Writing Prompt “The Woman in the Photograph”
Theme: Image Writing Prompt “The Woman in the Photograph”
Many writers draw their inspiration from art or images. There are so many different stories that could be told from this one detailed picture.
Use this image as inspiration for your story, it can be the image as a whole, a single part of it, or several elements inside the image itself.
Who is she? Where is she? Is there something in the photo that you can’t see? How does it change your character’s life to discover her identity?
- The story must be based on the photograph displayed:
Word Count: 1,200
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133 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “The Woman in the Photograph””
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It feels really lonely and quiet in here… I am always the guy who keeps talking to fill an awkward silence in the real world…. I guess I belong here!
Already working on the story. It’s looking pretty good running around inside my head, but that doesn’t always translate to paper.
I hope it was a good one and I pray this year is a little better for you than the last!
But a couple of days ago, I was standing just a few hundred yards into a dark and hilly forest quietly listening to the twittering of birds and the shushing of the wind and the leaves in the trees, when I heard the most peculiar sound, a repetitive call, like a ‘fra–fra–fra–fra. Then twenty seconds of silence. The sound was repeated several times, an eerie sound, one that could easily be mistaken for a strange animal or a sasquatch. It was a plaintive sound but distinct. and the odd thing, to me, is that because of this prompt (that prompt) I knew exactly what it was, as soon as I heard it.
That’s all I have to say about that.
It sounded just like a fox, but I’m sure it was bigfoot. (I thought I made that clear, even for you.) Sometimes I forget how old we are, I mean you, how old YOU are.
Too deep and serious? Pah. Piffle.
I have a story that I wrote for this contest about three and a half years ago, and it would fit this prompt perfectly (with a large, literary shoehorn.) And, rather than wasting my time and writing a whole new story for some of these lunkheads, (not you, John, you’re not a lunkhead.) I’m just going to post one of my old stories. I’m quite sure that most of the people currently browsing this site have never read it before. Then, I’m going to take a copy of the fresh, new, original story I’m going to write for this prompt, and rather than posting it here, I intend to send it to Elon Musk instead, with a brief note of explanation, and a polite request to have the story placed on one of his future space launches. (Hell, we can do it digitally) or get it placed on the Space Station.
The idea here is not to deprive any of you of an original story, John, (good or bad), but to place the story in a location as far from the rest of the group as possible. So I can say: “Want to read my original story? You have to go to space first. Yeah, that’s right, you have to go to space to read the real story.”
I hope that this attempt at serious levity alleviates some of your previous disappointment over my personal fox revelation.
Seriously though. That’s what I’m going to do. That’s what this group deserves—from me. This group has EARNED it.
On a personal note, I came up with some good country and western song titles while on vacation.
“Is It Too Late Too Mow?”
“That Rock Won’t Roll, My Friend.”
“After the Pink Is Gone.”
Those were some of my favorites.
I guess you had to be there.
Disappointment is my domain. Look around you, it’s the name of the town I live in. Disappointment, North Dakota. Where the hills look like tits, but they’re not.
You know, that’s a nice phrase you have there… ‘…serious depth of reflection…’ Did your muse write that for you, or are you using one of those ‘goat-writers’ again? (You thought I didn’t know about that, eh? The goats writing some of your stories for you? I have spies everywhere, and they cost me dearly. But this is where it pays off.) I like it. ‘depth of reflection’. It has ‘eau de goatness’ if I may coin a phrase.
Anyway, I guess you can see how grateful I am for your jumping to my defense there. You know what they say. ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’
You need to focus on writing it first. I don’t want to discourage you, but I’m about 3 and a half years and two weeks ahead of you, so you better put pen to paper pronto, Peter. (No pressure, man.)
I have to assume it’s genuinely old, an authentic black and white, the car is old, late thirties, early forties? The license plate is unusual. The car looks to have been on a long journey. The picture is celebratory, as if the car was driven from one coast to another, or through several countries. Or, it’s just an old well-worn car.
The woman, despite the lack of detail, is sitting astride the fender, a distinctly unladylike posture for the 40’s, she’s young, healthy, confident and dark-haired. She’s wearing pants. The word gypsy comes to mind, but that’s an unfair assumption.
Although all its vents are open, the car doesn’t appear to be overheating or disabled. The driver’s side door is open so it’s a couple, and the other person simply stopped the car in the middle of the dirt road, got out without even closing the door, took the picture and presumably got back in the car. I wouldn’t be surprised if the woman hadn’t been riding on the fender the whole time as they idled down the road along some scenic river or vista.
I would conclude, that this is/was an amazing woman. For all intents and purposes, she is completely alone with her one companion. There is no road, no building, no power lines, no signs, no other people, no animals, no landmark at all, so something about her, and the car is the occasion for this picture. Not the scenery.
Perhaps she’s an Amish girl, and a young boy from town borrowed his grandfather’s old Hudson that was parked in the barn, and talked her into… No, no, no, she’s wearing pants, can’t be Amish. The pants are a real mystery. As far as I know, women didn’t wear pants when this picture was taken. Nor did they sit on fenders.
It’s a mystery.
Sorry for questioning your ways good sir!
I can relate to the weird synchronicity that you experienced with the fox prompt, because I just saw that new horror movie “Caveat”, which annoyed me at first…. but then I became intrigued. It had a fox that kept calling in the background the whole time, and I believe that the director was trying to make some kind of cool point about foxes and hounds and hunters and who is really the victim or something, but I spent the whole movie obsessing over the fox itself and didn’t get any of that until later!
I also like to sing parodies of county songs when I am in my natural habitat… it sounds like Huckleberry Hound and it soothes the soul.
‘Weird synchronicity’ sums it up very well. You got it. (Your ‘depth reflection’ is excellent.)
In the meantime:
Elon Musk is not returning my calls.
The Mayor of Disappointment is threatening to sue me for arbitrary and capricious slander.
I even received a cease and desist letter from Bigfoot’s lawyer, Attorney Pink Plemmons, warning me that further references to his client would cost me an arm and a leg, or some kind of legal action if that didn’t work.
How’s your story coming? Got anything yet?
I got something cooking in the old noggin, but something you just said threw a pile of anchovies onto it, which has infused my culinary creation with a funky odor, but I will work around it!
(And I like that… Pink Plemmons sounds like a rival of Perry Mason)
“Now, this one’s of me on a hike we did. Stopped to rest on that rock. See the trees? Giant firs. Magnificent, they were.”
