’s sake! I just want to go home.” He shook his shackles violently. “And these? Why am I still in shackles?”

    “Strictly speaking? Because you’re still in our custody. You may think you’re a reasonable man, but I’ve been attacked by people just like you, Mr. Gruden, just for doing my job. Those shackles are for my safety, I requested them. The good news is, once ensconced in your new habitat, those chains go away for good.”

    “New habitat? Is that what you call it? You people are incredible. You think you can call a prison a habitat and it suddenly becomes, what? Wonderland?”

    “It works quite well most of the time, Mr. Gruden.” At this point, she tapped her watch to remind him of her schedule.

    “So—what am I, what are we supposed to be doing?”

    “You’re entitled to certain choices concerning your interim living arrangements. Would you like to know what they are?”

    His tone was suddenly subdued. “Yeah, sure.”

    She pulled the second folder from the pile and opened it. “You have three levels of habitat; standard, enhanced, and deluxe.” She produced a pen from her vest and held it poised over the sheet in the folder.

    Gruden said, “You’re kidding.”

    She looked up. “Do I look like I’m kidding?”

    Despite the circumstances, he almost laughed.

    “Oh, there’s that charming smile I’ve heard so much about.” He thought he heard an undertone of malice in her voice.

    Gruden’s smile vanished. “Am I suppose to choose without knowing what the differences are?”

    “I didn’t waste ten minutes of my time complaining about my circumstances, Mr. Gruden. You did.”

    “Deluxe,” he said.

    “Would you prefer a room with a view, or one that emphasizes safety?”

    “A room with a view? Too bad I can’t have both. That would be…”

    “Consider it done, Mr. Gruden. A secure environment, with a view.” She scribbled some initials on the document, and in a much softer tone she said, “Those aren’t always an option, but today, it just so happens they are. Lucky you.”

    She glanced at her watch again. “Would you like visitors, or do you prefer isolation?”

    “Visitors, I think.” He said, adapting to the process, as if he were taking a quiz.

    “Entertainment?”

    “Entertainment? What kind of…”

    “That would be determined later. By you, of course.”

    “Oh. Okay. Yes, entertainment.”

    “Good, Mr. Gruden.” She closed the folder, gathered them up and rose. She rapped loudly on the door and turned to Gruden. “Our time is up. I think you’ll be content with the choices you made. Good luck, Mr. Gruden.” She smiled. The door opened and she left.
    During the next two days, Gruden’s routine altered significantly. He spent most of his waking hours secluded in a darkened room watching videos. He was appointed an amiable assistant named John Delaney who helped him digest the bizarre information they were force-feeding him. He called Gruden by his first name, Mac.

    Eventually, Gruden said, “Okay, so, we’re still on earth, right?”

    “Oh, you’ll know when we leave earth, Mac.”

    “And you’re going with me, right?”

    “I’ll be in the seat right next to you, Mac.

    “And I’m never coming back—home?” Something caught in his throat.

    “Um, you can—but you won’t want to.”

    “Why?”

    Delaney frowned. “Let’s call it a day, Mac. I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

    The next morning, he was ushered aboard a gleaming space-plane along with dozens of other people of both sexes. As promised, Delaney was in the seat next to him. Mac was nervous. He said, “You do this often?”

    Delaney shrugged, “It goes with the territory.”

    “Do these things ever blow up?”

    Delaney smiled. “Never happened while I was on one.”

    “If everything you’ve told me is true…”

    “It is.”

    “…then, am I even human?”

    “Well, that’s where it starts to get complicated, Mac.”

    “You were going to tell me the reason I won’t want to come back.”

    “You watched the videos, Mac. Why should you have to serve a sentence that was levied against your parents for crimes committed before you were born. Your parents were sentenced to live here, not you. The earth may seem pretty to you now, but it’s still a Prison Planet.”

    Reply
    • November 19, 2021 at 8:49 am
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      I thought he was going to be terminated or shanghaied, but it was quite the opposite. That was quite a mental mind pluck! It had such a sinister vibe, and Lynn was so jaded and impersonal that she seemed evil.

      “You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future. Not a future that will be, but one that might be.”

      From “The Obsolete Man” TZ episode, where a librarian is being processed and led to a room where he will be executed on television for having a job that is deemed worthless. That is where my mind was going for your story, and I am sure that you deliberately stoked those fires.

      He seemed like a child in the end, and he even had a chaperone and therapist type for an escort into space. It reminded me of the culture shock that I had when I was a child and I travelled back and forth between America and Japan so much that I didn’t know where I was, except it was sadder seeing it in an adult and on a planetary scale. Very melancholy vibe at the conclusion, sort of homesickness mixed with fear of change and the classic disorientation of a prisoner released back into society?

      This was an emotional cocktail for me, and very refreshing!

      Reply
      • November 20, 2021 at 8:33 pm
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        Rumple,

        Thank you for the comments, John. It’s always nice to get a little feedback from time to time and I always find your remarks entertaining as well as enlightening. Especially the ‘melancholy vibe’ of my ending. Something I didn’t notice despite creating it. Seems like a no-brainer once you pointed it out.

        As I noted in a reply to Phil, I didn’t feel very confident in the story’s ending, and will probably re-write it. Although, well, I’m sure you’re familiar with the law of diminishing returns. After a certain number of re-writes, how much could be gained by another re-write? (Not enough to be worth it.)

