Writing Prompt “Pushing Boundaries”
Theme: Pushing Boundaries
Pushing the boundaries of the protagonists comfort zone.
Word Count: 1,200
A note from Marien:
“What are the challenges if the protagonist were to face a brand new something?
Could be in a new country, a new residence, a new experience, or a brand new cultural understanding.I’m a survivor… is the song in my mind.“
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The writing prompt for February 24, 2021, will be chosen by Roy York.
112 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Pushing Boundaries””
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Now, first off, I don’t expect anyone to like this comment, because I understand the colossal commitment it takes for people like us to move one finger a quarter of an inch, but I have some sad news to report. I will not be populating other people’s reply threads with my own random stories anymore. This means that I will not respond to other writer’s stories with a comment that’s as long, and complex, as their story. Yeah, you’re sad, I’m sad, but that era is behind us. Too time consuming. I’m sure we’ll all be better off.
I also wanted to thank everyone for not shooting me for my comments last week and felt that the appropriate way to show my gratitude to the group for not shooting me, (this time) would be to reward the group. How? Some kind of digital muzzling algorithm would be preferred, I’m sure. Like some kind of inertial dampener for the mouth, or fingers.
Unfortunately, they don’t make one of those,(okay, they do, but it’s illegal,) and it’s a good thing too, because it could cause… some kind of backwards flow… of things that should only flow downhill and away. And we don’t want that, and we don’t have that kind of technology anyway. However, grand fellow that I am, noble, kind, generous, and a would-be scholar, (if not for the lack of education,) I figured, these people deserve a break. Especially after last week’s stories.
So I’ve committed to the theoretical concept of voluntarily limiting my comments to one sentence per story. (No waterboarding necessary.) One sentence. Could be long, could be short, we don’t know yet. Could end in ‘tkkk.’ It will probably have a comma or two. Might have an unnecessary comma, just for the hell of it, cause I know how much you all hate my commas. (Oh yeah, I hear the whispers. ‘Lookit all them commas that boy use. That’s like a—a comma forest he got goin’ over there. What you suppose he’s up to with all them commas?’ Oh yeah, I hear you’all, whispering, behind my back, about my commas.’) Still, one sentence. That’s all. It’s the least I can do for all I’ve put you all through. The emotional turmoil, the drama, the public scenes, the stalking, the occasional mortar attack. (Okay, my bad on that one.) I totally get it.
Consider it a Valentine’s Day present to the whole group; in simple, one sentence comments.
You are all very welcome, I’m sure.
(By the way … is it ‘mathematic’ or ‘mathematicS’? Ah, you Americans …)
And Capitano Cartisano thinks he’s capable of remaining bitten-tongued, one-sentence-quiet, comma-commanded for too long! Pull the other one, mate!
The bee will keep on buzzing (and sometimes sting too).
Well, in response to your plan I have to say that I have just got back at least half a day of my life, probably more. Not having to read your comments, then respond and then read the comments written by others in response to your initial comment and then……..well, you get the drift.
So, I will have gained some time but will my life be richer? Doubtful, my friend.
Hahaha I did the exact same thing lol
Nahh, that’d never work.
It’s a nice little group you have here. I noticed that everyone who responded (to my bleating) stayed true to their online character.
Ken F. cleverly folded his sarcasm into several yards of lilting flattery.
Phil laced his humor with ample amounts of constructive suggestions.
Roy focused on technical aspects, withholding any judgements on content.
Ken Miles, with his usual pin-point perspicacity, suggested that while I may have identified the problem, he had serious doubts that I could overcome my own predilections.
Carrie, (whom I know nothing about, except that she has pickle recipes and a giant horse) seemed, sounded, quintessentially female. Torn, conflicted, emotionally divided, hooked on coffee, stressed, overworked, needing a vacation but not knowing where to go.
Ilana…. Ilana is (to borrow a famous quote) Ilana is more like she is now than she’s ever been before. If that doesn’t make those of you who know her stop and think, then you need to turn your TV off for a few days. Ilana could become MORE Ilana. (Oh yes, it’s quite evident in her remarks. She’s brutal, but good.)
Robert deserves special mention, (no sarcasm intended) he mentioned Hemingway. Who I know next to nothing about, never read any of his books or stories. (He’s on my list.) He’s obviously a controversial figure. and since Robert misspelled Hemingway’s name, I suspect Robert is no big fan of E.H. either, therefore, his comment about Hemingway using one period in a 50k word story was… must be, preposterous. He was known for short sentences I think, so the notion that Hemingway could use one period for anything less than clearing his throat is the joke. (I may be slow, but I’m logical.)
I wonder if Robt, or anyone else in the group has informed opinions about the man. I don’t. Perhaps he’ll feel obliged to enlighten us.
I’ve been to Key West about thirty-times but never once went to that famous bar of his down there, so I’m certainly no expert, but from what little I’ve read about him, I think the man was a charismatic raconteur without any other special skills or talent. Like me. (What’s the big deal? You have some drinks, and tell people what you did the other day, (how hard you fell and what you did when you woke up) that doesn’t take any special talent. I can do it without even drinking. When’s somebody going to name a fucking bar after me? Huh?)
Life isn’t fair, Arkansas is proof of that.
And no Vicki, this is not my story either. Sorry. Sorry about that.
Not true: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”
If you’d never read that, you have now … though it’s true that some question whether he actually wrote it at all.
(I personally don’t like EH because he celebrated bull-fighting, which is the ugliest, cruelest spectacle on the planet.)
The research I did was more that he never wrote it, because some of the evidence was written prior to Hemingway supposedly doing it by several years.
And, like you, I don’t condone bull fighting, which may or may not be ahead of cock or dog fighting as the cruelest spectacle on the planet.
Hemmingway wrote more than 50,000 words to create To Have and Have Not and used only a single period.
Ken, I’m not sure how I feel about this. Happy it won’t take me 10+ minutes to read your comments….sad becauseit won’t take me 10+ minutes to read your comments…
I’m very torn.
And this is sad news.
Thanks for ruining my morning.
Now I’m off to drink copious amounts of coffee…
It’s inspiring to meet someone so deeply committed to ambivalence, that they practice it in their day-to-day life.
HEED THE SEA
“That’s enough, Gus,” said Spietato from the shadows at the side of the workshop.
Gus wiped the blood off his knuckles with a dirty rag.
Spietato moved into the weak light cast by the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. He sidled over to Hendrick, sat on a metal chair under the bulb. Hendrick had his hands and feet tied. His face was a pulpy red mass, his eyes swollen shut. He was whimpering. Spietato bent over to whisper in his ear.
“What do you reckon, H.? Ready to talk?”
Hendrick mumbled something unintelligible through broken teeth and torn lips.
“You’ll have to speak up, old chap,” said Spietato. “I’m going a bit deaf in my old age.”
Spietato glanced over at a corner and gestured. Another man, thick-set, emerged from the shadows holding a chair and set it beside Hendrick with a metallic clang. Spietato sat, hiking his trouser legs up at the knee.
He waved a hand for Gus to leave.
“Don’t forget that other business,” he said.
Gus put on his jacket, and as he was closing the door, he saw Spietato lean into Hendrick.
“So, let’s have a nice little chat, then.”
Gus made his way through the boathouse and out into the sunlight. He stood blinking for a few seconds to let his eyes get accustomed, then held his face up to the sun and sighed. Two seagulls drifted effortlessly across the pale-blue sky, calling to each other; if Gus could have articulated what he felt about those seagulls, it might have been envy.
He looked at his watch. He had to be across town in two hours; Luca Cattivo, Spietato’s cousin, needed something sorting out – or someone, Gus didn’t know for sure. But his was not to reason why, or what, or who, just to follow orders. That was his job, his life.
Two hours. Plenty of time for a bite. He’d spotted a diner on the way in. His Chevy was parked next to Spietato’s Lincoln. He got in and glided away from the boathouse.
The diner was empty except for a couple in one of the booths. Gus settled into another, next to the window, and glanced without interest at the menu; he knew what he wanted.
“What can I get you this bright and beautiful morning?”
Gus looked up at Marjorie – it was on her name tag – looking at him. She had a pencil poised over a pad. Gus opened his mouth but nothing came out.
Marjorie gave him a few moments, but still nothing.
“If there was flies in this place – which there ain’t – you’d be catching plenty there now, wouldn’t you?”
She smiled, revealing an uneven row of nicotine-stained teeth. She pointed her pencil at the menu in Gus’s hand.
“I recommend the eggs. Best in town.”
Gus closed his mouth and swallowed.
“I … I’ll have the eggs.”
“He speaks!” Marjorie chortled, scribbling on her pad. “And you want coffee with that?”
Gus shook his head.
“Comin’ right up.”