“You look like a dwarf sitting there, gran!”
“Hee, you’re right darlin’.”
Norma took the photo back and placed it with those they’d already seen, gathered in a little pile on the table next to the dilapidated shoebox.
“So these are just ones you took before you got married then?”
Benny picked up the photo again for another look.
“Yep, I reckon so. They’re all me and grandad, I think. But I haven’t looked through this box in years, to tell you the truth. Ha! Look at this one. That’s him at the seaside. I remember saying to him: ‘What are those things hanging off your shorts?’ He says: ‘What do you mean?’ And I says: ‘Sorry, my mistake. It’s your legs!’”
The two burst into raucous laughter, Benny gasping for breath. When he’d half recovered, he spluttered:
“Ah, gran. You two! Grandad should be here. We could do this together.”
“He’s out doin’ what he loves, darlin’”, Norma sighed. “You know, I don’t think he’s ever looked in this box. Not sure he’s really that interested, to be honest.”
She glanced out of the French windows at the old, bent man struggling with the lawn-mower.
“We had some laughs, though, I can tell you.”
“Can I ask you something, gran?”
Benny put the fir tree photo down and took the poolside one from Norma.
“Course you can, darlin’.”
“Have you and grandad always been … you know … in love?”
Norma ruffled Benny’s hair.
“Ever since we were not much older than you. We were next-door neighbours, see. Used to play together all the time – us and the ‘gang’. Then when we got to … that age, the games were a bit different. If you know what I mean …”
Norma nudged Benny in the ribs with her elbow and they laughed together again.
“Tell me, darlin’. You got a girl yet?”
“But you’re interested in someone. Am I right?”
Now Benny giggled nervously.
“C’mon, darlin’. You can tell your ol’ granny.”
“Well … there is someone. But I haven’t even …”
Norma tweaked Benny’s cheek between a finger and thumb.
“Don’t worry, love. It’ll happen when it happens. Jus’ like it did with me and … well, it’ll happen, as I say.”
Benny grinned through the embarrassment.
“So grandad was … what do you call it? … Mr Right, then?”
Norma shifted in her seat and coughed.
“Course he was. Now this one is me and him. Out the front of my family’s house. That’s his house next door, see?”
Her tone had become almost imperceptibly a little less jovial. She passed the photo to Benny, who looked at it without much interest this time; it wasn’t a very striking photo, and there was no funny story to go with it.
Norma switched her attention to the garden, watching absentmindedly as her husband pushed the mower up the lawn towards the house. He waved at them, and Benny waved back.
Benny put the photo on the ‘seen’ pile and dipped his hand into the box.
“This is a nice one, gran. Where’s that?”
He held the new photo up for Norma to see. She turned away from the window, gasped and snatched the photo from Benny’s hand.
The photo shook in Norma’s fingers.
“It … it’s a weekend we had. In the country.”
She was staring at her younger self, sitting astride the front wing of a car on a dirt road. The driver’s side door was open.
“It’s nice,” Benny said, leaning over to get a better look.
“It’s all right. Let’s see. What else have we got in here?”
“Hang on, though, gran. I thought you and grandad didn’t know how to drive?”
“Well … we … it’s like this: we went away for the weekend … with a friend of grandad’s. That’s it. Albert, his name was.”
“I see. So this is his car, is it?”
It was becoming something of an interrogation.
“That’s right, darlin’.”
Norma dipped her hand in the box again.
“Now, what else hav–”
“Who took the photo. Was that Albert?”
Norma’s tone hardened.
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“So where was grandad?”
“He … he must have been in the bushes … you know.”
She forced a thin grin and started picking photos out of the box willy-nilly. She stopped when her husband peeked in around the door.
“What are you two up to?”
Quick as a flash, Norma tucked the car photo inside her cardigan; Benny couldn’t help but notice it.
“Looking at photos, grandad,” he said.
“Any good ones?”
“There was one of gran …” Benny began. Norma’s shoulders drooped.
“… sitting on a rock in front of these gigantic trees. She looked like a dwarf!”
All three laughed, Norma’s laughter shot through with relief.
“I remember that day well,” the old man said, smiling at his wife. “Well, I’m almost finished in the garden. Then maybe we can have some tea?”
He disappeared back into the hall. Norma scooped up the ‘seen’ photos from the table and put them back in the box.
“That’s enough photos for today, I reckon,” she said.
Benny nodded. He had the idea that he’d saved his grandmother from something.
But he wasn’t quite sure what, or how.
(“Very gently written”? You haven’t seen me typing. Crashbangwallop more like!)
I think it was actually Albert, so Gran’s story was almost true … only Grandad wasn’t in the bushes.
Thanks for the nice comment.
Nice story with that added twist. Were any of us angels when we were of courting age, when the sap was rising?
(You’re right about not being angels. I certainly wasn’t, and I’m probably going to hell for it …)
Feels like the first chapter of a very good story that needs so many questions answered. Excellent example of letting the reader supply their own deductions. Can’t wait for the next chapter. Great job, Phil.
(No extra chapters planned for the mo’ 😉 )
by Roy York
Lottie traced her hand lightly over the old black and white photo. Cracks had appeared with age, and the edges were frayed and curled from years of handling. She kept it in a box along with a few others and pulled it out from time to time. She struggled to recognize that girl in the photograph. Once so full of life. Carefree and adventurous, with the world at her feet. What had happened to her?
A familiar dull ache formed in the pit of her stomach as she looked into the dark, mischievous eyes of the most handsome man she had ever met, even to this day. Sadly, the torch had never stopped burning, albeit, it was more like dying embers these days, but her feelings towards him had never truly disappeared, as everyone assured her they would.
She knew it was a mistake to keep going back to the photograph, but she couldn’t help herself. There was something strangely satisfying about it, like picking at an old wound just as it was about to heal. In a life where she had suppressed her feelings, this pain was real, and made her feel alive, bringing clarity into her otherwise fugue of an existence.
Her memories of that day were still crystal clear.
Lottie jumped at the sound of the horn blasting from the old Jaguar convertible and ran to window of the drawing room. Throwing it open, she leaned out as far as she could without toppling over. Below, Alexander was standing up in the driver’s seat, looking exquisite in his trademark white linen suit.
‘Mr Alexander DuPont requests the immediate company of Miss Lottie Farquharson to accompany him on a fun-filled trip to Brighton beach, whereby we will indulge in a day of debauchery and wickedness before partaking of a Champagne lunch by the sea.’