        We all snag our hooks on the bottom from time to time, it’s just my turn. On the other hand, some stories are like a Rubik’s Cube, all it needs is a turn here, and a turn there, and voila! (I should confess that I’ve never ACTUALLY solved a Rubic’s cube in my lifetime. I can’t even imagine such an event anymore.)

        If you were shuttled between Japan and USA so much as a child to be confused, you must
        1 – Be a most unusual person based on this early mobility.
        2 – Found the experience to be largely and repeatedly ‘dis-orienting.’ And;
        3 – Have a very special relationship with Godzilla.

        Would you be interested in collaborating with me on a ‘tell-all’ memoir? Working title? Me and Godzilla, The early Years.

        Think it over. No need to turn me down right away.

        Reply
    • November 20, 2021 at 8:52 am
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      I loved this, KenC. Lynn Torino is one of your very best characters (and you’ve got quite a few of them under your belt). The ‘interview’ is kinda Kafkian – Gruder hasn’t got a clue what’s going on. The decision to hide all the exposition (Delaney’s explanations) is a brilliant one. Your dialogue is, as ever, exceptional. So, all good … except … I’m not sure I really get the ending, or maybe I do. Don’t know. Does it have to do with COP26? Whatever … brilliant writing.

      Reply
      • November 20, 2021 at 3:28 pm
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        Thanks for the feedback, Phil. (Were you trying to make me blush?) We don’t always like the same books, but I rarely disagree with your judgement.

        I think you hit the nail on the head here as well. (Except for when you used the word ‘brilliant.’) The woman stole the show, she evolved really well in the re-writes, and the ending feels like it was stapled on without even lining it up. I feel like deleting the ending and trying again.

        (Speaking of which, did you see Ken Miles’s comment that he wrote his story in 30 minutes on a pager? Did you see that? WTHolyF? I rewrote my story nine times! And it still isn’t right! And he spends 30 minutes, probably sitting at a, a, a Food court for Christ’s sake or a Chinese deli, paging up his story, while listening to his Walkman. (I feel like Mozart’s Solieri.) It’s a good thing I don’t know him or I would do something horrible—like, befriend him or something.

        But that’s a different story.

        The only thing I had in mind was an ending, and it was a happy ending, like you did, come to think of it, and so I set about starting the story in a prison (natch’) with the plan to lead the reader to my preconceived happy ending, but the story had other ideas.

        I should just follow it to its logical conclusion. And re-post it. For shit’s sake. (I just made that up. NOBODY ever says ‘for shit’s sake.’ NOBODY. You’ve never read it in a book either. No you haven’t. You read that here for the first time in history. (And maybe the last.) Hopefully.

        I don’t know what COP26 is.

        Reply
        • November 26, 2021 at 10:57 am
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          “For crap’s sake” is a little less vulgar and resembles (phonetically only!) ‘Chr*st’:

          COP26 – the world climate summit, held in Glasgow, tasked apparently with figuring out ways to let corporations and countries continue to extract the stuff that will kill us all (well, not me because I’ll be long dead anyway, luckily. Yep, no acid rain and choking fog for me).

          Reply
    • November 22, 2021 at 12:16 pm
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      Prisoner 236-HU-84KC,

      So this is what you’ve been up to, is it?

      Such a great piece of writing that gave me, at least, no inkling (it’s a long time since I last had an inkling) where it would take me. The ending could also be another beginning as you have left a few possible places to go. For example, “then, am I even human?”. “Well, that’s where it starts to get complicated, Mac.” So, and I’m guessing here, Mac’s parents were sent from their home planet as a punishment to Prison Planet Earth and Mac was born on Earth but may in fact not be human.

      Also, the arrival on the new planet. Does Mac like it? Will he want to return? Delaney thinks not.

      Intriguing questions that linger after reading this.

      Great story, Ken 1. (I know we said we wouldn’t use numbers but you are the first.)

      Kind regards,

      Ken F

      Reply
    • November 24, 2021 at 4:12 am
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      Hi Ken,

      This held me on the edge of my seat, every paragraph a cliff-hanger onto the next. Couldn’t put down even if I were reading it on a railway track and the train was coming (an exaggeration, but you get the point).

      The beginning with the missing friends, is a great attention grabber, but I felt there was some sense of discontinuity later on, as the missing friends are never mentioned again (I looked for them!). I can imagine where they ended up, but the thought of them at the back of my mind over-distracted me, throughout the whole read.

      Also the shift from a (great) court-thriller to (great) SF was too sudden for me. You’ve done this before, and I complained about it back then too. I think some subtle “space/alien/ill-fitting human” foreshadowing could have done the trick. (Eg. “I’m surprised they took no note at all of my two strands of green hair on my neck, my scourge since my school days. I hadn’t seen this arrest-thing coming, hadn’t shaved them in days. And they’d no way give me a blade in jail…”) without, of course, giving away the surprise ending (which I like). A delicate balance, I know.

      The homesickness element plays very well: it’s palpable throughout. But it’s a positive ending, really: they picture themselves like they’re liberating him from this rotten earth. Messianic almost.

      I enjoyed the T-i-C humor, like with the yellow lines and when he’s told to wait there after they tied him down and had no choice anyway…

      Good one, Ken, with potential for something bigger: what if earth is all of it an open prison camp for cosmic criminals, the Australia of space? That would explain a lot of what happens around us…

      Cheers!
      Ken

      Reply
      • November 24, 2021 at 1:27 pm
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        ©11-14-2021
        Thanks for the critique, Ken3.1A1.

