April 29 – May 12, 2021 Writing Prompt “The Dance”

Theme: The Dance

Required Elements:

  • a drink
  • a dance partner
  • a non-dance place, i.e. a place you wouldn’t normally dance.

Word Count: 1,200

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201 thoughts on “April 29 – May 12, 2021 Writing Prompt “The Dance”

  • April 29, 2021 at 12:46 pm
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    Read the stories here:

    (If you don’t see your story linked in this comment within a day or two, feel free to use the contact form to let Carrie know she somehow missed it.

    Meanwhile, please be patient, there is only one moderator, and she is not always online. We’ll get to it as soon as possible. Thank you.)

    Reply
  • April 29, 2021 at 2:40 pm
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    Signing in

    Reply
  • April 29, 2021 at 4:01 pm
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    Signing in and ideas are already popping up. Hmmm … which to choose?

    Reply
  • May 1, 2021 at 3:29 pm
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    WARNING –
    I’m working on a period piece. All you non-English speakers, you need to acquire an upper mid-western, mid-20th century teen lexicon.

    I think Ken C. still has his and for a small fee, the mercenary curmudgeon might, I say might, let you peek.

    If I could write the story in simple English, I would. But “Without spice, the stew is thin.”

    Reply
  • May 1, 2021 at 4:09 pm
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    You writing?
    You asking?
    I’m asking!
    I’m writing… or at least trying to. Great prompt with even better required elements.

    Reply
    • May 2, 2021 at 11:02 am
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      Nice Liver Birds dancing reference there, Mike …

      Reply
  • May 2, 2021 at 11:31 am
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    Dance Me to the End of Love

    “It’s a retirement village, Jodie, not a prison. I just walked out, that’s all. And the rest you know.”

    Jodie smiled. She recognised her father’s stubborn expression, and knew this was probably going to be hard work. But she had to admit, there was something intriguing about the whole affair.

    “Sure, Dad,” she said. “It still seems an odd thing to do. And the cemetery has asked you not to do it. I gather it’s not the first time.”

    “No, and it probably won’t be the last,” said David emphatically. “I can’t understand why people don’t just leave me alone. After all, where’s the harm in it?”

    “Well, the cemetery manager says it’s out of place. Just think about it. People are there grieving, and there’s this eccentric old man dancing and humming by the side of a grave. Don’t you think that could be a little off-putting for them?”

    “OK, I’ll cut out the humming.”

    “And it’s kind of alarming for me to get a call from reception here to say you’ve been brought home in a police car for causing a public nuisance.”

    “Public nuisance be damned! The police clearly don’t think so, or they would have charged me with something.”

    “They think you have dementia, Dad.”

    “What’s that to me? I’m old enough not to care what others think.”

    “Dad, I know you miss Mum terribly – but are you telling me you’re going to do this again?”

    [-break-]

    “Hey, Mum! Look at this. Grandpa’s gone viral!”

    Sean handed his phone to his mother. Sure enough, there was her father dancing solo by the side of her mother’s grave.

    “Oh, good Lord,” sighed Jodie, running her hand back through her hair. “I’m at the end of my tether with him. What do you think we should do about this?”

    “Look – it’s been viewed 324,000 times so far. There’s only one thing to do: monetize him!”

    “What? I hope you’re joking!”

    “Get real, Mum. If we don’t, someone else will.”

    “I’m just concerned he seems to be losing his inhibitions. I’m worried what he’s going to do next.”

    [-break-]

    “It’s really quite extraordinary to be the centre of so much attention,” said David. “It’s weird, but I’m kind of enjoying it.”

    “And you don’t think it’s weird dancing solo in a graveyard, with an invisible partner in hold?” asked Jodie.

    “Hey, look at this, Mum,” said Sean. “Grandpa’s got a real partner here. Wow, she’s way cute, you lucky old dog!”

    David leaned across to turn the phone towards him. “That’s Emily. Very nice girl. Pretty good dancer, too. Says she wants to put me on Tick Dance.”

    “It’s Tik-Tok, Grandad.”

    “That makes even less sense, but I’ll try anything once.”

    “God, you two!” exclaimed Jodie. “Let me see. Well, you’ve still got the moves, Dad. Even so ….”

    “Watch to the end, Mum.”

    “Oh, yes”, said David. “The Council enforcers. They escorted us all off site and gave us a warning.”

    Jodie put her head in her hands. “This is so embarrassing … I think the senior partners at work may have something to say about this.”

    “Come on, Mum. This is great – it’s really going to fly!” said Sean. “Gramps, we’ve got to build on this!”

    “Emily wants me to do some kind of shuffle dance to an Elvis Presley song. In a graveyard, of course,” said David.

    “I don’t think they’ll let you back there, Dad,” said Jodie. “Thanks be!”

    “There are other cemeteries,” said Dave. “And they want to do something in a studio and drop in the background later.”

    “That’s so cool,” said Sean, nodding his head appreciatively. “Say, can I meet this Emily?”

    [-break-]

    Sean and his grandfather were looking through a pile of newspapers on the kitchen table. Sean had set up his phone to cast to the TV, playing a succession of videos of people dancing in graveyards across the world.

    “See, Mum?” said Sean. “Grandad’s the biggest Internet influencer of 2021. And everyone is talking about him in the papers and online.”

    “Yes, but what are they saying about him?” said Jodie. “Look at these headlines: “Dementia and the Danse Macabre”. “Graveyard ravers shatter peace for grieving parents” …”

    “All publicity is good publicity,” interjected Sean. “Besides, it’s not all bad. There’s people praising Grandad for helping them through their grief. And this article in The Times talking about ‘a more celebratory approach to remembering the loved ones we’ve lost’.”

    “But what about the awful things people are saying about your Grandad online. Just disgusting.”

    “Oh, that’s just normal. Ignore them.”

    Jodie pondered a moment. “You know, the thing I dislike most is everyone wanting to jump on the bandwagon, and do their own thing on the back of my Dad’s grief, and his love for Mum. I can remember them dancing, you know, and how close they were. It’s like it’s all getting lost under everyone else’s agendas.”

    Sean wasn’t listening. “Say, Grandad, you’re being quoted in this article in the Mail. Did they interview you?”

    “Yes, I think it was them …”

    “How much did they pay you?”

    “Pay me?”

    Sean slapped his hand against his forehead. “You two, despite your advanced years, you’re like digital infants! From now on, anyone who wants an interview comes through me. Any requests for product placement too. I’ll be Grandad’s manager.”

    Jodie swiped Sean across his tousled head with a newspaper. “Advanced years, eh? You’re getting a bit above yourself for a fourteen-year-old who can’t manage his own homework!”

    “Hey!” cried Sean, rearranging his hair. “I’m serious. Grandad’s at peak fame right now. We have to strike while the iron’s hot!”

    [-break-]

    Jodie had come alone this time. “Is this true, Dad? What you say in the interview in the Guardian?”

    “More or less,” said David.

    “You should have talked to me first.”

    “You never asked. Everyone else kept asking me why I started. The dancing, that is.”

    “I think you could have been … less candid. There could be consequences.”

    Jodie picked up the newspaper, and read her father’s words from the interview. “Sarah was a great dancer. She always loved to dance. But she went rapidly downhill. She always used to say, ‘If ever I get to the stage when I can’t dance, I don’t want to live anymore. Don’t let me linger on.’ But I did, I’m afraid, until that day when she seemed to be suffering so much. So after the nurse did her morphine injection and left, I went to the kitchen and prepared the drink we’d talked about before.’”

    Jodie looked up at her father, his head slumped onto his chest. She continued reading. “I cradled her in my arms, and held the drink to her lips. She slipped away peacefully. You know, I don’t know if what I did was right or wrong, it’s always troubled me. But I always felt I owed her one last dance. It felt so right, I just never wanted to stop.”

    [1180 words]

    Reply
    • May 5, 2021 at 11:20 am
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      This fits the pandemic perfectly! A whole viral movement of people doing the Dance of the Dead!

      Reply
      • May 8, 2021 at 6:01 am
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        Thanks, Rumples!

        BTW, I can’t believe that’s your real name! What should we call you?

        Reply
        • May 8, 2021 at 2:26 pm
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          It’s John Mansfield, but I try not to take myself too seriously… and I am hesitant to attach my name to some of the garbage I routinely dump on this site 😉

          Reply
          • May 12, 2021 at 5:01 am
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            Pleased to meet you, John 🙂

            I haven’t seen any garbage from you yet!

    • May 7, 2021 at 7:50 am
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      I’ve experienced similar words to, “Hey, Mum! Look at this. Grandpa’s gone viral!”
      Twenty years ago, my wife opened the property tax bill and screamed – a fifty percent increase.
      A week later our daughter dropped in and demanded to know why we were featured on the front page of the local fish-wrapper.
      We’re going to stop those money grabbing etc. she was told.
      Just stop it, please, my co-workers are talking, she requested.
      After two months of our appearing in the newspaper and TV from Madison, she gave up begging us to stop.
      Then it was over.
      A year later, the township raised the daughter’s taxes. Guess who she call to make things right?
      “What’s that to me? I’m old enough not to care what others think.” Damn straight, Andy!
      What’s the worst they can do to old timers such as us? Jail? Free medical, dental, room & board, a well-equipped gym, and we’re old to be somebody’s boyfriend. So, what’s the down-side?
      Thanks for the great read, Andy. It’s nice to peruse your work again.

      Reply
      • May 8, 2021 at 5:47 am
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        Thanks, Robt!

        Your experience of going viral made me chuckle – and a similar difference in generational response. BTW – did they reduce your property taxes?

        Reply
        • May 8, 2021 at 7:52 am
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          Andy, sorry, but this explanation is a bit long. As I said, the property taxes on our modest semi-suburban home increased fifty percent, and resident budgeter, bookkeeper, penny-pincher went into an ah, let’s just say she was grossly unhappy. They rebuffed our challenge at the city revenue department with an “It is what it is.” Previously, they and we would come to an amicable compromise. Leaving City Hall, we met two of the city’s most notorious dissidents carrying signs protesting some other issue. One suggested starting a petition signing campaign. In my typical Quixotic fashion, I charged off into the overhead sun.
          In summary, after many fits and starts, those two gained one-fourth of the petitions required by the shoe leather method. My wife, via the media, notarized our plight. The neighbor kid reorganized the computer discs [12 of them] I’d brow-beaten out of the city Assessor’s office in one disc so I could manipulate the owner, address, and value in into an useable fashion. I grouped the list addresses by the owner’s name. By cutting and pasting names, addresses, and values, I had petitions ready for the owner’s signature at an unbelievable speed.
          The petition’s goal was the owner’s signatures of five percent of the total residential value of a city with 65,000 residents.
          It worked.
          At the State Capital, the petitions and were told it would take all the state assessors all summer to assess the city and cost the town two million dollars. The city got wind of what the State was about to do and panicked. The city assessor was fired, and a private company took over his department. The finance director resigned and left town. The City Manager, who was in line for a cushy job as president of the City Manager’s Association, was fired. City property taxes were frozen for ten years. All requests for a revaluation of property were granted. Our property value increased an insignificant amount from the previous year’s.
          A side note: At 987 N. Wistful Vista Lane, a mile away, the taxes were raised exactly the same percent as ours at 987 S. Wistful Vista Lane.

          Reply
    • May 7, 2021 at 6:25 pm
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      This is very lovely, Andy. As others have said, there’s the 3-way generation gap – the grandfather doing what the hell he likes, the daughter worried about what others might think, the grandson boldly pragmatic. While the dancing is allowed to continue, the grandfather manages his grief and missingness … and we feel buoyed. Then it gets a little dark. It’s important to know what happened to Sarah, but I’m wondering if we could have found out about it differently (e.g. David tells the newspaper what he did, but without details, then he’s quizzed by his daughter and the details come out). I say this because having her read out the article to him feels a little cruel to me. But this is a very good take on the prompt, and warming.

      Great to have you back!

      Reply
      • May 8, 2021 at 6:00 am
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        Many thanks, Phil.

        I think you’re probably right about the last couple of paragraphs – could be more dialogue there. Giving the over-candid interview was another sign of grandpa’s losing his inhibitions, and at this point we get to the underlying event. And I would, I think, handle it differently if I were to write a new version.
        Appreciate the critique – which Ken C has also referred to in an email to me.

        Ken’s currently blocked from using the site – whether by WordPress gremlins, Chinese trolls, by Carrie or by popular demand, I don’t know!

        BTW, I like that your story title has a poignant song reference, to Billie Holliday. This story has a soundtrack to, courtesy of Leonard Cohen:

        Reply
        • May 8, 2021 at 9:59 am
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          It had occurred to me actually, Andy (re the Leonard Cohen song) – neat. And well spotted re mine.

          Reply
    • May 11, 2021 at 3:16 pm
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      A nice story and I like the easy dialogue between three generations, but I’m not sure about the ending. l think you could have introduced a memory of their first dance together and then closed it with something about a promise to continue dancing everyday in her memory- just my thoughts though. Where was the drink? Did I miss it?

      Reply
      • May 12, 2021 at 5:05 am
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        Thanks, Kirsten.

        It could have had a sweet ending, but on the other hand could turn out too sugary. Or like a pale imitation of the dance scene in Ghost (minus Whoopi Goldberg). But I preferred to have something more morally ambiguous underlying the layers of events and perceptions, his unsettled conscience psychologically underlying his kind of eccentric behaviour.

        The drink is there at the end, and is pivotal to the story.

        Reply
        • May 12, 2021 at 12:21 pm
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          It definitely added to the story to find that out in the end – I thought you could have ended without it for a few seconds… but then all his actions did seem to make more sense… I had an uneasy feeling on and off that he had some sort of deeper issue that he was going through on top of the death of his wife.

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          • May 12, 2021 at 4:50 pm
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            No worries! 🙂

    • May 13, 2021 at 12:20 pm
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      What a beautiful story! Love every bit of it.
      I hear Cohen sing the perfect soundtrack while I read this.
      Granpa is gonna walk away with the prize.

      Cheers!

      Reply
    • May 13, 2021 at 3:43 pm
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      Wonderful story, Andy! The tone is light and humorous for almost the entire story, then changes completely with the twist at the end – masterfully done.

      The characters’ interactions sound very natural; I can see the mutual love and affection, generation gaps notwithstanding.

      Finally, I liked how you handled the complexity of the question of assisted suicide: namely, that David is bothered by helping his wife die despite following her wishes, and don’t just blithely mouth platitudes like “it’s for the best” or “she’s in a better place now”.

      Reply
  • May 2, 2021 at 11:32 am
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    Andy- what a beautiful bittersweet story. I thought you captured the dialogue of different age groups well and I thought your concept was clever. Well done!

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    • May 2, 2021 at 11:37 am
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      Many thanks, Trish.

      Looking forward to the other stories now.

      BTW, apologies to you and everyone else who might have received multiple mails – the first versions I posted had the separators that I’d put in stripped out. Hence the reposting with [-break-] for the breaks, which is a little ungainly but I hope does the job 🙂

      Reply
  • May 2, 2021 at 3:28 pm
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    Nice to see you back, Andy. Great story. Hopefully he won’t spend his remaining years rotting in prison. I’m a believer in assisted euthanasia, but most people aren’t. You’ve covered a sensitive subject nicely. Well done. My only criticism is your story isn’t long enough.