His deep booming voice was enough to set the curtains twitching in the quiet suburban South London street where Lottie had lived all her life.
She covered her mouth to stifle a giggle.
‘Good gracious. This is outrageous. Really Charlotte, we cannot have this boy shouting these obscenities in the street. What will people think? I shall ask you father to have words with him. Harold? Harold!’
Appearances were everything in Belvedere Drive.
‘Yes Dear? What’s that? Obscenities you say?’ Lottie’s father stirred, clearly unimpressed at being woken from his usual mid-morning nap.
‘That boy! He’s…he’s, well he’s being frankly inappropriate. People will talk Harold.’
‘Yes, I daresay they will.’ He yawned.
Lottie grabbed her handbag, a light jacket and shouted her goodbyes before anyone could stop her.
‘Madame,’ Alexander bowed low before her. ‘Your carriage awaits.’ He opened the passenger door for her, but she felt a stab of disappointment when she spotted Charles in the back seat. She loved Charles dearly and she knew she had everything to thank him for. It was Charles who had introduced her to Alexander when the pair had come up from Oxford, but Charles was omnipresent, and sometimes she longed for it to be just herself and Alexander.
They made their way down to the coast, the wind in their hair, and the hot sun beating down on them. Lottie’s spirits soon rose as the crystal blue water and pebbly beach came into view, and the warm salty air filled her lungs.
She loved Brighton, with its vibrant atmosphere, its cafes and bars, and narrow back streets with their bohemian boutiques full of treasures and artifacts. She had a feeling of belonging here. This was the place she could be herself and be the person she was meant to be, free of the shackles of her catholic upbringing and emotionally inhibited parents.
Alexander parked closed to the beach and jumped out of the car, eager, as always, to get on with the fun. He found a spot on the beach, laid out the picnic blanket and pulled out the champagne.
‘Right. First things first. A quick glass of champers and then a dip in the sea.’
‘Oh! I didn’t bring my costume.’
‘Well, you’ll just have to go in your underwear then. I hope you’re wearing your Sunday best!’
‘I can’t do that! What will people say?’
‘No one will notice, and even if they do, they won’t care. Come on Lottie, life’s too short and all that.’
‘But my underwear will be wet. How will I get dressed afterwards?’
‘Well just take it off dear girl. Go Commando!’ Alexander winked.
Lottie blushed as Charles handed her a towel to shield herself as she stripped down to her underwear. She felt naked and could feel Alexander’s eyes travel over her body, as she stood in front of him, shivering slightly.
‘Come on. Race you,’ he shouted, running off quickly over the shingle towards the sea, not stopping until he was fully immersed. Lottie followed, eager to submerge herself, but she stopped short as soon as the ice-cold water reached her thighs. Gasping for breath, she inched further into the sea, until finally it reached her shoulders.
Alexander swam around her, like a shark, circling its prey. She imagined him reaching out for her under the water, pulling her close, his naked flesh touching hers. Her heart was in her mouth, and she held her breath, as he came so close that she could feel his warm breath on her neck before he quickly swam away again. Was he teasing her?
‘I’m parched. How about another glass of that lovely Dom Perignon?’ he called.
She looked away, hiding her disappointment as he headed for the shore. She watched him striding through the water, pushing against the force of the waves with ease, his muscular physique catching the eye of a few girls dipping their toes in at the water’s edge.
Charles waved at her from the beach and held up a glass of champagne. She sighed as she made her way back towards them. Alexander had already dried himself off and was lying on his back with his eyes closed, having finished off his drink.
Lottie gulped greedily at hers, and feeling slightly less self-conscious, flopped down next to Alexander, hoping to dry off in the sun. her started to snore gently, but just as she was about to nudge him Charles stopped her.
‘Leave him. He’s exhausted. He’s become a bit of a night owl recently, rarely coming home until dawn, then straight to morning lectures. Up to all sorts of no good I daresay.’
‘Perhaps he needs a good woman to take care of him?’ she suggested hopefully.
Charles blushed. ‘Ah, I’ve been meaning to speak to you about that. I’m not sure how to say this, but I think you might be barking up the wrong tree there. Alexander’s not that way inclined, if you know what I mean? I really should have told you sooner, before you got your hopes up dear girl.’
Lottie’s stomach lurched and she had to breathe deeply to stop herself from throwing up.
Her world ended. Life switched from color to monochrome.
She put the photo back in the box. She would let the healing start again, until another day.
A couple of points. I think maybe the revelation could have been a little more subtle. E.g. I have to disagree with KenC: it seems to me that Charles might be one of Alexander’s lovers (because the latter obviously ‘puts it about a bit’, and they’re inseparable), so maybe Lottie could see them in some kind of suggestive interaction as she gets out of the water (?). If it’s a convertible, how is it that Lottie only notices Charles when she gets to the street? Brighton is a good choice of destination: it’s now the gay centre of England, isn’t it? (I wonder if it was at the time the story was set?)
Really enjoyed this.
I loved your evocative language; it really brought the era and the events to life.
A lovely story full nostalgia and those semi-painful memories, bitter-sweet to remember.
The opening paragraph are, for me, the highlight of this story. They capture your skill as a writer perfectly and set the scene.
Interesting to reflect how different times are. Alexander managed to keep his sexuality hidden from Lottie and all the while, Charles was sitting outside that circle looking in, observing.
This is a beautiful story.
Well done, Kirsten.
Lovely story. Gay guys are so much fun.
I noticed that she barely gave any consideration to Charles. I’ll bet Charles was crazy about Lottie.
The story is so well executed that I forgot she was reminiscing until nearly the last line. Well done.
So… you didn’t change your fonts intentionally? So this is a writing site that arbitrarily changes your fonts in the middle of a story? That’s not gay, that’s evil.. In fact, I think it’s illegal.
By Ken Cartisano
You’re driving down a wide but isolated dirt road on a sunny California morning with nothing on your mind. You don’t even remember your destination let alone your departure point. Steel-belted tires thump out a staccato backbeat to the hum of the engine.
Just as you realize you don’t know where you’re going, that’s the moment she catches your eye. A woman of refined bearing, leaning on the fender of a strange looking car, well off to the side of the dirt road. You glance at her and she’s looking at you, as you lift your foot from the gas pedal.
She watches you because there’s no one else around.
You make a U-turn across the wide, unpaved boulevard, and pull your car in behind hers as hunks of gravel snap and pop. The woman glances at you and then looks away.