        In the words of that icon of T.V. sci-fi, James Tiberius Kirk. “If I can have honesty, it’s easier to overlook mistakes.”

        I blame this story’s flaws on the author, and the word limit. They’re both too short.

        After showing too much integrity as well, the mc’s friends were emancipated on previous flights. (He’ll see them later, as they will figure prominently in the novel, or made-for-TV-movie.)

        Your guess at the end of your critique matches what I was inferring. And I quote you here: ‘: what if earth is all of it an open prison camp for cosmic criminals, the Australia of space?’ (Botany Bay.) There you go.

        I like your ingenious suggestion on how to foreshadow the planetary or genetic origins of the mc, but… Prisoner Ken Fx2.1 figured it out, except for one detail. And I quote him here: ‘Mac’s parents were sent from their home planet as a punishment to Prison Planet Earth and Mac was born on Earth but may in fact not be human.’

        In fact, he is human.

        Which raises an interesting assumption. If he’s human, then his parents were probably human, everybody else appears to be human. So, if they were all sent to earth from somewhere else, then, (barring some fantasy based mobius bullshit origin myth,) the conclusion would seem that humans came from somewhere else. And therefore, this is not their home planet, so there’s another ‘actual’ earth somewhere, and that’s where our character is going, and somebody’s got some explaining to do. (It’s my next novel. Want to write it with me?) It’ll shit all over anything Philip K. Dick ever did. I guarantee it. I guarantee that.) But that’s a pretty low bar to clear.

        Well, I’m going to write it, so (Sorry HULU, hands off.) Think it over, before I change my mind. (By the time you read this it’ll be too late.)

        All it needs is FTL, (maybe a real earth Elon Musk who is way smarter than ours?) Whatever. It’s got possibilities. I already have one twist in mind halfway through. (It turns out he really is from earth. He’s a rare native, or ‘natural’ earthling, living in Portugal, teaching English as a second language, likes to write, his best friend is a cat…etc. Maybe Phil can help us with that part.)

        Okay, so the character isn’t entirely believable, but you gotta admit, the plot has legs. This would have the scope of Narnia without the magic. Pure science.

        I didn’t like the ending of this story either, any more than your complaints. That’s why I’m willing to make you rich, to pay you back for your constant complaining. (That’s the way this crazy old world works, Bubba.)

        I’m kidding about the complaints, serious about the novel, and I actually like Phil as a character in a novel.

        Reply
    • November 25, 2021 at 2:19 pm
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      Ken, another cracking story that builds up the tension … and then completely subverts expectations with a surprise twist.

      I’ll try to avoid repeating others’ comments. The first paragraph with the missing friends proved to be something of a red herring, but since they never reappear in this story, perhaps they don’t belong in it at all?

      Lynn Torino’s character is well fleshed out, but I can’t quite understand her motivations: is she so mean to Gruden in an effort at misdirection (why?), or is she a bloody-minded petty bureaucrat enjoying power over a helpless (and innocent) prisoner?

      The “it’s complicated” response to the question “am I human?” raised some interesting possibilities. Though you mentioned in one of your responses to comments that he was, in fact, human. In this case, what’s complicated about the answer to this specific question? “Yes, you are”. That would raise other questions (such as where humans came from), but that’s a whole other issue. Incidentally, another option would be that the story is set in a distant future where humans have colonised multiple planets/ galaxies, and use the Earth exclusively as the “prison planet” (perhaps having ruined it to the extent of making life there unpleasant).

      I saw the ending as ambiguous rather than sad, but there are indicators scattered throughout the story that the universe it’s set in is dystopian. This is a society where innocent children of convicted criminals are routinely imprisoned well into adulthood for the “crime” of their birth alone, and need a special hearing/ trial to be released. And what’s that whole thing about “habitat”? That sounds like something for zoo animals.

      Reply
    • November 30, 2021 at 4:08 pm
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      Ken C.,

      What a great concept. I really enjoyed your story. I’m still wondering why the people who were supposedly trying to help him were so noncommittal (and jerks, I think) and secretive about everything. I thought after reading the story, it was because you didn’t want to give away the excellent ending. I don’t think it would have. It’s your prerogative to develop your characters any way you like, I understand that, but I wanted to like your characters instead of finding them offensive when I don’t think they had to be. But, that’s just me.

      Good story, though, mate.

      Roy

      Reply
  • November 18, 2021 at 8:15 pm
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    THE BOKEH LIFE
    Jack McDaniel