Marjorie waddled away towards the counter, Gus watching her all the way.
He was mightily confused. The calm he’d felt after the boathouse job had been replaced by a raging sea that crashed through his body, hitting his chest first then sloshing around in his stomach and crackling across his skin like waves on shingle.
He’d had two women in his life up to this moment: his mom and his little sister. There were Spietato’s hookers of course, and he could have his pick of them, but they were merely to ”empty his tanks”, as Spietato’s other ‘employees’ would joke with him. He’d never had the nerve to speak to those women at any great length, much less court them, and nor would he have known how. But now … Marjorie.
He kept his eyes on the short, round woman, almost as wide as she was tall, but dropped them when he saw her returning with his drink.
“There you go, honey.”
Gus managed a weak smile.
“You ain’t from round these parts, are you?” Marjorie said, hovering at the table.
She took a cloth from her apron and gave the table an unnecessary wipe.
“Up state,” he offered, breaking one of the rules in the unwritten book.
“Thought so. And what brings you to these parts?”
Gus knew he’d already said enough, but with each piece of information, he felt his tongue getting looser.
“You don’t look like no business man,” said Marjorie, moving the salt and pepper a quarter inch.
“What do I look like?”
Gus was pleased with the question; it felt like something Bogart might say. He took a gulp of root beer.
Marjorie looked him up and down.
The root beer Gus had in his mouth went down the wrong way and he spluttered, then began coughing.
Marjorie leaned over and patted him on the back.
“Marge! Eggs!” the cook called from the hatch.
“Just a mo’,” said Marjorie, giving Gus a parting pat.
Gus carried on coughing until he’d cleared his windpipe. He looked at his reflection in the window – at the broken nose and scar on his cheek – and smiled ruefully; Marjorie was right.
“But you got kind eyes.” Marjorie was back.
The smile disappeared from Gus’s face; little did Marjorie know.
“Enjoy your eggs,” she said, laying the plate down in front of Gus.
He watched her walk away again and the waves came crashing back.
He picked at the plate of eggs and nibbled the toast that accompanied them, but he’d lost his appetite. After a while, he laid the fork down and sat back, observing the street. It seemed different somehow to the one he’d driven down not half an hour earlier.
“What’s up, honey? Don’t like your eggs?”
Marjorie was at the table again.
Gus turned from the window; the waves were gentler now, warm, lapping against his ribs. He took a deep breath; he might regret what he was about to do and say, but it was the sea talking.
“Marge, is it?”
“Only to my friends,” Marjorie said. The words might have sounded rude without the smile in her voice and sparkle in her eyes. “So you can call me that, if you like. And what might your name be, stranger?”
Breaking another of the unwritten rules, Gus told her.
“That don’t sound like no businessman’s name neither.”
Gus ignored that and charged on.
“So tell me, Marge. If I was to come through here again, you reckon you might be amenable to having a bite to eat with me – somewhere fancy like?”
Marjorie thought about it, showed her stained teeth again and nodded.
“That’s fine, then. So here … and keep the change.”
He laid a $20 bill on the table, got up and brushed a hand on Marjorie’s shoulder as he passed.
“See you soon, Marge.”
“So long … Gus.”
Out on the street, Gus raised his face to the sun again and sighed, content. Then he remembered where he had to be, what he would probably have to do there, and the waves that washed through him now were icy cold.
Did have a bit of trouble with these two sentences: He’d had two women in his life up to this moment: his mom and his little sister. There were Spietato’s hookers of course, and he could have his pick of them, but they were merely to ”empty his tanks”, as Spietato’s other ‘employees’ would joke with him.
With the second sentence defining the actions with the hookers, it makes me think the Gus ‘had’ the same sort of relationship with them. Instead of ‘had’, you might have written – Up to this moment – there were only two women in his life: his mom and his little sister. Instead of ‘he’d had two women’ which I first read in the biblical sense, and then you followed it with the sentence about Spietato’s hookers. Picky? Maybe a little bit, but just telling you how I read those two sentences and gleaned their meaning.
Truly pushed the boundaries of Gus’s feelings, and it was a very good read. Loved how you took this prompt to a new level and did it so easily. Good last line.
Bit slow here this week. Are you going to write something?
Indeed I am, and have already started. The nice thing about this prompt is the myriad of directions it can go. It always seems slow at the beginning then usually licks up. Look at last week. 18 stories, and most came near the end.
Good luck, mate.
Definitely been slow here.
I’m struggling. I keep thinking I have a great idea, write a few words and then “nope”… delete.
This prompt is actually pretty hard.
Probably because I don’t relate to it very well, I don’t really have any boundaries 🤣🤣
Somehow, I knew that little fact about you. Don’t ask me how, I can’t tell you. But, I knew it.
I was a little confused at first by the title, and had to re-read the story before I finally got it. Makes me wonder how much of his feelings Gus is going to heed.
It’s that detail of the seagulls that flips the story around from Hendrick-Spietato to Gus and his inner demons, and from then on lets us in nice and easy into Gus’s sad world… What follows, at the diner, is pretty much mundane things, but we can feel that there’s something very palpably important for Gus in every little thing that happens, in every small word that’s said. I like the way Gus courts Marjorie, tactlessly at first, but somehow getting across to her by the time he leaves (the comparison to Bogart is very evocative).
It’s a neat, quiet read on the surface, with lava bubbling underneath.
I’m not sure if you need that dotted line just before the last sentence. There is no real time-lapse, so you could have just kept going. (But then we do pick at each other’s ‘intertitles’, ‘interdots’, ‘interlines’ and ‘inter-this-and-that’, us two!).
Taking the First Step
By Roy York
From the time I was nine, until I became a teenager, I spent summers with my cousins. My step-mother loved the idea of having the summer off from her exhausting workload, which, of course, was scheduling how the work around the house was going to get done. She and I would split the work load. She would tell me what needed to be done and I would do it.
To infer that my step-mother was lazy is a misconception. Let’s not beat around the bush with inferences. She avoided work like rabbits avoid back yards with dogs. Her world famous spaghetti sauce took hours. Here’s how it went. I would get down the spaghetti pasta and place it next to the big pan of water that I just filled and put on the stove.
Then, I would get a large pot to brown the sausage, ground pork, and ground beef. When I got that browned, I would then add the tomato sauce and the various herbs and spices, along with enough water to bring to a boil, then allow to simmer for several hours. She would actually tell me, “I’m going over to Helen’s (our next door neighbor) for a few minutes. Check the sauce and stir it every half hour or so. Add water if it needs it.”
Then later, when she finally came home, – sometimes hours later – after tasting it and pronouncing it ready, I would then cook the pasta in boiling water the prescribed amount of time until tender. I then put the spaghetti pasta in a large serving bowl, cover it with meat sauce and set it on the table just in time for my dad getting home from work.
After eating, he would usually say something like, “That was pretty good.”
She would respond, “Well, of course it is. I worked all afternoon on it.” I simply sat there and ate the pasta, seeking no praise, knowing the couple of secret ingredients I added would never be added to the recipe when she passed it along to others. Those who tried to make it would always come back and say, “I tried your recipe exactly as you gave it to me, and I could never make mine taste like yours.” My step-mother would smile and say, “It’s all the love and attention I give it that makes it taste so good.”
Anyway, I digress; when school got out, I was shipped off to the hills of Missouri. That’s where this story truly begins. I was on my own: free to act like a kid, was no longer an only child and had freedom to roam.
One summer when I was about ten or eleven, my cousins and I were heading for the river to go fishing. On the way we passed a forest ranger tower. If you are unfamiliar with these, it’s a large tower about a hundred feet in the air, with a little cabin on top. It was where forest rangers would climb up to be above the trees and watch for forest fires.
We decided that we could climb up to the top. I got about three fourths of the way up when I looked down and thought maybe I had gone far enough. I was getting a funny feeling and looking down didn’t help. My cousins, who were half Native American and had absolutely no fear of heights, (it’s a real genetic thing), started teasing me. So, I determined I would get to the top. When we finally got there, my two older cousins decided it would be great sport to act like they were going to throw me off the tower. So they grabbed me and held me partially over the side.
To say I was terrified was being mild. I got physically ill, and it was another of my cousins who grabbed me and told them no knock it off. Which they finally did, all the while saying, “Oh, relax, we weren’t going to hurt him.” The real bummer was after getting all the way up there, the trap door you opened to climb into the little hut on top was locked tight and we ended up having to climb back down. All that terror for nothing.
As I got older, my fear of heights only got worse. It was so bad, that the sheer thought of even going to a high place terrified me. I could be in a tall building and had to sneak up to look over a railing. Even though the Grand Canyon is one of my favorite places in the world, it takes quite an effort for me to get near the edge, even with a large wall keeping me from going over the edge.