    Roy

    Reply
    • May 2, 2021 at 5:42 pm
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      Thanks, Roy. If I could make the story longer within the word limit, I surely would 🙂

      Yes, nice to be back, too. Been a funny old year so far …

      Reply
      • May 6, 2021 at 11:26 am
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        Hi Andy,

        Welcome back. We have missed you and your top quality writing. Hope the past year or so has not been too challenging for you.

        You seem to have picked up exactly where you left off, with another very good story.

        I think so many of us seem to have experienced seeing elderly parents in terminal decline and you cover this really well. The story is poignant without being overly sentimental. I love the way you highlight the different attitudes to Grandad’s behaviour, some seeing it as a problem and others seeing only an opportunity.

        An excellent ending that is so very plausible and that leaves your readers to ponder their own attitudes to this situation.

        Kind regards,

        Ken Frape

        Reply
        • May 8, 2021 at 6:09 am
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          Many thanks, Ken

          “Hope the past year or so has not been too challenging for you.”

          The last few months have been a bit challenging. In Feb I had to go into hospital for an urgent heart procedure, and while there I caught Covid, which was a pretty nasty experience, and my wife, though younger fitter and better looking, had it even worse. All this basically wiped us out for a couple of months – but coming back fighting (and writing) now.
          Lots of catching up to do on all fronts!

          And good to see familiar faces (as it were) here again, plus some talented new ones too.

          Reply
          • May 8, 2021 at 6:33 am
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            Hi Andy,
            Sorry to hesar about your awful experience and good to hear your positive attitude.
            My daughter, in her 30s, caught the virus in March 2020 and had a rough week but apart from her, we have managed to stay clear. I had a routine proceedure in my local hospital and, I must say, it was not a place I wanted to be but all turned out OK.
            It will be good to get back into some kind of “new normality” whatever that is.

            Kind regards,

            Ken Frape

          • May 8, 2021 at 2:29 pm
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            Sounds like you just returned from the front lines! Good job and thank goodness you made it back to us!

      • May 7, 2021 at 6:11 am
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        I have to agree wholeheartedly with Roy. Loved your story and assisted dying – I am with you. Cannot think of a worst fate than rotting away in an aged person’s home. Let me die quick and well enough to wipe my own ass still. Sorry if that’s a bit crude for some, but it is the way I feel.

        Reply
        • May 8, 2021 at 6:37 am
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          Many thanks, Ilana

          That’s pretty much how I feel, too. But also hard to address the wishes and best interests of those close to us at an emotionally stressful time, for sure.

          Reply
  • May 2, 2021 at 6:27 pm
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    Fantastic story, flicking between different age groups and starkly contrasting emotions. Without giving anything away I finished reading with a smile on my face.

    Reply
    • May 3, 2021 at 5:12 pm
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      Many thanks, Mike.
      Yes, one set of events, and trying to capture different perspectives from within and without, and from the real world and online world. Glad you liked it 🙂

      Reply
  • May 3, 2021 at 3:54 am
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    Her Dance Floor

    “So, are you gonna’ tell me where you’re taking me or what?” Linda’s voice betrayed the frustration she was feeling, rather than the excitement Greg had been aiming for. Bit ungrateful he thought.

    “It will all be clear soon, love. Just enjoy the ride,” he reassured her. Her life hadn’t been a bundle of laughs, but he was hoping she’d appreciate his gesture. He reached round behind him, his fingers feeling for the bottle of vodka he’d heard fall on the floor of his forest green Ford Focus. It eventually rolled into his reach and he produced it theatrically, interrupting her complaints.

    “What, enjoy the ride in this crap heap? How am I…oh, I see.” The bottle of vodka appeared to have made its mark as Greg had hoped and he watched out of the corner of his eyes as she took a generous mouthful.

    “Listen, I just wanted to do something nice for you. It’s only another five minutes or so. Chill out a bit. And slow down on the vodka. I didn’t mean for you to have the whole bottle in one.” Greg was conscious his girlfriend was constantly treading a fine line between having a good time and getting wasted, a line which she crossed a little too often. He tried not to enable but tonight was special.

    “Yeah, relax,” Linda replied. “Um, any news by the way? Have you heard from him?” She almost didn’t want to hear the answer, free as she was at the moment but felt that she had to ask.

    “You’d hear before me but no, I haven’t heard anything. Don’t worry though, I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.” Greg let a small smile escape before covering up again, trying to remain as impassive as he could. “Here we go, it’s just up here.”
    “Where are you taking me, Greg? What is this, a forest?”

    “Hah, no it’s just a wood, but we need to park up and walk a bit. Are you going to be warm enough?”

    “Yeah, yeah. I’ve got a coat. And anyway…” she leaned across and hugged him, “you’ll keep me warm, won’t you.”

    Greg pulled the car over and switched off the engine, the sudden lack of light immediately enveloping them. Linda was evidently struggling to focus, Greg unsure if it was the vodka or the darkness which was her problem. He turned his body to face her and clasped her hands in his.

    His voice lowered and he spoke softly. “I’ve uh, I’ve got a special place I want to take you. I need to know that you trust me. Do you?” He waited for her nod before continuing. “It’s perfectly safe but I want to blindfold you. It’s for your benefit, but you just have to trust me. Can you do that?”

    “Yeah, of course but…”

    “Don’t ask any more, please,” he interrupted. “Like I said, it’s to keep you safe. Come on,” a bit more upbeat and energetic, “let’s go. I just need to pop this on you and then I’ll come round and open your door.” He produced a thin scarf which he carefully wrapped around his girlfriend’s head, being very careful not to harm her. He felt her flinch slightly but continued, stroking her hair gently. He hopped out of the car, went round to her door and led her by the hand deep into the woods, her other hand clutching the bottle of vodka.

    “Are we getting closer, Greg? This feels…weird.” She laughed a little, but he could still sense some apprehension in her voice.

    “Almost there, baby. Almost there. Just a few more paces and…voila. Here we go. You can take your blindfold off now.”

    Linda slowly removed the scarf, blinking her eyes to see Greg laying out a small blanket among the bracken and trees. He got his iPhone out, scrolling through his songs until he came to the playlist he wanted. The music started and she heard the voice of one of her favourite singers, Rachel Platten, the lyrics talking directly to her:

    ‘This is my fight song
    Take back my life song
    Prove I’m alright song’

    “Here, let’s dance a little,” he insisted, reaching out to take her hand, looking down to make sure he was in the right spot. She accepted but was obviously still bewildered by everything going on.

    “Where are we Greg? What’s going on,” she asked, swaying in her partner’s arms. “Fun as this is, I haven’t got a clue what we’re doing here. We’re dancing in a pile of dirt and soil, in the middle of a forest, sorry, a wood, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I know you’re not the biggest romantic, but this is weird even for you.”

    Greg smiled, thinking about how he was going to frame his explanation. “Listen, I know this is going to be a shock, but I remember everything you tell me. Well, the important parts anyway. And especially what you say over and over again, especially when you’re hurting.” They stopped swaying and Linda stepped back, her hand over her mouth. She looked down at her feet, smoothing out the mound of dirt they’d been dancing on.

    “Are you saying…?”

    “Yes, Linda. Yes I am. Wait.” She started to walk away towards his phone. “I thought you’d be happy. You always said the moment he was dead you wanted to dance on his grave. Well, here we are. Baby, I thought this is what you wanted.” He walked towards her, pleading to her back as she crouched over the phone.

    Linda stood up, bottle of vodka in hand, and turned to show off her enormous smile. She took a huge swig and passed him the bottle as the intro of Celebration by Kool and the Gang filled the darkness.

    “Greg, I am fucking delighted. I can’t believe you did this for me.” She took the bottle back from him and took another long gulp. She spat at the ground where they had just been dancing, put the bottle back down again and leapt into Greg’s arms. “I’m finally free,” she whispered, “and I am in the mood for a party!!” her voice rising to a crescendo. “Come on, it’s time to celebrate and have a good time,” she sang, mimicking the words coming from her boyfriend’s phone.

    Greg smiled, joining his seventeen-year old girlfriend on her dance floor. The old bastard had thrown his final punch and he was going to enjoy this dance.

    Reply
    • May 3, 2021 at 9:28 am
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      Mike- terrific story that had me on edge trying to guess where you were going. I thought your dialogue was very realistic and your descriptions just sharp enough to draw a believable picture in my mind without overcrowding detail. Well done!

      Reply
    • May 3, 2021 at 5:08 pm
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      Great story, Mike. You maintain the tension with both the mystery of why they are going where they are going, and uncertainty/anxiety about Greg’s motives. I didn’t expect the outcome, so you kept me guessing. And at the end, there’s some moral ambiguity. How much should we be cheering Greg and Linda on in their dance?

      (I posted more or less this comment this morning – but it seems to have disappeared, so posting again.)

      Reply
    • May 3, 2021 at 6:00 pm
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      Mike,

      Nice build up of tension. You drag it out a bit too much for my liking, but it’s still a fine story. One suggestion. In the paragraph that begins with: “Where are we going, Greg? What’s going on?” Everything else in that paragraph should be exposition. To have her describe the scene with such detail is unreasonable, clearly, that’s the narrator talking.

      Other than that, I think it’s a fine story.

      Reply
    • May 5, 2021 at 8:43 am
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      Her relation to “The old bastard” or a reason for his need to die seems lacking.

      Reply
      • May 8, 2021 at 3:23 am
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        I felt that her flinching, drinking and ‘his last punch’ would have been enough but I’m frequently told by my wife I’m too obtuse and could be a bit more overt. I think revealing a bit more personal info earlier on would have helped the clarity so I’ll aim to do that next time round.

        Reply
    • May 5, 2021 at 11:21 am
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      I was in suspense the whole time, but you made it all good in the end 😉

      Reply
      • May 6, 2021 at 11:45 am
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        Hi Mike,

        An excellent story that really hits the prompt head-on. Good stuff.

        In response to Robt.’s comment / query regarding the need for the person to die my thoughts are that the 17 year old girl / woman has an abusive father or older partner hence the comments, “old bastard,” and “thrown his last punch.”

        You kept your powder dry until near the end and the reveal is really well done.

        Kind regards,

        Ken Frape

        Reply
    • May 7, 2021 at 6:42 pm
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      Fantastic, Mike. As others have said, the way you keep the reveal under wraps until very near the end is briliiantly done (for what it’s worth, my money was on alien abduction!). As Trish says, the dialogue is very good – natural-sounding. I wonder why you needed to tell us that the car was forest-green; this is a bit of a ‘red’ herring, isn’t it? (Or maybe so that it couldn’t be spotted from the air?) This line introduces the third person “Um, any news by the way? Have you heard from him?” … but doesn’t really dovetail with the reveal, does it? (Why should Greg have heard from the ‘abusive father or older partner’ – as KenF suggests?). Also, I’m not sure why you left it until the last paragraph to tell us Linda’s age. There’s a tiny little exposition dump just there which (for me) spoils the rhythm of that line; the info could have come much earlier. Very enjoyable read, though.

      Reply
      • May 8, 2021 at 3:20 am
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        You’re absolutely right about the age. I had it in the last paragraph, then the first and then finally back in the last. All good info to keep in mind for the next time though – thanks.

        Reply
    • May 11, 2021 at 3:39 pm
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      Good story- I enjoyed it better second time around and agree with some of the comments below from Mike and Ken. Perhaps I’m not reading between the lines well enough, but how did the body get to the spot in the forest? Did Greg kill him and bury him there? Sorry for being a bit thick!

      Reply
    • May 13, 2021 at 3:58 pm
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      Great story, Mike. I particularly like how you extend the story beyond the text, as it were, with just enough details to give a glimpse of what happens “outside the frame”, as it were. How damaged Linda is, with a developing (developed?) alcoholism and acting old beyond her years; the cracks in the relationship, despite obvious affection … I just can’t imagine an easy “happily ever after” just because the abusive “old bastard” (father? grandfather?) is dead.

      Reply
  • May 3, 2021 at 6:22 am
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    A STRANGE DANCE

    “Look, Ma – they’re dancing!”

    The woman says nothing but takes the young boy by the hand and pulls him away from the scene, squeezing through the crowd that has gathered. Some are laughing, others hooting. One old man does both, in between gulps from a hip flask. There are all kinds of folk here: men and women, boys and girls, young, old, wealthy, poor. The event has given them a common focus.

    The boy protests. He wants to watch. Once clear of the crowd, his mother stops, draws the boy close and slaps him on the face. The shock of the blow is followed by a moment’s silence, then the bawling. The woman shows no immediate compassion; she’ll explain why she did it later, when the anger and shame subside. She drags the boy by his collar, away.

    Behind them, the hooting and laughing fade as they put distance between themselves and the crowd. Now the woman’s face creases and her own sobs come.

    * * * * *

    Bonnie reached over and took Thomas’s hand, waiting until he was looking into her eyes to say what she wanted to.

    “Don’t go, Tom. We’ll get by. We always have.”

    Thomas scoffed and nodded towards the plates, cleaned of their meagre supper of boiled pokeweed.

    “We deserve more,” he said. “You deserve more. And you need more because … you know.”

    Bonnie smiled, stroking her belly.

    “Something will turn up,” she insisted.

    “I’m not so sure, honey.”

    Thomas got up and took the plates to the corner of the small, bare room, bending over to put them in a bucket of water. When he straightened, Bonnie was behind him.

    They hugged, shuffling around in a little dance, accompanied by a tune that Bonnie hummed – a tune from the fields.

    “Don’t go,” she repeated.

    “I’m going,” he said firmly. “Tomorrow.”

    “Then I’m going with you.”

    Thomas shook his head gently.

    “I don’t want you to, but then there’s times I don’t want the wind to blow. And there ain’t no stopping that.”

    “You know me too well, my love.”

    They laughed and kissed, the moment easing the inexplicable dread they both felt about the future.

    * * * * *

    Thomas, with Bonnie at his side, rapped on the large white door with the brass knocker, in the shape of a curled alligator. They listened as the harsh sound echoed through the house. A couple walking past, beyond the picket fence, stopped to stare at them. Thomas went to try again but the door was opened brusquely, ripping the knocker out of his hand.

    They were expecting to see Daisy, the maid, but found themselves face-to-face with Colonel Jackson himself.

    “What the …” he said loudly, scowling.

    “Good … good evening, sir. I … that is me and–“

    The white-whiskered gentleman interrupted him.

    “What in God’s name are you doing on my porch, boy?!”

    “Sir, we only come for … we was wondering–”

    “That was a rhetorical question, boy! Know what that is? In this case, it means get off my damn porch!”

    Thomas and Bonnie glanced at each other. Bonnie stepped forward.

    “We was wondering if you could give us some work, sir.”

    The old gentleman grinned and nodded.

    “I can give you something.”

    He leaned down to get that something from behind the door-post.

    It was a riding crop.

    “Here you go,” he said, and struck Bonnie across the face.

    What came next happened in a whirlwind. Thomas put himself between Colonel Jackson and Bonnie, who was screaming in pain. The old man hit the side of Thomas’s head with the crop. He raised it to strike again. Thomas grabbed him by the forearm. The Colonel used his free hand to punch Thomas in the eye. Thomas shook his head to clear it and thumped the Colonel in the stomach, doubling him up. One of the Colonel’s sons appeared at the door and pinned Thomas’s arms to his side. Bonnie recovered from the first attack and began hitting the son with a woman’s fists. The man who had been passing with his wife was there now and knocked Bonnie down, kneeling on her to keep her subdued. Thomas broke free and tried to pull the man off his wife. Another of the Colonel’s sons appeared with a walking stick and cracked Thomas on the head. He fell.