    When they tell my story—and they will tell it—they’ll get one salient detail wrong, one important fact reversed. It’s a matter of perspective, of worldview, and, let’s be honest here, moral leanings. Facts can be twisted and roughed up, or shined and polished, to point in any direction. They can even be fabrications repeated over and over until they become a remembered truth and eventually taught to children from the pages of schoolbooks. History is littered with inaccuracies and lies molded into accepted fact. Even our own personal histories are part bullshit to fit the framework our brains have woven for us. So, when I tell you they will get one salient fact wrong about my story you should listen: I’m not the hero they claim I am.
    I’m the villain.
    It wasn’t raining when I walked from the Stevadoor Theatre to the car park, but I could smell the ozone and detect the temperature drop. The evening was gray and the lights muted by the close-hanging clouds. Those leaving the performance wore drab-colored clothing and a few were in overcoats. Heels clicked on the walkway, drowning out muffled conversations.
    I was thinking it had been a bad idea to park my car at the end of the car park, away from all the others, because the rain might catch me out. Just as big drops began falling, yards from my car, I saw the hot pink shoes and the arms crossed below the blond hair that framed her face.
    “Jesus!” she said, “Hurry up and open the doors.”
    She raced around to the passenger side as I stabbed at the key fob.
    We sat, not speaking, as the rain crashed down, arrhythmically at first, then settling into a constant thrum. After a few moments the rain became something less violent and the volume of noise lowered.
    “So?”
    “So, what?”
    “Who are you?”
    “Just a girl in pink shoes coming from the theatre.”
    “Who was waiting outside my car.”
    “Yeah, that. Are you ready to do this?”
    “Do what, exactly?”
    “Kill him.”
    “Oh. Shit. You’re—“
    “Yes, I am.”
    I was caught off guard and hadn’t expected for things to come to a head so soon. But the truth was, now was as good a time as any. Still, I hesitated.
    Finally, “I guess I’m ready.”
    “Email the files from your phone now.”
    I had them ready. “Done.”
    “This rain is perfect,” she said. “Let’s drive.”
    I started the car and exited the car park for the highway. “Mind telling me how this will go down?”
    “It’s better if it just happens. I don’t want to invite discussion or any hesitation.”
    She directed us away from the ink-dark buildings and the blurred lights that ran like watercolors in the streaming rain. She instructed me to exit the highway after a few minutes and we crossed over the river and turned down a rural road, keeping the river to our right. It was lonely stretch of road, dark and difficult to see. The city wasn’t far away but the cloud cover and the rain suppressed the lights from town. Not a single car passed.
    She flexed her glove-covered hands, as if testing them, and brushed off her fitted slacks.
    “Pull over to the side of the road up there, just before the bridge.”
    I could barely make out the bridge in the rain and darkness. The river narrowed here. It was an old bridge with a low guardrail on either side attached to wood posts. The bridge was suspended ten or fifteen feet above the water. Beyond the bridge, on the other side of the river, were old warehouses. They looked empty, a dead part of a city that had moved on and left them in its wake.
    “We’re lucky it’s such a miserable night. How did you find the show, by the way?”
    “The show? Oh, it was fine. Is this the place?”
    She smiled and opened a bag I hadn’t noticed before. From the bag she pulled out a bottle of scotch. I could have sworn it was my bottle of scotch.
    “How—?”
    “You have the cash and your briefcase?”
    “In the trunk. What is the plan?” I was confused. This wasn’t what I had imagined.
    A fist pounded into my nose, blood went everywhere.
    “Christ!”
    “It might not matter, but it could make a difference if any of the blood survives.”
    “Dammit!”
    She wiped the blood from my nose on her glove onto the dash and windshield. “The plan is to kill someone. It’s your plan. I’m just the details.”
    My nose was still bleeding, definitely broken. “OK, but—”
    “Release the trunk lock.”
    She opened the door and walked to the back of the car. A few seconds later I was startled by a knock on my window.
    “Get out. Let’s go. Leave your phone.”
    I exited the car. She got in with the briefcase and then backed the car up. For a few moments she fiddled with something. Then the door opened and she stepped out with a gun in her hand and put two bullets through the windows. She leaned inside and the engine violently raced and then the thing lurched forward, sped a few yards up the road and crashed into the guardrail and careened over the side, plummeting into the river.
    “Jesus, lady! What the hell!”
    She walked up to me, money bag slung over her shoulder, and tossed the gun in the river. “You’re dead. I rigged the door to open so they would think your body was washed downstream to the ocean. Your liquor bottle is in the front seat with your briefcase and all of the documents. Maybe some of your blood survives.”
    I stood, gape-mouthed, unable to process what was going on. “I . . . uh— ”
    She pointed behind me. “Take that car. Don’t keep it more than three days. Your new ID is on the seat, along with the keys.”
    I hadn’t even noticed the car before. I looked back to her, but before I could say a word, she said, “If anyone ever sees you again you’ll be dead for real. If not me, then . . .”
    Then she walked off, across the bridge and into the night, a pink shoe bokeh in the wet that lost saturation with each step she took before disappearing altogether. My upturned car was stuck fifty yards down river when I looked back.
    Two days later Tony Perretti was arrested. The papers from the briefcase had been recovered and the evidence against the mob boss was going to be difficult to refute. He was prison-bound. The body of the accountant was missing, presumed washed out to sea, according to the news feeds.
    The police talked about what a hero the accountant had been, an honest guy just doing what was right. “He had even emailed the files regarding the money laundering and payoffs before his demise,” said the Chief of Police, full of sympathy.
    The missing millions weren’t traceable, just more evidence of tax evasion.
    As for the villain of this story? He’s on the beach working on the facts of his personal history—and nursing a broken nose.

    Reply
    • November 20, 2021 at 2:22 pm
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      Jack,

      Wow. Excellent story. You omitted one word but who cares. The stars all seem in alignment over this story. Personally? The bokeh put me off. Like a hair in an otherwise deliciously prepared meal. Just because the menu says it’s “Hair of the Dog,” I don’t actually want or expect to find one in it. But that’s just me, I don’t think the story needs it and would be better without it. The word is in the title, so I realize the word and the concept is like the grain of sand that this pearl has formed around and so it may actually serve as a hook to the majority of readers.

