Writing Prompt “Refugee”
The main protagonist has to be fleeing something or someone or some place – searching for safety.
Whether they find it is up to the author.
Word Count: 1,200
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The writing prompt for August 26, 2021, will be chosen by John Mansfield.
110 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Refugee””
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Just a thoughtless and bad joke.
I am earnestly sorry.
I dislike human suffering and I find it intimidating to write about such a serious subject, in all truth.
I got the reference and didn’t take offense.
On a different note we saw a Tom Petty tribute band not to long ago and you’d think you were watching a ghost!!!
That joke was so bad you DESERVE to have your head taken off. I think I’ve got her calmed down now so we’re both safe for a while. Cost me a box of Oreos too, but it was worth it.
I just wanted to reply to your query on the previous thread. ‘Any thoughts?’ But I can’t. I have a similar idea in mind. Which, I know will work. I can’t believe no one has thought of it before. It’s basically a way to deliver short stories. However, I’m not familiar with Calahan, or Spider Robinson, or ‘the dead of night.’
As far as ‘campfire anthologies’. If I understand your use of the phrase. (Which I’ve never heard before.) And I think I do.
Well, ‘The Illustrated Man is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best if there ever was one. ‘And The Martian Chronicles’? Wasn’t that just a vehicle for short stories too? I don’t know, thinking about things like that makes my brain feel rusty. Maybe you can think of other examples but I can’t think of any. (Not at the moment, anyway.)
I think the idea is terrific, if you can pull it off. A unifying story that accommodates every short story you throw into it. That’s why… I wish that I could tell you my idea, so you could appreciate its innate brilliance. But if I posted the idea, anyone could just (would just) use it themselves. And I can’t have that. I won’t. I thought of it and I’m using it.
I’ll have to look up this Callahan series and see what you’re talking about. I just hope the setup is not on a ****** with a ****** in a *******, and a **** ** ********** for a sidekick. That’s all I’m sayin’.
(Easy girl. E-e-e-a-s-y. Easy now. Calm down. That’s it. That’s better. Want a cookie? That’s a good writer. There you go. John was just being light-hearted. Making a joke. ‘Nother cookie? There you go. He was making a play on words. Corny but clever. You okay? Okay, great. I’m just gonna, just, let myself out of your little den, here, and, mosey on home now. Okay? What? Another cookie? Sure. Here, you can have the whole box, just don’t take my hand with it. Okay? There you go. Okaaaay. That went well.)
Seriously though, How’s your story coming?
Can you incorporate the 500 words from the last story into the new one?
I don’t believe I’ve ever been a refugee, although so many people left Miami in the 1980’s that it seemed like it. Felt like it. That was a long time ago. (…in a Galaxy (Fairlane 500) far, far away.) I moved my entire life, left my home town, forever, for a shittier job, making less money, with fewer economic opportunities. I uprooted myself. I got tired of being a foreigner in my own country. You had to be bi-lingual to get a job. They had ‘Spanish-speaking Only’ days at the Department of Motor Vehicles.’ (Which I didn’t know until I’d waited in line for two hours.) When I was growing up, my neighbors were French. From France. They wanted to assimilate, they were glad to be French, but they wanted to be Americans. America was a cool country.
The Cubans were different, they WERE refugees. Most had dreams of going back to Cuba after Castro. (Who knew he’d live well into his 70’s.) They had no desire to assimilate, but their kids did. A whole generation of bilingual Cuban-American kids were born, and they were really cool kids. They were not the problem. The real problem in Miami at that time was too many people too soon. A lot of Central and South Americans, too many of them, too many people, too soon. I moved 250 miles and it felt like I was back in my own country again. Where people speak English fluently, everywhere you go. That was thirty-years ago. Today, Miami is a progressive international multi-cultural cosmopolitan crossroads. And I still wouldn’t want to live there. I made the right decision, to get out when I could.
Having left Miami, things went so much better.
I once lived in a non-temperature controlled storage unit for two months. No air-conditioning, in May and June, in Florida. Me, my cat Sydney, and all my furniture. It had electricity, a bathroom and running water, no shower. No radio or TV at night since it was illegal to live in a storage unit. (In these here parts, anyway.) I believe I was 48 years old at the time. It’s a real testament to your success in life when you’re almost 50 years old and living in a storage unit with your cat.
I say this as a preface to inform you that my previous comments were designed to lighten the mood a little, not to devalue your opinions. It’s just that you framed your comments as if they were aimed specifically at John, for being thoughtless. And I think we both can agree that he’s not thoughtless, so obviously you were speaking in a general sense. It just didn’t sound that way.
But your comments are valid and rational. And on the subject of ‘Refugees’, I think some discussion of politics is unavoidable, (and I suppose I started it) even if somewhat unpleasant. I suspect most of us don’t care one way or another, as long as the comments are relevant to writing, but I don’t think anyone else here is interested in anyone else’s political views, unless they put them in a story, and if ever there was an opportunity to do so, this would be it.
The point here, is that I don’t want to discourage John from making more horrible puns. Let’s not lose sight of the goal here, Ilana.
Some of us are refugees from ourselves and yes it is a general comment.
I get a bit fierce at times. At present dealing with a situation that has made my blood boil over. A year 8 boy bashed up by a year 11 boy who came down from another campus to do it. No one was able to defend this kid and he has not been to school since it happened in early February. This kid finally came into my office last week with his mum and he is suffering PTSD because of the year 11 boy. I feel like saying this kid/monster who bashed the younger boy has hurt numerous other kids. Why are we allowing this boy to be onsite in a mainstream school???
So my mood has been rather grim at the moment, after seeing this rather slight boy sitting in my office trembling with fear as he is still traumatized after all these months. No matter who you are and what your background is, to do that to a younger child…words fail me.
The older boy is lucky I was not the principal of the school because I would have insisted on having charges laid for trespass and grievous bodily harm. They did not press charges. The year 11 boy is around 6ft 2in and heavy set but I would take him on any chance I get to ensure he never hurts another kid.
do we have to write about an actual refugee, for example fleeing a war, or can it be more like the description (i.e. about anyone fleeing from anything) (I wanted to take a more fictional, fantasy approach to the matter but I’m unsure if it’s permitted)
and, this is one I think I know the answer to but want to check just in case, must the protagonist be fleeing for the entirety of the narrative, or can we build up to what they’re actually running from
The way I interpreted it, it does not have the be a refugee in the traditional sense, but more of a person seeking refuge.
I am putting my hangman’s hood on by the way. I seek refuge from murderous intentions and oreo cookies that I do not eat but I keep getting images of these giant cracker like things glued together with toxic chemical sweetness creams that you USA ers tend to love along with Maccas which I also don’t touch, or Wendy’s or KFC now. What actually happened to go old fashioned home cooking…?
Speaking of home cooked meals. My grandmother is 93, when my dad passed away in March she became my dependent, she’s a lot to handle. We finally got her into a memory care facility on Saturday only about 15 minutes from my house. She was in an assisted living home a 45-minute drive away before that. Every Wednesday I go and get her and we would go to dinner. Because she is much closer, this last Wednesday I brought her home and I made smoked turkey breast with green beans and mashed potatoes and gravy. You would have thought I was feeding her lobster and steak. She said she just loved coming over for a home cooked meal much more than going to a restaurant.
I loved having her coming over for a home cooked meal because it only cost me about $8 instead of $45 🤣
I love cooking, I love doing the home cooked meal thing. Sometimes I wish I had kids, Although with my luck they would be the kind that only eat chicken nuggets!!
Test comment received 👍
OUT OF THE RAIN
I was quite good at my job, even if I say so myself. I derived a lot of satisfaction from organizing the different sections, deciding which items to put out, helping customers to find what they wanted, sometimes giving them advice on what suited them and didn’t.
Our store was on the High Street – three storeys of refurbished Art Deco. The style and the prices meant that our clientele was mainly middle to upper-middle-class. You’d think that would mean kind and polite customers; not always so. In fact, I often think that money can buy you an education but not manners; those are learned from family, and if your family is used to privilege then anything that frustrates that sense of entitlement can trigger attitudes of arrogance.
Being on the coast, our town received a lot of foreign tourists, and one of the ports of call on their itinerary, as it were, was our store – mainly for the architecture of the building because the prices were normally too high for them to actually buy anything. They were French predominantly – because France was just across the Channel – but also Spanish, Italians and Americans, on day-trips from London. We got hardly any Middle-Eastern people – our sister store in London got many more – which is why the woman who entered the shop that day caught my eye straight away.
Anyone familiar with British weather will know that in the summer, we can have all four seasons in a single day. That day started cold – I had to wear a coat to work … in August! – then it brightened mid-morning and at lunch-time I took my sandwich and sat on a bench in the park. But as I was returning, I noticed the black clouds rolling in from the sea, and by the time I reached the store, the first thick drops of rain were hitting the pavement. Within five minutes, the drops had become a deluge, the gutters in the street veritable rivers, the blustery wind driving the rain this way and that; there was no escaping it if you were out on the street.
The customers that were in the store stayed put, some standing near the door to marvel at the almost Biblical scale of the downpour, others using the time to browse. I was standing with a colleague, Mandy, commenting on the rain. The manager, Mr Edwards, came over to us.
“That’ll put paid to trade this afternoon,” he said; he was always thinking about profits, but I suppose that was a part of his job. “Anyway, make yourselves look busy.”
Mandy and I separated. I went to check the shirts to see if we needed to bring any out from the back. And that’s when I saw her.
It would have been difficult not to notice her. She entered from the street wearing a full, black, and absolutely rain-sodden burqa. She lingered for a few moments near the door, turning the heads of those watching the rain, and then made her way towards the clothes department. I could hear her shoes squelching as she walked. On the other side of the department, Mandy and Mr Edwards were whispering to each other.
They did nothing and I took their lead, fiddling with the shirts on the rack but keeping one eye on the newcomer. I subliminally agreed with my colleagues’ course of action. However strange this person appeared, she was ostensibly a customer, and our policy in the store was not to push the hard sell; we would only intervene when asked or if the customer seemed lost or unsure about something. So we let the woman roam between the sweaters, skirts and shoes, occasionally gently touching an item. I could not ignore what happened next, though.
The woman, who was quite large, was walking down an aisle containing stockings, socks and the like. At the end, she accidentally bumped into a man in his 50s, who was with someone that must have been his wife.
The woman in the burqa said something softly and the man responded, but loud enough for the whole store to hear.
“Why don’t you watch where you’re going, you … damn letterbox?!”
I shuddered; it was a controversial simile that our Prime Minister had used. If it had stopped at that, I might have stayed where I was, still fiddling with shirts. But the man wasn’t finished.
“In fact, why don’t you just go back where you came from?!”
To her credit, the man’s wife pulled on his sleeve and mumbled for him to stop, but he was in full stride.
“You come over here, scrounging off the State, taking up all the housing. People on the waiting list for years and your type get a place just like that. It’s scandalous, that’s what it is. And another thing…”
We would never hear what that other thing was because I’d had enough. I was already there and put myself between the man, now red in the face, and the woman.
“Can I help you, madam?” I said. I looked her in the eyes, as well as I could. It was difficult because they were veiled by the mesh of the burqa, but I did notice panic in them; that was unmistakable.
.انا اسف انا لا افهم
… she said. I could sense a wavering in her voice.
“I’m sorry I don’t understand,” I said. Behind me, the man’s wife had pulled him away and he retreated, muttering some vileness or other.
.انا اسف انا لا افهم
It sounded like the woman was repeating herself. I tried some rudimentary gestures.
“How can I … help … you?” I said, pointing at myself and her.
She gripped my arm. I’ll never forget that grip; it spoke of the desperation of a woman lost in an alien world.
.أنا جائع جدا
She pointed at where her mouth would be and rubbed her tummy; an international sign.
I placed a hand on her shoulder, smiled and as gently as possible said:
“Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
I hurried to our changing room at the back of the store to get my purse. Mandy intercepted me.