You feel like you know her, or will, there’s an aura of fatalism about her that you ignore as you introduce yourself to what you now see is a very old woman. Your mind conjures the image of a handsome woman in her prime. “Andy,” she says, breathlessly. A sad expression clouds her face. “It’s me, Michelle.”
Clearly she knows you, but you don’t remember her, and before you can ask her anything, her hand brushes your neck and she says, “Where is it? Does the car have secret pockets? Or compartments?” Her gaze is penetrating and her manner impatient as she slides into your car’s passenger seat.
“I don’t… I don’t think so,” you reply.
She’s opening and closing cubbyholes you didn’t know you had until she says, “Did you even bring it?”
You have no idea what she’s talking about as she gets out of the car. You start to realize that your brain is a bit fuzzy and she realizes it too. She tilts her head sympathetically and puts her hands on your shoulders for a moment. “What’d you do, go off and get married?”
As a matter of fact, you did, several times, but… then you realize she was just joking, then she realizes you really did get married. Which gives her an idea. “Does this thing have a trunk?”
The word sounds familiar and you point to the rear of the vehicle. She slides back into your car, and searches the dashboard for a button or switch, suddenly a large panel at the rear of the car rises majestically. She looks at you and smiles. Her teeth are yellow, her hair is thin and white. She says, “Your memory’s been wiped by the time-jump, Andy. It’s not your fault.” And adds, “It just—happens, sometimes.” Then she goes to the rear of your vehicle and starts rummaging around. “Aha! Found it,” she exclaims.
She slams the trunk, meets you beside your car, and stops. “I don’t know how you managed to survive here undetected all these years, but I’m glad you did.” Then she awkwardly throws her arms around your neck and kisses your cheek very close to your mouth, then pulls herself away. “I’m runnin’ out of time, Andy. We—are running out of time.” She heads straight for the front of her sun-baked vehicle with you following close behind. She waves a hand at the strange car and the hood rises with a rusty groan. There’s a large, blue, pulsating, luminescent blob of symbiotic-slime where an engine would normally be, and that is what she intends to attach the mysterious device to.
Before she does, she waves the device in your face. “You were supposed to keep it around your neck, dummy. It’s a key.” She has one just like it hanging from a chain around her own neck and rips it free. You suddenly remember that each of you had a key to the machine so that no one could be accidentally left behind, stranded in time.
A chain of related memories comes snaking through the mental barrier, as if through a crack in blackened glass, you recall that this is an organic time machine. You may have even sat at the controls. More vague memories come trickling in. You and the old woman were once lovers maybe, or partners.
She interrupts your train of thought with, “I’ve been waiting 35 years, Andy. 35 years!” She sees the confusion on your face and misinterprets it. “I had to wait for this era’s technology to develop before I could activate the homing beacon. I was beginning to lose hope, but apparently it works now because here you are.”
You don’t feel old, or urgent, nor emotionally or statistically motivated. She sees the look on your face as she inserts the keys into the pulsating blob. “You’re an android, Andy. That’s why you didn’t age like me. Now get in the goddamn ship before I… before it…”
You push her in. ‘Tink.’ The car vanishes.
Your memory returned just in time. She was your owner, and a selfish one at that. Bionic creatures don’t handle time-travel well. And what do you care about time-travel anyway, you’re a male android, Relationship Model B71. You’re going to go and get married again, and this time, you’re determined to get it right.
Sounds awful. -floods, trees, genital noses. Oh wait, I guess I read that wrong. Generator noise. Totally different thing. I guess. – These are all wonderful reasons to be disturbed. You’ll get no argument from me on that. (Until you’re not expecting it.) I don’t know what a galah is, but perhaps you could feed the galahs to the rosellas, and set the parrots free.
I did think about switching the sex of the characters. But it was a woman in the photo, and once the basic story took form, it was too much trouble to switch things around. Even for you, the one person I knew would object.
In fact, I wrote the story in second person POV first, then first person POV. After doing that, I had no desire to refine the story any further since it could easily come in sixth in a contest against four other stories. (I would gladly take my time-traveling blobs and go home, but then the anti-blobbers would win, don’t you see.)
To me, the story is about – other things. And clearly, despite being designed to do so, the Android was having great difficulty in delivering whatever it was that the love of a human woman required. (So there. Pthhft. It’s back on you.) That’s all afterthoughts, of course, No actual thinking went into the creation of this story, except where Kim helped. (Not really sure she was thinking either.)
In point of fact, I did mean to change the character’s name. ANDY the ANDROID? Good Lord. What next? Tommy the tomato? My Akita, Alpo? Sally the sales clerk? ‘Dominic, the Domincan, challenged me to a game of dominoes.’ What can I say.
If I know this group’s algorithm. that is to say, if I have my finger on the progressive pulse of this group of lackadaisical liberals, the favorite character will be ‘a large, blue, pulsating luminous blob of symbiotic slime.’ I don’t like to make predictions though, because I’m always wrong. And that is an excellent reason, I think.
I absolutely, positively agree. I had more than enough words to draw that ending out—and should have.
I thought I was done with this story, dammit Phil. I was so looking forward to doing nothing for awhile. Or something else. Shit. Well, I appreciate your honesty, I’m just not good at showing it.
Seriously though, I agree. i had the ending, then I added more details to the ending. The details need to come either before, or after the ending. Preferably before. I’ll see what I can do. I agree that the idea is ‘crack.’
Did I ever tell you that I invented the word underwhelmed? It’s true. I swear. I thought of it. I used it. It was so obviously necessary, where I lived. Wait a minute. I’ve told you this a million times? Okay. Never mind. I’ll work on that ending Phil. Thanks for the feedback, feller.
Was this autobiographical, you quantum leaping Terminator of Love you?
This guy is like Gigolo Joe from AI, but with some emergent programming that seems like he is looking for true love!
Very creative and pleasing to my inner Asimov nerd.
You captured the spirit of a rapscallion and put it in the heart of an automaton, just like the organic engine inside that awesome car!
Autobiographical? Uh, no. And I have more in common with the old woman than the android. Thanks for the enthusiastic comments though.
Regarding the/your deleted glorious comment:
Your wife’s phone probably has integrated glory block. It’s the latest app, I thought of getting it myself but it requires at least two gigs of memory on the phone. (I’m using the RCA Meso-lithium Jurassic V. Has a big cone for a speaker coming out of the side.)
IMO the name Andy fits, & adds another detail to Michelle’s personality: not only is she selfish, but lacking in imagination as well. (Assuming she named the android.)