      The font is 10.5 point type. Kind of small, plus, I think the color isn’t true black, or the font is so thin or weak that it looks gray? I don’t know, apparently some of you are using some sophisticated equipment to type your stories. I’m still using Windows 98. (jk) And I know Ken Miles writes some of his stories on his phone. (!!!!) I can’t even conceive of how one could do that.

      I read somewhere (maybe it was here) that if the website (or server, or platform) doesn’t have the type font that you send it in, it will replace it with something it has. But that doesn’t explain why the story would post in two different type fonts in the same story.

      And the HTML did work at one time, but may not work if it first has to replace your devices type-face with its own. In the translating process the HTML becomes just so many characters and they lose their significance when they post on the site’s page. One work around was to pick a type font that the website uses, or failing that, to pick one that is at least similar. I don’t know anything about Apples. Or websites. I think I looked all this up at the diner one night last week, but the connection was so bad I couldn’t upload the info to the group. Not sure.

      Great story though, wicked plot, great opening. Fun to read a second time once I knew what was really going on.
      ‘It was a lonely stretch of road…’ You omitted the word ‘a’. Everything else is killer.

      Ken

      Reply
    • November 21, 2021 at 12:54 am
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      Fantastic story, Jack – slick as the rain that falls throughout. There’s so much to admire: the atmosphere, the twists, the characters (the fixer is something else! Pink?!), the descriptions (“She directed us away from the ink-dark buildings and the blurred lights that ran like watercolors in the streaming rain.”) It’s all so good, in fact, that it will seem churlish to criticize, but hey! That’s what we’re here for, right? While the content of the first paragraph is all good stuff, it’s heavy (imho) for a first paragraph. This, for example, would get us into the story in a trice:

      “When they tell my story—and they will tell it—they’ll get one salient detail wrong, one important fact reversed. I’m not the hero they claim I am. I’m the villain.”

      Also, ‘brokeh’. I had to google it. How many others would, too? Wouldn’t ‘blurred’ do the job? (unless I’m missing something…)

      But these qualms take little away from a really very good story.

      Reply
    • November 22, 2021 at 12:39 pm
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      Hi Jack,

      I’ve read your story several times and picked up on the comments made by others.

      Great story that in this round, is very likely to be at the top or very near the top. That takes some doing.

      I note comments about font and the like and can honestly say that it did not distract me in any way. It’s different, that’s for sure and we should celebrate difference.

      One small quibble is that the notion of prison was barely achieved. Small quibble when your writing is so good, so fluent and atmospheric.

      I looked up bokeh too. Perfect word in this story.

      Well done, Jack.

      Ken Frape

      Reply
    • November 25, 2021 at 2:38 pm
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      Great story, Jack: mystery, buildup of suspense, plot twists, beautiful language, and I learned a new word thanks to you. I can only join in the other commentators’ praise.

      One quibble I have is with the narrator’s statement that he’s a villain. I didn’t see enough evidence of that in the story (other than this repeated assertion). The narrator is a whistleblower on a mob boss; he didn’t exactly frame an innocent person. And if he faked his own death to avoid revenge and stole a few of the mob millions – that’s hardly villain material; antihero at most.

      The opening paragraph has rather polarised opinions; I’m in the “against” category. Well-written as it is, it delays us getting to the story. Personally, I’d either move it to the end or delete most of it.

      I didn’t quite understand what had happened to the money, even after a couple of re-reads. The last we see it (unless I missed something), the blonde fixer has the money bag. Did she give it to the narrator? Did they split the money? Did she keep it all for herself? Did the narrator give her the money bag but had previously transferred more money out of his boss’s account into his own? It’s a question rather than a criticism.

      Reply
  • November 19, 2021 at 8:19 am
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    Excellent work! I read it, googled “bokeh”, and read it again. The intro was really good, and the story flowed along smoothly with good descriptions of the environment (the warehouses, the low-hanging clouds, the bokeh, etc.).

    Did your font get changed to courier too? I’m just curious because there is some kind of electronic demon that keeps fiddling with my fonts and I want to get to the bottom of it.

    Enviable stuff.

    Reply
    • November 19, 2021 at 8:38 am
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      Thanks! No idea on the font. Just copied and pasted from Apple Pages.

      CARRIE, if you’re listening, can you get rid of the HTML in the first line. Apparently, that doesn’t work, either.

      Reply
      • November 22, 2021 at 12:12 pm
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        I fixed it for you, and glad to have you back!

        Reply
        • November 23, 2021 at 11:24 am
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          Hi Carrie,

          I have been thinking about another story but really didn’t think I would complete it but I did.

          Can you remove my first piece, “Nine by Six” and just leave “My Lovely Marietta,” please?

          Kind regards,

          Ken Frape.

          Reply
  • November 23, 2021 at 11:15 am
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    My Lovely Marietta.

    by Ken Frape

    Marietta is fussing around me as usual and carrying on chatting without waiting for a response. It was always like this. I used to say to her,

    “Is this a conversation where I have to join in, or are you just talking to yourself?”

    She would laugh then, that soft lilting sound that would raise my spirits even on the darkest of days. God, she is gorgeous, my Marietta. My Marietta, I roll those words around inside my head. It’s still hard to believe it, that she agreed to marry me, me, me, when she could have had her pick of the bunch. She says she did have the pick of the bunch and she chose me. Then we’d snuggle up, nice and close, the warm natural musk of her body as alluring, as arousing as any magazine photo of those glamour models that my workmates used to pin up inside their locker doors.