I can’t even stand being around people who walk up to the edge and do things I consider crazy, like walk along the edge seeing how close they can get. I have to look the other way. I get ill, just thinking about it.
So, imagine my wife’s surprise when she asked me what I wanted for my seventy-fifth birthday. She almost passed out when I said, “Skydiving”. She looked at me like I had separated my neck from my shoulders, and was holding my head in my hands.
“Are you nuts?” she said.
I grinned. “It’s about time I overcame my fears. Of course, it will be a tandem ride, not me on my own.” Which means, I would jump out of an airplane while in tandem with an experienced sky diver who would see I would get to the ground safely. Unless something happened, like our parachute wouldn’t open, in which case, I would confirm my fear of heights and hope they wouldn’t find excrement in my pants when they found my crushed remains.
She said, “It’s your life. If that’s what you want to do, I won’t stand in your way.”
So it was, on my seventy-fifth birthday, I found myself sitting in a small plane ten thousand feet above the surface of the earth. I have no fear of planes, helicopters and the like at all. I feel safe when strapped in. It’s not being strapped in that bothers me. I can look out the window and admire the scenery, loving every second of it, no matter how high. Put me on a rooftop, less than 25 feet off the ground, and I become a blithering idiot without a safety harness of some sort.
So, when my tandem partner and skydiving instructor said it was time to go, as we had prearranged, we stood up together and walked shuffle style over to the open door. “Are you ready?“ he asked. I took a big breath.
All the way down, I couldn’t talk. I didn’t even try. When we finally landed, which seemed like an eternity, I turned to my instructor and said, “I promise, you’ll get paid for today, and maybe next time, we’ll really do this skydiving thing.” He smiled as we stepped off the plane, knowing there would never be a next time.
Yeah, this is auto-biographical in a sense. I did tell my wife I wanted to skydive for my seventy-fifth birthday and she did say, “Are you nuts?” I just laughed and said, “There’s zero chance of getting me in a plane and jumping out unless it’s parked and I’m only a few feet off the ground>”
The bit about the spaghettis sauce and the first tower is true. It’s taken me a long time to get over my love/hate relationship with my step mother. I used to love to hate her, but as time has progressed I realized it was the way she was treated as she grew up and she was only doing what she was taught. Her drunken father once took a fork and stabbed her hand to the table with it when she was a teenager. Her first husband beat her within an inch of her life and knocked her down a flight of stairs causing her to miscarriage and subsequently lose not only the baby, but her chance to ever have children. I’ve since forgiven her for all her misdeeds to me, and believe me, there’s a list of them. While I will never think fondly of her as a mother, she did the best she could. It was little things, like not telling my father she couldn’t have children until after they were married. Not so little, when you think about it.
Maybe that’s why the story was easy to right. it was like I was simply writing down the conversation I was having with whoever was on the other side of the table having a cup of coffee, or tea, as Phil suggested.
Thanks for your comments, Vicki, I truly appreciate them. Glad you enjoyed it.
This story has a nice authentic feel to it (then I read in the comments that it’s very much autobiographical, which confirmed the way I felt while reading it). Nothing grandiose happens (and not even the skydive, right?), but it’s still an intriguing journey into the narrator’s reaction to his fear of heights.
The spaghetti story is a bit of a long digression, but it has its merits too. Given that I liked it, I’m not complaining about it. There’s something fascinating about breaking the usual rules of writing (example sticking closely to the story at hand) and writing things as they come to mind, not necessarily in a stream-of-consciousness way, but without the usual rigidness of the standard recipe of story-writing. It’s where story writing meets story-telling (Phil, I’m seeing, said this in his own words too). It’s the difference between a painting and a collage. Both have their respective merits, don’t they? You merged two stories in one here, and it worked for me. I recently read Linshan (Soul Mountain) and the book meanders through different experiences of the writer’s journey through China, each chapter totally different from the ones next to it, sometimes poetic, sometimes narrative, sometimes documentary, sometimes erotic, a bit like you did here, and it was quite a good – if unusual – read.
I lived my first years on an island with lots of scary high cliffs and also many extremely high fortifications built a long time ago (centuries before the obsession with health and safety became the norm) by the Knights to keep the Saracens out – so I know what you mean by fear of heights. Especially when you’re some six-hundred feet above the raging sea far away below, and the wind is blowing outwards…
And I REALLY love the cooking story, but it’s 400 words (yep, i counted ’em) and has nothing whatsoever to do with the main story. (Worth a story in its own right though, I reckon.)
(Looks like it’s just me and thee. People are just not pushing their boundaries this time.)
The ending, I thought I explained, but apparently not. At the last second the protagonist and his tandem instructor didn’t jump, hence “Maybe next time we’ll really jump.” , both knowing the protagonist jumping for a first time is never going to happen.
I’ll have to check it out and see if I can fix it, because I’m at 1200 words and it will require some word gymnastics.
If it turns out it’s just the two of us, I can think of lots worse things than finishing in second, just behind the master. I’m surprised after eighteen last week, we only have two at this point.
By the way, you and I sharing a conversation like this over a cup of tea or something stronger would be something I would love to do.
I was just thinking today of a two-horse race I bet on once. I was on holiday with a mate, and we were in a pub, a bit bored. Next door was a betting shop. We got the newspaper and picked out some horses. There was a two-horse race – I remember the names of the horses: Ragotina and Tutu. Ragotina was the odds-on favourite (1/3 on, if I remember rightly). I put my money on it (quite a lot for then – the beer had something to do with it, I think), and my mate bet on Tutu. You can guess which one won…
One day, Roy, who knows? (for that cup of tea or something stronger … though I don’t drink now, so tea it will be).
That’s a nice way of saying I could have phrased the ending better.
Funny, my doctor won’t let me do any caffeine at all, but has no problem with me having a pint, or glass of wine, or even an occasional finger or two of a good Irish whiskey. If that One Day comes, you drink the tea and I’ll be the one with a Guinness.
Stay safe, mate.
Would you mind if I join in this conversation? I’m sorry I haven’t got my act together sooner but I have had problems with my old lap top and this is my first outing on the new one.
It is funny how we get weeks when lots of us write and then a very quiet one. Hopefully, there will be a few more before the cut-off. I am hoping to get something in.
Your conversation covered much of the ground, critique-wise, that I have in mind. No major problems with either story and I can see the same issues, if that is the correct word.
I like the ending of your story very much Roy. It contains a clever bit of ambiguity ( “all the way down”) that, on second reading, which is usually the best one for clarity, in my opinion, is quite clear. I wonder how many of us would take the same course of action when faced with a similar situation, like running the bulls in Pamplona, or a bungee jump. In either case, clean underwear would need to be readily available.
Another fine story, full of colour and character. Interesting moral dilemma regarding thugs beating up nasty people. Is a crime of violence justified if the victim is violent? Discuss.
I think the point about Gus’ two women in his life is a valid one from Roy but on careful rereading, you do explain things but it is subtle, something you two both do really well.
My comments are quite brief as I cannot fill the huge gap left by that Cartisano chap.
Well done my writing friends and I hope to have something to share very soon.
Mind? Of course not. I look forward to your critiques. They are always thoughtful and kind. I tend to be a bit more blunt when I critique, hence occasionally, I am afraid I may frighten some writers away right after their first visit. Usually, if they don’t come back, I don’t mind, because then I don’t have to sit through several stories before they realize they aren’t getting any better and finally decide they are tired of getting flack. Sometimes though, I felt I may have stung a little too hard. Hope not, but, if so, cie la vie!
Thanks for your kind words. I thought I had been clever, but sometimes, my misdirection is too clever, I fear, and as you said, it took a reread to realize what I was doing. I am trying to make it more obvious without giving it away. either way, I could have probably made the last line more impactful had it been a bit clearer.
I, too, have been having troubles with my computer and thanks to the largesse of my government, allowed me to purchase one I couldn’t have otherwise afforded, by the benefit of sending me money to help the economy. Like a good citizen, I obliged.
I always like your stories. They may not always be winners, but, then, neither are mine. Sometimes I’m surprised when a story wins, and sometimes I’m surprised it ended so far down in the vote, like last time out. I’m happy with fifth out of eighteen, but I thought it would get higher, although I do admit that Carrie’s story should have won easily and it was my first place vote. Would have been even if we could vote for our own.
I’m wondering how long the Cartisano chap can hold out before he bursts back on to the scene with one of his sweetly acidic reviews or just commenting in general? I can see him sitting in front of his computer wanting to write, urging himself to write. I sincerely hope he doesn’t hold true to his statement. I’ve come to look forward to his thought provoking, and almost always humorous flings into the critiquing world.
Get that story written my friend, and give Phil and I some competition.
by Ken Miles
I know a business opportunity when I see one. That’s how I found my niche market making pantyliners.