“What does she want?” she said. I didn’t like her tone of voice and ignored her.
I only had ten pounds but I grabbed that and returned to the aisle where I’d left the woman. She wasn’t there.
Mr Edwards was talking with the angry man. I went over to him.
“I know, sir. It’s not the first time,” I heard him say.
“Did you see that woman?” I asked him, not caring that I was interrupting.
“She left,” he said nonchalantly.
I rushed to the doors and out; the rain had stopped and the sun was breaking through the clouds. I looked up and down the street but there was no sign of her.
I returned to my station and managed to get through the rest of the day without crying, but I made up for it when I got home.
The poor woman: she was soaked, abused, afraid, confused … and – she must have imagined – abandoned.
By the one person she’d asked for help.
I loved the fact you could hear her shoes squish when she walked.
And this sentence: “She gripped my arm. I’ll never forget that grip; it spoke of the desperation of a woman lost in an alien world.” I felt the pressure from the grip on my arm as I read it. I love it when writing does that to me.
I really liked the way your feminine side came out, without telling the reader if the narrator is man or woman, you made yourself vulnerable and sensitive. Well done. A lot of men who write may not ever try to give a feminine twist to their writing. Not Hemingway enough. Men write about how they affect women, not how women affect their manly sense of sensibility.
You made me think about those times in my life when I was faced with similar circumstances as to what my actions would take. I’d like to think I would take the high road as did your narrator, but wouldn’t we all like to think after the fact how we would do in a given situation when we have time to think about it. And when push actually came to shove, we didn’t.
Well written and thoughtful story. Having said all that, I think it is idiotic for women to be treated that way by their religion and their male dominant religious society. Women should not be subjected to second place; nor placed on pedestals. But, that is my opinion and others have different views. One day, perhaps, if the human race ever evolves to a higher state, we (as humans) will recognize that concept and we can coexist as equals.
All in all, your story made me stop and think. That makes it a winner right there, regardless of how the voting goes.
“You made me think about those times in my life when I was faced with similar circumstances as to what my actions would take.”
I had occasion to react to a similar situation and failed. I was on the Metro in Lisbon, at the time of the Euro 2004 football (‘soccer’) championship. There were some England fans (who have a bad reputation) making monkey noises in the face of a young local black guy, sitting and minding his own business. I could and should have stepped in … but didn’t. I often think of that moment with regret.
The writing is marvelous, fabulous, silky even, that has to be said. Very clever using that weird text to represent a foreign language. (I had Google translate it and it just said, ‘Mind the gap.’ Very funny, Phil. Well, I guess we both know that I think it’s funny.)
Yes, it was raining in your story, heavily, but the Muslim woman in your story was already wearing an umbrella, and it’s likely that she has merely gotten separated from her Sheik’s ‘handlers’ anyway. Had she really needed help, she should have waited a few more seconds before disappearing. Why was she hungry?
Your cozy store clerk, who wanted so badly to help a stranger, seemed more traumatized by the Muslim woman’s plight than the woman herself. If only she’d used the universal symbol for ‘stay.’ (Stamp your foot and point at the ground.) She didn’t do that. That’s why the woman left.
Or maybe she left because she was an accomplished shoplifter and had already stolen twenty-two skirts, three belts, and two small purses, which she stashed under her roomy ‘baccalaureate’, the proceeds of which she will split with her partners in crime, the man and wife, over a plate of Pate de foi gras at the old Tarrington Inn & Flagoon down the street. It’s a nice little racket they’ve got going, but the wife is too friendly and talkative. One of these days, when she gets to chatting up ‘the flock’ at Birdies Café, a frequent watering hole for off-duty constables, she’ll be singing to a more sophisticated audience who will sit up and take notice.
Am I reading more into this story than is really there? Well, that’s what I thought was going on. Correct me if I’m wrong. (If you want. If you think it’s worth it?)
The town is a port town, near France. The woman is a refugee. We don’t know if she’s wearing a burqa on the orders of a husband, or if she believes the burqa is appropriate. The story shows that bigotry can attack in the most apparently innocuous contexts (here a department store), and she feels alienated and vulnerable because of the language barrier (she may just have arrived in the country). The “weird text” is Arabic (you could find out the meaning by putting it in Google Translate, if you’d like to).
The point (your comment further down) is the alienation and vulnerability of refugees, their exposure to bigotry, and the possibility that some people will be welcoming (though here, through bad luck, the act doesn’t bear fruit). And how, years later, the failure to help may still haunt a good heart (see my comment to Roy).
I am having trouble with this one… because I think of extreme political views when I think of the kinds of things that people seek refuge from, you know?
You almost can’t react to the horrors you see without having an extreme view, or is that another drastic and ignorant generalization?
I am too charged for writing now and I need to cool off. Kind of like when you are trying to be nice… but you keep sliding these caddy little remarks in that are toxic. (Sorry if that is me sometimes, I try to keep a consistent, irritating cheerfulness up at all times.)
Or an internal struggle that you are losing with an impish little fiend inside of you saying awful things.
A combination of self-censoring and pent up emotional turmoil is what I have, not writer’s block.
Maybe I should play it safe and just write a story about insects that are displaced by a teenager mowing the lawn, or aliens seeking sanctuary on a moon after their planet is destroyed, or blah blah blah not into it, not feeling it, can’t write it right now, put a pin in it.
Not that those are bad ideas.
The most powerful stuff in my arsenal is not stable, but it is what I am drawn to, because the emotions are there.
And if my bad joke got that reaction, who knows what will happen when I am trying to be deep and serious, even controversial?
I don’t want to have to explain every nuance, but if I don’t, people won’t be able to make levelheaded decisions about what my actual intent and personal views were in a piece of literature that I created.
Or worse, they understand perfectly, but hate it because it assaults their personal belief system, making me the bad guy who is upending their world view with my filthy ideas.
I’m going to stop sloshing the water around in this peaceful goldfish bowl and just make positive comments for the rest of this prompt, unless a rage fills me and I post my motherless story.
I have been really stressed because I am still keeping everyone locked up at home because I am still trying to get my youngest vaccinated and I am still double masking and I am still sleeping really poorly for some STRANGE reason. I’m not making any fans at work with the double masking, mysteriously, oh wait, I live in Georgia, where I WISH there was a lockdown.
(Where do I have to go any how? The barbershop? Nope, still balding!)
Getting both shots didn’t change a thing for me, just reduced the stress SLIGHTLY.
Not that I am trying to compare myself to a refugee, because I am a lucky and spoiled suburbanite in America, just that I am trying to justify why I seem to be such a Negative Nancy all the time, when I should be happy.
Be careful what you wish for when you ask me to speak with my own words! See what I made you make me do?
I have no idea what a Cuban in a rubber raft feels as they paddle for the Florida shores.
I have no idea what an Afghani woman feels like as her country is torn apart and she knows she’s now worth less than a sack of rice (although you could ask my boyfriend – he was there and prevented a lot of disgusting things from happening).
I have no idea what a Christian in 303 AD felt as they were persecuted mercilessly.
It doesn’t really matter because this is a fiction site, you can write whatever you want to without judgement from most (and I say most because we have some very left leaning and very right leaning folks that write here). But even if you get some flack,
it’s all part of the growing process, you can take the feedback and do wat you will with it.
I personally am writing a story about a woman seeking refuge from a very wrong house as she tries to escape from her attacker.
Probably because some could call me “a lucky and spoiled suburbanite in America” although that would be as far from the truth as it would get.
You write whatever the hell you want and don’t worry about getting attacked in the comments.
Don’t be silly, John. Post your sto…. Wait a minute. Didn’t you WIN the last time you posted a story? What’re you tryin’ to pull here, Mr. Rumplybumpkin? Trying to soften us up? Lower our expectations? Effusing gorbits of flivver, are we?
Does your rage have a plot? That’s the important thing.
As for politics:
This site is infested with conservatives. (Except maybe Ilana and Roy. But you didn’t hear that from me.)
In my opinion, writing stories is like reporting, (Yes it’s true, current journalism is the worst kind of writing, but hear me out.) Reporting is true story-telling, fiction is un-true story-telling. This is relevant because good reporting is unbiased. If a writer/reporter can put aside his bias to write objectively, that’s good, but it’s better if the writer has no bias to begin with.
I could be wrong, but in my experience, my best stories were written about things that I had no feelings about. At no point, anywhere in the story did I feel I had to make a personal point. (That would be like chiseling a statue of Moses holding one tablet with five commandments.) I’ve written a lot of religious, political, moral/amoral subject matter, that fell outside my zone of informed opinion. In fact, some of my best stories required research into some aspect of the story or plot to hold it together.
Or maybe that’s all I had on those topics, just a rudimentary knowledge with little opinion, and no hard beliefs. Once we start writing about things we believe, it can become more manifesto than story. I wrote an apocalyptic story about Trump a few years ago that I thought was pretty good but tanked in the voting. So, don’t expect to win any hearts and minds with this crew.
Having said all that, I believe some of the best stories are character driven. And that it’s best to develop beliefs and emotions relevant to the characters in whatever situation they find themselves.
The other obvious reason for a character’s flaws, traits or actions, are as simple plot devices. I don’t mind if one of my protagonists has flaws. If a character kicks a dog, or punches a wall, it’s just a device, a plot device that facilitates some other aspect of the story.
My advice to you John, is let the story sit for 48 hours, then read it. If you still think it’s good, post it. I’d love to read it.
And thanks for all the good advice guys, I needed that.
Don’t be afraid of me. My bite is not as bad as my bark. It is worse. But there are worse things in the world than a rabid writer. There is coronavirus and the next pandemic. There is the Taliban and a senile president who ignores the humanitarian disaster of 20 plus years of war and oppression in Afghanistan. There are little girls shot for wanting an education and boys forced into war to carry rifles and kill each other and to learn all the brutalities of life. My head and heart ache so much I cannot watch the news and see the hope wiped from the faces of these families and children and to view the abandonment of people desperately clinging to planes already overloaded with people trying to escape a group of religious madmen who have guns, power and the potential to destroy all hope of a civilized society in a country long torn by warfare not only from external forces but from their own warlords and internal conflict.
I cry for the those who would want democracy and freedom to govern responsibly and not confined by the strictures of an ancient and extreme interpretation of Islam that requires force and the killing of those who would disagree with their version of Islam. I cry for the young men tossed head first off a building for the crime of loving someone who may be their own sex. I cry for the children who are going to be brain washed into a creed that will set them at war with the Western democracies and I see the seeds of a massive exodus that will change the western world into one of submissive compliance with the extremist Islamists.
I rejoice that I will not live to see this come to fruition and thank God that I lived in a time of rare beauty of thought and deed, and freedom of thinking and tolerance. But I cry for my son’s generation and my grandchildren who i probably will never know. We live on the edge of a very hard time for the world. The 21 st Century will leave the 20th Century for dead in its level of brutality I believe. There is much we do not understand and much is better left unsaid and unspoken. There is a fury in the air and it is building into a tornado that will leave all in its path broken and traumatized. God help us all.
Personally, I hope you get a story in. We need more good stories.
“Those who can afford to sneer have led pretty privileged lives.”
You are so so very wrong. Sometimes those who can afford to sneer are the ones who’ve lived the shit and clawed their way out of seemingly never endingly hopeless situations while others sat back and waited for someone to come and save them.
You and are are of very similar minds in many ways so I’m surprised you’d make such a crass generalization. Everyone’s past and situations are different.
Yes, I lead a privileged life — now. I had to give away my dog so he wouldn’t starve. I was arrested for stealing coal from a rail yard to be warm in the northern winter. I was four.
I strived for what I have in the only country where effort is justly rewarded.
There’s only one country where effort is justly rewarded? What country is that? Pray tell.
Why is everyone so defensive lately? Or maybe i am just getting even better at offending others?