Another dose of the fabulous Cartisano imagination here. You used the prompt to such goof effect and manage to avoid the trap of rampant nostalgia that probably caught me, hook, line and sinker ( as we say in the UK. Do you say that in the US?)
Andy the Android, pulsating blob, bionic creatures don’t time travel well, Relationship Model B71 ( I wonder what B70 and B72 were like?) are all great examples of your unique take on writing stories. You often leave me thinking, “now why didn’t I think of that?”
Many thanks also for your kind words regarding my story. Very much appreciated. For one reason or another, I don’t seem to have had enough time lately to get involved in the chats but I have followed.
I have early onset dad joke syndrome, because I had my first son at 18.
Now he is about to turn 18, and he is a man of a child that looks like my big brother.
My other son just turned 11.
A waiter that was fishing for a big tip told my wife that ALL 3 of her children were SO well behaved and handsome LOL, and I still laugh about the look on her face, because she does not look old enough for that at all, but my damn baby face just throws people off so badly!
I can win at carnivals when they play the guessing game EVERY TIME, because I look so wimpy and young… wait – who’s comment am I responding to – wrong room – sorry!
She had found the box of old photos tucked in the back of the cupboard of her father’s house. She and Byron had been cleaning up. Two weeks after her mother’s funeral and they had put their dad into a home for “respite.” Katie and her latest husband Rod had nearly come to blows over that.
“It’s not like he’ll be any problem. All the kids are grown. We’ve got plenty of space. There is the flat out the back.”
“Look Katie, I married you. Not your family. Besides, you don’t know what you’re taking on. The old bugger is more than half senile. What happens when he starts peeing and shitting in the lounge room or just plain losing it?”
“We’ve support workers. Besides, with the pandemic, I’m working from home heaps. I can keep an eye on things.” She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, what’s a bit of shit and piss now and then? He and Mum wiped my butt when I was a little ‘un. Now I guess it’s my turn.” She kept scrubbing the sink vigorously to help her keep her temper.
“I bet you didn’t shit big logs. Besides, you were feeding mainly on milk. Your poop did not stink up the house.” Rod held out his hand for the remote, rather than get up and get it from the kitchen table where he had placed it before eating dinner. Katie ignored him and kept scrubbing down the sink.
“That sink’s clean.” He clicked his fingers. “Remote!” Then louder. “BESIDES, you know we discussed renting out the flat for AirBNB for a bit of extra dosh.”
Katie finished polishing the sink and strode into the pantry and began a dusting and rearranging of the items within, if only to make him get up and get his own remote.
“Why can’t Byron and Suzie take him in? She’s home all day.”
“Haven’t you forgotten they’ve three kids under four now with the twins and the new baby. Be fair.” Her voice was muffled as she was down on her knees dusting behind the flour and staples containers on the bottom shelf.
Rod got up and picked up the remote and pulled a beer bottle from the fridge door, popped the top and took a long swig. “It’s not our fault they left it so late to have kids. I mean, They’re both in their early forties. Bloody idiots if you ask me to be having kids after you’re 35.”
“I want Dad to live out the rest of his life here. With us. With me. He can visit Byron and Suze at times, but we can give him a home. He needs family. Not some home.”
“No. Katie. That’s what we pay taxes for. Aged care. You can visit him every day if you want. But not here. Not now, not ever. You’ll regret it the rest of your life if you bring him here.”
“So what is that supposed to mean?” Katie got up and went to stand at the kitchen table and look across to the lounge where Rod was sprawled on the settee in front of the TV.
“I don’t want or need some geriatric wandering around the house. I worked my ass off to have some peace and quiet. Don’t you want life to be easier not harder?”
“He’s my dad. AND I love him. What’s wrong with you? Wouldn’t you have done the same for your father and even your mother.”
“Me Dad did me a favour. He kicked the bucket when I was 25 years old. Me mum, well, she’s on her fourth husband. She gets them to look out for her.” He belched and put the football on. “Anyway”, he muttered just loud enough for her to hear, “you bring him here and I will divorce you.”
“WHAT did you just say?” She threw the duster down on the table.
“You heard me.” His voice was low key and distracted. “It’s your choice.”
So that is how Katie and her father ended up moving to a four-bedroom house on the outskirts of a two-pub town with one general store with a post office. She and Byron cleaned up the house where they grew up and what they did not sell off went with Katie and their dad to their new home.
Often Katie brought the box of photos out to show her father and help him remember who he was.
His favourite was the one of a young girl sitting on the running board of an old Humber. It was not Byron and Katie’s mother.
She watched her father take the photo the first time she showed it to him. His hands started to tremble, and he had tears in his eyes. He did not say anything about the girl at first. Only about the car.
“That old Humber, it was my uncle’s. Powerful motor. Made by Rolls Royce. Humber Pullman 1947. Beautiful car.” His eyes misted over. His fingers traced the outline of the car and stopped on the girl seated on the running board. “Jeanie.” He said, “my Jeanie. My first love and graduation partner.” He looked up at Katie. “We were going to get married.” He sighed.
“What happened, Dad?” She took his hand in hers and massaged the stiffness of his arthritic fingers, kneading them gently.
“She died. Four months after that photo was taken. Only eighteen. She was.”
“Oh Dad, how awful. How? I mean why?”
He teared up. Then he collected himself. “It was my fault. We were both young. Hot blooded, as young people are. In those days, if a girl got into trouble, well it wasn’t like today. People judged the girl. They said terrible things about her. I had some money saved, but she wanted to be a nurse. I was at Uni studying accountancy. We weren’t ready. We decided that we would, she would have an abortion.” He sighed deeply. “It wasn’t a doctor who did it. Jean hemorrhaged and died.” The tears fell freely from the old man’s eyes.
“I blamed myself. I know now, we should have married. Your mother knew. She still married me though. You know, she – your mother asked me to marry her, despite it all. Me being responsible for Jean’s death.”
Katie let him cry. She got him a box of tissues and made him a hot cup of tea.
The next day she went into town and got a picture frame for the picture and put the framed picture on his dresser alongside the picture of her mother and her father together at their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
Several months later in early spring, she found him in his final sleep with both pictures held close in his arms.
Katie knew he was finally at peace. So was she.
Damn good writing.
Right at the beginning, I think the first word could be ‘Katie’ – I had to re-read the first paragraph several times to make sure I got who the characters were. You could replace the second ‘home’ with ‘institution’ here: “…we can give him a home. He needs family. Not some home.”