It all started a long, long time ago with a handsome but troubled prince called Randall, heir to his father’s throne. The King was withering, and Randall’s big day was fast approaching. But one thing wasn’t quite right, he was still a bachelor. A king without a queen had never been seen. Lines of wannabe princesses would’ve knocked on his door. But he wanted a woman who chose him not for what he was, but for who he was. Thing is, he couldn’t tell the difference, inside that princely bubble he was brought up in.
Then he got an idea.
He asked the castle Witch to turn him into a frog. Now that’s usually done as a curse, given out as a punishment. But Randall had a plan. A girl who’d kiss a frog was a girl who had a heart. And the girl who kisses the right frog is the one with the right heart. The girl he so desperately yearned for.
Unlike Randall the Man, wrapped up in his lonely princely world, Randall the Frog would hang around all the places were the young women would often be. The clothes market, the ladies’ baths, Old Gossip Lane. The baths were his favorite place. Not so much for what you’re thinking of, but because nature requires a frog to keep moist. It was indeed embarrassing to be in such places where men were barred from. But Randall was now a frog, and he needed that one important kiss to find his true love.
As the days rolled by and nothing happened, he also desperately needed that kiss for dear life – to return to human form. A frog’s life isn’t that long after all!
But all he’d get was screaming, scared women running away, disgusted by this slimy creature poising in their midst. Spineless spoiled women! And it got worse, outright dangerous. One threw a handheld mirror at him. It was a narrow miss.
Then pest-control were brought over, frog-traps were set everywhere, and Randall had to leave. He joined the regular frogs in the Great Pond just outside the city ramparts. It was a complete defeat. Especially as rumors of his demise were now rife, and his evil cousin Brandon was set to sit on the throne.
Resigned to make the best of what was left of his froglike existence, Randall was in some strange way pleased that his unusual experiment pushed the boundaries and exposed the kind of women that they had in the Kingdom. He’d had the right gut-feeling: no-one of them was worthy of becoming his wife. Then, well, so be it!
But the unexpected, then, happened.
The rains came and the Great Pond swelled. That’s when the frogs party hard. Randall just couldn’t keep to himself and not join in the rainfest fun. That’s where he set his bulging eyes on Zynthia. Fresh raindrops sparkled upon her head and her green skin shimmered gorgeously. Emotions he never knew he had, of the more irresistible beastly type, got the better of him, until they could no longer be contained.
Randall and Zynthia’s was the most beautiful of love stories. He even started to think that this was his fate, that the gods intended for him to go frogly in order to find his ultimate happiness. Zynthia gave him lots of offspring. Really lots. Thousands of eggs in each clutch. The little ones turned into tadpoles, beautiful little things, and in no time turned into fine young frogs. It was the picture of happiness.
But disaster struck. Twice. First, the newly minted King Brandon decided to drain the Great Pond, convert the swamps into a golf-course. Soon enough, armies of workers with buckets started emptying the pond with startling speed.
Some frogs wanted to stand in the men’s paths, but Randall knew very well it was all in vain. It took some convincing on his part, until, on a gloriously wet day, with half their pond already drained, Randall led the frogs out on an exodus of biblical proportions, for rainy days on end, until they re-settled in a faraway pond in the open countryside.
Then disaster struck again. A meteorite struck Zynthia. It doesn’t often happen that a frog is killed by a meteorite. Of all things! It’s more often dehydration. But it happened this time. And that’s that.
All so suddenly, Randall found himself becoming a single father to some fifty-thousand little ones. At least, tadpoles don’t need to be breastfed. They’re quite an independent bunch. So Randall fared quite well after all.
But tragedy was never far away. A teenage girl from a nearby farmstead came to the pond to fetch some water. Randall hadn’t seen a human being in a long time and got up close. Just out of curiosity really. As she lifted her heavy bucket, the girl nearly stepped on him, spilling her water to avoid him. Used to animals, she wasn’t scared of the frog, but screamed in anguish for nearly squashing the little creature to death.
“I’m so sorry, little froggy! Did I frighten you?” she said with a voice from heaven. The ladies of the city didn’t speak like that. Their voices were manly, always angry. Anyway, the country lass picked Randall up in her palm.
“I should be more careful where I step, silly me! I could’ve hurt you!”
This was a girl with a heart, Randall thought. Kiss me! Kiss me! The frog pouted its pimply lips, but she wasn’t disheartened by the unsightly view. She kissed it, a light kiss really, but enough to break the curse. The frog turned into the handsomest young man the girl had ever seen or thought existed.
“Oh dear! This is my lucky day!” she said, “and yours too!”
That wasn’t the end of it. Although it happened many times in history that cursed frogs were kissed back into princes, never did this happen that a prince had had tadpoles of his own. So the precise science on this matter was not very well established.
The thing is that the girl’s kiss broke not only Randall’s curse, but that of all his offsprings!
Hoards of children emerged from the pond, in their thousands…
Now, although that was a very long time ago, Randall and Zynthia’s descendants are still very much among us. You’ve certainly had that posh, highbrow fella at school. Shy, mysterious, well-to-do, nerdish.
Horatio Lakeside was like that. He got pantsed, one day, during PE. The other guys laughed, and then were grossed out. I only saw it for a split-second, before he pulled his pants back up. Horatio’s backside was green, pimply and moist.
I was on sort of good terms with Horatio, because he let me copy during exams. So I stood between him and those idiots, until the PE teacher intervened. Horatio then opened up to me, told me the story of his species.
“Must be quite inconvenient having a wet butt all the time,” was all I could muster up saying when he finished his wondrous tale.
And that’s when I got my business idea.
On an unrelated note, I wonder how Randall and Zynthia’s descendants managed to keep having descendants, given their green, pimply and moist butts…
Thanks for reading and commenting, and I’m pleased you found this story fun – that’s what I wrote it for: a bit of grotesque satire, peppered with absurdities, on the much celebrated satin-layered fairytale genre.
On whether it fits the prompt, well, I think that it is Randall who pushes his boundaries, by abandoning the comfort zone of his princely life to take on an animal form. I suppose that was quite a challenging bet he took with his life, instead of “opening his door” to any wannabe princess or get his ailing father to find his matrimonial match… It’s all of course recounted with a lot of tongue in cheek, and it’s not to be taken too seriously (although anyone who wants to philosophize and extract some moral from the story is free to do so, and there may indeed be some parallels with life’s true challenges. Can Ken C. do that in one sentence?).
As to how the descendants copulated, I honestly don’t know, and I don’t think you really want to know lol! But I suppose they did it the usual way, and with a lot of in-breeding involved (since their characteristic green patch survived over the ages).
Some amphibians have quite an intriguing way of reproducing, by fertilizing the eggs after they are laid. Not so sexy, but it apparently works very efficiently. That’s one other reason why they need to be near water most of the time, or else everything would dry up. But those are the kind of fun-fact gems we usually let Andy dig up for us…
This is a Ken M story if ever there was one. I will watch every Royal Wedding in future with as much interest as for a David Attenborough Wild Life Special about frogs. I will watch frogs kissing frogs and Princes kissing Princesses and no longer need to worry about their respective breeding processes. Not that I did much of that in any case.
I really enjoyed this story. Your creativity is phenomenal. No-one could possibly second guess where you would take this prompt. I loved the line …”with lots of in-breeding involved,” as it applies to frogs and Royalty.
Good luck with this one. Most entertaining.
I have just managed to sneak a story in before the cut-off.
“I will watch every Royal Wedding in future with as much interest as for a David Attenborough Wild Life Special about frogs.” – Lol, I’m still laughing after reading this! The connection is hilarious (even though it’s culturally steeped in fairytales…). Just that frogs are perhaps more interesting than royalty. Ask Prince Harry.
I read your story and commented on it too, in the meantime 🙂
You have singlehandedly managed to turn a shaggy dog story into the first shaggy frog story in this contest. Not just today’s, but, perhaps, since the site began back in 2013.
Enjoyable story, although I have to agree with Ken F., and wonder what boundaries are being pushed. Although kissing a frog is where I think you were going. At least that’s what I got out of it.
All in all a clever read.
Glad I made some history, with something that had never happened since this site came to existence in 2013. I wasn’t even born back then! (Well, I was born of course, but I only joined in 2019…).
Yes, the title was meant to be a little bit provocative, of the w.t.f.-ish kind…
I see it made you smile (the others didn’t say that, although they may have implied it) – that was the main point of this story, meant to be (mostly) a humouristic piece, poking fun at the age-old fairytale formula, by inserting some David Attenborough in it, as Ken F. rightly noted.