    “Get the sheriff, son!” the colonel gasped.

    * * * * *

    The court found Thomas and Bonnie guilty of trespass and assault. The judge sentenced them to jail time. The Colonel and his sons and friends left the courthouse and repaired to his house for drinks and a meeting. They were all of the same mind: jail time wasn’t enough for the affront the Colonel had suffered. And what if others got the same idea – to appear at decent folks’ houses, just like that, and dare to strike them – or worse? It was unimaginable. No. Something more was needed.

    * * * * *

    “Look, Ma – they’re dancing!”

    The woman says nothing but takes the young boy by the hand and pulls him away from the scene.

    Close by, an old, suited gentleman with white whiskers pulls a hip-flask out of his pocket and takes a swig.

    He joins in with the rest of the crowd gathered around the tree, laughing and hooting at the couple’s strange, brief dance.

    .

    Reply
    • May 3, 2021 at 7:48 am
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      I’m not sure how to say what I want to say about the things I like, Phil, without throwing in a handful of spoilers. So I’ll just say I think it’s very well-constructed and well-written, and actually the story cleverly says a lot without spelling it out, leaving the readers to work it out for themselves. Very good and thought-provoking stuff.

      Reply
      • May 7, 2021 at 7:03 pm
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        Thanks, Andy!

        Reply
    • May 3, 2021 at 9:36 am
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      Phil- you handled a horrible subject well. The fight scene pulled me out of your narrative. Maybe summarize the fight and show the wounds suffered instead of a blow by blow? Not sure if that would work… Your ending was powerful stuff…

      Reply
      • May 7, 2021 at 7:06 pm
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        Thanks, Trish. Yes, the fight scene … I think it’s the first time I’ve ever done a blow-by-blow account of a fight, but I felt it was important to show who was responsible for it so that later events might reflect even greater injustice. But you’re right – maybe it could have been done in another way.

        Reply
    • May 5, 2021 at 11:29 am
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      I should have noticed from the title and the clever reference you hid in plain sight.

      Then I should have known from the first paragraph, but you wrote it masterfully… so it made it harder to see, even then.

      Damn good and the perfect kind of dark… not just dark stuff happening to make the reader cry for justice so they can see the bad guy taken down in the end of the story.

      Reply
      • May 7, 2021 at 7:08 pm
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        Thanks, Rumples. I hoped that the title wasn’t too much of a contrivance, but it sounds like it wasn’t.

        Reply
    • May 11, 2021 at 3:55 pm
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      Another good story. Again, the flow is good and there seems to be a clear direction and end point- no rambling or going off track. The only tiny part I didn’t quite get (and this shows my lack of ability to interpret anything with a deeper meaning!)- why did she slap the boy- /The woman shows no immediate compassion; she’ll explain why she did it later, when the anger and shame subside/

      Reply
      • May 11, 2021 at 6:56 pm
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        Thanks, Kirsten. It was supposed to show that not all white people were/are lynching-hungry animals (obviously) – the mother feels shame and anger, and the little boy’s appeals to watch the barbarism tip her over the top. It’s not very obvious, I admit … so it’s understandable that you didn’t ‘get’ it.

        Reply
        • May 12, 2021 at 3:07 pm
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          Thanks Phil. I had a feeling that’s what it was but couldn’t be sure. I think that’s one of the drawbacks of word counts, although without them, I’d be sure to ramble on

          Reply
    • May 13, 2021 at 11:41 am
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      First reading drew a blank. It got clearer with my third.
      Then it hurt real bad.
      So bad. The colonel shoulda only met Abraham who welcomed strangers to his tent.
      I can’t stand this evil. This injustice. But then you write so well.
      So you’re pardoned.

      Can you explain this line?
      ..’pulls him away from the scene.’ Is it what I am thinking?

      Best,
      Marien

      Reply
      • May 13, 2021 at 9:12 pm
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        Thanks, Marien! The mother pulls the young boy away from the scene (the lynching) because she’s angry and ashamed, and she doesn’t want him to witness it.

        Reply
    • May 13, 2021 at 4:00 pm
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      Phil, reading your story is almost physically painful – a testament to your writing skill.

      Reply
      • May 13, 2021 at 9:18 pm
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        Thanks, Vicki, and sorry (for the pain) … but it’s a shameful reality (as was, and still is to a certain extent – though not confined to North America).

        (btw, Congratulations on your brilliant story. The appearance of the dragon was an absolute coup. I think you’re being a little too self-effacing with the praise it earned!)

        Reply
        • May 14, 2021 at 6:18 am
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          Don’t apologise, Phil. I meant you had succeeded in your task as a writer: dark and shameful stories from history need to be told in order to make us into better people and society, by making readers feel the victims’ pain among other things.

          Reply
  • May 3, 2021 at 7:12 am
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    Wow, powerful story with a strong message. I thought the dialogue was fantastic and I loved how the story came round full circle but if I may, I thought the fight on the porch appeared slightly of place with the rest. I’m not sure if it was rushed, or whether word count was an issue, but I would have liked to have experienced the fight a bit more rather than read a whirlwind account of it. I felt a bit cheated of the chance to read a full ‘back and forth’ fight – I was so immersed in the story that this passage left me a bit deprived of some more enjoyment.

    Great story though and brilliant interpretation

    Reply
    • May 7, 2021 at 7:11 pm
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      Thanks very much, Mike. See also my comment to Trish re the fight, but I wanted to keep it as short as possible (because the fight was short!) and simply to show who was to blame for it. As you say, it could have been longer, or it could merely have been mentioned as having happened. Choices, i suppose.

      Reply
  • May 3, 2021 at 6:58 pm
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    Excellent story, Phil.

    As an American, I could see where this was going fairly early. Real early. Despite that fact, the imagery you construct is so primal, it felt like I was punched in the gut. Again, as an American who knows very well this country’s history, I thought I spotted one or two cultural holes that might’ve tripped up a less diligent writer, but on closer inspection, there were no holes in this story. No weak points.

    I found no flaws with the fight scene either. It told me more than I needed to hear to understand how quickly things can go downhill, how eyewitness accounts could be so distorted. How easy it was/is for wrongheaded people to amplify their own importance and sense of indignation.

    And to have disappointed both Trish and Mike with the same scene should indicate that you’ve threaded the needle perfectly.

    Reply
    • May 6, 2021 at 11:58 am
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      Hi Phil,

      Another superb piece of writing.

      I have noted the comments written by Ken C, Mike, Rumplefinkies, Trish and Andy and, between them all, I think they have summed up my thoughts. I found the fight scene perfectly adequate, as it told me all that I needed to know. It’s a very sad story in terms of what it says about that society and the times. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say that things have changed for the better?

      Well done Phil, for a really good piece of writing.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • May 7, 2021 at 7:19 pm
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        Thanks, as always, KenF for your encouragement. Things getting better? I think they might be getting worse (and Britain isn’t exempt from blame).

        Reply
    • May 7, 2021 at 7:17 pm
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      Thanks, KenC. I hope you (and other American readers) weren’t offended that an outsider would write about dark events in your history (though this was fictional, it was kinda based on a photo I saw once of an incident like this, of a man surrounded by a crowd that’s laughing at his fate). I know that other countries have similar atrocities, but it was that photo that was in my mind.

      Reply
      • May 8, 2021 at 7:47 pm
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        You write and don’t worry about American feathers getting ruffled by the winds of Free Speech 🙂

        Reply
      • May 12, 2021 at 12:18 pm
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        You’re welcome, Phil,

        I’m Not offended. Try reading ‘Dark Town’, by Thomas Mullen. It gives you a real unvarnished look at America’s South in the late 1940’s. There are old black men walking around who remember those times and what they were like. Kim just finished a book about Thurgood Marshal’s life. (I believe he was the first black Supreme Court Justice.) Some of what she read about the treatment of black people (in America, in the 20th century,) was so gory and depraved, it gave her nightmares.

        Reply
  • May 4, 2021 at 3:01 pm
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    Dancing in the Dark

    ‘Do you fancy a drink?’ a simple question, you might think. No dubiety. No alternative meaning. Wrong. In Scotland, it means something alcoholic. In England, it is usually taken to mean tea. So, you can sense the bitter disappointment the poor Scotsman feels, when asked ‘Can I get you a drink?’ on meeting his future mother-in-law for the first time.

    ‘Aye, don’t mind if I do. A beer would be good if there’s one going.’

    A sharp inhalation of breath is accompanied by disapproving glances between the future parents-law.

    ‘Err, we don’t normally drink in at this time in the morning son. How about a cup of tea?’

    Awkward or what?

    Now my idea of a drink is somewhat different. A little… left of centre shall we say? And I don’t mind telling you my friend, I too have experienced the same deep disappointment of the Scotsman.

    It had been a long week in the middle of one of the hottest summers in Edinburgh in living memory and I was feeling weary by the time I ventured out to quench my raging thirst. I was young and somewhat inexperienced.

    The pickings are easy in Edinburgh during the festival, so I was in no rush when I headed into the first bar I came across. Count Crusoe’s Cocktails.

    It wasn’t the name which attracted me, but the blackboard outside;

    Mind blowing,
    blood curling,
    killer cocktails
    Guaranteed to blow your brains out.

    I made my way down the stairs to basement bar and was instantly glad of the dark, cool, musty smelling ‘lounge’. I found an empty table near the back and positioned myself where I could watch the people come and go.

    ‘What would you like to drink Miss?’ A tanned, clean shaven youth appeared at my side.

    Resisting the urge to say ‘You,’ I scanned the menu and smiled at the words which serendipitously jumped out of the page.

    ‘I’ll have the Bloody Mary. Thank you.’

    ‘Ah, A classic, but excellent choice if I may say so.’ His muscles rippled beneath his tight white t- shirt as he wrote down my order.

    He returned soon after and laid my drink in front of me, with a flourish and a wink. I was prepared to forgive the small bowl of green olives which accompanied the drink and the disgusting piece of celery sticking out of the glass, had the Bloody Mary met my expectations.

    ‘Slaintѐ,’ I said to the waiter. ‘I don’t know who Mary is, but I am eternally grateful to her for her sacrifice.’

    I closed my eyes, saliva rushing into my mouth in anticipation of the moment the warm, viscous, metallic tasting liquid would hit the back of my throat and course through my body, reviving and rejuvenating me, lighting the smouldering fire in my belly.

    Imagine my friend, my horror, when my taste buds were viscously assaulted by the onslaught of sweet, tangy tomatoes. I spat, well sprayed if we’re being pedantic, the sickly red drink all over the waiter.

    Poor lad. He paid for it more ways than one that night.

    It was a learning experience you might say, and one I have never repeated. These days I go to bars for just one kind of drink. I know if I sit long enough, some young lad, or sometimes a lass, will sidle up next to me and ask if I fancy a drink. I never refuse. It’s all the invite I need, and I waste no time going for the jugular.

    Tonight is no exception.

    I sit quietly, biding my time, when I sense him behind me. My nostrils flare (un-lady like, I know) as I inhale deeply, absorbing in his scent. To hell with undertones of sandalwood and lemongrass. This is meaty. Lamb to be precise. I feel his hot breath on my neck.

    ‘Do you fancy a…’

    I whip around and come face to face with eyes as dark as the night sky, burning into mine.

    ‘Dance?’

    ‘I…’ Murder on the Dance Floor is playing in the background. I am momentarily lost for words but quickly regain my composure.

    ‘Yes,’ I say breathlessly. There is a playful twinkle in those eyes. I can do playful. I enjoy a little cat and mouse now and again.

    We push our way through the small crowd and he pulls me close, his hand on the small of my back, burning through the soft silk of my dress.

    ‘I haven’t seen you here before,’ he whispers in my ear.

    ‘Nice line.’ Our bodies are pressed together as we move slowly, whilst others around us dance wildly, the floorboards shuddering from the deep boom of the speakers. He runs a thumb gently up my neck, wiping off a bead of sweat.

    ‘You’re hot. Do you fancy a drink?’

    ‘I thought you’d never ask,’ I smile, ‘but how about we get out of here and go somewhere a little quieter?’ I note with pleasure, his body responds, and his pupils dilate as I push myself closer.

    Like a lamb to the slaughter, he follows me. We move swiftly and silently across the city, cutting through the back wynds and narrow cobbled alleyways of Edinburgh’s old town, famous for its body snatchers, murderers, witches, and ghosts. We reach Mary King’s Close, the most famous of the city’s ancient underground streets which is permanently bathed in an eerie darkness. The last ghost tour finished hours ago so we have the place to ourselves. We slip in unseen and I lead him down the old street, still intact since medieval times, stopping near the bottom.

    ‘Where are we going?’ he whispers, although there is no need. No one will hear us.

    ‘Patience.’ I move a large boulder aside and climb through the narrow gap. ‘Come on in.’ I hold my hand out to him.

    Kicking off my shoes, I close my eyes, savouring the feel of the soft, cold soil squelching through my toes and the dank smell of decaying leaves and damp earth.

    ‘What is this place? A vault?

    ‘More like a crypt,’ I say.

    ‘Are there bodies buried here?’

    ‘Mhmm.’

    ‘Recently?’

    ‘I’d say so. Yes.’ I can see his breath in the cold night air.

    ‘Dance with me?’

    ‘What are we dancing to?’

    ‘You choose. Killing Me Softly? Love Hurts? Another One Bites the Dust?’

    ‘All good choices.’ He pulls me towards him, and we say together. ‘You smell delicious. Good enough to eat.’

    ‘Really? What do I smell of?’

    ‘Rotten meat.’

    ‘You really know how to flatter a girl. You don’t smell too bad yourself. Freshly slaughtered lamb, before you ask.’

    ‘You sure know how to turn a guy on,’ he says, running his tongue upwards, from the base of my neck to my chin.

    My lips retract, ignoring the mildly irritating sting in my neck as I sink my teeth into his soft flesh. We cling to each other, both temporarily lost in our own ecstasy. He pulls away first letting me take a few more greedy gulps.

    ‘You okay?’ he murmurs.

    I nod, reaching up to lick a drop of my own blood from his lips.

    ‘We really must stop meeting like this Maxell.’

    Reply
    • May 6, 2021 at 8:48 am
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      I was debating writing a story about a you-know-what this time, and it is a good thing that I didn’t!
      Awesome work – you did the subject matter justice and reminded me of the World of Darkness from the 90’s.

      Reply
    • May 6, 2021 at 12:09 pm
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      Hi Kirstennairn,

      I am really enjoying your writing. It is well phrased and reads with clarity and purpose. .I really enjoyed the time and place and references to the history of Edinburgh, so dark and brooding. You meet all elements of this prompt really well.

      The meeting, the dance and the “foreplay” are really well written and I love the puns (lamb to the slaughter) and the song titles.

      I love Edinburgh and have relatives there. Your story has inspired me to write something set in the same town. Hopefully I can get something written before the deadline. Watch this space Kirsten.

      Well done.

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
    • May 7, 2021 at 6:58 pm
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      Great fun, Kirsten. The playful dialogue is just right throughout. The clues to the narrator’s identity are dropped in neatly. As KenF says, you give enough details of Edinburgh to establish a fitting backdrop to the action. I wasn’t so sure about the opening; while it’s amusing (though not true about English people and their invitation to a drink), it seems a little tangential to the theme of the story (at least giving it so many words). On a technical point: can … you know … service each other in this way (in the tropes of the genre)? Enjoyed this.