    I was always the proudest guy in the room at every party. I knew all eyes were on us as we danced. Dancing was one of the few skills I possessed in abundance. The men would be watching her as she glided around the room, matching my every move, every one eager to see if she might just find a space for them on her dance card. They were routinely disappointed. The women would also look at Marietta and then at me and shake their heads in wonder. Just an ordinary guy with an extraordinary woman and she seems so happy, they would say but not believing it. How could she be?

    With him. With me.

    As Marietta tidies and washes up and hoovers and sweeps and cleans, she carries on her chatter. The weather, the price of milk, Mrs. Jackson’s new car, the latest pop songs. I watch her as she glides around the room, just like another dance, each step flowing into another, one continuous smooth movement. It’s so comforting to hear her voice. Sometimes she sings along to the radio and as I doze off it’s that sound that lulls me, soothes me into a peaceful sleep. And when I awake there she is, beside me, as ever, her hand in mine, perhaps a book open on her lap, a part-drunk coffee cup perched on the arm of her chair. Sometimes she dozes and her hand slips from mine but I can still see her there and I am comforted.

    My worst moments come if Marietta leaves the room. I can swivel my eyes only so far as I lie here in this hospital bed that the insurance company paid to have installed in my home. After the accident. Everything is now before the accident or after the accident. The accident where I fell from scaffolding at work. Scaffolding that was nor properly secured and led to the seven figure settlement against my company. My employers were found to be negligent and a prison sentence was mooted but never carried out.

    I am in a kind of hell that no cellbound prisoner could imagine and very few deserve. I can swivel my head and blink my eyes. My eyes that constantly seek out Marietta. Those same eyes that weep copious tears every day to run unchecked down my cheeks until Marietta dabs them away in the same calm, loving way that she attends to my every need, to every other leak and dribble from my useless body.

    We have developed a system of communication based upon my blinking eyes but to be honest, my lovely Marietta anticipates my every need. What she doesn’t know or would ever want to know is that, if I could, I would kill myself. Right now, at this very moment. End this miserable existence. My body should not feel pain but it does, like the amputee’s phantom limb pain and I cannot cry out, cannot speak. Inside my head I am screaming but I can only use my eyes to tell Marietta. She adjusts my morphine drip and for a while the pain recedes, slithering back into that dark cave where I know it lies in wait, sharpening its claws for its next attack.

    There is just one thing that would keep me from suicide and that is Marietta. In the selfish part of my brain I cannot bring myself to accept not seeing her again, of turning out that light that surrounds her like a heavenly halo and plunging myself into that final black hole Of course, I have no control over my life and thus she and I must endure this living hell.

    Marietta deserves so much more than this. Still young and vibrant, she could have a whole new life after me but she shakes her head at the mere thought of this as I blink my messages of distress to her. That young doctor who visits every day could clearly be in the frame as my replacement. Does he really need to see me every day or does he just need to see Marietta? I have been through the whole range of emotions since my accident, anger, fear, regret, even acceptance eventually but recently I have experienced an emotion that really surprises me. Jealousy. After the doctor has checked out my cannula and the drips and the pressure sores on my buttocks and heels, he always turns his eyes to Marietta, just like I do. He then moves towards her, speaking softly to her in the way that I cannot. It is driving me mad like an unreachable itch.

    In my imagination I can see them together after I am gone. She did her duty, people will say. She stood by her disabled husband right up until the end. Now she deserves a new life, full of happiness and joy. And children. We never got that far. We talked about a golden haired boy and a copper haired little girl, replicas of the two of us but they are not here. They were only talk. Now, she could realize that dream with this young doctor who looks at her in the way other men used to. As I did.
    I turn my eyes away from them as they both smile. She escorts him to the door. The door that leads out into the world that I can barely remember.

    I close my eyes and inside that darkness I can see my world. It is a small, black prison cell and my sentence is life. Ironic, isn’t it? Life.

    Ken Frape

    November 23rd. 2021

    WC 1093

    Reply
    • November 23, 2021 at 3:31 pm
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      Ken Frape- wow. what a terrific story. I loved the way you slowly unfolded the narrator’s circumstances and focused solely on his perspective. You captured my interest early on held it as you wound your tale. I truly cared about the narrator- and Marietta too. My heart goes out to them both- well- to anyone in their circumstances. Terrific building of characters, creative take on the prompt… I think this is the story to beat this time.

      Reply
    • November 24, 2021 at 4:41 am
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      Very sad and beautiful, KenF. Marietta is such a good, positive creation – I’m in love with her myself. The narrator’s longing is achingly well-depicted. This about pain is a superb and terrifying image: “She adjusts my morphine drip and for a while the pain recedes, slithering back into that dark cave where I know it lies in wait, sharpening its claws for its next attack.” If there’s one thing I would criticise it would be the paragraph describing the accident; it’s really not necessary (imho) for the reader to know how the narrator came to this – it might even be illness rather than an accident. Great ending. Great story.

      Reply
    • November 24, 2021 at 11:45 am
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      Hi Ken, this is a very moving story, I can’t quite decide if it’s actually happy or sad. It’s both, I guess, although it does gravitate towards sadness in the end. Perhaps to fulfil the prompt’s Prison theme. The ending plays with the word “life” as in life-sentence vs being alive. I don’t know if it’s cliche, but it does close off the piece fairly well IMO.