Please tell me which other parts of the story you found rather odd in terms of the wording, if you have a couple of minutes to spare. I would never be able to spot them with my own pair of eyes! (to me it seemed perfect, but of course it isn’t!).
I’ve meanwhile read your story and commented on it too.
By Victoria Chvatal
As long as Galina remembers herself, she tried to put everything into words. These words wove themselves into songs in her head that provided a soundtrack to her days. Later, others could see what she did – through her poems. The fog that dissolves all the mundane details and remakes the city into something new, quiet and mysterious. The promise of a new day, when morning sunlight striking the cobblestones rings like a bell, and anything is possible. The suffocating lack of freedom, like a black vacuum of space but without the glory.
She was blacklisted from all official publications, but her poems were passed around in handwritten or typewritten samizdat copies in the most distant corners of the USSR.
Galina finally has her freedom, but at a price: she’s lost the words.
The first days after arrival are a blur. Meetings with old friends. Meetings with local politicians and artists whose campaigning had finally forced the Soviet government to grant her and Leonid permission to leave. Interviews – with interpreters, naturally; they are both famous enough – two acclaimed artists and dissidents, a poet and a violinist – for their arrival to garner attention.
Then comes the shock. The attention dies down, and life settles into a routine of sorts. But words, the waters she’d swum in all her life, don’t sustain her anymore. She hates feeling stupid every time she struggles to conduct the simplest conversation; or when the words around her form a sonic wall that she can’t break through or even peek over. This is even worse than getting lost all the time, or not knowing the most basic things like where to buy buttons.
The small Russian-speaking community receives Galina warmly, and organises several poetry readings. These make her feel like an intelligent, articulate woman again. The last, informal part, when everyone mingles freely over tea and cake, makes her feel like she’d never left her old homeland. Only the cakes are shop-bought rather than homemade: here it’s considered classier; besides, you can actually find quality products in the shops. The audience knows and loves her older work; the latest poems, describing Galina’s first impressions of her new home, get a more mixed reception. Some people come up to exclaim how spot on she is. Others launch into a spirited argument on how she’d got it all wrong. To the latter, she tends to respond with variations of:
“Look, I’m not offering social or political commentary here. These are my impressions at this moment. I’m sure they’ll change.”
Eventually, the English classes pay off, as does the trick of trying to think in English as much as possible. Galina can manage the day-to-day well enough, and she hardly ever needs a dictionary when doing the shopping. But what is she going to do now? Back in her old life, she could walk down the street, and feel that her poems could reach out to anyone. Some awoke melodies inside the readers, and turned into songs. She hums under her breath:
At sunset, at the edge of the world,
There walked a man without a song…
She wonders how it would sound in English. Then looks at the people passing by and thinks that they are getting away. Galina probably isn’t quite famous enough to interest publishers in translating her new work for publication. Anyway, how would she check the translation’s quality? The Russian-speaking community here is too small. As for her first attempts at writing poems in English … she doesn’t think even her earliest childish scrawls were that godawful; but that could be a trick of the memory.
She needs a job. Leonid had no trouble getting one at a celebrated philharmonic orchestra. As for Galina, even her old fallback jobs – theatre, writing art catalogues – are beyond her for now. Many women in the community start by working as nannies or cleaners, then try to work their way back up. She isn’t crazy about the idea to start with; and listening to an acquaintance rant about having to babysit the children of “smug cows who think they are better than women who are a hundred times more intelligent and educated, just because they were born here and have more money” puts her off once and for all.
Eventually she gets a job at a local cake shop. Some customers get annoyed when they have to repeat orders to her; particularly nasty ones make barbed or patronising comments; however, most are alright. The nice ones either pretend there’s nothing wrong with her English, or helpfully correct her grammar or pronunciation.
At home, all too often she and Leonid have nothing to say to each other. They always used to be equals – she a poet, he a musician. Now he’s a musician, and she’s a shop assistant.
There’s another problem. She’s losing her Russian. Sometimes she tries to think of a word, and feels like she’s facing a dark void when none come: the English word – because she doesn’t know it yet, and the Russian one – because she’s forgotten. This mute feeling scares her more than anything.
One day at the shop, she describes twisty little meringue cookies as “sinuous” to a regular customer. The old woman twinkles in response:
“Why, you’re a quite a poet, my dear!”
Galina smiles back and thinks, if only you knew.
… Some time later, Galina looks around the back room of an old pub where an open mic poetry reading is taking place, and wonders if coming there was a mistake. The room looks both bohemian and cozy, with its ornate wallpaper, curvy couches and armchairs, and plush curtains, all a little faded and worn. She is nervously clutching a few handwritten pages, feeling again like an eight-year-old about to read her first poems to the class. The others’ poems are long, complex, full of allusions and associations – Galina has trouble following at times – and completely lacking in any meter whatsoever, let alone rhyme. The best she’s got is this:
Something is raging ahead
Like a fire, like a fire.
We’re going past it to get
To the water, to the water.
Following pathways unknown
Through the darkness, through the darkness
To find a road that leads
To a single light.
She sees stark images and symbols; but now she wonders if the poem isn’t too primitive. In the end, she reads it, as well as a couple of others, in her accented English. There’s a brief silence when she’s done, as if the listeners aren’t sure how to react, followed by polite applause. Afterwards, she’s too shy to stay and chat; but it’s a start.
It’s dark by the time Galina walks home from the bus stop through quiet suburban streets. The streetlights illuminate enough to find her way, but little enough to make familiar streets look strange. The footpath is covered with a lattice of shadows cast by overhanging trees. The shadows dance and snake around, beckoning slyly to follow them down the street and into the unknown. She tries to describe it in her mind, and feels lighter than she had in ages.
Words will come.
This is a lovely, thoughtful piece of writing. I can almost imagine the notion of forgetting a word in your native tongue before learning it in your new language and feeling mute, cut-off, speechless.
I have never lived for any period of time other than holidays in another country. The pull of home has always been too strong to stay away too long. It must be a hard thing to do unless fleeing from some awful regime when anywhere must be better.
I really enjoyed the ideas you captured here, Vikki.
I’ve moved countries & started over in a new language twice, so this story draws heavily on personal experience. IMO, the hardest stage is the one when you start forgetting the new language but still haven’t quite mastered the old one. It’s far worse than the first days when you don’t understand anything: in the latter case, you don’t have expectations; in the former, it happens some time later when you expect to have made some improvement.
Some people find it easier to pull up sticks (me, I guess), others harder (like you). In any case, it’s extra hard for those whose occupation, or even identity, revolves around language.
Cashing in on the poetry rage that’s going on around this country, at least. Last time with Marien and her poetic story, followed by yours. And, then, if you are keeping track, America’s Youth Poet Laureate at President Biden’s inauguration and then, again at the Super Bowl. Don’t know if you saw those.
Poetry is something I’ve tried to dabble with. Sometimes it works, sometimes, it doesn’t. I won a poetry contest once at a Valentine’s Day party. Something I had written for my wife. It was very serious and it started rocky because after I read the first two lines, a couple of husbands snickered. I paused, looked up, stared at them quietly and made them uncomfortable then continued. I felt like I was in sophomore English class. After reading it, their wives came up to me later and apologized for their ignoramus husband’s attitudes. It was a nice prize, dinner for two at a very exclusive restaurant in Las Vegas. It turns out I was the only one who took the contest seriously as the other poems entered were along the lines of Roses are Red, etc., etc. By the way, of the two husbands, neither is married to those wives, now. One, actually because he wasn’t ‘romantic’ enough.
Anyway, I digress. I admire how you took the story and held it closely to the prompt. And, made me want to revisit my poetic efforts. I will always wonder if I didn’t miss my calling while in school and should have pursued a career in writing, even if it meant having to have the courage to stare at people who snicker at your work.
Good job, Vicki, I enjoyed reading it the second and third times much more than the first.
A few years ago, I took some time to try to learn Russian on my own. Damn, it’s a difficult language. I got to where I could carry on a conversation, but I felt that uncomfortableness you point out by your comment, ‘losing the words’. Pretty damn apt, if you ask me. A friend translated my published story into Russian, and when I asked an interpreter to translate it back into English, it wasn’t even close to what I had written. I found that interesting. He said, interpreters do just that – they interpret, not repeat verbatim. So, I can imagine how difficult it would be to write in another language that’s not your first.
I think your final paragraph is absolutely great. I loved the sentences: The footpath is covered with a lattice of shadows cast by overhanging trees. The shadows dance and snake around, beckoning slyly to follow them down the street and into the unknown. Great symmetry there.
Thank you for your detailed comment!
I didn’t realise there was a ‘poetry rage’ going on 🙂 (we live in different countries, to start with). However, Marien has provided a lot of inspiration for this story, and not just by choosing the prompt; her last poetic story, and her device of inserting little poems in stories, got my thoughts moving in this direction.