The truth is that I upset you with my comment because of all the stuff that you said above, but also because this is your prompt and it sounded like I was questioning the prompt itself and it also sounded like I was calling you a hypocrite, which I wasn’t. It is because I wanted to incorporate the word “petty” into my pun in a way that sounded like it wasn’t a pun, and it worked, but the only way that sentence would work in any way that wasn’t a bad joke was for me to be acting like an ignorant bastard, which is why you made that conclusion. It actually makes a lot of sense.
Everything that spiraled from there was just because I have been feeling awful, you have been feeling awful, and everyone else was just reacting to the crazy emotional rants from me and your righteous indignation.
This would all be easier if you just listened to more Tom Petty.
Sorry again – and may peace and luck be with you!
The year was 2000, and Josef Starling was playing a game of soccer with his friends. He lived in Havana in Cuba when the Castro regime ruled it.
“Josef come home” called his mom. “Coming” replied Josef. Josef hurried into his house and entered the dining room for dinner. Josef sniffed the air and his nose was immediately filled with a yummy aroma. It was Ropa Vieja, his favorite. Ropa Vieja was also the national dish of Cuba.
Josef’s family ate in peace. There was no dinner conversation today. After dinner, Josef went upstairs and tried to fall asleep.
After a few minutes of rustling the sheets of the bed, he went downstairs to get a cup of milk. Josef then heard some voices which he recognized as his mom and dad and another man. “Are the immigration papers ready?” asked my mother hopefully. “Yes Maria, you and your family have been lucky and the US Government has granted you all refugee status. Tomorrow you will depart for Miami” the man said. “Very well, we shall pack,” my father said.
Josef then swiftly tip-toed upstairs and got back in bed. He then started to mull over what he had heard. Josef didn’t know very much but he knew one thing: his life was never going to be the same again.
The next morning Josef walked down and then he saw his parents packing. His parents then told him about going to Miami and Josef acted surprised. He ate breakfast and then went up and began packing his things for Miami. His mom said Miami was hot so Josef packed his summer clothes and prepared for going to the beach a lot more in the future.
Then it was noon and Josef and his family boarded the USS Mariner to Miami.
They then docked the port and Josef saw the beautiful port. Miami was nothing like Havana. Havana was a poor and polluted place while Miami was a gorgeous sight. Josef and his family were then escorted to the Refugee building. And then a nice man named John Gonge showed them to their new house.
At about 5, Gonge left and it was just Josef and his family, “so you like your new house”, asked his mom. “It’s fine I guess,” he replied. Days passed and Josef began to love his house. He loved the calm beaches and the clean city. Then the day came.
The Head of the American Refugee program Diana Waltz came into the house. “You are under arrest in the name of the law,” she said. “On what charges,” asked Josef’s dad calmly. “Suspicion of espionage, Nick, you and your family will be held in custody until June 13 which is the day of your court hearing ” answered Waltz. Josef’s mother Maria leaned over to Josef and whispered one-word RUN.
Josef did the only sensible thing that occurred to him at that moment. He ran faster than he had ever run in his life. He did not look back or even ever stop running. Until he saw it, the Miami port shone in the hot Florida sun. He then had an idea he would creep around the refugee center until he learned the real nature of the situation.
Josef then entered the port and saw Waltz and another man he had seen around the refugee center. “The Cuban spies’ identities have been revealed; their names are Maria and Nicholas and they are both being held in our custody. Unfortunately, their child got away,” said Waltz. “Good Job, you have served your country well Diana, keep up the work and there may be a raise in the future.” said the man.
His parents weren’t spying Josef had to prove their innocence.
He then began creeping around the dock for anything out of place. After what felt like hours of searching, Josef found it. Under the table that Waltz and the other man had sat was a Memo from the director of the CIA. Josef read it. “Our intelligence has found a major breach in security. A Cuban Spy (Codename Dynamo) will infiltrate America under the pretense of a Refugee. He will meet a man whose code name is LongHarbor. He is a mole and has breached our Security. It is essential that you keep LongHarbor and Dynamo from the meeting.”
After a few minutes, Josef committed the memo to memory then searched for a place to sleep. Josef then passed out from exhaustion near a lamppost.
Josef woke up the next morning feeling refreshed from a goodnight’s sleep. He sprang up and began thinking about the previous night’s memo. He had to find who LongHarbor was? But how? He was just a refugee from Cuba whose parents were wrongfully imprisoned. He went to the Refugee Center to do some detective work.
He saw Waltz and the other man again. Josef was beginning to think Waltz was agent LongHarbor. Josef then ran to follow Waltz and something fell out of his pocket. It was a timetable for when the boats would arrive. He looked at the time-table for the next boat and there was only one Refugee from Cuba – Robert Lokol. Josef concluded that Lokol was the real Cuban spy Agent Dynamo. Josef got an idea when Lokol arrived he would tail him to LongHarbor.
And that’s exactly what he did.
He had been tailing Robert Lokol with an old camera he had found at the ‘Lost and Found’ at the port. He was hoping to film the meeting for proof. Then Lokol turned on an old alley and Josef hid at a corner.. The man who he knew as LongHarbor came into view. It was John Gonge.
Josef then called the police as silently as he could. Then he filmed the entire event.
The police entered the alley in a few minutes towards the end of the meeting. And then arrested Gonge and Lokol.
Josef was treated as a hero. And got several bravery awards for his actions. As a result, his parents were released and they lived a happy life in Miami. Josef then decided one thing: his journey to America was hard but in the end, justice prevailed. Also Josef liked Miami way better than his life in Castro-era Havana.
As you know, and perhaps that’s why you submitted this story, iwe tend to critique. I call them as I see them. Your English is excellent, and I can live with the idioms that are different, in fact, I like them. Some things are just so different, I can’t help but notice. For example: his nose was filled with a yummy aroma. Aroma’s can’t be yummy, can they? I mean, you can’t eat them. But, without our sense of smell we would have no taste. So, I really like this description of an aroma.
Your story, however, is so predictable and so – I don’t quite know how to describe what I’m searching for – fortunate, I guess. Every time your young hero needed something to happen in his favor, it did. I feel you are a very young writer, and a very new writer. That’s just the vibe I get. This is almost an “And then I woke up, story.”
Then, there’s this. Josef then ran to follow Waltz and something fell out of his pocket. Whose pocket did the something fall out of? That sentence doesn’t tell us. You have to do better than that.
Your ending, I’m afraid, at least for me, was too narrated, and all tell, without a lick of show. I could point out numerous other little things. Such as your next to last paragraph: The police entered the alley in a few minutes towards the end of the meeting. And then arrested Gonge and Lokol. It would be better if written: The police entered the alley a few minutes before the end of the meeting and arrested Gonge and Lokol. One sentence, not two.
One more – very important point -. In quoted remarks, the ending punctuation, such as a period (full stop) or comma, is after the last word in the sentence and then the quote marks. Not as you have in many places throughout your story. These little things are important and show the reader you were thoughtful about your story and care about us while we take the time to read it. Editing is so very important.
All in all, I found the story in need of less narrative, more show and far less tell, and besides predictable, I had to force myself to not jump ahead. There wasn’t enough tension. I think you could clean this up and have a good story, but it needs some action and drama. And only you, as the author, can provide that.
Here’s one of your worst paragraphs, and I’ll show you why.
The next morning Josef walked down and then he saw his parents packing. His parents then told him about going to Miami and Josef acted surprised. He ate breakfast and then went up and began packing his things for Miami. His mom said Miami was hot so Josef packed his summer clothes and prepared for going to the beach a lot more in the future.
Sixty-five words. You could trim it down to this:
The next morning, Josef was surprised to see his parents packing. “We’re going to Miami,” his mother said. “It’ll be hot.” He could see himself playing on that fabled beach as he packed his summer clothes.
You would write it differently, of course.
The point is that you don’t want to use duplicate words. There will be exceptions, of course, but ideally you don’t want to use the same word twice in any given paragraph. You use the name ‘Josef’ three times, ‘Miami’ three times, parents’ twice, and ‘packing’ or ‘packed’ three times. This is the kind of stuff I do and you don’t want to write like me if you can help it.
PARK & READ
by Ken Miles
We’re all refugees. Sometimes.
A need descends upon us to immerse ourselves in another world that’s not ours. Sometimes to just simply survive.
Some must cross the globe to escape torture, others lock themselves in a toilet closet to get away from the party.
Some do it by rusty boat across treacherous waters. The lucky ones reach El Dorado, the rest end up fish-food. Where I come from, in the Mediterranean, some folks no longer consume fish. “Only God knows how many Africans they’ve feasted on!” they explain. Now whether that’s racist, I don’t know. Most things are, these days. Anyway, the fish are having it both ways.
Some cling to planes taking off, looking for a doorway in the sky. Others walk a thousand miles, hoping the right President with the right wall-politics is in place.
Those escaping persecution are called refugees. Others escaping nothing but poverty, crossing the great divide that separates those dying from starvation from those dying of obesity, are dubbed irregular immigrants. Not “illegal immigrants” anymore, for no-one who has once inhabited a woman’s womb could be deemed illegal. It can’t be illegal – a crime – to just exist, to stand on the dirt of a country other than the one you were dropped on.
I’m also a refugee. Of a different kind. Not merely because I live in a country which is not my own. That is of little consequence, in my case. Here too it’s a land where the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. I’d wished, before I came, that maybe the sun here sometimes rose in the north. Just for the fun of it. Just to be different. But it’s not so.
Here, morning is followed by afternoon, which in turn is followed by evening, which is then – you guessed it – followed by night. And then it’s all over again. Each. And. Every. Single. Fucking. Day. How dull’s that? What a bore! But it doesn’t have to be like that. That’s why I leave often, and become a refugee.
A long time ago I did venture out to other worlds, with my old buddies Ray and Isaac, and out there, yes, the sun did rise from other sides too, at times. Or there was no sun at all. The nights didn’t necessarily follow the days. If a planet spun so slowly that a “day” would take longer than your whole lifetime, you won’t even think in terms of days anymore.
But at the end of the day (so to speak!), it gets boring out there too. There’s just dust and cosmic gases. Earth is more engrossing, all in all. So I took refuge in China. Call me crazy, but yes I did that.
I set off, mostly on foot, across the wide misty expanses of that country, with my friend Gao Xingjian. He’s a writer and got in some hot waters back in Beijing. So he decided to flee to the countryside.
The thrill that the Communists might possibly catch up with us anytime, gave our journey that extra backdrop of excitement. The rest was rather disappointing. The Taoist and Buddhist temples fell short of giving us more than what we already had. Love too, when it came, was a trap. Nature looked after us, but never adopted us. The journey ended, destination unreached. But I learned that it’s the journey that counts, not the destination. Life, not death.
Gao ended up in Paris, eventually. He wrote down the tale of our journey, and went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature with it. Yes! Wow! Oo-la-la! No fuckin’ less. The goddam Nobel Prize for Literature, man! Maybe that was in and of itself a destination for him, but I don’t think so. He’s not the type to sit on his laurels.
Neither did I stop there. On my next escape, I met up with my friend Armpit, in Austin, Texas where he lived. His real name’s Theodore, but we called him Armpit, way back at the juvenile facility at Camp Green, where strange things had happened too, things I’m not gonna delve into here. He was doing fine after his release, but he’s got a knack for getting into trouble. And his black skin didn’t help either. It’s just like that in America.
The nutter set his eyes on Kaira DeLeon, that hot chick who took the nation by storm with “Damsel in Distress”. When she sang “save me, I’m but a damsel in distress”, he thought she was saying “save me Armpit, I’m a damsel in distress.” He ventured as far as telling her that! And risked his very life in the process. I was there all along, saw it happening. She somehow ended up getting the hots for him. The very Kaira DeLeon! Good one, Armpit!
You never know where life might take you, when you’re willing to go along with it, ever-ready to turn the pages; seeking refuge, not perhaps willing to find it. I’m right now hanging around with this British woman of Ukrainian descent, one Marina Lewycka. Her family is a mess, a tragicomedy. And I don’t even know what’s my business with it. She has a totally dysfunctional relationship with her older sister, Vera. I can’t stand the sis either, she’s just a stuck up ignorant bitch, who’d draw a deep breath on her cigarette and then blow the smoke out in your face.