      Reply
      • May 8, 2021 at 3:32 am
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        The first time I read this I was slightly put off by the one line interjections (‘awkward or what’ etc) which I personally felt slowed the flow, but second time round I really enjoyed it. Slightly tongue in cheek and dark enough to make me feel slightly uneasy at the same time. Minor, minor point – the name Maxell put me off slightly at the end and I was left wondering if it was a typo rather than reflecting on the story itself.
        Different genre to my usual reading material though which was a really pleasant change.

        Reply
        • May 8, 2021 at 4:31 am
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          Hi. Thanks for your comments and yes, overall it was supposed to be fairly tongue-in-cheek. Maxwell was just the name which sprung to mind- no idea why. I guess I won’t be getting a vote for best character name 😉

          Reply
          • May 8, 2021 at 9:35 am
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            That explains it. I thought it might have been Maxwell but it came up as Maxell and I wondered if I had missed something. Nothing wrong with the name Maxwell as a character name. Reminds me of Grease 2!

      • May 8, 2021 at 4:29 am
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        Thank you, and the comment about the English and tea was slightly tongue-in-cheek. I agree, the opening probably wasn’t really relevant to the story as such. I always value your comments, so thanks again

        Reply
      • May 8, 2021 at 4:32 am
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        Not having any luck with technical skills today? Posted my reply to you somewhere else for some reason. Thank you for your comments though- I appreciate them and you for taking the time to read and comment

        Reply
    • May 11, 2021 at 2:10 pm
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      I am curious about the technicalities… but you didn’t have enough words to go into the finer details about the… nocturnal friends.

      Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 1:26 am
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      That’s a darkly playful date night around the Auld Toon!
      Brought to mind Spike and Drusilla (from Buffy) a little, though the narrator is less worldly-wise, not knowing what a Bloody Mary is!
      It would save some problems, though possibly wipe out most of a literary genre, if vampires could just drink each other, wouldn’t it?
      Fun story, and another one with a soundtrack, as I guess stories about dance should have.

      Reply
      • May 12, 2021 at 3:10 pm
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        Yes, it would save a lot of problems if they could just feats off each other….assuming they’re real of course. And actually, what a great title- Date night or possibly Dance Around the Auld Toon. Wish I’d thought of that!

        Reply
  • May 5, 2021 at 8:09 am
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    Freshmen Sock-hop
    by Robt. Emmett

    “Robin, are you going to the school dance Saturday night?”
    “No, Mom, I’m not.”
    “Why?”
    “I have a lot of studying to do.” It wasn’t a lie, not really.
    “You should go. You need a little fun in your life. Study on Sunday instead.”
    “Mom!”
    “Just a thought, dear.” Turning to leave my room, she paused, “Just a thought.”
    Just a thought, yeah. If I had the money, I’d ask Cathy and go. Closing my hand around the two quarters in the pocket of my Levi’s, I jingled them to make sure they were still there. I’d lost most of the two dollars I always kept handy for pool shooting at Silk’s Billiard Parlor. I couldn’t tell Mom. She hated gambling. If she knew, I’d get a half-hour lecture on the evils of being at his place. To her, it was a den of wickedness. What she didn’t know, she couldn’t worry about. I enjoyed the place and won… most of the time.
    ~*~

    After school on Monday, I found Mom’s note on the kitchen table. She’d met Mister Sourpuss, his neighborhood nickname, at the grocery store. He mentioned his garage needed cleaning out and the floor swept. The big spender was willing to part with a whole silver dollar. It wasn’t enough to ask Cathy to the dance, but I went to see him.
    There were boxes of small metal bits and pieces everywhere. Piles of rags littered the place. Decades of National Geographic magazines, tied together with baler twine by the year, sat on shelves. Four wooden cases of soda bottles blocked the other exit.
    How the hell was I gonna make this work for me?
    Suddenly, I knew.
    I spent the following three afternoons in his garage. With the stuff organized into piles, I could sell it on Saturday.
    I could almost feel the coins in my pocket. I’d save the silver dollar and still have enough to ask Cathy.
    ~*~

    About noon, the tinkling bell announced the rag Sheenie’s horse-drawn wagon. Rounding the corner, it started along the alley toward me. I offered him the garage junk. We dickered, and in the end, I had my pool shooting money and enough to take Cathy to the Sock-hop.
    As he was leaving, I noticed he’d left a large box of junk. But for a price, he’d take it. Now, I didn’t have enough to ask Cathy to the dance. I’d have to go stag.

    Passing the alley behind the school, I heard familiar voices, Al, TJ, Steve, and Dan. I declined their offer to share their cigarette. In the gym’s foyer, I paid halfa buck for a ticket. Even though the band was playing, Cathy, Rita, Mary, and Dorothy were standing alone against the wall. Their dates were outside smoking.
    I asked Cathy to dance, so we’d be alone and could talk. In the middle of the gym, we stopped. Modestly, she undid the neck button of her blouse. Al had given her a small crucifix. I had to promise not to tell her parents. If they found out, they’d be upset.
    What a shock… Cathy and Al going steady.
    The cheerleader at the refreshment table took my quarter and handed me a Pepsi. Our eyes met and locked for an instant.
    Stepping away, her voice startled me, “Robin.”
    “Nancy, hi,” I said.
    “Wanna dance, Robin?”
    I set my half-drank Pepsi on the counter.
    We chatted and made our way to the middle of the other dancers. She stopped and started acting cuddly. Was she coming on to me? Or was she expecting me to come on to her? Why? She liked to date the jocks, and I wasn’t one. The gym abruptly went absolutely black. The music stopped. Startled girls screamed. Nancy’s short blond hair, smelling of Bergamot, brushed my nostrils. Our lips almost met. Mine was dry, and I turned my head. Still clutching me close, she planted one on my cheek. Her enthusiasm had surprised me.
    The gym lights came back on. Over the working again PA system, the janitor announced the electric guitar had shorted the school’s electrical system. I would have continued dancing to see what she wanted, but Jim Wilczynski motioned for her. He was a junior, a star defenseman, with a mean streak. I didn’t want to test it. I released her hand. Our fingers lingered. She smiled.
    The cheerleader’s face broke into a wide Cheshire-cat grin as she handed me my warm Pepsi. I dump it. I don’t drink something that has been out of my sight.
    Donna, her coat on, brushed past me. “Leaving before the last dance?” I asked.
    “I need to catch the nine-forty-five bus.”
    “Do ya want to walk? Home, with me. I mean.”
    She stopped and turned to me, “What? Why?”
    “Jeez, I don’t know. It’s a pleasant night. I thought we could walk and….”
    “You mean that?”
    “Sure, why not?”
    “Well, cuz you never seemed to notice… ah, I mean… sure, you’re right. It is a nice evening for walking home and talking.”
    Donna and Nancy were friends, sorta. Nancy was a tall, good-looking blond who needed to be the center of attention. She enjoyed being noticed. Donna, being plainer, was the contrast.
    The walk along 4th Street had been pleasant. She was interesting and had an intriguing way of expressing herself. At the 5th Avenue light, “Donna, you want to stop for a Sundae?”
    Looking across the avenue at Bridgman’s ice cream parlor, “If you do.”
    The waitress grinned and handed me our menus, “Here ya go, Lover Boy.” Chuckling to herself, she filled two water glasses and put them in front of us. “Yous ready ta orda?”
    I knew what I wanted but asked, “What do you want?”
    Nancy looked at me, “You order. I’m still thinking.” She wanted me to set the limit.
    “I’ll have a Hot Fudge Sundae.”
    “Shure thing, Lover Boy.” Snapping her chewing gum, “And yous, miss?”
    Donna looked at me, smiled, “The same.”
    “Back inna flash whit two Hot Fudges.”
    “What are you smiling about?”
    Donna shook her head, “Nothing.”
    “Here ya go, two ah the best Hot Fudges in town.” Setting them on the tabletop, winked and slid the chit to me.
    We enjoyed the sundaes and chatted. A few people stopped in and bought milk, but none stayed long.
    “Closing time,” the waitress said. “Yous gotta leave. Oh, Lover Boy, stop back anytime.”
    I dropped my last three quarters on the counter. A nickel tip wasn’t much, but I was out of money. Stepping outside, “Why’d she keep calling me Lover Boy?”
    Donna smiled, dipped her head, but didn’t answer.
    I walked her home. We said our goodnights, and the wonderful evening was over.
    As I hung my coat in the back hall, Mom asked, “Have a good time, Robin?”
    “It was okay.” I started towards my room.
    She stopped me. “I’d say it was better than okay.” Smiling, “Who was she?”
    “Donna, from up the street.”
    “The Andersons’ daughter?”
    “Yes, Mom.”
    “She’s a nice girl.” Taking a hankie from her sleeve, Mom said, “She left lipstick on your cheek.”
    No wonder Donna wouldn’t let me kiss her goodnight. Nancy’s lipstick!
    — ℜ —

    Reply
    • May 6, 2021 at 8:40 am
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      Did I just time travel? That is some pretty potent nostalgia! It feels like seeing a distant side of America that is closed forever through a spyglass… because the fiery sword of time blocks me from physically visiting.

      Reply
      • May 6, 2021 at 9:57 am
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        Thanks for the comment. Did you ever look through the knothole of the wood fence surrounding a construction site? All you can see is three or four pieces of one-inch green re-bar. That’s this story: A very tiny glimpse into a bygone era. The word “Sock-hop.” It’s come and gone. The modern gym floor finish can now withstand the abuse of street shoes. I didn’t mention that both Cathy and Donna wore Poodle skirts. [Ran out of words.] Nancy thought herself too mature for such juvenile fashions.
        Yes, “the fiery sword of time blocks me [you] from physically visiting.” Unfortunately.

        Reply
        • May 6, 2021 at 11:13 am
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          Thank you! I always wondered what was up with the removal of the shoes…

          I put the poodle skirts on them myself because I was thinking of Grease, American Graffiti, Happy Days, and stuff I saw on Nick at Nite and TV Land growing up… but I could see that you were placing all the details in that you could to transport us there within the word limit!

          You write these period pieces very well!

          My wife and kids call me “Old Man” as a pet name because I am always talking about “my day” and trying to talk about how the containers and mediums for expression keep changing and becoming obsolete… cassettes and VHS… theaters from the Golden Age of Cinema to Blockbusters to Netflix and Redbox!

          I wasn’t around for most of the stuff I talk about, but my son thinks that I am “stuck in the 60’s” because I condone reading so much and I talk about how every generation gets nostalgic for something different and yadda yadda.

          A lot of the time, people can’t see the parallels between some of the stuff that I talk about… like podcasts and radio shows, for example, or creepy pastas and fairy tales.

          But that is just me waxing “wise beyond my years”.

          Congratulations! You made me feel nostalgic for a time that I never knew!

          Reply
          • May 6, 2021 at 1:17 pm
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            There are places where Poodle skirts are worn. Evansville 5PM tonight. I enjoy writing about my mis spent juvenile days. I’ve even promised my wife I’d grow up … someday.
            To paint a picture of my teen years [19523-1961] is impossible, except in snipes as in this story. It was all rolled into a larger than life thing.
            Les Paul was developing his “Log.” The forerunner of the Fender electric guitar. Mary over-laid as many as 40 recordings of the same lyrics to give depth to her songs. I went to their performance at the local the Regiment size armory. Johnny Cash, Liberace, Louis Armstrong, Sonny and Cher, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and the Beach Boys all entertained Duluth from the armory’s stage.
            Car came in more than two colors – on the same car. Dad’s 1956 Doge was three tones. Imagine that. The sound of car exhaust identified the make of car. Unless one of us kids owned it. 50 bucks bought a decent ride. Rock-n-roll existed for less than a decade, yet it lives on. On that is, until …

    • May 6, 2021 at 12:26 pm
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      Hi Robert,

      As has been mentioned you do write this stuff really well. Whilst it does not tap into my own specific memories, brought up in a very different cultural morass, it does take the lid off teen angst that is a universal theme. There is nothing more heart-attack inducing than asking a girl to dance if you are a 14 -16 year old non-jock and nothing more depressing than no for an answer.

      In one of the schools where I taught, we used to have our termly disco ( primary aged children not teens) on the last day of term because the childrens’ outdoor shoes made such a mess of the floor, removing all the polish and turning it into a dustbowl. On the following Monday when the school was closed the caretaker / janitor got cracking on cleaning the floor and then putting the polish back on for the next term. Made me think of the sock hop.

      I loved this story and think it’s one of your best. Your retelling of this story is really good and gave me a real insight into US culture.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
      • May 6, 2021 at 1:15 pm
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        Yes, asking Cathy to the dance was a big thing. Then I found out about the cross. [After college, they married.]
        I had first hour gym on Monday. There were no other gym classes until after lunch, so the janitor re-surfaced the floor after we mopped it.
        Thanks for the input about your school. I like the unfamiliar words and expressions use on this site. I google them to learn their meaning.

        Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 1:35 am
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      That’s a very evocative tale of a generally more innocent time, Robt, and very well told.

      Reply
  • May 5, 2021 at 11:10 am
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    The Original Dance of Death
    By Rumplefinkies
    Word Count: 1,200

    “The world of folklore, from fable to legend, is an expansive landscape that has been slashed and burned. Deforested for development. Paved over. Though they were used to teach the morals and virtues of their respective cultures for thousands of years, these tales were quickly bent by capitalist pigs into something much more lucrative, once they realized how easy it was.”

    Henry yawned internally and rolled his eyes externally, but his host did not notice as he was too busy leading the way through the labyrinthine mansion. It was going to be one of those kinds of conversations. One-sided and preachy, but with a touch of… what was that? Hippie ideology?

    “You see, the people were too distracted with the …ahem… mousy versions of the stories to notice that their cultural identity was being sapped by a behemoth cicada. Subterranean and covert, but still slurping away on the roots of the Tree of Knowledge. The threat was hidden, so no one saw the danger coming. You dig?”

    He did NOT “dig”, but Henry nodded with feigned interest and enthusiasm while he tried to hide his confusion. Was this guy having an acid flash back? Did the pigs burn the forest or suck on the roots… and what cicada?

    Collectors were always the weirdest people, but this man took the cake. Sometimes his speech sounded way too much like an archvillain divulging the diabolical plot of world domination to a bound hero. Plus, the winding route through the mansion, which was COVERED with artwork devoted to the ‘Danse Macabre’ by the way, was starting to remind Henry of the 'Cask of Amontillado'…

    But there was the reassuring weight in his pocket, right where he left it, and he was alert and sober, unfortunately … so why get spooked?

    {Just stay behind him and grin sporadically until you have the goods and a clear shot.}

    {You got this.}

    His conscience had a way with words, but it was not the best when it came to ethics, which suited Henry fine. It provided guidance and comedic relief, but it never sassed him or got in the way, more like an accomplice than anything. He fancied that it would look like Jiminy crickets’ evil little brother with a tommy gun, if it could take a carnal form. Or maybe it was just a psychopomp guiding him to the afterlife, and not a conscience after all?

    “How to illustrate my point through example? Vampire myths are now viewed as ridiculous superstitions that caused hysteria and inspired the modern movies and tv shows and all that crepuscular nonsense, but they once served to convey a dread of strangers and disease that could be viewed as beneficial. You know… fearing inviting strangers across your threshold, wearing protective amulets, that sort of thing. They were useless, but at least they tried to defend themselves from the threat that they could not comprehend. I mean, just look at this plague and compare…”

    The collector’s voice trailed off as if he had just illustrated his point well enough, but Henry failed to see the connection. Alas, the antiquarian was more adept at reading faces through his wine glass than he had assumed. Could he read pockets just as well?