      It’s actually a blessing that Marietta was a sweet blabber (blabber, but in a good sense) all her life. After the accident, when her husband lost his speaking faculties, nothing would have changed too much in this regard. I think you could’ve capitalized more on this important fact.

      Also, besides blinking, there could also be the language of intimate touch and scents – which are there to capitalize on, and perhaps make this story happier.

      The creeping jealousy is interesting. Me being me, I’d have taken it further to sordid ends. Like the narrator secretly spitting out his life-saving pills for his health to take a turn for the worse, making the doctor seem incompetent. Marietta will have to change doctors. And with the new elderly doc our narrator feels more comfortable.

      Or the young doc may lose his license if he loses the patient, the narrator’s jealous mind might elaborate…

      And what happens then when Marietta finds the heap of spat out pills under the rim of the special bed, after the undertakers remove her husband’s body?

      Okay, now that’s quickly becoming another story…

      Cheers!
      Ken (da other other one)

      Reply
    • November 24, 2021 at 1:42 pm
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      Kenneth, (Kenfx2.1)

      Listen to me. That’s the most horrible love story I ever read. Jesus. Who’s your audience here? Truly some residual halloween spirits floating about it. This is straight out of ‘One-Step-Beyond.’ They didn’t believe in happy endings either. (Rod Serling didn’t care one way or the other. Some happy, some sad.)

      Seriously though, great writing, in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe, sad, morbid, stark. And that’s no insult, you know.
      I think the two stories are as interesting as either of them. They show your range as a writer, from the savage to the sublime.

      I have a couple of things I’d like to add, but with Thanksgiving coming and we’re doing the usual spread, I have some chores that just can’t wait. I’ll just come back later and add those comments using the handy comment editing feature so popular on this site.

      Great stuff though, Ken.

      TTYL,
      Ken

      Reply
    • November 24, 2021 at 2:55 pm
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      I have read or watched something like this story many times, but this tops them all.

      You have the Midas touch.

      Reply
      • November 24, 2021 at 4:02 pm
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        Hi Rumples,
        Thanks for your kind words. Once I had written this one I just had to enter it in place of my other one.
        Ken Frape

        Reply
    • November 25, 2021 at 2:43 pm
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      Ken, I’m in awe of your ability to produce two completely different stories of such high quality in such a short period of time, based on the same prompt. Along with spending time at your wife’s exhibition. I’m hard-pressed to say which story is better – or which kind of prison more terrifying.

      Reply
  • November 24, 2021 at 5:11 am
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    Some great stories as I skimmed a few. Once again so busy with the end of the year stuff at school I have not had time to write and this definitely was one of my favourite prompts. I wanted to write about being trapped imprisoned in the past sort of a dementia ridden story but work and my students need me to the extent I feel sucked dry – a seedless husk abandoned on the road side and trampled. Just very time poor. Loved the last story…must find time to read the others and vote.Even if I do not write something.
    Is Roy York ok? How come he has not story? I worry when I do not see the regulars and Vicki your story is a must to read as is Ken C and Phil T and everyone else. Happy Happy Thanksgiving for all that we have received this year, the challenges and the beauty – that mad divine beauty that is life.
    I love you all and keep safe and well. In North America keep warm. How do you stand those horribly cold winters? We are going to finally enjoy our summer – imprisoned as we have been by the pandemic and all the lockdowns. I am off interstate to NSW to the lovely Kangaroo Valley staying near Mittagong is some small town for a couple of days and then my son’s army vet graduation plus looking forward to meeting some new people in a place called Bowral fellow co-religionists so should be fun and a bit of work too as I am attending an all day seminar up there to learn more about my little jailbirds who I am trying to put on the straight and narrow. Would have so loved to write a piece for this prompt but maybe i can make it into a short story on the holidays. Six weeks of writing and at some stage travelling to Queensland to get a grave /memorial arranged for my parents and late brother. Life is too full at times of things to do or must be done.

    Reply
    • November 24, 2021 at 1:57 pm
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      Ilana,

      It’s not cold here. Who told you it was cold in the Northern Hemisphere? In the winter? That’s crazy. Totally fake news.

      You sound like you’re up to your eyeballs in life. And death. I’m sure you know what you’re doing, but I’d be very reluctant to meet any co-religionists at Bowral. I’d meet them anywhere but at Bowral. But like I said, I suppose you know what you’re doing.

      I just posted this little reminder that you are not to ‘skim’ my stories. Ever. That is simply not allowed. It’s in the bi-laws, the contract, the EULA and the discharge papers. No skimming. You may skip altogether, but absolutely, positively, NO skimming.

      Have a nice day.
      Sincerely,
      The mismanagement.

      Reply
    • November 25, 2021 at 7:56 am
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      Ilana and all,

      Roy is just fine. Just busy and preoccupied with other things. Thanks for wondering, but on the health front, it’s the best it has looked in years. Have a CT scan Monday that will hopefully put my cancer behind me for at least a year before anymore testing. On this day, for us Americans that is, I am thankful I’m still hanging in there. To those who celebrate, Happy Thanksgiving. To those who do not, have a great day anyway. I’m sure you have something to be thankful for. I know I do.