Their widowed dad of 84, just recently brought in a gold-digger from Kiev, in her late thirties, and married her! She’s got the boobs, but little else. Ah, and a great desire to become a UK citizen too. Anyway I don’t want to go into that. But the whole thing is as hilarious as it is tragic. Maybe I’m hanging around for that mainly – the funny bits.
The old man’s still producing his life’s oeuvre, he’s writing a book on the history of tractors. The definitive history of tractors. Meh! I made a huge mistake when I faked interest. And since I can’t appreciate his scribbles in Ukrainian, a language I have no clue of, he took it upon himself to proudly translate to me what he’s written so far. So there he goes on and on in hopelessly accented English on a topic I absolutely don’t give a hoot about. It’s soon time to leave again, I suppose. I’ve now got to the last chapter.
Anyone who’s a reader, is a refugee. By definition.
And it’s always with a heavy heart that one puts to rest each of these wonderful journeys called books, to move on to the next strange land between two covers. The quicker you turn the pages, the quicker it ends, alas.
Sometimes you think you’ve come out of it unscathed, like that time when I ended up with that bunch of wild boys stranded on that island dancing around a fly-infested pig-head, after the shipwreck. I for one was lucky to survive. But I was not unchanged. I now know that I too am capable of worshipping a pig-head.
You can escape from any place. But you can’t get away from yourself and from what’s become part of you.
I read this as soon as you posted it and, like Phil’s story, decided to wait for a few days and then make my comments. But for a different reason. I. Simply. Didn’t. Fucking. Understand. It.
Glad I waited, because this time I realized how good it was. A fictional essay by Ken Miles. At first I thought you were just making a comment, then realized you gave it a title.
I enjoyed it but feel as a story it doesn’t deliver because there’s no real beginning, middle and end. Just very good writing explaining why everyone should read. As an essay, however, if I was an English teacher, I would make it mandatory reading, with a pop quiz afterwards. Just saying. Good job, Ken.
Sorry, can’t help this one but, 1200 words again, huh?
This is a kind, gentle (a bit melancholy) soliloquy, Ken. An homage to books as a place of refuge. I never realized it before, but in a sense, that’s exactly what they are.
On the subject of old, or ‘original’ sci-fi: I recall that a lot of the content, though it used the stars as a backdrop, was about people, their behavior and their relationships. I don’t know, when I give it some thought, Serling and Bradbury proved that good sci-fi could be about anything. Anything at all.
I’ve never been a fan of soda, or Coca-Cola, but I once spent several hours in a coke machine museum. It was absolutely fascinating. The evolution of the bottle dispenser. Really! My point is, on the subject of tractors, you’re treading on thin ice. (With me.) Tractors are fascinating, but I see your point. When the presentation is given in Ukrainian, it loses something.
I don’t know where you’re from Ken, what planet or country, but I live on a planet threatened by an extremely contagious and deadly viral disease. The whole planet! A year ago, there was no cure, none. Not even an effective treatment. Within one year, science developed not one vaccine, but three. IN LESS THAN A YEAR. This is an unprecedented scientific and medical achievement on the order of splitting the fucking atom. It was a group effort. No single individual can claim credit. And yet, eight months later, only half the people in MY country have taken it. Not because they can’t get it, we have plenty of it. They don’t waaaaaaant it. Which is why…. You all wonder why I’m so grumpy all the time? This is why. I’ve long suspected that half the people I meet are morons, but I never had firm proof, but now, thanks to the pandemic, the proof is irrefutable. 93 million Americans do not want to take a vaccine that will save their lives.
In fact, if you offer them the choice of choosing between a bottle of snake oil, sneakily labeled ‘Oil of Snake’ or a vial of clear fluid that is clearly marked ‘Miracle Cure’ (U.S. Grade A Certified), and Cheap! (courtesy of science), four out of ten Americans will blithely reach for the snake oil. And you know why? Because they think you, or CBS, or Bill Gates, or nameless groups of human researchers, are trying to TRICK them. For what reason? (You ask?) That’s what they want to know. Now that you mention it, (and only after you mention it), they’re actually verrrry curious about you, me, CBS, and Bill Gates’ motives. Why would all these allegedly unrelated people want to save the planet? They want to know. So it’s up to you, and CBS and Bill Gates, and Elon Musk, to explain to them why they’re not trying to trick them. And it doesn’t matter anyway, because they simply won’t be tricked. They’re way too smart to be tricked by you, me, CBS, Mr. Gates or ANY billionaire, let alone a bunch of unsung laboratory grunts in lab coats. What a fiasco that would be, eh? So, how about you? You don’t live on the same planet do you? Oh that’s right, you do. You told me that once already. Didn’t mean to lecture you then.
(I’m going to take possession of Ken’s brain and body for a minute, and send you this reassuring message, Ken Miles.)
‘You know, every now and then, me and God get together and talk, and we disagree on a lot of things, Ken3Miles. As you can imagine, considering our relative reputations. But the one thing we both agree on every time? Is that religion sucks. Not sure who invented it, or when, we just know that it wasn’t either one of us. Interesting, eh? I’ll see ya around. (You know who.)
Whoa. Who the fuck was that? Is that someone you know?
That was weird. I tend to agree with his position on religion, though. Whoever it was.
by RM York
The utility truck screeched to a stop amid the men screaming “stop”, and firing their guns in the air.
Zalmay couldn’t see him but, heard his father’s calm voice. “We are stopped. I have papers from the Imam in Kandahar that provides us safe passage. Here,” Imad said, as he extended his left arm out of the pickup holding a sheaf of papers that the Taliban soldier snatched from his hand.
The soldier started looking through the papers. In the middle of the stack were four 500 Afghani banknotes, the blue color startlingly bright against the sandy colored paper. The soldier quickly removed the notes and handed the rest of the papers to Imad. He stepped back. “You may pass,” he said. Imad smiled, nodded and started the truck through the now open gate. He saw it come down in the rear-view mirror as he sped away, the dust rising.
“We are in Pakistan, now,” Imad said.
His wife Aba leaned over and whispered, “How much did you give him?”
“Only two thousand. It’s our last checkpoint. Our next stop will be at my brother’s home. Zaman will be glad to see we have plenty of Afghani banknotes left.”
“As soon as you think it’s safe, pull over. I want to remove the tarp from over the children. They must be miserable.”
“I think we should wait a few more miles. The Taliban still move freely in Pakistan. I want to wait until we are closer to Quetta and my brother’s home. It won’t be long.
“Fifteen minutes, Imad, no more.” Imad knew he would have an angry wife if he didn’t do as she asked. While most Afghan men controlled their wives generally through fear and violence. Imad did not believe in hitting a woman. Although, his father often beat Imad’s mother; it was not something Imad was comfortable with.
Five year old Zalmay was restless as he crouched in the back of the bounding pickup along with his four brothers and sisters. His oldest brother, Jaah, was lying next to him with his forefinger perpendicular to his lips signaling silence.
The tarp covering them smelled of gasoline and goat dung. Zalmay didn’t know which was worse. Turning, he looked into the large green eyes of his sister, Aaila, who looked as if she were about to burst into tears. He smiled at her and she smiled through her tears.
It seemed like an eternity, but the truck slowed to a stop and suddenly the tarp was pulled from the back of the pickup. Bright sunlight hit Zalmay as he blinked back tears from the sudden contrast. The air, though dusty, felt clean and fresh.
“You may sit up now, we are only a few minutes from Kaka Zaman’s home where we will be safe.”
“How long are we staying at our uncle’s. I want to go back home,” cried Aaila.
“Hush, Aaila, we will be home soon enough.
“We may never go home again, if we are going to wait for help,” said Jaah. “The Russians tried and failed, and the Americans weren’t any different,”
Imad grabbed Jaah by the scruff of his neck and pulled him face to face. “The Americans were here to help us.”
“The Americans have only delayed our deaths,” said a defiant Jaah.
The children resettled in the truck and they began their journey anew. Zalmay wished the tarp was back over them; the dust from the road began to settle everywhere. He could taste it in the back of his throat. “The first thing I’m going to do is get a drink of fresh water,” he said.
Zaman met them outside his courtyard and waved them in. As they piled out of the vehicle, Imad grabbed his brother and hugged him. “Speak Dali,” he whispered, “so the children do not understand us.”
“What about Aba?”
“She does not speak Dali, either. It’s best she doesn’t hear.”
Aba, was leaning over Farrah, her oldest daughter, helping her with her headscarf. She made no indication she had heard the two men talking. She had never bothered to tell her husband she spoke fluent Dari. She knew that knowledge would come in handy one day. She finished with the scarf and said, “Join your sister and brothers and see what Aka Miri is doing.
“How long can we stay brother? We do not mean to be a burden. I have thousands in Afghani notes to help.”
“You are my family, Imad. My oldest brother who looked after me when I ran around with a runny nose. You may stay as long as you need. Now, let’s unload this truck. Miri is preparing a feast for your arrival.”
“First, promise me you will take care of my wife and children. The Taliban want me for helping the Americans.”
“If something happens, I will look after them as if they are my own.”
Aba froze for a moment. ‘As if they are my own?’ she thought. ‘Them? Surely he means the children, not me. Ah well, not to worry. Nothing will happen to Imad.’
* * * * *
“Aba,” said Zaman, “come with me. We must talk.”
Aba put down the book she was reading and looked up in surprise. “You look serious, Zaman. Can it be that serious?”
“I’m afraid it is.” He put a protective arm around her shoulder which she quickly removed.
“I am Aba, not Miri.”
“That is true, but that is about to change. I have just received word that Imad has been killed by the Taliban.”
“You are sure?”
Zaman nodded. Aba doubled over in grief and started to wail inconsolably. Miri came running around the corner and ran to her side. “Aba, what is it.” Aba couldn’t talk.
“Imad has been killed,” said Zaman in Dari, not wanting Aba to understand what he was about to say. “There is nothing we can do for him. You know what this means. According to Sharia Law, Aba is now my responsibility and will become my second wife. I promised my brother I would look after his family if, God Willing, he was martyred.”
Aba looked up at Zaman, shaking her head. “You will never be my husband.”
Zaman was surprised Aba understood him and smiled coldly, “We’ll see,” he said.
“Mama, come quick. The soldiers are taking Jaah away,” screamed Farah, coming to a stop as she rounded the corner of the house and saw her mother crying. “You must come quick. Hurry.”
The four of them ran toward the front of the house. Several Taliban soldiers were loading Jaah into a truck. They turned, their weapons at the ready. “He is a soldier now. We will be back for your other two sons soon enough. Allah has given us back the Islamic Emirate.” They jumped in the truck and drove away, raising their guns in the air shouting, “Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!”
Aba looked heavenward. “Allah, why have you allowed this to happen?” She turned toward Zalman and Miri and said softly, “First Imad, and now my oldest son.”
“Aba, Jaah is not dead,” said Miri.
“He may as well be. It is as Jaah said; the Americans have only delayed our deaths.”
Another one of your custom-rolled, engine-turned presentations. Great dialogue, engaging characters and a plot that’s complex and remarkably ‘on point.’
I didn’t really feel like I needed to read it a second time, but I’m glad I did, as there’s a lot of nuance in this story.
Imad may have links to the west.
The Taliban can be bribed.
Jaah, his son, is ripe for Taliban conscription as he is disappointed in the efforts of both Russia and the U.S. (Although a ‘death delayed’ gives one time to make other arrangements. IMHO)
The younger brother, who takes the family in, appears to adhere to the same strict ‘laws’ that the Taliban do. In fact, his strict interpretation of his obligations to his deceased brother leaves me wondering if he isn’t, in fact, a Taliban sympathizer.