Although the charge of misandrist I strongly protest…LOL there are some absolutely wonderful men in the world, but by the same token there are some utter bastards in both men and women. We have just had a court case here where the “grieving widow” was found guilty of her husband’s murder. I felt so sorry for this very gentle human being Matt Dunbar who was murdered by the woman he loved, who he left his 4.5 million dollar property to her on her insistence before they were married. She tried to pretend to the investigating officers that Matt was gay and had confusion about his identity which is why “he committed suicide by tying a bag around his neck while heavily drugged on animal tranquillizers and releasing helium into said bag.” He was unconscious while he did this. (EYE brows raised)
She also had form. Her ex-husband had been nearly burnt alive in a house fire which she had set. He was insured for a tidy sum. He did not die but woke up in time. He is a paramedic. Many people were very suspicious of her. She also had spent time in prison for stalking and threats to another man. How this poor man ended up involved with her and being so besotted that he did not see her for what she was is incredible. That in and of itself is the stuff of crime thriller novels.
He was one of the first paramedics on the scene when she called 000 for his death. Bet he felt that he had a lucky escape. Family and a vet who she tried to order the animal tranquillizers through were very suspicious of her from the word go. Sad but let’s hope she is locked away in prison for the next 40 years so she cannot entrap more unsuspecting guys.
“…there are some absolutely wonderful men in the world, but by the same token there are some utter bastards in both men and women”
I agree, Ilana. But in your story, there’s no reason why Rod has to be so awful to trigger the divorce and Lottie’s journey to ‘save’ her dad. Rod could be a normal, respectful guy, but they could simply have an intractable disagreement about care for Lottie’s dad (in fact Rod’s position is also valid – an institution might well be the best place for him, at least in Rod’s opinion), and that leads to the break-up.
I don’t see parents as a burden although some do. Sometimes families do need the support of an Aged Care facility. I understand that, but for some putting parents or an elderly relative in a home is an excuse to grab anything of value and their possessions. That is the ugly part. Some people are ugly and greedy. Others have their heart in the right place and do their duty… Honour thy mother and thy father is a very positive thing. It is about respect. .
One (absent) character that intrigues me is Katie’s late mother. If this were a longer piece, I’d love to see her side of the story. Why did she marry Katie’s father, even though she knew he loved another girl? Did she still feel unloved all through 50+ years of marriage? How did that impact on the family dynamic? Is this a factor in Katie – such a fundamentally decent person – having such an abysmal taste in men? (I mean, Rod is her “latest” husband, so there were previous failed marriage/s; and I can’t fathom how she’d married such a loser and jerk in the first place.)
I really like this story. I think it is one of my favourite stories of yours I have read. It is rooted in things I understand and I guess my generation ( born 1950) have all too many stories to tell of elderly parents and the big Care Home decision, selling off the family memories and all that.
A really nice piece of writing.
Woo hoo I’m back!
Here where we need you.
He passed away and she remarried out of necessity, but the way she would take that picture out and show it to me late at night right before she would tell me stories, well, it was clear even to me at the age of 6 that she had only one true love.
She showed me a picture the year before she passed of her when she was 18 years old and World War 2 had just ended… she had a new belt she was proud of and I couldn’t recognize her at all, but she was young and pretty and from a dead world.
RIP to all who have passed…
and the Grim Reaper can take that scythe and shove it.
I’m not sorry.
I found myself embarking upon the task that has become all too familiar for my generation……clearing out my parents’ house after their death. It’s a most unwelcome task to have to consign to the bin, or local charities, or auction houses, a lifetime of memories, many of which dated back to long before I was even thought of and to dark days of war where ordinary young people were called upon to carry out extraordinary tasks of courage and bravery that they described simply as their duty.
I set aside a week to complete the task. The house needed to be cleared for sale or rent. Either option brought tears to my eyes as this was the house in which I was born. Every room was full of memories.
After four of the most physically draining days of my life I had reduced my parents’ collective experiences to three battered leather suitcases. It was depressing to discover how little value was attached to my parents furniture and collection of china and glass, when put up for sale. Most remained unsold and went to charity. Every important document, treasured picture frame and loose photograph was contained in those cases. It was as if my parents’ lives were being squeezed, narrowed down and reduced to almost nothing.
I wanted to preserve more than just memories of my parents and I was determined to honour their legacy. Thus, on the Friday morning, I sat on the one remaining garden chair in the kitchen and started to wade through the contents of the first case. Almost immediately, I came across a folder that looked older than I was but still in good order, as if perhaps it had not been used often. Its contents stopped me in my tracks.
In my father’s unmistakable handwriting on the cover were the words;
Odette Worthington- SOE .
Clipped inside was a photograph of a young woman with a mass of dark hair, sitting astride the front wing of a 1930s car. On the back of the photograph I could read the faint outline of the words, “Loulou, Northern France, June 1944.”
Inside the folder was the most arresting story that I have ever read, written by my father in his large clear script.
Our family know very little about Odette’s activities during World War Two. Once “all that fuss” as she called it, was over, she wanted to close the book on her war experiences for the rest of her life. I have duly kept my promise to her but now that she has gone ( and me as well if you are reading this) I feel it is my duty to honour her memory by telling her truly remarkable story.
Odette was born in Paris just after the end of World War 1. Her father, Edward Worthington was attached to the British Embassy staff and he married Antoinette Chervil, moving to London in 1931 when Odette was 12. She was bilingual and after several years of secretarial work in the British Embassy she came to the attention of the officers of the newly formed Special Operations Executive, set up with the support of Winston Churchill with instructions to “Set Europe Ablaze.”
Odette had exactly the skills deemed necessary to carry out secret work behind enemy lines back in her beloved France, occupied by the German army. At every part of her training she was given the opportunity to change her mind but she steadfastly refused and was parachuted into France, near Cherbourg for the first time in mid 1944. She was just 25.
Under her code name, Loulou, she quickly joined up with the local Resistance group led by Antoine Fevrier. This group had already been infiltrated once by the Germans and the remnants of the group were nervous, living in a constant state of readiness to escape or to bomb a railway line or sabotage German communications. At one point, in a desperate shoot-out with German soldiers, Loulou received a flesh wound to her arm but managed to escape.
After a brief return to England to receive medical treatment Loulou was parachuted into France again in late September 1944. This time, her secret return had been compromised by a traitor and the Germans ambushed her team of Maquisards and all were killed except Loulou who was captured having fired her last bullet. She was imprisoned, tortured in Limoges by the Sicherheitdienst (SD) the SS Security Service and eventually sent to a concentration camp in Ravensbruck, having refused to reveal the names of her contacts in France.