    “No, it is not a stretch. I can lay it out quite concisely. Then, people justified tuberculosis and typhus with a supernatural explanation because they only had metaphysics, not medicine. They clung to their garlic, crucifixes, and paranoia and hid behind it like a shield… because they had no cure.”

    Henry avoided eye contact and decided to wait the storm out. A nerve had been struck.

    “Now, well now we have infrared thermometers to scan foreheads for fever at the threshold and find the vampires. We know what causes this disease. We know how to stop it. Do we wear masks, which are time-tested countermeasures for respiratory contagions, by the way, to stop it? Do we jump at the opportunity to cleanse ourselves of evil with a simple injection or two? No! They were ignorant, but we are worse because we have the knowledge to save ourselves, and we scorn it! To our own detriment, we forsake the tools of our salvation. Did they fear Death more?”

    Henry’s cheeks burned, but he let is pass and pondered over the words hanging in the air.

    After a short interval of awkward silence, they finally reached their destination: a room situated in the center of the building with walls like a vault and one steel door that clanged firmly into place behind them. Irritation surged through the thief as he realized that there was no lock or keypad.

    {You could've just waltzed right in wearing a black hoodie and be done with it! This “schmoozing” isn’t worth the effort.}

    {Also, now this guy knows your face, minus the mask.}

    “What was I saying before you – ah, yes! Many sheeple would say that the values embodied in these foundational stories can be supplemented by good parenting and education, that we do not need archaic fairy tales transcribed from oral tradition… the Brothers Grimm and Aesop and what have you. What can be lost by diluting them, an insufferable dolt might ask?? Conversely, what can be gained from preserving them? Some are grim reminders of Death! Turn your attention to Exhibit A.”

    A large mural was suddenly illuminated by a row of old overhead lamps that flickered and hummed to life… reluctantly. One of the bulbs blew with a pop and Henry realized just how jittery he was when he felt his hand clench around the gun.

    “Behold my ‘la Danse Originale de la Mort’!”

    A resplendent and towering Death was captured on the wall, one bony hand clasped about the waist of a woman and the other waving wildly, almost like jazz hands. She had a look of awe and adulation on her face, like a groupie that found herself pulled onstage by a very handsome front man indeed.

    “Wow!”, Henry chirped as he pretended to appraise it somberly. And, as an apparent afterthought: “Is that bullet proof glass?”

    “Of course! We couldn’t have – krrk!”.

    The bullet popped through the collector’s masked and proud face easily, but stopped short of the actual painting, so he was not fibbing.

    Henry inspected the mural over the corpse and whistled. It really was breathtaking, but he was disappointed. He had expected to see the full procession of souls dancing along with the Grim Reaper, not one lady doing the tango! This was too intimate.

    After all, Death is not faithful to one partner. He cavorts about the dance floor, claiming victims with every pirouette and swaying to the rhythm gracefully, but NEVER caring about looks or showing preference to class. Impersonal.

    As Henry watched, an intricate representation of his latest victim materialized on the wall with the other two dancers. The brush strokes seemed to ooze out of thin air to create a rendition of the poor man with a mesmerized stare fixed on the… choreographer before him.

    Henry thought about how much money he could fetch from this… acquisition. He could probably maximize his profits if he filled the painting up with some more dancers first…

    Reply
    • May 11, 2021 at 2:58 pm
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      I prefer the first story as it flows a little better. Your are very clever with your words and have some great metaphors, but I do sometimes have to read over a paragraph again to check my understanding. I didn’t get the story the first time around, but took my time reading it again and it made a lot more sense, with a clever ending

      Reply
      • May 11, 2021 at 5:16 pm
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        Thank you!

        I have a tendency to lose people sometimes… I think my tree is a little low and I could have used a few more minutes in the oven…

        🙂

        But seriously and no pressure on you… what part of my collection of meandering ideas and odd conversations that I call a story (the first one) confused you most… if you had to pinpoint the first or most powerful moment where your happy train of thought was derailed by my weirdness?

        Reply
      • May 11, 2021 at 5:26 pm
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        Sorry folks!
        This story leans so heavily on the dancing dead imagery that it really hurts it when there are no illustrations or pictures attached… I didn’t bother to explain about how these pictures were used historically or go into further detail about the connection between this story and a certain Poe story… I just sort of hoped that people would know what I was talking about or google it.
        🙁
        You live and you learn!

        Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 1:55 am
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      It takes more than one reading, but there is more to this piece of literary fiction than meets the eye. At first I glossed over the Cask of Amontillado reference, but it’s kind of like a reversal of the plot, is it not? The person being led around the mansion being not the victim, but rather the perpetrator, who holds all the cards while the host is unaware of his purpose. And then the host becomes kind of entombed in the picture.

      There’s also some irony about what the collector says about keeping the vampire from your door etc, as he has let evil over the threshold. And he’s also let in Jiminy Cricket’s evil brother on the villain’s shoulder, prompting him, who is a kind of comedic contrast to the “behemoth cicada”, perhaps?

      One sees more at every reading. Clever stuff.

      Reply
      • May 12, 2021 at 11:46 am
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        Thank you (and everyone) for the honest criticism!

        I tried to do the Poe thing and the vampire stuff that you mentioned, but the part with the cicada and Jiminy Cricket didn’t even occur to me until you said that!

        I guess you “get” my story better than I do… lol!

        The funny part is that I was trying to make a (very veiled) point about how certain companies infiltrate the fairy tale world and mess it all up with their commercialized versions of the classic stories, but then I accidentally made an allusion to a character that was created by that same company in the next paragraph- DOH!

        I did aspire to become an entomologist as a child… so bugs are always on the mind… but there is no excuse for this oversight!

        I guess I have “mouse scratch fever” too!

        Oh wait, there is the “Brood X” of 17-year cicadas that are set to emerge in the southern US this year… those headlines are probably in the back of my mind and influencing things… sometimes the inspiration for a story is more interesting than the plot of the story itself!

        About the other story… yeah I definitely could have cleaned up the perspective (I don’t think I even thought about it too hard with all the bad arithmetic in my head).

        That surname was inspired by Wilhelm Haidinger, who I only know of because of the “Haidinger’s Brush” phenomenon that one can see in the sky through training and the assistance of certain crystals (like the Vikings used).

        (But I don’t really know anything else about the man or his work).

        Did you already know about Haidinger, because that comment about seeing the light was spot on?!

        I just googled it, and he had a motto: “Advancement of science, not monopolisation of research!”

        Reply
  • May 7, 2021 at 11:16 am
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    Hailey and the Comet
    By Rumplefinkies
    Word Count: 819

    Jack was already melancholy before he became a widower, but it would be an understatement to say that tears flowed easier these days. Just the slightest acknowledgement of mortality or suffering was all it took to unsettle the gentle giant of a man at this point. And now his granddaughter’s innocent comment over her apple juice about them seeing Halley’s comet together was too much. They were miniscule, but twin deluges had arrived.

    2061 was a long way off. Too long. She was six and could not do the math of fifty-six plus seventy-six, or she would have made the same realization. He wanted to kick that can down the road and let her enjoy the naivete for as long as possible.

    Jack’s memory of his brothers taunting him when he was five and had the epiphany that Mom and Dad were probably going to die first was still painful. It was futile, but he wanted to shelter Hailey from that same inevitable kind of sorrow.

    But her name was Hailey, and BOTH her parents were astronomers! There was no way she was NOT going to get curious about Halley’s comet again eventually…

    Well, eventually came that very day. She was going to be way brighter than even her parents it seemed, because she came back five minutes later with a tear in her eye and a calculator in her hand.

    They talked about it and he tried to phrase it gently, but she was too smart. A portion of her innocence drained from her eyes while she cried.

    That night was just a blur of sadness to him, but something snapped inside that child before she went to sleep. The impact was way stronger than her grandfather had anticipated…

    Minutes after being tucked in by a concerned mother, Hailey rose from her bed slowly. She crept to the window with the composure of an empress. Her eyes fixed on the glittering firmament with crackling rage.

    A hapless shooting star heard her whispered vow as it passed and sped up. It could hear the determination in the words and trembled at their intensity. It was in the business of granting wishes. That little girl did NOT want or need a wish. She just required everyone to get out of her way.

    After a brief career pioneering and developing breakthrough technology in the field of cryobiology, Hailey Haidinger dropped off the face of the Earth at the age of forty-two. The scientific community was in complete upheaval. The brilliant engineer and theoretical physicist had been in complete obscurity her whole life before she waltzed in, dumped the solution to a million problems with cryogenics on their laps, and disappeared!

    People could be completely frozen now. Well, people could always be completely frozen, but now they could thaw out and survive! We are talking classic sci-fi, no-mess, Ripley-waking-up-from-decades-of-cryostasis-with-just-a-hangover, REVOLUTIONARY technology here!

    Rip Van Winkle in a can.

    Hailey singlehandedly completed this herculean task, which was unheard of. You cannot just shove a human in a magic box that turns them “off” without hurting them! But she did. No help. She left it up to everyone else to figure out how to sell, transport, and power the devices. Money, fame, power? She cared not!

    But she showed up again a year later in Madrid. Apparently, a small number of geriatric patients from the clinical trials were experiencing severe heart and respiratory problems upon awakening. The risk was small, smaller than the risk of having an adverse reaction to a vaccine, but it changed everything for Hailey and abruptly tore her out of her mysterious hiatus.

    Hailey was angry again. Seething. Every moment of every day. Pappa Jack would call her each night at the same time, and they would chat, and then she would stare out her window towards The Snowball from Hell and curse it until she slept.

    One day, out of nowhere, she announced to her peers (and the jubilant press) that she was going to be focusing on aerospace engineering from then on… and promised to reveal more shortly. A smile graced her lips then, too fast for the flash photography to capture even, and the bouncy little girl that she used to be emerged for just a moment.

    The great Hailey “Humdinger” Haidinger herself, age forty-nine, pulled the curtain with a dramatic flourish.

    “I told you we were going to see it together, Grampa”.

    If the comet was going to breathtaking from Earth in 2061, the view from the bridge of her starship would murder through asphyxiation.

    Pappa Jack, age 99, put a surprisingly strong arm around her waist and positively BEAMED.

    They sipped apple juice through straws for a while and then put on some Beatles. Neither one of them was very graceful, but they slow danced in the low gravity for an eternity. Tears were floating all over the place, and it was beautiful.

    Reply
    • May 7, 2021 at 7:01 pm
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      Which story are you going with, Rumples?

      Reply
      • May 8, 2021 at 2:22 pm
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        I actually tried to contain my madness and give it a more pleasing look for the first one… the second one was just an idea that I executed poorly… but it meant something to me and it was emotional to write.

        Reply
    • May 11, 2021 at 2:38 pm
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      I liked the concept of the story here, but I got a little bit lost in the middle. I think there is something sad though when you realise there are certain events you will never witness

      Reply
      • May 11, 2021 at 5:07 pm
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        Sorry about the sloppiness and my missing spacers!

        It skips from the little girl being 6 years old in 1986 to 42 years old in 2022 and then 49 years old in 2029… but the reader never sees 2061, which is the correct year for viewing the comet from Earth.

        The whole thing ends up being a ridiculous math problem from an awful textbook, but it is supposed to be a countdown to Jack’s death that is represented by the path of the comet, which just goes in a big circle every 76 years.

        Hailey is supposed to be one of those people who drastically changes the world for the better more than once, except she creates the change as a byproduct as she works to defy Death for her loved one. She is smart and altruistic, so she shares everything she finds with Humanity, but she really just wants one thing.

        Thank you for commenting!
        I don’t want to share just how many times I have checked to see if anyone commented on my stories since last week!
        (It is a pretty sad number.)

        I need to start patching my stories up a little better… so you can’t see all the stitches and glue…. but also so people can tell what is actually happening!

        Reply
  • May 7, 2021 at 11:34 am
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    Hi,

    This story really has me puzzled. I can see it is about Halley’s comet but everything else is a little cloudy for me.
    I think I am going to wait and see what others say. Kind regards,
    Ken Frape

    Reply
    • May 7, 2021 at 1:26 pm
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      Yeah… I need to edit this a wee bit it seems.

      Reply
  • May 7, 2021 at 11:48 am
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    I want to blame it all on the spacers, but I feel like there is a bigger problem lol!

    Reply
  • May 7, 2021 at 11:51 am
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    My son smiled so cutely and said that we would watch Halley’s comet together when he was much younger.

    I smoked for twenty years and hadn’t quit yet, but that got me thinking about the math of human lives and comets.

    Reply
  • May 10, 2021 at 10:03 am
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    Happy Monday everybody!

    Reply
    • May 10, 2021 at 10:04 am
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      And to you as well, good sir!

      Reply
      • May 10, 2021 at 10:12 am
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        By the way, how are you dealing with the isolation? Any cabin fever?

        Reply
        • May 10, 2021 at 10:14 am
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          None here! You?

          Reply
          • May 12, 2021 at 4:27 am
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            Happy Wednesday! Apologies for the site inactivity, I just haven’t been going to the site every day and it takes me time to get to all the stories.

            I think the second story has potentially a lot to it, though I refer the first one. To provide an honest critique, I’d say though the story is told by an omniscient narrator, I don’t think it has a consistent voice. And I find it harder to identify with the characters when everything is told from outside, whereas in your first story we’re right inside the head of the villain throughout.
            It could be a very big story, and in some ways seems like a synopsis of a longer story, where the characters and drama and some dialogue need to be filled in to this framework
            Is Hailey’s surname Haidinger significant – something about seeing the light maybe?

  • May 10, 2021 at 2:33 pm
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    Rumplefinkies,

    I’ll wish you a Happy Monday, good sir. I noticed you said you hadn’t quit smoking yet. Yet, as in I did, but that was a while back, or I still haven’t quit? One deserves congratulations, the other a tsk. tsk. As a former smoker I can be that way and at 78 I haven’t paid for that sin, yet. Yet as in … I probably will in the not too distant future.

    Roy

    Reply
  • May 10, 2021 at 3:35 pm
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    I FINALLY quit almost a year ago… with just one shameful relapse that lasted two cigars!

    So I still deserve at least two tsks!

    Congrats on quitting, no matter how long it took!

    Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 12:19 am
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      Rumples,

      I quit smoking cigarettes three years ago. (Now I only smoke weed. Or eat it. It’s perfectly legal here in Uruguay.)

      Both stories are quite good, in the first story, I was not familiar with ‘le Dance of Death 1948.’ Never having seen nor heard of it. For that lapse, I feel grateful. I had to google it reluctantly. Some sort of German-Italian film noir it seemed. (A typically German affair, but without the war or overt torture.) To say that your story played off of that film, is as creative as the story itself. (And therefore, entirely believable.) I did not get it or like it until you offered the reference to Poe. But it was too late. That reference needed to be in the story perhaps in the very beginning. I hope you don’t feel like I’m trashing the story itself, although I still didn’t like it because it didn’t convey what you were trying to convey, as well as you could have. (by describing the painting, (connecting the Poe’s) at least mentioning Poe. (I know, it sounds like your crazy, and maybe you are, but I’m not a doctor. I can’t help you with that.)

      Neither story seemed confusing, I liked the second one much better. Yes, you threw me off with the math. When I was in my teens, the first time I heard about Halley’s comet, I calculated what age I’d be when it next arrived. 36, then I calculated how old I’d be at the turn of the century. 48. By that time, I reasoned, flying cars would be a given.

      the second story was my favorite, a kinder gentler take on dancing then the preceding slew of slaughters.