And the young wife is a woman who, though she has three children by her husband, has managed to keep him ignorant of her knowledge of another language.
That makes her wily and aligns with her independent, self-possessed character.
I’m with you so far.
I think that her concern over what kind of relationship she’ll have with her brother-in-law, would not occur until a little after the news of her husband’s death. I think there should be some interim and I feel like this could be a longer story.
But one place where I think you goofed, is in describing Imad’s relationship with his wife. Your description is more about Imad than Aba. He is ‘not a man who would hit his wife.’
In fact, he wouldn’t DREAM of hitting her because he loves her and she wouldn’t TOLERATE it. They had a more equal relationship than many strictly orthodox Muslims and that’s where the tension derives.
The brother’s obligation to ‘marry’ his sister-in-law is in sharp contrast to her liberal and independent instincts. I thought that this was the issue upon which the story turned and should be brought forward sooner, or more story should follow. (I like the second option better, there’s more story to write here.)
I didn’t find the story particularly moving, however, I found the widow’s character (Aba) especially appealing. I want to know what happens to her. (The rest of them? I only care if she cares.) I think you have something here, but I’m not sure you know what it is. It’s a good story, not because you were fumbling around looking for my emotional buttons, but because you’ve created a character that I give a shit about.
These are interesting times. I’m watching the turmoil and hatred in my own country, much, if not all of it, caused by religious fervor. I also wonder why America was in Afghanistan in the first place. We have never belonged there, shouldn’t be there, and, in my humble opinion, are between a rock and a hard place now. I watch the finger pointing from both sides.
I witnessed the same finger pointing and statements we are hearing today at the end of Viet Nam. Now look at Viet Nam, no dominoes fell, we didn’t belong there either. When, oh when, will we ever learn?
It’s not that I’m a pacifist. I just believe if you go to war, win it. Fight to win. don’t tie the hands of the Generals and the fighting men and women who are risking their lives. Give them what they need and then WIN the damn thing.
The only thing we accomplished in Afghanistan was to give them hope and then, now, we take it all away. We should never have been there, ever.
By Ken Cartisano
You don’t speak their language, so you don’t really know what’s going on, but you see other people accepting small tickets from an automated dispenser. You grab one and take a seat. The ticket has symbols that mean nothing to you. The minutes turn into hours. Eventually you realize your number is being called when a bureaucrat with an electronic pad barks out some foreign gibberish, and several heads in the room turn toward you.
It’s hard to explain how you managed to get into this place, with or without a translator, and you’re not sure if that’s the question you’re being asked by the agent, or officer, sitting behind the desk in front of you.
Noting your verbal difficulty, he fiddles with a box on his desk, while he gazes at you with a blend of interest and annoyance. Finally, the box beeps and is somehow instrumental in translating his speech into questions you can understand. “You seek asylum?” He asks.
“Yes,” you reply. “Yessir.”
“What is your name?” He asks.
“Jesus,” you say, “Jesus Morales.”
“Hay-soos,” the agent says, “Morale-ayez.” He smiles. You smile back, then he says, “How did you get in here?”
“I…” You hesitate. Was it divine providence? You didn’t even plan it, you were just loitering by the entrance when one of them strolled by wearing similar overalls, so you adjusted your gait, fell in behind him and pretended to be his assistant, once inside you blended in with a motley gang of disgruntled workers with administrative issues, milling around in the massive lobby. You took advantage of a kind of herd blindness typical in bureaucracies of scale. “I pretended I was one of you,” you finally say.
He smiles. “Is this a solo application?”
“Si. I mean yes,” you say.
“Are you sure?” He says. “All requests for asylum are high priority. Frivolous claims result in immediate and permanent rejection.”
You just need to get out of this place in one piece and you’re not sure whether you should respond or not, when he says, “That’s my job, Mr. Morale-ayez, to…”
“Morale-ay,” you interject, to be helpful.
“…to determine whether your claim has any validity.”
Your laughter erupts spontaneously and ends just as abruptly. “Validity? How…?” Your voice is teetering on the edge of hysteria. “Have you looked outside recently?”
There are no windows. The agent blinks in surprise.
“Half the continent is in flames, what isn’t burnt is water-logged, the food is laced with plastic, there isn’t a job to be had for love or money, the subsistence checks are a joke, crime is, the criminals are in every… the crime, the heat, the lack of water, the drugs…” Your last few complaints are muffled as you lower your head and cover your face with your hands. This calamitous state of affairs is not universal, but without some kind of intervention, you don’t have the resources to escape your plight by any means you can think of.
The agent clears his throat and steeples his long, boney fingers together. “Were you aware, Mr. Morale-ay, that this is a one-way trip? There is no return, no exceptions.”
That sounds too good to be true. You nod your acceptance. Only now do you relax enough to observe some of your surroundings: The padded chairs, polished floors and unobtrusive lighting. You’re basking in the powerful air conditioning when the agent pulls some papers from his desk and signs them, one by one.
“How did you find out about us?” He asks, as he taps the sheets of paper on the desk to make them all even. It’s a surprisingly universal act.
His tone is all innocence and idle curiosity, but you’re not fooled. This is what he really wants to know. “Believe me, it wasn’t easy,” you say.
He cocks an eyebrow toward the dwindling members of humanity milling around in the lobby, “I’m not so sure about that.”
“Them?” You laugh bitterly. “They’re clueless, most of them. They have no idea who you are. Or…”
The agent leans forward and rests his large head on those extra-long fingers. “Or?”
You slump in your chair, all hope is gone. You see that now. They have no intention of granting you asylum, he’s merely trying to pry information out of you… and you have lost the will to resist.
“I was sharing a lean-to with a ‘friend’ in the alley across the street,” you tell him. “Just a tarp stretched out between three dumpsters. Once I settled in and got the lay of the land, I noticed the police are really thin around here.”
“You saw that as anomalous?” The agent says.
“I did. It made me curious, and it gave me a chance to watch this building for extended periods.”
“And what was the result of these extended observations?” The agent whispers.
“Well, I’d say you’re doing an excellent job of hiding in plain sight,” you say.
The agent adjusts the nameplate on his desk, a name you cannot pronounce, and reclines back in his chair. “And yet, you noticed—something.”
“Well,” you lean forward, “I made it my business to watch this place once for 66 hours straight. Never slept. Drank coffee. Kept a tally as the hours went by…”
The agent smiles patiently.
“A hundred and ninety-four people entered the building, and only seven came out—in three days.”
“That’s not quite three days…”
“It’s close enough.”
“They could’ve left through the back door…” the agent began.
“Which opens into the same alley across the street,” you say. You had a clear view of that alley as well. “People come in, but they don’t come back out.”
“How do you know…” the agent said, “that we’re not eating them?”
That thought, had not occurred to you. “Are you?” You hear yourself ask.
The agent makes a weird clucking noise and says, “No. We’re vegetarians, and it’s a big part of your planet’s problems. Eating other sentient creatures is a mild form of cannibalism. We really have our work cut out for us here.”
“So, you’re here to help us then?”
“If we can.” The agent says, in dour tones. “We haven’t been here long, things are not…”
“You don’t sound very optimistic.”
“I’m not. It won’t be easy,” he rolls his bug-like eyes, “but we have a lot of resources. Why, are you having second thoughts?”
“Not really,” you say. Perhaps you’re just a born pessimist.
“Good,” the agent says, “not many people know about us yet, and we’d like to keep it that way. Your diligence is commendable, but I’m afraid your relocation is no longer optional.” He stands up, hands you the sheaf of documents he has signed, and ushers you to a door with strange numbers above it. “Step through the door Mr. Moralay, you will be assisted on the other side.”
You accept the papers and step forward as if in a trance, the agent’s voice fades as you step through the portal but you are encouraged by his parting words. “Good luck, follow instructions, and remember, whatever you do, don’t try to eat any of the locals.”
What were the coordinates for that alley again?
Not me, although I can do vegetarian for a while, in fact a long while, I really like meat and from what my doctor tells me, I truly need the iron and red meat is the absolute best source for it. Liver, actually, which I happen to love. So, I’m staying out of back alleys for awhile, just in case.
As I have mentioned before, I was and still am I suppose, a great lover of Sci Fi and BEMs (BuG Eyed Monsters) and you cannot imagine how much pleasure I got reading the line – “I’m not. It won’t be easy,” he rolls his bug-like eyes, “but we have a lot of resources. – and realized you had a Bug Eyed Monster (well, we don’t know yet, do we, whether or not he’s a Monster?) in your story. I had been cruising along enjoying this story just like I enjoyed these kinds of stories when I was 11 and that, my friend, was 68 years ago.
I walked out into my garage where I have hundreds – yes, hundreds – of old pulp sci fi magazines and opened one of the boxes and just looked at a couple of then for nostalgia’s sake. Ahh yes. Thank you for that Ken. Think I’ll grab a few, let them acclimate to the air outside the slightly dank box they live in and reread some of those old chestnuts by authors now long gone.
Now to the rest of your story. Well done. Good, believable dialogue and an interesting, if well worn plot, i.e., altruistic aliens working in secrecy, and providing those among us that would prefer a different world the opportunity to go there. I would have liked some sort of snappy ending, something that would have left us wondering as Jesus steps into the new world and is surprised by, well, I don’t know what. That’s up to you. There, you have it. I would have liked a snappier ending, and that’s about it. The rest of the story is pretty well done.
I would say really well done, but I need a snappier ending. If you would like to send me one, or post one, just the ending, you understand, that would be great. It won’t change my mind about my vote, because I’ve pretty much decided how that’s going to go, but it would be nice.
Looking forward to how you treat the pink martini. That should be a prompt for you to get a Ken C., grip on.
I enjoyed it better the second time because you successfully misled me into thinking that he was crossing into America the first time and I had this weird fear that you were going to try to…well I can’t say that here but let me just say that you pleasantly surprised me with where the plot went and you put my fears to rest.
Was that a little bit of To Serve Man that I detected? Creepy.
And we are bestial blights that feast on lots of things that are cute and intelligent – I would miss fish and chicken… but then I would get over it!
This is TOTALLY a take on ‘To Serve Man.’ Accidental, but the resemblance is obvious. It’s a bit of a remake, with a twist. That’s the problem with remakes, (in the movies) like King Kong, or War of the Worlds, now matter how much they improve the special effects, they never change the story so you always know how it’s going to end.
The scary thing about my story is that the things that the character is fleeing are not some dark apocalyptic vision of the future. They’re our present. What happened to the glass skyscrapers, and monorails of the 1965 World’s Fair? We need some unobtainium.
Here is a warm fuzzy video clip to lighten your day up…
This is becoming more like a diary that I burn pages from and I am finding it harder and harder to even submit a comment…
I think that I am struggling with the very reason that I want to write – it is not about my ego or my need to create but more of an outlet for mental pain, which is something that I resent needing and something that I don’t want to dump on others.
And audiences are sort of an integral part of this, but I find that my stage fright is actually layered with practical reasons for being scared and not really as much of a setback as an important tool for censoring oneself (by not going up on stage).
That is what someone powerful once told me when they were ignoring my complaints in the first place, but the takeaway is that no one cares, without a preexisting impetus or enticing bait, and you have to “man up” (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean). And I have learned when to NOT share… through trial and error, just like everyone else.
And I almost deleted this multiple times, but then why am I typing it? As an explanation for my silence? As an excuse for sitting on the sidelines again? As a way of talking myself through my own problems? Or am I pep talking myself into writing something better?
All of the above.
But certainly not as a cry for help, though maybe just to hear another call back, like a lonely coyote.
Sometimes I have to write stuff just to prime the pump, as it were, and what the pump pulls up? It sho’ ain’t prime.
Thanks for that.
You appear to be balancing yourself on the top of a pin on tiptoe without shoes. I don’t know what to tell you because I’m one who has had only momentary fragments of self doubt as to most everything I’ve ever tried that would cause such feelings. Stage fright? Not at all. I can get on the stage and act, sing, whatever, without a single doubt as to my lack of or my ability. I’ve done it many times. I’ve tried my hand at motivational speaking and have spoken to crowds numbering in the thousands without batting an eye.