Do they use phrases “tickled pink” or “chuffed” in your neck of the woods? ‘Cos thinking that my story got you inspired to write poetry again makes me feel both of those. 🙂 Also, good on you for at least getting a dinner in a fancy restaurant for your earlier poetic efforts, as well as – presumably – appreciation from your wife.
Everyone says how difficult Russian is. It’s a bit hard for me to appreciate as it’s my first language, but I sort of see the point. 🙂
The translation and reverse translation experiment (with your story) is fascinating. It would be interesting to find someone who could read both and identify where distortions occurred: in the first translation to Russian, in the second translation back to English, or if the deviations from the original compounded in each iteration. There are so many possible reasons: the translator interpreting the text differently from the author; words with multiple meanings; homonyms; the choice of which one of the synonymous words to use … I guess one famous example is “War and Peace”, which is a mistranslation that should read “War and Society” (the Russian word ‘Mir’ can mean both, although the second, intended meaning is less common in modern Russian, so even Russian speakers today can miss the intended meaning). As a personal example, I first read “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in Russian, and when talking to English speakers I translated the title I knew to what I thought the original was, “The Baskerville Dog”; needless to say, people had no idea what I was talking about. There was also the time when translators in different countries got the title of the last Harry Potter novel, “HP and the Deathly Hallows” to translate ahead of publication, but didn’t get the actual novel until much later; ‘deathly hallows’ being such an ambiguous thing, everyone interpreted it the best they could, & some guesses were pretty wide off the mark … Sorry, am I carrying on too much about languages and translations?
RE last paragraph – thanks! It occurred to me mid-writing that the story’s language should be poetic since the protagonist is a poet.
As for the poem – Galina’s perception of the audience reaction is likely coloured by her insecurities. That said, the story is based on personal experience. I once read some poems at a poetry reading (including this one), other poets’ work was very different in style, and a was a bit of a pause before applause (pretty much as described). I’ll never know if the audience were impressed into silence, or if they thought WTF & clapped to be polite. 🙂
This piece certainly speaks to me, as I also changed country of residence (twice). At first I was enthusiastic about learning the language of each new place (French, and then German), but then I realized that I’d never learn a new language well enough to be able to write anything really worth reading in it. For shopping and general conversation maybe (and even there, expressing anger or telling a joke in a foreign langauge is almost always an impossible feat!), but not for writing. An old professor of literature at my Universtiy used to tell us that one should write in the language one passes wind with (his words were more colorful, but that’s what he essentially meant…We’ve got standards here!).
So, I think Galina should have stuck to her native Russian – start with the small local Russian-speaking community, and then her poetry, if it was really that good, would go places where more Russians live. And good translators would then render it into other languages too. (Many start with Swedish – it helps with getting the attention of the Nobel Prize awarding committee…)
Leonid, for one, didn’t change his violin for banjo or electric-guitar on arrival in the new country. Perhaps Galina shouldn’t have either.
But then, I know, one Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski arrived in England, from Poland, already an adult and hardly speaking any English at all – and he eventually became one of the greatest writers in English literature, the great Joseph Conrad. So there are exceptions, too…
I will be keeping this line from your story, it’s such a good remark that wraps inside of it Galina’s whole dilemma:
“Galina finally has her freedom, but [at a price:] she’s lost the words.” I’d change “has” to “found” (to contract with “lost”), if I were you.
Thanks for your comment!
There’s always a dilemma when moving to a country with a different language. If one doesn’t learn the language well enough, they remain an expat and never fully integrate into the new country’s society. Some people are satisfied with that, especially if there’s a large enough community of former compatriots; others aren’t.
I agree with your professor’s comment; a more polite way of expressing it would be that you should write in the language you think in. The trick of thinking in the new language has worked for me; the downside is that one’s native tongue deteriorates to a point that one may no longer be able to write in it adequately. (Case in point: I don’t think I could write in Russian, my first language, any longer if I tried.) Perhaps some people succeed in mastering a new language without losing the old; I haven’t quite managed. So for Galina, improving in English may likewise have cost her the mastery of Russian, adding to the dilemma what language to write in. On that note, if you all ever notice my English falling apart, that may mean my Hebrew is getting good enough to write in. 🙂
Your suggested solution for Galina (continue to write in Russian) isn’t for everyone. Among the Soviet artists who emigrated for political or other reasons, musicians, dancers, painters, etc. were generally more successful than writers, poets, and to a lesser extent actors and directors. Hence I made Leonid a musician, to provide some contrast. For writers/ poets, the dilemma is that if they try to write in a new language, they won’t be as good (at least initially); if they stick to the old one, their audience is limited. No matter how large the Russian-speaking community is, most of the population in the host country would remain out of reach. As for the “old country” – we’re talking about the era pre-Internet and with the Iron Curtain firmly in place, so Galina would be cut off from the bulk of her potential readers; even if her new works were smuggled in, she’d never receive the feedback. Only the wordsmiths who were already world famous before emigration, like Solzhenitsyn or Brodsky, could keep writing in Russian and be assured of enough interest in their work to have it translated and thus reach the American (and other) audiences, and go on to win Nobel prizes. I deliberately made Galina not quite that famous. So there’s also a question of how much a writer needs an audience. Basically, if we’re talking about being outside the comfort zone, let’s just ramp the level of discomfort up to 11, right?
Word Count- 626
“Where are we going?”
“You can’t ask that.”
“Cause I’m trying to help you, and you asking questions ruins the element of surprise.”
“So I’m supposed to shut up?”
“That would be ideal, yes.”
“That’s not shutting up.”
“I’m asking a quest-Ow! Fine! I’ll shut up, geez!”
“Sooo, are we almost there?”
“That wasn’t even five minutes…”
“I’m curious. We’re walking in the middle of night, along a forest path, going God knows where.”
“Just be patient.”
“Is that a cabin?”
“Yes, that’s where we’re going.”
“What for? Don’t we leave it alone? Y’know, cause of them?”
“Usually yes, but you need some practice, so I’m making an exception.”
“What’s wrong with my style?”
“You’re too fast, in this line of work we need to be slow.”
“Well I thought the whole point was to be fast? Cause the consequences if we aren’t….”
“Well yes, but sometimes slow is better, drawing it out gives a certain feeling, and if you don’t get that feeling, then you’re not doing it right.”
“I don’t know… That doesn’t seem very safe. I’m not comfortable with that…”
“Well all the more reason to do it. Getting out of your comfort zone is always good, no matter what you do.”
“Glad you agree. Now, go get one down from the basement.”
“Yes, now. Try not to break anything either, that’ll make more of a mess to clean up.”
“Okay. This place is filthy by the way.”
“I don’t remember asking for your opinion.”
“So what now?”
“That took you awhile. What happened?”
“Nothing, just wanted to pick the right one. It was only like ten minutes too.”
“How do you know to pick the right one?”
“The one that is the most afraid? But not too strong, cause they might overpower us.”
“Good, they tend to do drastic things when their life is in danger.”
“So what do we plan on doing?”
“Well your way is quick, but like I said before sometimes slow and messy is a better option.”
“Why? That’s more blood to clean up.”
“Yes, but sometimes we don’t clean up. We leave it messy. The messier the scene, the more scared those blue boys get.”
“So you want to scare them?”
“Exactly. Fear holds people back, and with what we do, a little hold up is what we need.”
“So how would I make it slow?”
“Well first you want to make it painful, but not fatal. Like so…”
“Damn, she sure is a screamer…”
“It. Not her. We don’t bother giving them an identity, they’re gonna be dead anyways.”
“Accepted. Now watch closely, this move is complicated.”
“Woah, I’ve never seen muscle… It looks so slimy… Can I touch it?”
“Sure, just be careful, it is quite loud, and we don’t want to attract unwanted attention.”
“Can I try the next one?”
“Sure, take the sharper knife though. I personally like using dull blades, but that’s just me.”
“Damn, your way is so much more fun… So glad you brought me out here, I would’ve never tried this before.”
“The more experienced you become, the more kills you get and maybe you’ll make it to death row.”
“Like H.H Holmes famous?”
“Keeping dreaming pal.”
“Can it see me?”
“No, I cut out it’s eyes yesterday.”
“It annoyed me… kept bawling and begging not to be killed. Pathetic in my opinion.”
“Gah, I hate beggars.”
“Hey! Careful! I think you just killed it…”
“Ah shit, sorry…”
“It’s fine, they were gonna die anyways.”
“Can we go home now? My stomach isn’t agreeing with me. I think dinner was bad last night.”
“Agreed, we probably starved that one a little too much. I’ll get a healthier one next time.”
Just loved this. It has to do with the matter-of-factness of the two characters as they do what they are doing. Lines like, “Can it see me?” “No, I cut it’s eyes out yesterday.” Great.