On at least three occasions she was informed that she was to be executed at dawn but that final moment did not happen. She never knew why she escaped being shot and she continued to endure hard labour and malnutrition until the Allied forces liberated the camp at the end of the war. She weighed less than six stone at that time and had to be carried to the ambulance.
I met Odette several months later in London whilst she was convalescing. I fell in love with her that first day and for the rest of her life. I was instantly captivated by her vivacity, her beauty and her resilience. I was her doctor and I am immensely proud to be able to say that I had a hand in returning this remarkable woman to good health. We married in September 1948.
Odette was refused the MC as she, and other women in the SOE, were not considered as being military. This deeply offended her as she had been engaged in extreme military action. She was offered a Civil Award instead but she refused this stating that her activities were, “anything but civil.”
Odette was one of the very few women to be awarded the George Cross in 1946. The citation was placed in the London Gazette and read,
St James’s Palace, 12th. November 1946
The King has been graciously pleased to award the George Cross to Odette Worthington. She carried out numerous dangerous missions in occupied France and, never once putting her own safety first, caused numerous delays in enemy supply routes. She linked up with the local Resistance and organized sabotage operations and training with great effect.
After a battle in a remote farm house Odette fought until she had fired her last shot and in so doing, managed to assist her colleagues in their escape.
She was arrested and put into solitary confinement and atrociously tortured but never revealed even a single name of her contacts. Odette Worthington then endured terrible deprivations in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp under constant threat of execution. Her survival is a tribute to her courage and fortitude.
Odette was also subsequently awarded the Medaille de la Resistance in 1973.
As I looked once again at that photograph of my 25 year old mother, I had to put the folder down and remove tissues from my pocket. I knew then that long into the future and even after this house was sold or even reduced to rubble, the legacy of Odette “Loulou” Worthington and those other SOE heroines, would live on in our memory.
16th. June 2021
A couple of thoughts. The ‘Dear Reader’ bit … I don’t really understand why the father left the telling until after his death. Structually, I think maybe the London Gazette part could be interleaved in the body of the letter (as it’s basically a repetition of that section of Odette’s life).
I said the story chimed with me … I’ve just recently summoned up the courage to go through some of the stuff from my mum’s house, which I brought back with me in a suitcase after she died a few years ago and the house was cleared. Now that the main part of the grief has dissipated, it’s very heartwarming to remember my parents through these echoes of their lives.
Anyway … a very good story with a great, strong woman at the heart of it.
I thought I was reading Vicki’s story (I clicked the link on her name, okay?) halfway through the story I’m thinking, ‘this reads just like Ken (you.) I keep reading and I start thinking, shit, this is fabulous writing, Vicki can write just like Ken Frape. (WTF? WGOH? What’s going on here?) Either that or I’m completely (completely) delusional.
Not sure what it is Ken, the combination of vivid imagery with concise details? I don’t know, but the word that most often pops into my head when I read your stuff is, ‘beautiful.’ And that’s what I’m thinking, this is beautiful writing, the very word that I associate to your writing. Then I get to the last line and there’s your name. (Well of course you’re a great writer, but the relevance here is that it proves how brilliant I am.)
I have one tremendously trivial criticism, you actually tell the essence of Agent Lou-lou’s story twice. First by the father’s diary, (or will, or journal) and then by the newspaper clipping. You could add different details in the newspaper story, Or, have the father provide more personal aspects or intimate details of Odette’s life. Things only he knew about her. I don’t know, just throwing it out there. What do you think?
It didn’t ruin the story, by any stretch, or even take me out of it, don’t get me wrong on that, but her story is told twice. The writing is excellent though, as is the story.
My one issue is with the style and language used. I found it a bit too dry and formal: the father’s memoirs read like the newspaper clipping. Perhaps by necessity, there’s more “telling” than “showing” – although the story you chose to tell probably needs a novel to do it justice. Finally, I found the final sentence to be a bit artificial. I don’t see how the narrator would feel that his mother’s legacy would “live on in our memory” when it had almost been lost forever, and he himself had only discovered the story by chance.
I was going to do one where she actually was driving by herself. She was going to be a photographer with a tripod and a timer so she could actually take a picture of herself…an early selfie…. but the car rolls down the hill with her on the fender and she isn’t found for decades, just her camera on the tripod in the middle of the road that someone steals. Years later, the photo turns up somewhere and the case is solved when they find her bones in a ravine (what else did you expect from me).
The world won’t miss it.
Good job everyone!
That’s a fabulous plot, with a great twist at the end. You should’ve written it. Were you joking? I’m not. That’s a brilliant combination of funny and macabre. You should’ve gone with it.
“Hey Ziggy, look what I found!”
Kev’s excited voice is muffled by the strip of cloth covering his mouth and nose. I pause in my rummaging through the debris and look up.
“What is it? Wood? Metal?”
It’s … a picture, all in tones of grey and yellowish off-white. There’s a young woman sitting astride a car in the middle of some road bordered by a rocky slope, and behind her are trees and bushes. The girl’s face is a bit smudged, but she looks perfectly at ease just sitting there doing nothing. It’s so Old World – the girl, looking like she hasn’t got a care in the world; the trees; the car; even the picture itself.
We’re scavenging in the ruins of Old Town, ‘cos it’s finally safe. We’re out of luck, though – the ruins have already been picked almost clean. In the end, we load up our bikes’ trailers with a few of the smaller boards and loose unbroken bricks, and take note of useful items that are too large for us.
Once we’ve made our reports and are told to rest, we head over to old Nola’s to show her the picture.
“Ooh, that’s Kathy!” she exclaims, “Katherine Dumont, that is.”
“Was she a friend of yours?”
“No, she was way older than me. Let’s see, she’s about 22 here, so I was nine. She stepped out with my eldest brother for a time. I was so mad when Kathy dumped him … but otherwise I wanted to be just like her,” Nola’s scratchy voice turns wistful. “She was a rebel, that Kathy. Used to tear around in her Dad’s car through the woods – they used to be all around, you know – or into the city. Most girls her age were already settled down, having babies – but Kathy wanted to be a biologist.”
“What’s that?” Kev interrupts.
“Oh, that’s learning about plants and animals. Kathy did manage to get into a university, even though it wasn’t a done thing for girls then. Sometimes I think it’s a shame she disappeared when she did. Maybe she would’ve worked out how to grow things, keep them alive … She was awfully clever.”