      Roy

      Reply
    • November 25, 2021 at 2:46 pm
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      Ilana, sorry you had to miss writing for the prompt you really liked. Hope you’ll have the opportunity to get creative soon. And thanks for the compliment. 🙂

      Reply
    • November 24, 2021 at 1:05 pm
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      Carrie,
      I guess you didn’t see my message yesterday.
      Can you delete my story Nine by Six? There are two stories of mine in the vote otherwise.
      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • November 24, 2021 at 6:57 pm
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        Oh! Did you email?
        I did not see it

        Reply
      • November 24, 2021 at 7:00 pm
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        Also, one of the rules is this:

        One story per author. You may post more than one, but only the first story will qualify for voting

        So I actually deleted your second story… Perhaps you’ll be able to repurpose it for a future prompt.

        Reply
        • November 25, 2021 at 2:54 am
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          Hi Carrie,

          Yes, I know that the rules say only one story and that’s why I asked you to delete one of them but not that one.
          I know you are busy so let’s just crack on with the voting. As you say, I might be able to use the story somewhere else.
          THING IS; Both stories are still visible on screen and on the voting page
          All my fault. Sorry.

          Regards,

          Ken Frape.

          Reply
          • November 25, 2021 at 3:07 am
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            Carrie,
            My voting page has now changed but the last time I checked both stories are still visible. Don’t suppose it matters as people can only vote for Nine by Six.
            Once again, my apologies for creating the confusion.

            Ken F

          • November 25, 2021 at 7:29 am
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            I went through and updated the voting page as soon as I saw your comment.

            I think it’s worth leaving them up for people to read. Unless you really want me to remove the second one completely?

            Again, the rules state only the first one qualifies for voting.

            I can’t believe I missed that it was a second story in the first place! I would have today when I read through them.

        • November 25, 2021 at 7:58 am
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          Carrie, Happy Turkey Day. Don’t wait for my vote.

          Roy

          Reply
          • November 25, 2021 at 9:19 am
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            Ok!

    • November 25, 2021 at 9:21 am
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      Just a quick FYI since today is a holiday I might not get the votes in and the new prompt up until later.
      So if you need extra time to vote just let me know!

      Reply
      • November 26, 2021 at 7:47 am
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        I’ll be tallying the votes and posting the new prompt later this morning but for those who’d like a head start the next prompt will be “Sibling Rivalry” no requirements other than that.

        Reply
  • November 24, 2021 at 1:50 pm
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    I just read about scifi fixups. Those are novels/novellas created by fusing together short stories that are not originally designed to be presented together (thus the fixing up). It isn’t just a scifi thing, there are fantasy and other fixups too!

    I think that a lot of famous stuff is actually the result of this process. We don’t always notice the lines between the lumps that were fused, but that is because the author took time to smooth over those telltale cracks and fissures.

    It really gets the noggin going.

    Reply
    • November 24, 2021 at 6:59 pm
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      Rumples,

      I thought that a sci-fi fixup is when you introduce your cosplaying niece to some nice young nerd you met at Armageddon con.

      Reply
  • November 27, 2021 at 7:01 am
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    @Ken Cartisano – did I miss your votes?
    I’m about to post the winners, but I didn’t see a voting email from you. Don’t want to eliminate your story if you did vote.

    Reply
    • November 29, 2021 at 5:02 am
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      Hi Carrie,

      I would like to have a virtual chat with you on a one to one basis if you are ok with that. If so, can you initiate an e mail to my address at; kenfrape@hotmail.co.uk and I will let you know what I have in mind.

      Cheers,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
  • November 27, 2021 at 7:16 am
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    Thank you everyone for your patience!
    Without further ado, here are your winners!

    1st Place: The Bokeh Life by Jack McDaniel
    2nd Place: Escape by Phil Town
    3rd Place: A Token of Generosity by Ken Miles
    4th Place: Of Your Own Device by Vicki Chvatal
    5th Place: The Eatery by Rumplefinkies
    6th Place: Nine by Six by Ken Frape
    7th Place: Becoming Tee by John Filby

    Story with the favorite dialogue: “A Token of Generosity” by Ken Miles

    Story with the favorite character is “the Narrator” from Rumplefinkies “The Eatery”
    – a quick callout I had a few people reference The Mall in “The Eatery” as an exceptional innanimate character, everyone chose a different character as their favorite but called out the mall.
    Kudos to Rumplefinkies for creating a “character” that stood out in a unique and exceptional way.

    Disqualified: Guilt Trip by K. Cartisano (no votes)
    My Lovely Marietta by Ken Frape (2nd story – per the rules, only the first story submitted may be included in the voting process.)

    Reply
    • November 27, 2021 at 9:14 am
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      Congratulations, Jack! Brilliant story. Very chuffed to come in 2nd. Congrats all on a great batch!

      (A shame about KenF’s ‘Marietta’. Thought that maybe the rule of first posting could have been waived here – he’s one of our veterans after all [in the nicest possible way!] and I had Marietta as my favourite character … but I bow to our dedicated admin. Also a shame about KenC’s.)

      Reply
    • November 27, 2021 at 10:35 am
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      Congratulations, Jack, Phil, Ken M. and Rumples!

      Reply
  • November 28, 2021 at 5:28 pm
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    Awesome! Thanks to all. I am traveling from Maine back to Colorado and just pulled this up on my phone.

    Reply
    • November 28, 2021 at 5:58 pm
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      Congrats on the win, Jack. Richly deserved. It would have gotten my top vote too, if I had voted.

      Reply

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