      I don’t know what to say about this group (this latest group). I know that the inability to post was so severe that I gave up trying for most of this contest. I suspect that that is behind the dearth of comments. I tried to post from different computers at different times, I even got on a plane and tried to post from a different time-zone. I did not give up easily. And as you can see, (if this posts) I’m still here. (Not standing though.) I wasn’t especially inspired by the prompt either.

      But your story, John, made me think of me, and how old I would be when it comes back around. 109. My dad is 96 and my mom is 92. So it’s not out of the question. I think a better story would about someone who sees it a third time, or even a 30th time. Or a character in a book who was kept on ice until the comet came around for a year, and then put back in his Cryotank.

      I enjoyed both stories. From what I’ve read of your stories so far, you offer a lot of information, (but not enough sometimes), good descriptions and a wonderful pace to your plots. (did that sound good? Cause I just made it up.) In truth, I don’t know why I like your writing, I just do. Clearly, these two stories demonstrate your versatility. (That seems obvious.)

      I hope this comment fixes your need for a critique Mr. Rumples. (Pronounced ROO-muh-lay.) Cheers. Hope this posts.

      Reply
      • May 12, 2021 at 11:12 am
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        Music to my ears! Lol

        I think you are right about the comet… waking up to a new Halley’s comet ever morning or something like that would be better.

        Thank you!

        Reply
      • May 12, 2021 at 11:56 am
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        Yeah… I should have described snapshots of the different paintings of dancing skeletons and all that jazz for the first one. It would have made it creepier as they got deeper and deeper.

        Down it goes into the weird cellar of things that I am too lazy to fix right now!

        But, yes, that is some crisp and refreshing critique!

        Thank you kindly!

        Reply
  • May 10, 2021 at 4:01 pm
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    Good for you. I quit twelve years ago, but I was never a really heavy smoker and during my smoking career was less than a half a pack a week. And had periods of total abstinence, like for years, then would take it up again. Stupidity is my middle name. But, I loved smoking. Except the smell, the cost, the taste, the smoke in the air, the lingering smell on my clothing and breath. Can’t really tell you why I thought it was so cool, and why I felt like I did. It was my only vice. I am totally glad I quit, and I’m even more happy that not only my wife quit then, too, but my children have never smoked. Or, any of my grandchildren. Keep up the abstinence, it keeps the fiddle player down the road and around the bend. So far, I don’t hear any music, and I plan on keeping it that way. I don’t ever plan on paying up for that. Something else may come due, but I don’t think it’s going to be tobacco that caused it.

    Roy

    Reply
    • May 11, 2021 at 7:07 am
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      Hi Roy and Rumples,

      Hope you don’t mind if I join in your conversation regarding smoking. Like both, I dabbled with cigarettes. My first time when my parents were out ( lifelong non-smokers) made me sick in the flower bed. At college I got into it and then, one day in 1974, a year out of college, I had a broken bone in my wrist and wasn’t playing any sport which was a challenge for a full-time PE teacher. I realised one evening that I was halfway through my second pack that day. I was shocked and that evening I smoked my last cigarette. Nothing since then and, in my case, I never had the craving to do so again.
      My son smoked for a few years but has given up now for quite a long time.
      I echo the comments about the piper. Long may he stay away.

      Good health gentlemen,

      Ken Frape.

      Reply
  • May 11, 2021 at 6:44 am
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    The Phantom of the Opera and The Woman In White.

    By Ken Frape

    I will never be able to forget the image of the woman’s broken body as she lay there on the concrete like a discarded rag doll. Even to this day I cannot say with any degree of certainty if the incident I witnessed was a suicide or an accident. Or murder. The Edinburgh Police have closed the case but it is far from closed in my mind.

    On that day, nearly five years ago, I had paid my entrance fee to the World of Illusions in Castlehill in Edinburgh’s “tourist quarter.” I had made my way to the top floor and that was where my prize was waiting; The Camera Obscura, a pinhole camera mounted on the roof of the building. Simple in principle but so much more in reality.

    Through that lens I could see the whole of the city laid out before me like a circular stage in a playhouse, set for a live performance, the characters in this play unscripted, moving, breathing, living as they went about their unrehearsed daily lives. A slice of the picture was blacked out as the camera would have afforded a clear view into many of the apartments but the rest was there for all to see and all for the price of a ticket.

    My eyes were drawn to a couple on the screen as they pirouetted gracefully across a narrow balcony at the back of a disused building ripe for redevelopment. The woman’s head was thrown back in laughter as her partner guided her around their makeshift dance floor.

    Later, I explained exactly what I had seen to a short, heavily-built young detective sergeant in a crisp suit, polished shoes and a brutally short haircut. She proved to be brisk and efficient, listening carefully and without interruption when I told my story. Only then did she question me, her hard Glaswegian brogue probing, clarifying and interrogating. I thanked God that I was not a suspect but if I was the victim I would have wanted this detective to be on my case.

    I tried to recall as much detail as I could.

    The woman’s white dress billowed like a silk cloud as she danced and the hand on her partner’s shoulder held a cigarette in a long holder. She wore a feathered headband and her blonde hair trailed down her back and shoulders. My eyes were drawn to her but her partner was equally striking. He wore a tuxedo and a top hat and he was laughing too. I could only see the part of his face that wasn’t covered by the Phantom of the Opera mask.

    On the lip of the balcony sat two long stemmed champagne flutes and an upturned bottle in a silver ice bucket. In spite of the distance between us, I felt that I could taste those bubbles and share their joy. The detective smiled as I said this as we stood a few metres outside the crime scene tape. Curious passers-by were now being shooed away and just beyond the tape I could see that a silver blanket was now covering the body, except for a strip of white silk that fluttered free in the breeze of an early Edinburgh evening.

    “They were dancing so beautifully,” I explained, “just like a scene from a movie. They looked so much in love.”
    The keen-eyed detective looked back at me and she seemed to absorb my every word, nothing escaping her attention. Later, but not then, I learned more about the dead woman, Maggie McKenzie. She was an actress, a good one but now out of work and about to become homeless too. Drink problems had robbed her of her career and, perhaps, her life. There was an empty bottle on the ledge, after all.

    “And then what did you see, sir?” she probed further.

    “As I watched the scene before me, the two characters abruptly stopped dancing and stepped apart. As they broke contact the woman slapped the man in the face, hard enough for him to reel backwards, his hat falling to the ground and then he put both hands around the woman’s throat and pushed her towards the rail.”

    “And then?” She seemed to want to hurry things along. Perhaps she could see her evening plans disappearing under a pile of paperwork.

    I thought for a moment. “And then the attendant in the World of Illusions informed me that they were closing for the day. I looked away from the scene on the balcony as she spoke to me but as soon as she finished speaking I looked back to the balcony.”

    “And what did you see this time, sir?” The word sir was said with exaggerated politeness and the “let’s hurry things along, shall we” tone in her voice had gone up a couple of notches.

    “The balcony was empty,” I told her. “I can’t be sure but I think I caught a glimpse of the man in the phantom mask as he disappeared through the door and it looked as if he was in a hurry and …… “

    “Perhaps it’s best if we just stick to the facts, sir, shall we?”

    “Sure, sure, of course. So I ran down from the top floor of the Outlook Tower and into the street. I heard the sirens. As I came around the corner a crowd had already gathered around the body of the woman in white lying face up on the ground. Her eyes were wide open and a red patch was blooming around her head, seeping through her hair. The cigarette holder was still grasped in her hand and a thin wisp of smoke from her cigarette clawed its way into the air. Within moments a police officer was moving us all back and then the crime scene tape was stretched between the lamp posts and then…..” I paused as I sensed I was gabbling. ….”and then you arrived.”

    “So you didn’t actually see the woman go over the balcony then, did you?”

    “No, I didn’t, I suppose,” I said, my voice rather quiet this time.

    The detective looked at me keenly, trying to assess my story, then a thought seemed to strike her.

    “What do you do for a living ,sir?” she asked.

    “I’m a crime thriller writer,” I replied.

    “Thought you might be,” she said and it was hard for her to hide her irritation. “Since Rebus we get a lot of crime writers here, you know. Well, this will give you something to write about then, won’t it? I’ve got your contact details although I doubt if I will need to chat to you again.” I was dismissed.

    I turned away to head for the nearest bar. A wee dram was definitely called for. Then the detective called me back and said,
    “When you come to write about this you might like to know that we found no evidence of anyone else in the building and only one champagne glass.”

    She fixed me with an uncomfortably knowing stare that followed me as I hurried away from the “crime” scene.

    ………………………………………..

    Author’s note: The World of Illusions ( including the Camera Obscura), 549 Castlehill, Edinburgh. EH12ND. Info@camera-obscura Adult ticket price: £15.75

    Reply
    • May 11, 2021 at 2:00 pm
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      https://www.google.com/maps/@55.9489107,-3.1957913,3a,75y,60.21h,117.81t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sDFzpf2SgY0_Tp8IVRINbDw!2e0!6shttps:%2F%2Fstreetviewpixels-pa.googleapis.com%2Fv1%2Fthumbnail%3Fpanoid%3DDFzpf2SgY0_Tp8IVRINbDw%26cb_client%3Dsearch.revgeo_and_fetch.gps%26w%3D96%26h%3D64%26yaw%3D347.13208%26pitch%3D0%26thumbfov%3D100!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en-US

      This is just a view from the street, not a link that brings you deep into the dark web!

      Reply
      • May 11, 2021 at 2:05 pm
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        Too bad I can’t get a view from the top without visiting!
        This story was better the second time because my expectations were different and I noticed things that I didn’t the first time… sort of like how you might be looking at a different part of the screen during the second viewing of a film.

        Reply
    • May 11, 2021 at 2:34 pm
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      I really enjoyed your story Ken. It flowed well and I didn’t have to go back for a re-read (which is a positive!). I didn’t see the ending coming, so that was a nice twist. I love Camera Obscura and enjoyed your description- just enough to set the scene

      Reply
      • May 11, 2021 at 3:15 pm
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        Hi Kirsten,
        Your story inspired mine. My cousin Murdo Maclean (sadly deceased) owned a hair and beauty salon in Rose Street. It is still there. His widow, Bett lives in Leith near the former Royal Yacht Britannia.
        On one of my visits my family and I visited the Camera Obscura and loved it.

        Kind regards,
        Ken Frape

        Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 4:46 am
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      I love this story, Ken – it had me captivated all the way through, and the ending is perfect.

      You say the story was in part prompted by Kirsten. With the Opera and Woman in White, you also seem to be picking up on two past prompts in this group!

      As with Kirsten’s, I can visualise the setting at that end of the Royal Mile by the castle, having worked on contracts over several years in Edinburgh, or staying there while working over the river in Fife. You both capture Edinburgh well – and I like the Rankin/Rebus reference too. There are several pubs associated with Ian Rankin in and around Rose Street, which you mention in another comment, and there are I believe pub tours associated with that.

      Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 12:44 pm
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      Ken Frape,

      Your story encourages me to write a story about the little town where I grew up, it was so weird you’d probably think I was making up all the little details I remember, like the pervasive Arabian architecture; the ancient librarian with ill-fitting dentures; the nearby airbase; even the name, ‘Opa-Locka.’

      I used to ride my bicycle, by myself, from 152nd street, to 135th street when I was six years old. I remember rolling to a stop one time, in the rear parking lot of the 5 & 10 store, and then when I started peddling again, the bike wouldn’t move, because the rear tire was being supported above a pothole by my training wheels. I know I was young (or especially stupid) because it took me a minute to figure it all out.

      Reply
      • May 12, 2021 at 4:46 pm
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        Attaboy Luther!

        No really – you should write that.

        Reply
      • May 13, 2021 at 8:26 am
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        Hi Ken C,

        I find it very interesting that when we were kids we seemed to be free to roam far and wide, well away from the safety of our homes. One wonders how we used to find our way home. In answer to this I have been reading a book called “Wayfinding” by Michael Bond ( ISBN-13;978-1509841097) that explains exactly this and applies it to Native Americans, tribes in Africa and wandering Highlanders in Scotland. I found the book really intriguing.

        I think the story about the little town where you grew up needs to be written.

        Ken F

        Reply
    • May 13, 2021 at 1:12 am
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      Ken F.

      I was lost at the beginning, having no idea what a ‘camera-obscura’ is. I’m still not sure how it works in your story even after googling and reading about it. But your story moves on without it, and the interaction between the female cop and the main character is almost like a camera zeroing in on its sharpest focus. the dialogue between the two is brilliantly delivered and makes the story worth reading. The ending left me wondering. I suppose the give-away is at the beginning, when the narrator thinks the man was wearing a phantom of the opera mask. It’s a subtle story, but the writing is stellar.

      Reply
      • May 13, 2021 at 8:47 am
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        Hi Ken,

        I think I had a big advantage in understanding this story. Firstly, and this is a huge advantage, I have been in that tower in Edinburgh and seen the images projected onto the screen. The principle, as I see it, is that if you take a shoe box with the lid on and punch a small home in one end of the box, the light will go through the hole and project an image at the other end of the box like a film on a screen, hence the comment about it being like a school science project. If you create a moveable, internal back wall then you can adjust the focus too. If you cover the hole, insert a piece of light sensitive paper where the back wall is situated then open the hole again to let in light then you have built a pin hole camera. My second advantage is that I actually did this fifty odd years ago as a school project.

        In the camera obscura, the viewer is inside the box and the images are live and moving in real time.

        Anyway, glad that you enjoyed the story. I wanted to exploit my visits to Edinburgh, my family connections to the City, include references to Scotsman Wilkie Collins story “The Woman in White”, ( a London West End show some years ago) The Phantom of the Opera and the Rebus detective books by Ian Rankin.

        It’s all Kirsten’s fault. She got me thinking……

        Regards,

        Ken Frape

        Reply
  • May 11, 2021 at 8:08 am
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    Good job and worded well!
    I loved the use of a camera obscura and real locations in Edinburgh!

    There is a hint of magic realism in this I think, and my imagination ran wild as I tried to figure out which way it was going.
    I think it was partly the theme of illusions and the thought of seeing something so profound through the play of light and dark on the wall, instead of directly, that helped make it more intriguing.

    I started to think that the narrator was a little too good at describing events, but that quickly worked itself out!

    Reply
  • May 11, 2021 at 2:37 pm
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    I suspect that some people are having difficulty getting to the site because of technical problems… and the real world is causing some drama for the other folks.

    Reply
  • May 11, 2021 at 4:04 pm
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    Rumples,
    You said; ‘…some people are having difficulty ‘getting to the site’ because of technical problems…’ One would almost be a fool to think otherwise.

    Reply
  • May 11, 2021 at 10:59 pm
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    His Gossamer Sway (979 words)

    By Marien Oommen

    “Here you are! Careful, don’t spill.”

    He smiled. He passed me a margarita before leaving. Something urgent had come up on this very special day.

    “Thank you! That looks beautiful. Awww.. do you have to go now? The fun is just about to begin!”

    “Bye. I’ll be back soon.”

    “Dinner will be ready and waiting, hon! Whene’er.”

    I held the glass up in my hand, and sipped its salty sweetness.
    Today the concoction hit me with an all time high.
    Here I am, sitting on the marble ledge, in my old, 30 dollar suit.
    Cheap, right? But these times who wants to shop?
    Not me!
    Nobody’s visiting, nobody sees. So who cares?