Am I any good at any of the things I’ve mentioned? Let’s just say I don’t do it for a living, but I think I’m as good if not better than half the people who do do it for a living, so I don’t let the naysayers bother me.
Yeah, like you, I’ve learned when to share and not share, but that hasn’t stopped me from throwing caution to the wind and saying, “This time it will be better. You just watch.” Sometimes it is, and when it isn’t, I simply say, “We’ll I’ve just a learned something.” Guess what? That same bit of learning disappears like the fragments of this morning’s waking dream, and I find myself doing it again.
I once gave a speech to a group of high school students regarding ‘Change’. It was pretty pithy and revolved around convincing them that the only person … seriously … the only person who can change is the person who changes themselves, Who are willing to say “Now is the time and the only person who can change this is ME.”
Afterwards, one of the group leaders introduced me to a tearful young lady who had decided to make a change. It seems she was going to make a change in her life. Suicide.I was startled until they explained that she had decided NOT to commit suicide, but rather to go home and change herself, and not blame the people around her for not changing, but to change how SHE perceived them.
I kept in touch with the young lady over a period of time and am happy to report her life had, indeed, turned around and she was happily engaged to be married after completing college. I’d like to take credit for this, but I can’t. I’m sure she just needed a push in the right direction and didn’t really want to commit suicide, I just prevented her attempt to call for help.
she found she didn’t need it any longer.
What I’m saying here is, write whatever the hell you want. Great writers make people think. Write angry if it helps. Write sad if to helps, but for God’s Sake, man, just write. The only person who can put change into your life is you. Make the change today. Now is the time.
by John Filby.
I have been somewhat disjointed or disconnected, all my adult life and half of my childhood. Moments come and I am drawn to reminisce through many a wasted hour. I cry, I mope, I hope, and wonder at what could have been. I was a child and I was being sheltered. The war was in full swing, not that as a child I was understanding the gravity. I saw poverty and sadness, but did not know any difference.
England, home since 1941. I was six when I arrived as a war refugee alongside many others, we were safe, but did not understand why we had been moved from our lives over there to here. Everything was so foreign, especially the language, and the culture.
Life went on, I am a British citizen, educated and employed. I have my own family now. But one disturbing scene keeps reverberating in my mind and preventing me from sleep most nights.
I have had a happy life, grateful, but I cannot move on from my life as a six-year-old, and what I saw during the horrid wartimes, worst still what I imagine may have happened to those left behind.
I never forget, always etched into my brain each time my eyelids close, I can see her. Remembering that last time we were together, making the happy times less memorable as being overshadowed by the day she left me.
Her absent smile was never to be seen, there was nothing to be happy about, back then, I guess. Her large, round, brown eyes were shedding continual tears, she was not wanting them to be seen by me. Her nose so flushed pink from her prolonged crying.
A curved face framed by long, dark, slightly greying, lank hair, always swept back in a loose, messy style. The lengthy ponytail held by a ragged scarf she would fling loosely over her head and shoulders. She, asserting that it was keeping the night or day chill away, but undoubtedly knowing she was veiling her sadness.
I have since forgotten the sound of her voice, now echoing in my ear the reverberation of her quavering goodbye. I recollect her scent, one of faint diffuse petals, of talcum powder or blemish cover. This sensory memory of helping me to fall asleep when troubled by restless nightmares.
Many decades since I felt the contour of distressed wrinkles of time stirring in her an appearance more advanced than her thirty-two years. Wishing I could paint her portrait from this image held deeply inside, but no hues I could imagine or create would suffice or do her the justice.
I cannot rouse the tremulous utterance last spoken, but I discern the twisted curl of her lips as she mutters words of hope and happiness through her melancholy, as her face betrays the sentiment.
Her incessant weeping wets and softens the talc into meandering rivulets, dripping the moistened sediment down to, and off her chin, whilst in unison sniffling through her thrumming nostrils endeavouring to stem the flow of copious salted teardrops.
Her arched brows gesturing the same as her whispers were saying. I have forgotten the exact exchange as they were spoken with much stuttering and hesitation, a hushed tone but hastily. Guessing that they would be of a mother’s comfort and sincere apology.
All I can summon are the descriptors of her, rounded, tear-stained eyes, crooked ski-sloped nose, and jagged crooked mouth. Lips firmly pursed, hiding wizened teeth, as this being an unhappy moment of our lives as mother and child. Her vivacious smile only in her happiness, when, with a widened grimace a giggle would follow in mirth. I try to imagine her embracing me, keeping me safe and warm, as a mother would do.
I have one photograph, pressed neatly, hidden but always with me, often needing to contemplate it, as the memory has dwindled gradually. The playing-card sized photograph of black and white exposure, almost sepia, or is that just my imagination after pawing it for so long. I don’t recall many of the vivid memories it once may have given me. The corners almost dog-eared from dragging out of each time, but remain intact. Creases of the paper join those of my mother’s face contained in ragged framing.
A few days before she left, feigning excitement at winning the contest. A wonderful and escape for a few weeks, to the seaside she volunteered, I had never seen the ocean, I was to stay with her sister, my aunt Ester, and her husband, uncle Dawid. I was without cousins, and spoiled whenever they visited.
Once hearing of her win, my mother didn’t want to spend a single minute without me, staying together as a family until the day of the train’s departure.She had packed her small, battered suitcase with everything she owned, two dresses, under garments, a scarf and a winter coat. Almost threadbare, but needing to continually stitch any holes, money was limited. She always looked her best.
This photograph, I was to keep near my heart, and she would be with me always. We had never been apart. My father working in another city, work was scarce, gone almost two years.Getting letters occasionally but they had stopped in recent months.
The day the train was leaving there was a buzz of activity. There were soldiers helping the travellers into the carriage which had my mother aboard, I cried as the overcrowded carriages departed. She waved from the small carriage window along with others who were sharing a holiday with her. They too crying, as much as mother. The soldiers were speaking words in raised tones I could not understand at all.
Watching my mother wave, trying to speak through her sobbing, I, clutching my aunt’s hand in the tightest grip. I frowned through my tears, as the engine roared, beginning the shuttling of the carriages fading into my distance. Staring at the vacant tracks and wondering why my mother had to go on such a marvellous vacation without me.
Later that week my aunt took me to the station, late one night as secret surprise. I was to go on a school camp to a faraway place called England, by both train and boat journey. I shared the holiday with other children from my village school. I was sad but maybe a little happy that I was going to enjoy a country farm stay.
Arriving a few long days of travel and taken to a kindly town, a farm that belonged to Aunty Flo and Uncle Bob, as we were invited to call them. We were to learn how to look after the animals, and go to school and learn English. Aunty Flo and Uncle Bob had four children older than me who worked the farm with them. I was to stay here with them all and four children from my village.
A telegram came to Aunty Flo after a month, relaying the happy message, that my aunt and uncle had joined my mother, at a same ocean holiday place. Lucky, they both would see mother again.
Almost a decade later, going to senior school, and working the same land to become a farmer, I understood, that those family vacations were to a place called Auschwitz.
I would delete everything else in that paragraph after that first sentence. Except maybe the last sentence. Everything else in the story is perfect.
I’m not familiar with your work, and don’t know if you’ve been on this site before, but will tell you this. I’m glad you are on it now and I look forward to seeing more of your work. I must disagree, however with my colleague, Ken C., as to your story being perfect.
I enjoyed your story very much, but have a few observations. First, I was aware about halfway through that the last line in this story would reveal the mother was going to be shipped to Auschwitz or some similar Nazi Death Camp. I felt the way you used the mother to try to hide the fact from the protagonist where she was going was not a good place, also conveyed that to the reader and, since we’re not six, saw through your subterfuge immediately. I think you were trying to mislead us as well, but your misdirection was evident.
Secondly, I felt you used some very strong descriptions of the mother’s face, too strong in some cases. It’s like after you described it the first time, you decided to have another go or two at it, as if we weren’t getting it, and then left them all in, pleased with your work. I feel it was too much.
Here they are together: Her absent smile was never to be seen, there was nothing to be happy about, back then, I guess. Her large, round, brown eyes were shedding continual tears, she was not wanting them to be seen by me. Her nose so flushed pink from her prolonged crying.
and: I cannot rouse the tremulous utterance last spoken, but I discern the twisted curl of her lips as she mutters words of hope and happiness through her melancholy, as her face betrays the sentiment. Her incessant weeping wets and softens the talc into meandering rivulets, dripping the moistened sediment down to, and off her chin, whilst in unison sniffling through her thrumming nostrils endeavouring to stem the flow of copious salted teardrops.
and: All I can summon are the descriptors of her, rounded, tear-stained eyes, crooked ski-sloped nose, and jagged crooked mouth.
Take out that entire last sentence in the second paragraph and you’ve conveyed the idea nicely.
Let me reiterate regarding your writing. I like it, and I like your story. But, the story was so melancholy in describing your characters feelings however, it was dragging on me; especially when your character made no mention of never seeing the mother again, and for it to take 10 years for the character to realize that something dreadful had to have happened to the mother. You describe early how she was missed, but it isn’t evident in the last two paragraphs to me. Sort of – Oh well, never saw Mum again. Wonder what happened. Having too much fun at the seaside, I guess.
I think the last sentence could have extended the sense of abandonment and then, instead of a learning a decade later, something along the lines of:
It began to dawn on me that my mother had not gone on a vacation at all. That I was never going to see her again. Something dreadful must have happened to her and they kept it secret from me. It was in school I learned of the Nazis, their hatred of Jews, and the Holocaust. I finally understood where my mother really went that day … Auschwitz
This is a terrific story that could use a little restraint, although you do show the long lasting effects of what mankind is capable. How people can doubt the existence of the Holocaust is beyond me. But as I watch people around the world deny the existence of a full blown pandemic, it is easier to understand how they can deny the Holocaust.
Good luck, and as I said, I’d like to see more of your writing.
When I said ‘perfect’, I may have been exaggerating. A little. I’ll be happy to scale back my opinion to merely ‘terrific.’
Seriously though, I don’t disagree with your observations. The writing is a bit over the top. We all know he got away with it because he was talking about his mother. However, I knew early on that this was a Holocaust story, but the angle and point of view was new to me. And good stories don’t always have a reveal. (What was yours again, or Phil’s? I forgot.)
In fact, I suggested removing that paragraph because my brain evaporated in the middle of it, as I was reading it. So I put my finger on it and said, this one has to go. Perhaps it inoculated me for the paragraph you cited. Which slid past my sensors without even raising a blip. How I could have missed, ‘…incessant weeping wets and softens the talc into meandering rivulets…’ I’ll never know. (Or admit, going forward.) (It was late, all right?)
You’re right. It was a good story and carried the weight of the holocaust with it, along with his mother, aunt and uncle being victims. I gave it high marks in the voting, too. Although it came in after yours. I was serious when I said Ii’d like to see more from John. He has chops, I think and would be a welcome addition to this already good crop of writers.
Yes I am new this group. I have enjoyed being a silent participant for months but thought I would submit something this time.
I guess I was trying to portray the innocence of a child with limited memory of what had been and has constant reminders e.g. dreams, photograph. I also may have not stated enough how lucky he was to be removed and placed in a happy place and people who loved him.
I also hinted that his father had been working away for years, then letters stopped. He was taken away to a camp, but as a four year old he would not remember that.
The over describing of the photograph was intentional but maybe too much. He only had that now, even his memories have faded. The dreams / nightmares would be of what ifs or what happened.
Thank you all for the positive and helpful critique and will take on board all of them. I am slowing getting my courage to share my words with others, I know that this is very important as we learn from each other and also teach each other the craft. Much appreciated, John.
Over descriptive passages are referred to as ‘blue prose’, and the reason I am painfully aware of it when I see it is I was (and sometimes still am) guilty of it.