This story deserves to do well just for the gore let alone the excellent quality of your writing.
Great stuff Alyssa.
You’ve masterfully used a simple, understated style to create the most loathsome bastards ever. After reading your story, I spent some time fantasising about one or more would-be victims turning the tables and doing the same things to the two protagonists that they did to others.
This works. The dialogue-only technique, the rising levels of vicious brutality, the candid conversation versus the pain the two inflict on their victims…
“Woah, I’ve never seen muscle… It looks so slimy… Can I touch it?” – I felt the pain, there. Under my skin and in my soul.
And before I’d even recovered, there came the gouged out eyes, and then the fact the victim had been starved first. Sure, you’re not like that, Alyssa? And you don’t know my home address, do you?
By the way, why didn’t they pull out the victim’s tongue when the victim annoyed them, begging for mercy? You had more words.
It’s nice to see you back, Alyssa. It’s been a while. Where have you been?
I tried sometimes to write an entire story in nothing but dialogue, but I never managed to conclude one. I sort of always need at least a little bit of exposition. So, well done there. You know which Oscar you’re almost certainly gonna win this week, don’t you? I’m gonna protest if you don’t get at least that!
I’m glad you liked it too. I’ve been very busy, and It was nice to hash out a story and able to post it. I’m gonna try to pop on more often, permitting my collage classes allow me free time XD I’m looking through the stories right now, and I think yours is next on the list lol
The Cat’s Out of the Bag by Carrie Zylka (576 words)
The cold morning light streamed through the blinds, she opened one eye and cursed herself for not closing them the night before.
Utterly exhausted, she sat up, reaching down she grabbed the sweatpants and sweatshirt from the night before.
The room was cold, not surprising in the negative temperatures outside.
She sat for a moment, gathering the strength to get up, dressing herself her muscles felt like concrete.
She walked towards the en suite bathroom, carefully ignoring the hole in the drywall next to the door frame.
Stepping into the bathroom she bent down and picked up the random beer can on the floor, placing it in the garbage can.
She slowly went about her routine, brushing her teeth, combing her hair, and stepping on the scale. Down three pounds, not surprising since her appetite was out the window, and she hadn’t made any dinner last night in the middle of their fight.
She walked into the four-season room and began picking up empty Heineken bottles, she righted the table, picked up the items he’d thrown in anger.
She wandered through the big beautiful house she’d bought because he’d fallen in love with it. Looking at all the photos of them on trips and in exotic locations, always smiling like they were living their best life.
And as far as she knew, until last night…they had been.
Her heart was so heavy, and she couldn’t stop feeling sad.
She was sad that she’d let another human being in so deep. Allowed someone to push her emotional boundaries and knock down the walls she’d erected for four decades. Sad she’d bought into the fantasy and believed his lies, complete fabrications that in some small way she knew was just that but had wanted to believe. Leading her on and pretending to enjoy the same activities she did.
But then he’d blindsided her with the “I miss my old life”.
And with “I’m not actually happy in this relationship, you deserve someone better.”
She wanted to scream.
Truth was she’d had an inkling about this ever since they moved in together 18 months ago. But she was afraid of being alone.
That thought made her laugh out loud.
She was one of the strongest women she knew. Self-confident, accomplished, empowered, riding high on life. But the fact of the matter was…she was terrified of being without him.
She went to sleep shortly after he’d passed out, and she couldn’t imagine a forever that didn’t include his strong, comforting arms wrapped around her at night.
She wandered aimlessly through the house, walking through all the rooms, looking at all the items, and she realized it was all hers. He hadn’t invested anything in the house. Everything they needed she’d purchased. Perhaps subconsciously (or even consciously) he knew this was only temporary and wanted to be able to pick up and go with ease.
Perhaps he knew that it was coming.
And perhaps that was why he told her to stay home, that he was going to go on their planned vacation in two weeks for his 40th birthday to Sin City alone.
Perhaps he knew that when he came back it would be irreparable. That there would be no coming back from it.
She didn’t know.
What she did know was that she had to decide what to do with her life once he left.
And how she would handle being alone for the first time in almost thirty years.
A short and poignant story about breakup or imminent breakup. It’s says lots about the investment people make into a life shared, into the home, the relationship and when it’s over, the records, the furniture, the artwork and the photos just get shared out.
Then there is the aftermath about how the people involved will cope alone after so long together.
Unfortunately we live in a disposable world, and relationships in this day and age are in that category as well.
It’s amazing how many small details a person would miss until they really stop to look.
I think writers use their craft as an emotional outlet, I always have. You can always tell when I’m pissed off at the world…all my stories have epic fight scenes. I can neither confirm nor deny the details of this story are true because that would ruin it!
I appreciate the kind words, I’m reading through the other stories and man, there are some excellent entries this time around!!!
First of all, congrats on a well-deserved win in the last round (rather belated, I know). I thought your Amy was a shoo-in for best character as well.
This story is more understated, although just as well-written. Well, not everyone gets to face impossible moral choices …
The only thing that somewhat confused me was the protagonist’s age and the length of her relationship with the ex. I had to go back and compare details like “knock down the walls she’d erected for four decades”; “since they moved in together 18 months ago”; “their planned vacation in two weeks for his 40th birthday”; and “being alone for the first time in almost thirty years”. Is she in her 40s? Older? Their relationship has quite a long-term feel; perhaps they were seeing each other long before the 18 months they’d been living together?
Hi! Yes I can see the confusion. When I was writing it I envisioned her being my age (44) and my BF is 39 so in my head whenever I’m writing something intend to write close to the vest.
And I was thinking someone my age has been around the block a time or two and the guy in the story was a newer boyfriend.
Not sure if that clears it up or confused it more!
Oh yeah, I tend to do that don’t I? 🤣
It’s just that the gasoline runs out.
And there’s a hint that this relationship was fake(y) right from the start. Or, if there was indeed something (there usually is, unless it’s a plain ONS fling – why invest anything in something one absolutely cares nothing about?), but indeed the first serious breeze puts out a small fire, while it would only augment a big one. It’s just like that.
I sense something autobiographical in this, Carrie. In the way it’s told. The pathos is genuine and palpable, perhaps cathartic too…
by Ken Frape
“You are going to meet a tall, dark stranger,” said the tall, dark woman standing in front of Amadeus Monk. She met his gaze eye to eye after, very reluctantly, he had allowed his sister Clarice to manoeuvre him inside the extremely narrow canvas construction gloriously described as Madame Herzegova’s World of Magical Mystery. The multi-coloured, light bedecked tent stood out even amongst the other fairground bling. Inside, everything was cool and dark, the thick canvas deadening sounds from outside. There was more space inside than Amadeus expected although Dr. Who fans wouldn’t be surprised.
“Well, that’s a good start,” Amadeus muttered quietly but not quietly enough to be missed in such an intimate space. “I have never met you before and you are tall and dark. Shall I pay now whilst your predictions are one hundred per cent accurate?”
“No need to be cynical, Amadeus. I haven’t started yet and I haven’t even unveiled my crystal ball.”
Was that a smirk he glimpsed on her handsome face?
“I am not that stranger and I have already been paid.” Madame H swirled her gold and silver cape around her shoulders and sat down, nodding to him to do the same. The disco ball hanging above their heads had very little light to work with so it hung limply from its chord, turning ever so slightly as if it simply couldn’t be bothered to glitter.
“Your sister Clarice gave me your name, so there’s no mystery there either in case you were wondering how I know your name.”
Amadeus Monk, the boy half of twins born to a jazz-loving clarinet player and a potter, bit back a further remark as he hitched his trousers across his knees and sat down on the round stool. She was right, he was cynical by nature so she was right again. He primped his tie knot, an almost unconscious act, even on a Saturday.
“Well thank you for clearing up that little mystery,” he retorted. Madame H was aware that this man spoke carefully, as if words were tools of his trade. An English teacher she surmised but then she didn’t need to be a fortune teller to know that.
As a zealous member of The Society for the Abolition of the Aberrant Apostrophe he carried a black felt pen at all times in order to strike out such monstrosities wherever they should appear, such as the local Fish and Chip Shop sign, “Daves Chip’s” where he was able to cross out one that was unnecessary and insert another that was missing. That was a particularly rewarding Saturday morning. He almost loosened his tie. Dave the chippie was not so pleased as he had paid good money to have that sign professionally painted.
Amadeus’ pen name, “The Monk” appeared in the Times letters page with greater frequency than “Disgusted of Tonbridge Wells,” as he put gold nibbed fountain pen to Basildon Bond notepaper to point out to editors and interested readers the error of their ways. Amadeus was pedantic and not given to generosity of spirit in language matters. His arrogance was well-known in school circles.