    The sun was up in the sky. Far away, I saw Delta flying into the clouds as if carving out an.. I LOVE YOU.
    At least that’s how I saw the writing in the sky. This is pure bliss, I say.

    What a delightful morning. The May showers had made everything smell so good.

    My girl was at the other end. I saw her bob like a dolphin, in and out.

    On her next bob up, she screamed.
    Maaaaa… behind you! There he is. Watch out!!

    Archie Etikalli had quietly found his way into our comfort zone and stood in the corner, rather unsure of himself. The even colored blankie he wore around him, had buttons that shone in the sun. He was no better than the others of his creepy kind. You know the type you can’t trust.

    Each time I saw him, he gave me… the.. whatzaa word?
    The heebeegeebees.
    He did.
    That’s how I felt each time I saw him… I’d cry out… EEEEEEEEE.
    But he never budged. Poised against the wall as if he were Spiderman or Batman, his hairy arms akimbo.
    And he never moved.
    But quietly ogled at us.

    Whereas William, often spotted at my front porch, was the very essence of dignity. He was kinda cute, always dressed in a slick green tux. He held his long neck high up and hung around the steps waiting for Mary. I never saw them stroll together, but I knew in my deepest mind, that’s who he was waiting for.
    They were a cute pair and left us alone.

    But this morning, tuned by the music that was playing, Archie Etikalli was in some kinda mood.

    I could feel poetry rising with me. Each time I am encountered by ugly things, a song rises within me.

    Can’t help it, Professor Higgins.

    Look at him, the scrawny guy, a prisoner of the gutters,
    Spreading his arms, enticing me to dance,
    Expecting ME???
    Just an ordinary woman,
    To move to the rhythm of his prance?
    Wanting ME to sing, I coulda danced all night?
    What gumption is this, I ask.
    How DARE he beckon me?

    ….Ooooooh!
    He’s crossing his eyes!
    Is it line dancing now?
    It seems he likes his own gyrations,
    My eyes tell him I hate his machinations,
    The creep, what’s he spinning now?

    Archie Etkalli was moving sidewards, then forwards.
    Then he does a scoop downwards. Goes under and then emerges.
    He’d come up shining, rising like a phoenix, to steady himself once more against the wall.
    Another sway to the left, another sway to the right.
    I could feel the disgust rising in my innards.

    The scoundrel! Come to spoil my quiet headspace hour.
    My margarita moment.

    “I am gonna wipe him out,” I whispered to the girl.
    She looked at me in fear. Or was it admiration?

    I was her mama after all. Kind, gentle, with an encouraging word at all times. I didn’t look evil or wicked.

    But this morning that certain gleam on my eyes indicated I needed to take action.
    The reason being I was loaded with plain simple practicality. Along with a daily bombardment of multiplication tables, my mama had hammered the wisdom and commonsense of Psalm 91 into me ever since I was little.

    For a minute I thought the margarita would do the trick. Blind the guy.
    The salt should do it.
    But no, I ain’t gonna waste the drink.

    So I slipped out quietly while he gazed outward at the lawn.

    I got back in two minutes flat, armed with my weapon of mass destruction. Actually two. One in each hand.

    I went towards the corner, gently floated in like a soft breeze.
    The margarita was still there perched on the ledge. I had heard vinegar should do the trick of momentarily blinding the creep.
    But couldn’t be bothered wasting expensive wine vinegar on the bloke.

    Ready! Aim! Fire!
    Ha ha ha.. Archie, Just you wait!
    Oh Oh Oh, you’re done for!

    I slammed my slipper onto his flat face. He was already a bit weak, being chlorine drunk. He staggered up again in a feeble attempt. Another slam with my slipper. And a quick sweep with a spotless white kitchen tissue, gathered the mass and thrust him into a large plastic wrap.

    “Ma, you got him? Are you sure?
    You’re my hero!
    This Mother’s day. You deserve the crown.”

    I slipped back into my reverie. A daughter who admires you still, at this grand age, is worth many millions. The pool was warm and beckoning.

    Archie Etikalli had zigzagged his way to its untimely death. And now lay in the trash can.

    As I reminisced about my own bravado, I realize that a poet is no different from a spider. Both weave and unweave the patterns of their tales, with great dexterity. They never give up.

    His epitaph:
    Here lies Archie who spent his lifetime,
    Luring silly little flies and mosquitoes.
    (His only good deed).
    But the day he lured a swimming mama,
    Spelt disaster, his gossamer silk couldn’t hold.
    Therefore he had to be crushed.
    Exterminated.
    Weep not for him.

    May his tribe disappear forever from the face of the earth.

    Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 5:00 am
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      That’s a charming and idiosyncratic vignette, Marien. Despite the injunction to “weep not”, I do feel sorry for Archie, whose crime was just to be himself. but I guess mama with her margarita was just being herself too?
      I’m not sure who William is, in his green tux. A lizard?

      Enjoyable and pleasingly different kind of story.

      Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 11:59 am
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      You are a great poet and I loved the epitaph, your wording in general, and the little riddles about the character identities!

      I am biased because I love invertebrates and I always identify with the underdog… but I still like this story… even if I do weep!

      Reply
      • May 12, 2021 at 11:16 pm
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        But you can’t love spiders! No way!

        Thanks for your good words.
        Fancy you thought of the critter as the underdog! I would think the mama was.
        🙂

        Reply
        • May 13, 2021 at 4:18 pm
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          Whaaat??? If Mama is human, how can she ever be an underdog against a tiny little spider? Unless the spider is venomous, I suppose. And you can totally love spiders (non-venomous) if you live in places teeming with disease-carrying flies and mosquitoes. My sympathies lie with spidey here.

          BTW, I’m curious about the name Archie Etikalli. Does it have a special meaning?

          Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 12:48 pm
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      Marien,

      A mirthful, lighthearted, Mother’s Day murder mystery. Not sure who or what was murdered, but hey, who cares, as long as it wasn’t mom. Happy Mother’s Day.

      Reply
    • May 13, 2021 at 7:38 am
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      Marien,

      I’m so glad I read other comments and reread your work. I discovered hidden truths and the whole enterprise came together.
      A very nice piece of writing.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
  • May 12, 2021 at 9:15 am
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    TIDES OF THE MOON

    By Victoria Chvatal (838 words)

    The large open-plan office is empty by the time she decides to call it a day. All her colleagues have long since left – to their families and lives; but she … Not that she cares about the job, or even getting a promotion; but what does it matter anyway when she returns to the empty flat? Harsh fluorescent lighting makes it easy to lose track of time, especially since all the windows are all blocked off and daylight never really gets a look in. She finishes the long-cold coffee in the mug, switches off the computer, and heads out.

    It’s already past midnight. A gigantic yellow-orange supermoon hangs in the air above the top end of the street. The streets are almost empty of people and traffic, with the exception of street-cleaning machines buzzing about, sprinkling water around and leaving behind a moist, rain-like smell. Better catch the last train, she thinks, and not waste money on a cab. A shortcut to the station takes her through a deserted, dimly lit side street. She wouldn’t normally do something so stupid, but it’s late, and she isn’t thinking straight.

    She’s about three-quarters of the way through when something reaches out for her from a dark little lane on the left. She recoils, steps out of reach, and snatches her phone from the handbag, ready to dial the police. Strangely, the person doesn’t try to grab her then; but the moment she moves forward, it reaches out again. She can’t make them out, and the darkness and shadows stretch the stranger’s limbs to an unnatural length. Running seems pointless: she doesn’t see or hear anyone else around – so she dodges and sidesteps, and tries to get to the end of the street without being obvious. The stranger doesn’t act overly aggressive; they follow her movements, approach and pull back. It’s almost as if they are toying with her.

    Absurdly, a memory surfaces – of discotheques under the starry sky on balmy summer nights, in seaside towns where her parents used to take her every year. She was still too little to be allowed inside, so she would watch the adults through the chain-link fence. That’s how she’d first learned to dance: by copying adults and older kids at these discotheques. … Of all the things to think of right now! Then her brain catches up with her subconscious: the mutual dodging and weaving really feels like a sort of dance. Two steps forward. Sidestep. Step back. Pirouette out of the way. Sidestep. Try to duck under the other’s arm. Step back. She feels lighter on her feet than she had in years, despite the fatigue. … How long since she last danced, anyway? She used to love it; but clubbing on your own gets old after a while.

    Gradually, as her eyes adjust to the dark, she sees that her “partner” is, in fact, a dragon. At times she catches flashes of flame-coloured scales in the dim light. The three heads swaying sinuously on long slender necks, and the coiling and uncoiling of the long tail only add to the feeling of a graceful, if bizarre, dance. The sight is inexplicably reassuring; though she still doesn’t trust the creature, it somehow feels safer than a common human male.

    Later still, she starts wondering whether the dragon is trying to catch her or to keep her away from something at the back of the lane. The idea that flashes through her mind is way beyond stupid, but … being sensible has got her where she is in life. So … She ducks under an undulating neck and heads into the lane. Strangely, the dragon doesn’t pursue. She remembers to switch on the light on her phone – better late than never – and it illuminates the dead end, and a door set in the wall. It looks completely out of place on a modern office building, or on imposing 19th century ones that pepper the CBD, let alone at a dead end of a back lane. You would expect to see this kind of door on some rustic country cottage, or set into a hedge. She turns the doorknob without hesitation. The door opens easily, revealing a path made of cool blue moonlight. Wasn’t there a song about this that she used to love?

    “You can’t go back once you go through,” the dragon’s voice comes from behind, deep and gravelly, but not unpleasantly so.

    “I know,” she answers.

    “You’ll be missed.”

    “Nah,” she shakes her head, and wonders darkly how long it will take anyone to notice she’s missing. “What’s out there?” she asks the dragon, gesturing at the doorway.

    “I’m not allowed beyond,” the creature shrugs.

    Something in its voice gives her pause.

    “Come with me,” she offers on impulse.

    The three heads shake side to side in unison.

    “I can’t leave my eggs,” the dragon says in a voice almost devoid of regret.

    She gives the dragon an awkward, uncertain wave, turns around – and steps through without a backward glance.

    Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 10:59 am
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      Wow! This was really uplifting and it reminded me of Bruce Coville stories (and stories by other authors in his collections)!

      You have a character that is an awesome psychopomp of sorts, something that I only mentioned, but you did a great job with… it doesn’t feel like you had a word limit… just a finished story.

      Reply
      • May 13, 2021 at 1:38 pm
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        Thanks, John!

        Bruce Coville sounds intriguing; I’ll add him to the list of writers I should check out some time … when I get around to it …

        Actually, I didn’t intend the dragon as a psychopomp – just a plain old dragon guarding a mystery door, nothing unusual. 🙂

        Reply
        • May 13, 2021 at 2:53 pm
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          Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher comes to mind (though he does aim for a younger audience in that series).

          He also has tons of collections of short stories, some for older audiences (Odd Enough, Even Odder, etc.) and some for a mixed-age audience (Book of Monsters 1-3, Book of Nightmares 1-3, Book of Ghosts 1-3, etc.).

          He did some work with Jane Yolen, who is also fantastic, and her stories will pop up from time to time in association with him I think…

          There seems to be a theme of characters seeking to escape their mundane lives in search of magic, maybe you will like it?

          You have your dragon acting as a threshold guardian to a magic door, which is not a brand new idea at all, but the way you did it seemed very original to me and it seemed like it was generally helpful…. not Puff the Magic Dragon, but not Smaug by a long shot!

          Book of Nightmares has a story with a dragon that yours made me recall fondly.

          Reply
          • May 13, 2021 at 4:22 pm
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            Thanks for the tips. I’ll do my best to check the stories out – both for myself, and as future reading material for the kid. 🙂

    • May 12, 2021 at 11:36 am
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      Wow Vicki.

      This is so weird, and beautiful and mysterious. Your description of the dragon is ethereal. The decision-making process is so realistic, the leap of faith the character makes is as realistic as they come, as life is full of decisions that must be made with no time for much consideration. The way you portray the door subtly indicates it’s no ordinary door and the dragon even warns her that it’s a one way trip.

      Several phrases jump out and tell me that this is a sad story.

      ‘running seems pointless.’
      ‘the three heads swaying sinuously’

      But it isn’t sad.

      ‘it somehow seems safer than a common human male.’
      ‘a path made of cool blue moonlight.’

      And my favorite line: “I can’t leave my eggs.” (Yikes! I believe she made the right decision.)

      This is a flash fiction masterpiece. I object to only one word. ‘almost’ ‘ …in a voice almost devoid of regret.’ (No. the voice is devoid of regret… period.) The word ‘almost’ doesn’t belong in such an outstanding story. And it’s too close to the end or I wouldn’t mention it at all.

      This is not just a cool story, but a stunningly well-written one as well.

      You should send this to a publisher. Any publisher. It’s so short and concise. If you wish I would post this on my website and my face book page.

      Ken

      Reply
      • May 12, 2021 at 12:02 pm
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        I concur!

        Reply
      • May 13, 2021 at 1:47 pm
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        Thank you so much, Ken!

        I respectfully disagree about “almost”. As I see it, the dragon would like to find out what lies beyond but, unlike the woman, she has a compelling reason to stay.

        Any recommendations re flash fiction publishers? I really appreciate the offer to post my story on your website/ FB page. On the other hand, some publishers are very strict about the stories being “previously unpublished” up to and including personal websites or blogs. (In this case, would publishing in this group also make the story “published” by these publishers’ criteria?)

        Reply
        • May 13, 2021 at 3:15 pm
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          Vicki,

          Your explanation matches my interpretation. A chance to escape an unpleasant existence. (Obviously.)

          To Marion: It may be difficult to imagine the futility of life when you’re floating around in your backyard swimming pool, sipping margarita’s, but surely not impossible.

          Back to you Vicki,
          I almost agree with you on the inclusion of ‘almost’ since even dragons can equivocate.

          But seriously, I think you’re right about the wording. I tried rewriting that phrase a few times, and it loses its feeling, even if it’s clearer, it loses something, because there is, an element of regret in the dragon’s voice That’s why she invites it to join her. The story proves that you’re a talented writer, and I admire you for rejecting my advice, which is trivial at best, and more likely incorrect. You should leave it as it is. What I thought was a flaw, was an incomplete understanding of the story.

          As far as publishing, I’m not knowledgeable enough to advise you on that. But I do feel that a story of this quality should be protected and not handed out or over to any idiot like me just because he asks for it. (My stupidity continues to amaze me.)

          However, as far as the writing site goes, I’ve posted over a hundred stories here and don’t consider any of them to be published. I mean, when people ask me if I’m a published author, I say no. But who knows? I wrote them so I own them, a good many of them are copyrighted, but many of them could still be edited and improved, so since this is a writing site, I’d say no, but you should err on the side of caution, Vicki. (Now that I think about it.) I may not be right about much, but I think you’re a talented writer and I’m pretty confident in my thinking on that.

          these are my thoughts.
          Sincerely,
          Ken

          Reply
          • May 13, 2021 at 4:41 pm
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            Ken,

            I took your offer in the spirit in which it was given – a sincere wish to give the story exposure to a wider audience.

            As for the publishers, I’ve come across some submission guidelines where the definition of “published” includes personal websites, blogs, forums & the like. Some of these publishers accept only “unpublished” stories (by this stringent definition), & mention by the by that they can’t pay contributors. That’s big of them.