It’s difficult to spot in your own writing because it’s a thin line that you cross and difficult to see. And, too many times, as authors, we sit back after writing something and are so in love with it and so proud of what we wrote, we don’t see that we’ve crossed that line and it’s too much.
Less is more and learning when to stop will help you greatly in your writing.
In the meantime, welcome aboard, I was serious when I wrote I’m looking forward to seeing more of your work.
Fleeting Thought Tides
(1200 without the title)
I am sitting alone. I can feel the hatred coming off them in waves. They loathe me. I feel it in every essence of my body. I want to flee, to find some safe haven where people are genuinely nice. Where people are kind. The strange thing is that they are nice to each other. Yet, it is as if I do not exist for them. I am nothing. I am transparent – a non-existent person. I am here but I am not.
It’s somewhat like being in an ocean boiling. It is trying to drown you. To kill you because they see you as something of a threat. You are dangerous to them.
It starts with a word and ends in a deafening silence.
They smile to your face. The daggers are hidden beneath their tongues. Or held behind their backs. You know they hate you and yours. It is in the cautious appraisal of you and your work. It is in the soft rebukes, hidden in the smooth oil of lies they tell about you once you are gone.
They will not bring those lies out to be displayed as trinkets on a colourful blanket at some sale. They know no one will buy what appears to be fakes. Not the genuine article. And overpriced. They are the soul stealers and the life eaters.
I want a haven. A place where I can be me and no other. A place where I do not have to hide in isolation and pretend to be someone I am not, to be safe.
Walking the paddocks after work, I pick up the trail of a wombat and follow its spoor for some time. All the time thinking where to now. Can I stay or must I leave yet again? I see the day’s ending burnish the sky in colours deep and rich. The laughter of the kookaburras rings out over the gently sloping hills down to the creek. And somewhere, a magpie answers them. Then there are the corellas whose squawking cries rise over it all. I want to weep. We do not want to move again. Home is a hard place to find these days. Especially hard now I am older and more tired. I walk like a madwoman searching for something that is intangible in the tangles of the bush, escaping the hatred and the contemptuous looks and meditate down to slow my breathing and bring peace back into my life. Just peace. Like a diamond hard to find and fashion into something lasting like eternity. Rings have that essential circle of forever. I wonder about wedding rings – are they to encircle two people? To bind them together forever – even when apart.
I remember a pair of gold bands we bought before our wedding in December and my ring that I somehow lost in January a year later while pregnant with our son. Perhaps it was an omen of things to come. Before I could get an identical band made my now ex-husband told me our marriage was over and that he was going out with a younger woman who could give him a family because “you are old and you will probably miscarry.” I went on to have our son and he went on to break up with said younger girlfriend and another and finally went back to Nigeria to find a wife half his age to bring her to Australia. I often wonder if he stole the ring from where I thought I had placed it on a dish next to the sink and recycled it. That thought makes me laugh a little joylessly I do admit, but at least I can laugh. I bet his present wife has little to laugh about when he does not come home at nights. Maybe he has given up wandering and is a home husband. Somehow I doubt it.
The face I see in the mirror is lined with experiences not all pleasant. The lines have cut through deeper than the skin it creases. I do not see its flesh that has drooped away from the eyes and the creases running from the nose to drag down the mouth. What I see is the longing for peace and the quiet restfulness of nature. The flight from concrete jungles and masses of people overwhelming and hostile survivors of a harshness that is hard to fathom even after all this time.
Who are you? I ask the face in the mirror. You have no family. You are nothing. No one owns you anymore. You are an orphan. A nothing person. Maybe you should die. And yes, sometimes, many times now, the longing for ultimate peace overtakes me with nostalgia. Where once there was family and love and hope, there is now a bitter knowledge that all my biological relatives have abandoned me on the command of blood relatives who despise me with a passion that I cannot return.
I want to see myself as others see me but cannot even visualize me with any real clarity. I want to peel back the layers of emotions, bad habits and dangerous thoughts and get to the essential person deep inside. Am I a nice person? Sometimes yes. Other times, my cynical self is self-destructive and angry and yes, in the past, in my youth – I did things to myself that were ultimately self-destructive. I hurt me or got others to hurt me because I felt I deserved to hurt and even to die. I cut my wrists at seventeen and a half years of age. I did not want to leave my parents’ house. I wanted to stay in the safety and comfort of home. Amid the bush of outback Queensland with my horses and in the peace of the country. My mother laughed at the blood dripping from my scoured wrists and said she was not fooled. I was a failure at suicide and told me that to do a good job, “You need to cut deeper and along the veins. You’re not seriously considering suicide. You just want attention. Stupid girl. And you think you are smart. You are not clever. You are a troublemaker.” I pleaded for a year off. She told me that it was the public service or my teaching scholarship. I was going to Brisbane whether I liked it or not.
I hated Brisbane with a passion. Got taken to Adelaide and then Melbourne. Fleeing my Queensland country roots, I spent years being lost in some urban web of deceit and trapped until I developed strength in a country of immigrants who also wandered for centuries until they came home spiritually.
I am a refugee from the beginning until today. A wanderer that knows no home except that of the nomad. The wanderer who connects to the earth and the sky; to the seasons and the cycle of days that temper the character of a wanderer. The wanderer is in spiritual ecstasy. She sees those hands have wrought the earth and skies to an incredible beauty; but the beings made in his image have set forth to destroy it through foolishness.
We are all refugees of some sort.
A memoir, perhaps? No, not perhaps, but Yes, a memoir. I’ve been reading your work for seven or eight years now and know a lot of this story already. This just really puts it together. You describe personal refugee status very, very well. Your obstinance and self destructive behavior obviously contributed to your abandonment by your family by your own admission, but, perhaps by then the damage was too far gone to be reversed.
Your writing is always a pleasure to read, even when it is difficult and personal. Because it is always so well written. No need to apologize at all. I hope it helped you feel better getting it all down on paper and printing it for the entire world to see. Takes guts.
All due respect “my self destructive behaviour led to family abandonment?” Please unless you are in contact with my monsterous sister in law and brother (so called) in Minniapolis and have been fed a lot of lies and made up stories.
I work hard to make a living and don’t drink or smoke or indulge in any substance abuse etc so I am not sure what you mean by self destructive behaviours. Yes I got married three times and after the last one gave up on any sort of intimacy and set about raising my sob to be a decent human being.
Yes I smoked pot for 2 years and gave up when I turned 21. That was let’s see 46 years ago. I have a lot of respect for you Roy as a writer and a person but obviously you don’t seem feel the same about me if you can make a statement like that. Maybe you think I am some drinking’ drug takin’ easy ole worn out ho’ from the back blocks a sort of hill billy whore? I can assure you nothing is further from the truth whatever my
brother Stephen and his sick wife Brenda would have people believe.
I work hard. I ensure a decent life for my son and try to get the best for him.
As far as I am concerned I have no relatives and nor do I want such hideous toxic people as they are around me or my son.
I can only go by what you tell us and have only your take on why everyone else in your world was so toxic toward you without thinking perhaps there was something you did, even innocuous, that caused them to behave toward you the way they did. They may be exactly as you describe them. I’ve met people like that.
Trust me Ileana, I think a lot of you, and respect you AND your struggle. You should know that by now. Please don’t misconstrue an innocent statement made by me and take it to mean more than intended.
Maybe I am over sensitive because I have worked so hard for acceptance by my mother and how she and later my brother and his wife Brenda poisoned people against me and despite my hard work, everything I tried to build in my life, they felt necessary to rip me now. I was four years old when I was bashed by a person who my parents left me and my brother Christopher in her care. A hideous American woman called Elisabeth who belted a four year old girl with a broom stick and then lied to my parents about me. I was five and a half when my mother rejected me outright and openly and it was my grandmother who saved me from her.
Do I hate my mother? NO but I vowed never to be like her. I have made my life’s work in helping others and being compassionate. If you called being obstinate not following the career that she wanted for me and wanting to be a writer and an artist – a creative person – then I am proudly obstinate. If you call being raped twice and told I somehow deserved that fate because I was too “proud and up myself and needed pulling down a peg and to know my place” well then I am a fighter and a survivor and not the pathetic woman that my brother’s wife in Minneapolis would want me to be to make herself feel better about her pitiful abusive self. I saved one woman years ago in 1985 from taking her own life a woman called Lesley Flowers who called me while I was in hospital and I spoke to her for three hours with a drip in my arm talking her out of suicide because that hideous woman wormed her way into my brother’s life so he left Lesley and the house they had bought together to become entangled with a narcissistic parasite for the rest of his life. My parents refused to go to their wedding in the USA which they arranged before my late brother’s wedding in an effort to drive a wedge between his fiancée and my parents. I know my evil little brother only too well. .
There are many things about my family and the toxicity of my mother that I really disliked and their manipulations that led to me cutting ties with them after I had spent money on a house that I spent hard earned money doing up and putting a/c and new flooring in so that my mother would not end up homeless in her eighties or in aged care which she did not want but was forced into by “darling Stephen and sweet little Brenda”. When I said it was ready for her she told me she would not move in because “you might throw me out on the street. They have warned me.” She then told me, “you can live in it. You and your son.” There is no way I would go back to live in a town where I was raped twice, lied to and about and defamed and people believed a bunch of filthy lying thieving alcoholics and I was made fun of and bullied and treated like trash. No way. I have far more self respect and that goes for the piece of crap that masquerades as my younger brother with his lies and his sanctimonious airs pretending to be this paragon of virtue but cheats on his wife and family and blows with the wind when it is to his advantage. I know my family only too well. If I was self destructive I would not be alive today. I worked hard, studied hard and yes, I am a bloody bitch at times but it has kept me alive and I am no one’s fool.
My Sydney relatives cannot look me in the eye or even talk to me because they know what they have done and they are afraid. Liars always are. They shy from truth. They try and pretend that I take drugs or abuse alcohol and all sorts of stuff because they are trying to excuse their vile behaviour. My father knew and so did my grandmother. My late brother knew, but had his issues with prescription pain killers and alcohol as well as serious medical problems. Brenda and Stephen betrayed him and then killed him with grief. I am glad I never trusted them because after what they did to Lesley I knew they were the most self-centered ignorant couple and I often wondered why Brenda wanted me to come to the USA. I never did. I had a feeling they would have put me on the streets in order to be rid of me. I was perfectly happy doing my study and writing in Australia. Given what happened at my father’s funeral and how they cut me out of my mother’s life and her memorial – I knew they did not have any altruistic motives but were purely self interested and thinking of ways to hurt me and then get rid of me.
My family are not nice people at all. They are garbage bags filled with shit dressed up as X Mas stockings.
I have had a gutful because no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough nor have I been and nor will I ever be. So now I get on with my life and deal with the often deep sadness of not having a loving mother and sibling family as I have done for the past forty odd years and make sure I don’t ever treat others in the nasty way they have treated me.
Yes I have ranted but lockdowns get me down. And also working in prisons I saw what unconditional love is and probably envied some of the prisoners their families who stuck by them despite some of their crimes. I have been treated like some monstrous criminal but I will be darned if I will turn into one for them to say I told you so.
I sincerely hope that by laying all this out on paper it has helped, but I think the scars may be too deep. And, as you have pointed out, you’re only interested in today and your current situation.
We’re all hoping this lockdown and pandemic ends sooner than later. It’s got the.entire world on edge. Stay safe and keep writing. You are good at it.
Maybe you should try CBD to lighten the mood and drown the past with the present?
My dear sweet mum is on the stuff now for her spinal pain, doctor’s orders.
No. Not the Central Business District.
Think of it as medicine for pain, because that is what it is. Or maybe it is not legal there yet? In that case, disregard me!
And I am serious this time, not messing with you.
If I was messing with you, I would say:
Or something equally bad and uncalled for!
Good morning, story submission for this prompt is now closed, please stay tuned for the voting link!
Here is the link for voting – good luck!!