“You are going to meet a tall, dark stranger,” Madame H repeated.
“Do I have to pay twice then?” Amadeus asked. “Is this simply a repetition of your earlier tantalising glimpse into the future or are there to be two tall, dark strangers?” Madame H detected a heavy hint of sarcasm.
Madame Herzegova smiled calmly, showing a full set of clean, white teeth. She whisked a red cloth from the table to reveal a crystal ball. Amadeus almost laughed out loud but that innate breeding and good manners so typical of the educated middle class Englishman held firm and he suppressed his derision.
“Don’t worry, Amadeus. I don’t use the crystal ball. It’s just that most people expect it.”
Madame H leaned forward until her head was almost in contact with Amadeus’ brow, furrowed in suspicion. She looked closely into his eyes. Time for some home truths.
“You are cynical, sarcastic, pedantic, derisive and arrogant, Amadeus.”
Amadeus looked across at the woman sitting opposite. She was very close, closer than any woman had been for a very long time. He could feel her warm breath on his face, scented with camomile and he felt himself relax as he gazed into the depths of her dark eyes.
“Yes, I suppose I am,” he found himself admitting that she was right. Again.
Madame H took out a small drawstring bag and removed a tiny notepad. In very flowery script she wrote the words “cynical, sarcastic, pedantic, derisive and arrogant” on separate sheets of notepaper. Amadeus watched with growing interest as Madame H screwed up each piece of paper, held it briefly in the palm of her hand before blowing into her curled fingers. Each time she opened her hand the paper was gone. Amadeus was impressed but this time he didn’t feel the need to fight against the feeling.
Madame H rose from her stool and placed her hands on Amadeus’ shoulders. The warmth of her hands made him want to stay but she indicated that it was time to leave as she nodded towards the tent flap and closed her eyes.
Without opening her eyes she delivered her parting words,
“You are going to meet a tall, dark stranger.”
Amadeus stepped from the dark tent into the sunlight, loosening his tie as he did so. As his eyes adjusted he was almost bowled over by a woman of middle age, her dark hair almost hidden by a bright green headscarf as she rushed past. Amadeus rocked back on his heels and the stranger reached out a hand to steady him, dropping her bag as she did so.
“Oh, I am so sorry….” she blurted , “not looking where I was going. Same old, same old.”
“No, no, not at all, it was entirely my fault, stepping out like that into your path. Please accept my apology, madam.” He looked into her eyes, level with his.
“Allow me,” he bent down to retrieve her bag and she did the same, almost bumping heads. They laughed as they looked at each other.
“It’s so rare to find a gentleman with such manners,” she complimented him. “I ‘m Eleanor. How do you do?”
“Amadeus Monk,” he heard himself reply, holding out his hand as they stood again.
He took a deep breath. This was unfamiliar territory. “I can see a refreshment tent over there, Eleanor. I hope I am not being too forward but would you do me the honour of allowing me to treat you to afternoon tea, by way of apology?” Amadeus barely recognised the charming man speaking the words.
“How kind. I’d love to,” Eleanor replied, hooking her hand into Amadeus’ arm.
Amadeus looked back over his shoulder towards Madame Herzegova’s tent. She was standing in the entrance, leaning on one of the posts. She had a sweet smile upon her lips as she puffed smoke from her pipe.
He looked back at her. “Cynical? Arrogant? Sarcastic? Pedantic? Derisive? I used to be like that but not any more. Thank you, Madame H.”
Now, you need to follow it up with a second story, telling us exactly what happened. Is she already married? Is he married? What is his goal. To ask her to breakfast the night before, or nudge her the next morning? All questions that are running through my mind as they make their way to the refreshment tent, where, I hope, they have something stronger than tea so he can really push some boundaries, possibly, including hers.
Some nice twists and red herrings in your story. I was compelled to go back and check whether Amadeus is described as dark. I couldn’t find a description, but it got me wondering if the “tall, dark stranger” was meant to be Eleanor, or the “new Amadeus” himself.
I also wonder how long whatever Madam Herzegova did – hypnosis? alien mind manipulation? – will last. Will Eleanor dump him some time (?) into their relationship because he kept correcting the Aberrant Apostrophes on restaurant signs and/ or menus every time they went on the date? In any case, Amadeus did get out of his comfort zone more than once, as per prompt.
This is such an enjoyable read, Ken. Amadeus’s (I got the apostrophe right, there, did I?) sarcasm clashes intriguingly with Hervegova’s mysticism. Two worlds meet there. Herzegova’s words are also (thankfully) impinged with some degree of humor; not that I’m an expert in the field, but such people, the fortune-telling lot, don’t often joke too much, do they?They sell seriousness for a hefty price, and have to keep up the act. For their clients’ good value for money…
But H. is quite an oddball fortunte-teller. As we get to know from this line, my favourite in the whole piece:
“Don’t worry, Amadeus. I don’t use the crystal ball. It’s just that most people expect it.”
The repeated divination that Amadeus is to meet someone tall and dark is quite haunting throughout the tale. Even he starts to take it seriously as the tale wears on. When it does indeed happen (and it doesn’t take long), that he meets Eleanor, the story does finish a little too swiftly and undramatically (at least to my tastes). Their meeting is pretty slapstick, which is okay, but I would have liked some more punch in the ending. Like Eleanor saying something to the tune of, “So you must be the tall, arrogant, sarcastic dude Mesmer Leopold in the other tent said I was going to bump into!” “Well, you did bump into me, didn’t you? And it did hurt a little…” That’s for a good-humoured ending. Then, if it was my story (I’m evil), I’d have her stick a small knife in his chest and say: “So you must be the tall, arrogant… Mesmer Leopold warned me about. And this is exactly what I do to those who mess with my apostrophes!”
Btw, this apostrophe guy thing must be based on that real person who goes around Bristol fixing apostrophes on shop windows and signs, right? Such a way to spend one’s late Saturday nights! Public service taken to a new level. Only in Britain. (In Germany, they don’t make (grammatical) mistakes – they make mistakes in other categories, in France messing up the language would constitute breaking the law and you’d get fined – so they are careful, in the rest of the world they don’t care about such little things. And most languages don’t use apostrophes anyway. Tildes and cedillas don’t make anyone hot under the collar.).
I accidentally deleted his story so then I had to repost it – so then I had to repost your comment under his new one so it would make sense….. happy morning to me lol
Thanks for those comments. When I read this to my lovely wife Janice we had quite a discussion about what kind of man is Amadeus? He had a jazz playing musician father and a mother who made pots ( hence the names Amadeus Monk and sister Clarice) The parents sound like they could be quite cool and old hippies but Amadeus becomes a stuffy old English teacher. Was he kicking against his upbringing? Not sure if he will want to get into Eleanor’s bedroom or pants and once there, will he know what to do? I want him to change his Leopard Spots ( hence the title) so I will have to decide which way to go.
Did you know that it’s time to vote?
It is! Because the time for submitting stories is up!
Click here to vote: https://fictionwritersgroup.com/pushingboundaries2021/
Good luck all!
What a great round of stories!!
The winner of the “Pushing Boundaries” prompt is “Cabin In The Woods” by Alyssa Daxson!
(Just a side note: she got 13 out of 16 votes for dialogue, Phil got 3 votes, literally those two absolutely nailed the dialogue, and it’s rare a pure dialogue story wins so handily!!)
2nd Place: Songs of the New Land by Victoria Chvatal
3rd Place: Heed the Sea by Phil Town
4th Place: Taking the First Step by Roy York
5th Place: Pantyliners by Ken Miles
6th Place: Leopard Spots by Ken Frape
Story with the Favorite Character: Gus from “Heed the Sea” by Phil Town
Story with the Favorite Dialogue: “Cabin In The Woods” by Alyssa Daxson
So, opera houses, eh? Hmm …
Mistake. She received 13 votes.
A total of 16 people voted!
I will correct my comment lol
Also well done Marien – fantastic prompt. Shame there weren’t more entries (incl. yours that was also missing). I thought there would be lots more stories, like last time; after all, putting characters outside their comfort zones is writers’ bread & butter, or perhaps oxygen … Perhaps people were too busy ‘adulting’ (to borrow Carrie’s turn of phrase) to come up with stories …
Hahaha I almost didn’t get a story in for that exact reason!
Well done to Phil for taking home the bronze and for his character Gus (my choice too). And congrats of course to Vicki too for the second place on the podium. What happened to Carrie’s story, btw?
Alas, it wasn’t a good day for the Kens. And where is even Cartisano? He promised us at least a full-stop each… So not even that?
Carrie, what happened to your story?
I also had Carrie’s story right up there. What happened to it? Mind you that would have put me in 7th. not 6th.
Write on, everyone,
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