        • May 15, 2021 at 10:55 am
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          Vicki,

          Everything I’ve read from different publishers tell me that once it hits the internet it is considered published. In the great state of Michigan I was one the top three winners in a major Library Sponsored state contest a few years ago and they go to great lengths including using some sort of algorithm to ferret out any previously published stories online and if they find out it was online you are disqualified. So, some of them are serious. That doesn’t mean they won’t publish your work, they may, but they will need to tell you that. I know when they ask for submissions they always qualify it with that disclaimer that it cannot have been previously published.

          Roy

          Reply
          • May 15, 2021 at 6:03 pm
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            Thanks a lot for your advice, Roy!

            So if, say, you want to submit a story you’ve posted in this group, do you have to notify the publisher that it’s been published?

            Alternatively, to what extent does one need to change the story for it to be considered different from the original version (and thus, “previously unpublished”?

          • May 16, 2021 at 8:25 am
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            Vicki,

            The problem is each publisher has different rules and requirements. I’ve read several stories, novels, etc. with a simple disclaimer, such as, a line in the flyleaf indicating that , ‘this story is from previously published material on the internet by this author.

            Regarding the second question’, I’m unsure as to how much would need to be changed, however, if it is substantial, probably no problem. For instance, changing the title and character names and leaving the story intact would probably be considered previously published.

            I do know authors can rewrite their own work.and self publish with a caveat stating that as they own the copyright and the intellectual rights.

            I imagine the rules blur depending on the author’s fame, ability and how much publishers want their work.

            Hope this helps, and keep in mind I’m not a lawyer.

            Roy

    • May 12, 2021 at 1:43 pm
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      Vicki, this is an evocatively surreal tale, conjuring up loneliness and despair, and a yearning for something else – maybe anything else, or even nothing else. I haven’t worked out why a three-headed dragon, but I guess the story of her psychological state has its own dream-like logic.

      I really don’t know if it’s uplifting, as John suggests – the one-way trip could be really, really, desperately, sad.
      Maybe the dragon represents the risky business of life that we dance with, the eggs all the potential of continuing in this life, and the door is all about departing from life – a choice she’s maybe made.
      Or maybe the three heads is a reference to Cerberus, though I think he usually stops the dead leaving Hades, rather than stopping them from entering. Am I overthinking things again?

      Some very good lines, as Ken says.

      It is well-written, but needs a bit of an editorial tidy-up, e.g. the double “all” in “all the windows are all blocked off” and the non-agreeing pronoun twice in “The stranger doesn’t act overly aggressive; they follow her movements, approach and pull back. It’s almost as if they are toying with her.”

      I do like stories that make me think.

      Reply
      • May 13, 2021 at 2:06 pm
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        Thanks for your comment, Andy!

        The three-headed dragon (or heads in multiples of three s.a. 6, 9, 12, 24 is the most I’ve come across) are common in Russian folklore, often in an increasing order of difficulty; eg the hero has to defeat a three-headed dragon, then a six-headed one, etc; in addition, the dragons with more heads might breathe fire, or the heads grow back after being cut off. I don’t know why Russian dragons are different in this way :). The reason I put one in the story is far less deep than you attribute to me: I shared with the protagonist my own childhood memory of seaside discotheques, so I added another childhood memory to the story.

        Thanks for catching the extra “all”. As for the non-agreeing pronouns (presumably “they”), to the best of my knowledge this is the way to use it as a gender-neutral pronoun (since the protagonist doesn’t know the dragon’s gender – or even species to start with – right until the end); however, I’m happy to be corrected if I used it wrongly.

        Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 2:36 pm
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      I agree that with the others that it’s a really well written piece, with this some lovely lines, but like Andy, I’m not sure about the dragon, although it/she, was a lovely, gentle creature b beautifully described. Just a minor point from me- what is CBD?

      Reply
      • May 12, 2021 at 5:25 pm
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        CBD = Central Business District

        We don’t say “CBD” much in the UK outside planning circles, but in some countries the abbreviation is in common use

        Reply
        • May 14, 2021 at 1:40 pm
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          Thanks Andy. To me, CBD = Cannabis oil (cannabidiol), hence the confusion 🙂

          Reply
          • May 15, 2021 at 7:49 am
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            Same lol

      • May 13, 2021 at 2:08 pm
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        Thanks, Kirsten!

        CBD stands for Central Business District (known in different parts of the world as the City, downtown, etc.). It may be an Australianism.

        Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 11:06 pm
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      Another well-written story from you, Vicky.
      Eerie, sad. surreal.
      The stark contrast between the woman who has no family with a monster who’s got ‘eggs’ to care for.

      My take is that she is decisive to escape from being consort to the dragon in the subterranean world, and braves herself to get back to face real life through that door, however lonely it appears to be.

      Life is uncertain, but there’s a challenge in overcoming its problems.

      That gravelly voiced dragon ain’t no good!

      Reply
      • May 13, 2021 at 2:12 pm
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        Thanks for your comment, Marien!

        Fascinating how your interpretation is very different from my original intent: for me, it’s a little escape fantasy of getting away from a dead-end job/ life and into the great unknown. (Dead-end job is based on personal experience, magic door – not so much. :))

        Reply
        • May 13, 2021 at 2:40 pm
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          I have been looking for magic doors my whole life and I don’t plan on giving up!

          (Though I haven’t tried looking in dark alleyways….)

          You could call the act of searching for one a “grail quest”, but that implies that it does not exist or that you will never succeed.

          Grail quests can be fun, with a little moderation, and who will find a grail if no one ever looks?

          And “magic” stops being magic once you discover that it is real…. then it is just a force or phenomenon that you don’t understand and can’t explain… like technology that is so advanced that it just seems to be the work of a genie (but that genie is really just a holographic artificial intelligence).

          Giant squids were laughable and mythological when I was 9 and wouldn’t shut up about them, now they are just large mollusks, big deal.

          Your story talked to that little boy with the books on cryptozoology tucked under his arm.

          Reply
          • May 13, 2021 at 4:32 pm
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            Awww, don’t stop being amazed by giant squids! I came across some flowers recently that were taller than me – Queen Anne’s lace and some others. Loved it: they made me feel like a kid again. All of the above beat dead-end jobs & routine hands down – the greatest known enemy of all sentient life.

    • May 13, 2021 at 7:47 am
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      Hi Vicki,

      A lovely piece of writing.

      Much of the thrust of my comments would echo those already written. This is certainly a contender for the title this time around, in my opinion.

      I loved the line, “I can’t leave my eggs,” the dragon says….. That’s so poignant and symbolises the “universal mother” instinct.

      A thoroughly enjoyable piece of story writing.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      Reply
      • May 13, 2021 at 2:13 pm
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        Thanks for your comment, Ken.

        Reply
  • May 13, 2021 at 8:27 am
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    Carrie, my intention is to vote, but if if it’s past 11:00 AM CST don’t wait for me if it’s not in.

    Roy

    Reply
    • May 13, 2021 at 12:16 pm
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      We can wait if you like, I’m still waiting on two votes anyway.

      Reply
      • May 14, 2021 at 8:56 pm
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        Thanks, Carrie. I didn’t see this in time, but I was busy anyway with a family get together with several of my wife’s siblings and it wouldn’t have been possible. We had a great time enjoying the wine that my wife and I made over the winter which turned out excellent, if I say so myself. The general consensus was ‘make more’. So, I shall.

        Congrats to all the great stories and to Phil and Vicki, et al. Good stuff everyone.

        Roy

        Reply
        • May 15, 2021 at 7:48 am
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          Interesting!
          I have a friend that makes Peach Wine and it’s delicious!
          What flavor did you make?

          Reply
          • May 15, 2021 at 10:46 am
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            An Australian Cabernet Sauvignon that was from a kit. It’s easier to start out that way, and it was easy, inexpensive and well worth the effort. You just need a place that will provide a constant temp between 65 and 75 degrees while it’s fermenting, and usually someplace other than someplace that is constantly lit up, as in rooms of you house commonly used. A spare unused bedroom would be ideal. (There is an odor.) Ours was in the basement and we were able to control the temperature for the most part. Well worth the effort and turned out to be about $5 something a bottle. We had our own bottles and the equipment is reusable. The more we make the better the investment looks. Chardonnay is next – You know – White after Memorial Day and Red after Labor Day.

            It was easier than we thought. Just follow the directions and you can’t miss. We’ve been told you can do all types of wine including some of the high priced stuff, such as Stags Leap which goes for $20 and up a bottle in the store for $5 or less. Supposedly you get the same grapes, but I’d have to do some research on that.

            Our was excellent. 13.6% alcohol by volume.

            Roy

          • May 15, 2021 at 10:53 am
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            Roy,
            If I might just join in with yo ur winemaking chat. Home brew was a big thing in the UK back in the 70s and 80s. I made some very drinkable white wine and did not expect it too be so good. Hence the name gave it using my surname, a couole of acute accents and a gues about the expected taste. We called Chateau Frappe Crappe.
            Ken Frape

          • May 15, 2021 at 10:58 am
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            You made me laugh out loud Ken. Nice job. Good name. We called ours Retiremented.

          • May 15, 2021 at 11:04 am
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            Roy,
            Sorry there were so many typos. Currently, I cannot see the line I am typing and it only appears after I post it. Hope this effort is better. great name for your wine too.
            Ken F

  • May 13, 2021 at 12:16 pm
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    Just waiting on Rumplefinkies and Marien to vote!

    Reply
    • May 13, 2021 at 12:41 pm
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      Just sent mine in.

      What a literary feast spread before my eyes to devour!
      🙌🏽

      Reply
      • May 13, 2021 at 12:51 pm
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        Hahaha great!

        Reply
    • May 13, 2021 at 12:44 pm
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      Are you still waiting on my vote? Sorry, I voted yesterday and I got to the little confirmation screen that says “message sent” or something… but maybe I closed the browser too soon or a gremlin tampered with the wires?

      Reply
      • May 13, 2021 at 12:51 pm
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        Did you vote under another name?

        Reply
  • May 13, 2021 at 12:52 pm
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    I used John Mansfield and the john@ email… did I mess everything up?

    Reply
    • May 13, 2021 at 1:31 pm
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      Ohhhh! No that’s fine, I just had no way to connect the author of the story to the voter. I got your votes 😊

      Reply
  • May 13, 2021 at 12:55 pm
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    I am killing the Rumplefinkies persona and absorbing him into my psyche now…… done!

    Reply
  • May 13, 2021 at 12:57 pm
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    Now I just have to stop using different emails and stay consistent.

    Reply
  • May 13, 2021 at 2:13 pm
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    Alrighty folks…
    Your First Place Winner is “A Strange Dance” by Phil Town!!

    2nd Place (by only two points – it was neck and neck!): “Tides of the Moon” by Victoria Chvatal
    3rd Place: “Dance Me to the End of Love” by Andy Lake
    4th Place: “The Phantom of the Opera and The Woman In White” by Ken Frape
    5th Place: “Her Dance Floor” by Mike Rymarz
    6th Place: “Dancing in the Dark” by kirstennairn
    7th Place: “His Gossamer Sway” by Marien Oommen
    8th Place: “The Original Dance of Death” By Rumplefinkies
    9th Place: “Freshmen Sock-hop” by Robt. Emmett

    The Dragon in “Tides of the Moon” by Victoria Chvatal was the Favorite Character.
    “Her Dance Floor” by Mike Rymarz won Best Dialogue.

    Congrats to all of a great round of stories!

    Just a reminder the new prompt is up: https://fictionwritersgroup.com/2021-fox-forest/

    Reply
    • May 13, 2021 at 6:54 pm
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      Wow! Thanks everyone for your votes. A great set of stories again. This group … man!

      (And I’m glad I gave my top vote to Vicki [I don’t have to feel that it was my fault she didn’t win!] – a brilliant piece. That dragon!)

      Reply
      • May 14, 2021 at 9:45 am
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        Hi Phil,

        Well done Phil and Vicki and Mike,

        Well desrved accolades.
        And on to the next one….

        Ken Frape.

        Reply
  • May 13, 2021 at 2:18 pm
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    Loose notes:

    Marien,
    Ken C. here. I just figured out this morning that the ‘culprit’ in your story is a spider–by the title. ‘Gossamer Sway.’ I must needs adjust my medications because that seems awfully obvious now. And your reply to Rumples proved it.

    I co-exist with spiders as much as possible, they eat all other insects, but every now and then, unfortunately, I have to show them who owns the place.

    Vicki,
    I read your story to my wife and one of her girlfriends. They liked it but thought it was children’s book material. (Which proves what I’ve been thinking for some time– that they’re both nuts.) This is a story too profound for children. But the biggest mystery for me, is the title: ‘Tides Of The Moon.’ Even the title is mysterious. I suppose, given enough time, I’ll figure that out too.

    Ken F.

    Some people are born to wander. There was much less reason to fear strangers when we were kids.

    Reply
    • May 13, 2021 at 4:56 pm
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      Must have been the dragon that made your wife & friends think “children’s book”, but I never intended it as such. Children shouldn’t be exposed to certain facts of life, such as dead-end jobs, until they’re old enough to handle them.

      Tides of the Moon is a song by Mercury Rev. The connection is kinda tangential – in the mood more than the content.

      Hate (almost) to burst my own bubble, but a number of commenters found in my story deeper and more profound symbolism than I’d put in there myself. 🙂

      Reply
      • May 14, 2021 at 1:55 pm
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        Oh yeah you just made me remember a story that I read a long time ago about a princess who was abducted and held hostage by a dragon… it was really a story about lost innocence and not being able to return to childhood.

        I read a lot of really cool stuff about dragons and a ton of those books or stories had hidden layers of meaning…. Talking to Dragons and the other books by Patricia Wrede read kind of like Shrek (the whole world is a parody of every fairy tale ever), but that series had a strong message of female independence from male dominance and breaking the norms that society has for you.

        I guess I read too much into stuff because I am just used to people shoving hidden meanings all over the place, and I kind of like the whole game of deciphering what is there (or what I just made up but wasn’t there at all).

        Reply
      • May 14, 2021 at 1:59 pm
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        My mom would sneakily peruse though my books when I was 9-12 to see what I was getting into and then come to me to make sure that I understood certain topics…

        She would always say that she thought I was mature enough to handle it, and then I would feel all special and smart 😉

        Reply
      • May 16, 2021 at 1:33 am
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        Vicki,

        Mercury Rev eh? Never heard of them. Sounds like techno. The name I mean. I’ll check it out. Chances are good that I’ll hate it.

        ‘You know, that story could be the first chapter in an outstanding novel, if she wanted.’ That was a comment from yet another woman after hearing your tale.

        I have a confession to make, I have a thing for dragons.

        The sadness in your story, is not due to the futility of thankless jobs, or the number of heads on the dragon. (Although, your description of her was amazing.) The terrifying truth of your story is contained in the character’s conviction that she felt safer in the company of a three-headed alien creature, than she did with ‘a common human male.’ This is the message beneath the narrative, the fact that the woman could very well EXPECT to be attacked by a common human male, and even blamed herself for being in that situation.

        Reply
  • May 13, 2021 at 2:25 pm
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    Congratulations Phil, on a powerful piece of writing. (I had you in eighth place.) Just kidding. It’s one of those stories that you can’t really ‘love’, but you can respect and appreciate it. You did a good thing.

    Reply
  • May 13, 2021 at 3:35 pm
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    Congratulations, you sly fox!

    Reply
  • May 14, 2021 at 1:13 am
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    Congratulations Phil, Vicki and Mike – and well done to all!

    Reply

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