I’m still waiting for two votes.
I emailed them but if I haven’t received the response in the next two hours or so I’ll go ahead and tally the votes.
For many years of my life, I was involved heavily with one of the world’s largest NGO’s, Rotary International. Their outreach is third only to the Olympics and the United Nations. Primarily a charitable organization, 100% of donations received go toward their intended targets. Rotary is helping with immunizations regarding the elimination of Polio, and has, since around 1987. Although when you read publications about the elimination of Polio, we’re treated like a red headed step child most of the time. Although another mission is to promote World Peace. Google them. You’ll find out a lot about them, more than I could possibly tell you.
I spent a lot of my own money and time with Rotary, and I’d like to think, I always did it altruistically. Sometimes I wonder. Just writing it down above to tell you about it, takes a bit of the altruism away from my deeds, as if I’m bragging. I’m not, I’m just telling you that there are people out there who help for the sake of helping. You know one of them. Me. And, if this is truly autobiographical, then I know someone, too. You.
Good job on the story.
Very frustrating tale, nice little dollop at the end. Very clean and erudite writing, (for a lonely coyote.)
I realize that your story is about people, not the government, but I could write a book about all the people and businesses that I know who have been screwed by the government.
From local officials screwing the entire population of a city out of its most valuable real estate, to state hearing officers ignoring facts, to Federal Customs agents stealing property, (or destroying it) of American citizens. Zoning officials who made people cut the corner off of their house to conform to a business code, forcing a business to lower a 30 foot sign 12 inches to conform to code. Requiring 75 dollar-a-gallon paint for walls that didn’t even need paint.
I live just a mile from one of the most beautiful estuaries on the east coast of Florida. It’s part inlet, part river, part lagoon. The Intracoastal Waterway runs right through it. It was full of flounder, trout, grouper and snapper. It has its own specific type of porpoise that never leaves the estuary, never ventures into the ocean. The shrimp on the other hand, are born in the river and migrate to the ocean. It’s a most amazing ecological jigsaw, and the city and county are complicit in killing it. The city can’t bring themselves to ban the use of fertilizer on lawns near the river. They can’t even stand up to one industry. And the people don’t have the brains or the foresight to stop doing it either. They buy a house on the river, and then fertilize their lawns.
When it rains the fertilizer runs into the river, the algae flourishes to the point that it blocks sunlight from reaching the river bottom, the grasses die, everything that lives in the grasses dies, the things that eat those things die, the shrimp don’t hatch, the manatee starve to death and the fish die from lack of oxygen. It’s already happening. This is not predictive, this is already beginning.
Not true. I’ve met most of them. I’ve spoken to them. They’re decent people trying to do the right thing.
When you work with business and help them get what they want, they’re grateful. They say hello to you in the grocery store, they compliment your wife’s new hairdo. There’s a reward for letting businesses do what they want. But the public? There ain’t no pleasing the public, no matter how you try. As a councilman or woman, you’ll be worried about how the city is going to pay for stormwater control, and the citizens will come to a meeting and bitch at you for how high their water bills are, something you have nothing to do with.
You can see the river through the glass front doors of the city council chambers. I went there one night. I told them what a gem they had, we had, what an asset that river and lagoon were. They could go outside on their cigarette break and look at it. It is literally right across the street from the City Hall. Mangrove covered islands, sand bars, clams, oysters, shrimp, seagulls, terns, egrets and herons; Red-shouldered hawks, Osprey and Bald Eagles, manatee and dolphin. I told them that people might actually remember who they were if they saved it.
They looked at me like I was nuts.
We just want smart growth. Intelligent development. Protection of the environment and as much preservation of habitat as possible. We can’t just plant trees, we have to save the ones we have.
It’s an uphill battle.
I wrote this because Kim and I and a lot of people I know are politically astute and/or active. I hear a lot of talk about Federal and international politics and of course there is so little we can do about things like what’s happening in Afghanistan.
And in a recent discussion with Kim I told her that, as citizens in this county, it was our duty to try and straighten out the problems where we live. The problems right here, where we live, that we know about. (Though they may seem small to a foreign refugee right now) they are not small, nor easily surmountable. The opposition to reason and rational decision-making in this country, our county and at the city level, at this critical time, is astonishing.
Right next to a boat ramp where I put my boat in, there’s a stream about 50 feet wide where fresh water empties into the river. It’s nutrient rich, and full of debris, some kind of run-off.
I took video and contacted the County Manager of the Water Management District and the head of the Water Conservation Department, (something like that, I got their cards at a council meeting.) They were both sounding alarms about the condition of the estuary. I called them up and ask them where this water is coming from, and they didn’t know what I was talking about. They said, ‘There’s no outflow there. I’m not seeing one on my map.’ They didn’t know it existed. And they didn’t want to know. But I had video. It exists.
I pointed it out to a fishing guide and he said, ‘Yeah, I know about it. But that’s the least of our problems. There’re no fish out there anymore. The river’s dead.’
this is like people shitting upriver in the stream that we drink out of and telling us, it’s just a couple of turds floating by, what’re you so upset about?
Wait a minute. Your SHITTING in my DRINKING WATER and you think I’m over-reacting? I don’t know what it’s going to take for people to wake up anymore. In another 10 or 15 years or so, I’ll be dead anyway, dolphins or no dolphins. I have no kids. I leave no legacy of my passing. But surely those of you who have kids, and grandkids, you must be concerned about what your kids are inheriting, no? Surely there are things that you could do. Like, get interested. Get the facts. Be informed first. No? I don’t know, I guess I just don’t have that much in common with parents. Or people.
Then I went down the list in order of which I remembered first, and noted my most over-riding impression of each story.
Out of the Rain. Beautiful writing, but I honestly didn’t get the point of the story.
Starting Over. Excellent polished story. Exceptional character, good insight into human nature.
Park and Read. Great title. Great writing. Not a story.
Fleeting Thought Tides. – Extraordinary writing. Not fiction. Not a story. More stream of consciousness.
Servants of Altruism. – Clever title. Excellent writing. Story okay. Meager ending.
Refugee. – Very clever approach to an overdone topic. Otherwise, no surprises. Terrific writing, dreadful writing.
The Refugee. – A convoluted story with many errors, mistakes, and typos but a surprisingly fun and easy read.
One of the easiest decisions on Favorite Character I’ve ever had to make, Roy.
Good luck ya’ll.
Without further ado here are your winners…..
1st Place: The Consulate by Ken Cartisano
2nd Place: Starting over by RM York
3rd Place: The Refugee by John Filby
4th Place: Out of the Rain by Phil Town
5th Place: Park & Read by Ken Miles
6th Place: Servants of Altruism by Rumplefinkies
7th Place: Refugee by Siddharth Rajagopalan
8th Place: Fleeting Thought Tides by Ilana Leeds
Favorite Character was the Narrator in Out of the Rain by Phil Town
Favorite dialogue: The Consulate by Ken Cartisano
Congrats to all!
(And thanks for the ‘Favourite Character’ award!)
Language Cartisanese Detected
“Thanks everyone, I am humbled by your votes.”
Here’s a true story.
I asked Kim to read my story a few days ago. Tonight, just before I logged on to see the results I said, ‘Well, whattaya think?”
She said, “About what?”
I said, “My story. Wanna guess where it fell? In the rankings?” I didn’t know either.
And she goes, “Oh. I liked it. And she says, “it’s definitely a three, maybe a two…”
And I said, “A… … .. THREE! Or a TWO?” (I remained seated.)
And she says, “Well, yeah. Like I said, I think it’s a pretty good story. I suppose it could go as high as second.”
And I said, “Why second? You haven’t even read any of the other (fleeping) stories.”
And she said, “Well you changed the ending after I read it. You always change your stories after I read them. And they’re never as good. I told you to leave it the way it was but you always change it. Why do you always do that?”
And I said, “But you didn’t even read any of the other stories. Why would you assume it was second, or third?”
And she said, (you wanna know what she said?) She said, ‘Well, did that other guy write a story?”
And I said. “WHAT… other guy?”
And she said. ‘You know, that guy you’re always grumbling about. Your nemesis.” (She can’t remember names to save her life. I swear to God. Honestly. she can’t. You know what she calls the exterminator? The bug man. His name is John. He’s been killing bugs for her for well, since before I even met her. That’s at least twenty years. I meet somebody three times and I remember their name for fifty years.) So I’m like, “My nemesis? Which one?
And she goes, “You know, the one you’re always complaining about.”
I just shook my head. We all know I complain about everyone. I’m like waving my arms, ‘come on, come on. Which nemesis? And she’s like, you know, the one you complain about.”
“What does he do?” I whined. “What do I bitch about?”
And she says, “You know. The usual.”
(Oh for the love of God.) This is no help, because all of my complaining is specifically designed and tailored to the individual (or individuals) I’m complaining about. It’s Very Specific. (That’s a title there, for something.) But (even though I’m slow, I know enough to know I’m slow,) I finally figured it out and I told her in matter of fact tones. “So, you figured I’d be second or third because one or two of my ‘nemesi’, would submit a better story. Is that your thinking?” (And I knew it was. She’s very shrewd.)
And she said, “Well? Did he write a story? Which story did you think was the best?”
And I said, “Bingo.”
(And then I called her a succubus and stormed out of the room.)
My wife just folds them up and reads them two or three days later, after lots of prodding and moping on my part.
She HATES them, and the farce of pretending to like them… and she is bitter about being pressured to read and critique them. I understand, because I also don’t like them most of the time!
My wife is my beta reader and my best critic. Not so much for grammar and punctuation, which she does question me on from time to time and is terrific at, but mores for content. She’s quick to tell me when she likes something, and what she thinks I’m doing wrong. I’ve learned to listen, ask questions why she feels that way and then we both know it’s my decision to change it or not change it. If I truly think I’m right on something, I’ll stick to my guns. But, more often than not, I see where she is coming from and will ponder it for a while, then usually change it (for the better I might add).
I remember once she hated a particular story I wrote from start to finish. I didn’t change a word because I felt her criticism wasn’t about my writing but the content of the story and the fact I was using a dialogue right out of the hills of Missouri where I spent many happy hours being grammar illiterate. Dropping ‘g’s on words like fishing’, and using so on. It won against some considerable opposition. I still use that argument when she gets all over a story, not for content, but subject matter. I told her you cannot critique dialogue. Like changing grammar and so on. I do admit she stops me from using racial dialect, which, in today’s climate is probably a good idea.
I, do confess, I have to approach her correctly about reading my stories, explaining how I need her advice (which I do) and I need it in a timely manner. She doesn’t hate it, but let’s say it’s not her favorite thing to do. So, timing is important. Maybe you need to strike a deal with your beta reader, and if that doesn’t work out, find one who will be honest.
I still need a filter, if for nothing else, just to stop me from doing something I will eventually regret leaving in a story. Remember, they live forever on the internet. Forever. I had an old friend contact me about a year ago whom I hadn’t heard from in years, and he told me he ran across a short story under my byline I had posted back in 2015 and not only wanted to know if it was actually me who wrote it, but if HE was the main character. He wasn’t, but I did tell him it was a composite character of people I have met in my life, and if the shoe fits wear it. He was happy with that because the protagonist was a good guy. Kept him happy, and he hung up on good terms. Well, unless he reads this somehow and figures out he wasn’t anywhere near like the character I wrote about.
Anyway, John, keep writing. It’s good for the soul. Besides, I like it. If that helps.
Enjoyed this very much and fantasized that I was at least one of the nemeses (not nemesi – I looked it up), but I think I’m better off not knowing, that way I will still strive to be THE NEMESIS while I still have my faculties. Which are slowly fading, by the way. I can feel it. I search for words now that used to pop up in my head and I had to choose. Now, I have trouble calling old friends name to mind, you know, one of those names like Mike, I’ve known for 50 years.
Funny stuff. I’m jealous.
I will shake out my phoenix feathers. Get ready with your flame throwers to burn me down. Or just ignore.
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