“You mean she got killed?” I blurt out.
“She was killed, wasn’t she? For doing things girls weren’t supposed to do?”
“What an idea!” Nola harrumphs. “Killing girls wasn’t done in our day and age, certainly not in a civilised country like ours. No, she just, I dunno, ran off, or went on a ride and got stuck somewhere. And soon after … well, everything went to hell. And we never saw her again.”
Some Old World stories are just crazy. I mean, not letting someone do something she can do just ‘cos she’s a girl? C’mon! On the other hand, Nola never pulls your leg. That’s why Kev ‘n I love asking her about things.
We have to scout further and further away: the nearest ruins are as bad as Old Town. I keep wondering where the picture was taken. There’s no way of knowing: the scorched wilderness and dusty desert dotted with gnarled, stunted trees are nothing like the tall, lush trees in the picture. The oldies told us leaves used to be green! I try to picture trees covered in the bright green of toxic waste you see sometimes. And people liked them?! … I wonder if Katherine could really help, if we ever found her. It’s stupid, of course: why would she know more than anyone else? Anyway, she’s long dead, being way older than Nola – even if she survived in the first place.
We’re just passing by some weird reddish rock formation jutting out in the middle of a plain when we hear an engine and Kev yells, “Screamers!” The bastards have spotted us too and, true to their name, whoop and holler as their covered truck hurtles towards us. We pedal furiously, but the truck is gaining fast. Not that we have anything to steal, but Screamers have killed people just for fun. Or left them to die.
The shooting starts just as we reach the rocks. We ditch our bikes and desperately scramble over boulders, squeeze through gaps, slide on pebbles – anything to get away. I can hear the Screamers trashing our bikes. Nevermind. Up, higher and deeper into the rocks.
My heavy breathing is so loud that I don’t notice right away that I can no longer hear Kev’s. I look to see why he’s lagging behind – and see the metal bolt sticking out of his arm, and the blood. I sling his good arm around my shoulders despite his feeble protests. Together, we struggle onward, skirt another boulder … and face a mass of green among the red rocks.
Oh. And a tall wire fence.
“My friend needs help!” I yell desperately.
A gate opens. We step into an open space, with some people milling about. A man drops down from somewhere, gives us a once-over, and opens a box in his hands. He takes out what looks like a tourniquet and disinfectant, and sets to work on Kev’s arm.
“Kath!” another voice shouts from above, “we’ve got outsiders. One injured.”
A woman turns around and walks over, and my heart stops. I’m sure it’s the girl from the picture, Katherine. She’s old now, of course – wrinkles, rough skin, stiffness in her movements – but in some way this woman looks younger than Nola. She … doesn’t look like she was put through the wringer. The woman does a double-take when she sees me. What? … Oh, she must’ve known my family, back in the day.
“Welcome to the Red Canyon Sanctuary,” she addresses us.
“Sorry Kath, we overreacted,” the guard helping Kev says sheepishly, “this one isn’t injured as bad as we thought.”
“Nevermind,” she waves a hand, “better get Nat or Liu to fix him properly.”
The guard nods and beckons Kev to follow.
Once he’s gone, I let myself look around. The green of the trees, grass and bushes – they are everywhere, tall and lush – is not as bright as the toxic waste, but it looks fresh, and … I notice it’s got different shades. In some places, the green is dotted with other colours. I glimpse buildings beyond the trees – Old World style. All look in good condition. There’s even a structure all covered in panes of glass – unbroken! – and inside are … more plants? Did these people preserve everything so well, or do they know how to … make things? Still, time and again my eyes return to the woman.
I can’t believe it. I found the girl – Katherine – and trees too. All that’s missing is a car. Or are they around somewhere too? I have so many questions. How did she survive? What is this place? Why didn’t she ever come back? Can we bring everyone from the town? I feel like the questions are jostling inside my throat so much that none can come out. So I just gape at her, and I get this crazy feeling.
I think it’s called hope.
I’m not familiar with Wolverines; but my story was inspired by the Mad Max universe.
“Screamers” is a nice touch, as everyone is familiar with SOME incarnation of Mad Max/Road Warrior/Walking Dead/ Border Patrol roving gangs of scoundrels in the wastelands, but you made them your own and even gave them crossbows (bullets and gunpowder and such would be too rare and invaluable to waste).
I’ve also come across the term “hopepunk”, and I find it confusing. It’s so broad and vaguely defined, it could encompass anything from Lord of the Rings to Mad Max (except the 1st movie).
Incidentally, my story was heavily influenced by Mad Max.
The only thing that struck me as a little incongruous is the fact that this compound has existed undiscovered for decades … just a short bike ride away from the narrator’s ‘home’.
But that’s nitpicking. It’s a very good story from you again.
I have to concur with Phil. Fabulous story and pulls you in. The distance is the only weak point but I guess a time warp could explain it or a portal. Otherwise great story with very nice dialogue. My favourite for now. 🙂
As I mentioned in my response to Phil’s comment, the sanctuary is meant to be far away from the boys’ settlement, and they stumble upon it because there’s nothing left to scavenge closer to home and they have to range further out. I must have cut out too much of the explanation to fit in the word limit. That, and many areas remained too dangerous to explore due to (?) fallout for a long time.
Not sure I used that right, and there probably are not a lot of bushes, but you know what I mean.
Do I always sound like a smart ass?
Truth be told, the decision to leave out the reason for the apocalypse was due to the Almighty Word Limit (also the Almighty Deadline, which I worried I might miss due to overthinking).
As for the distance, originally I tried to emphasise that the place was really far away and the boys had never been anywhere near it before, and that they’d had to scout further and further away from home as there was nothing left to scavenge closer to home. I guess I cut too much in the attempt to fit into the said word limit.
This is an excellent story, a real creative take on the prompt. I sympathize with Phil’s observation, and yours, that you should have placed a little more emphasis on the fact that the main characters were being forced to expand their range of scavenging. However, you’d already alluded to the harsh conditions, the fact that they were limited to what they could carry because they were on bikes.
I felt the circumstantial descriptions were sufficient. You didn’t need to draw me a diagram, but this is not meant to nullify Phil and Ilana’s criticism, just devalue it, you should have, and probably could have emphasized the point with a single sentence. ‘Things were so bad we decided to risk a foray into no man’s land…’ (or something like that.)
On the other hand, Phil is assuming that just because the younger characters didn’t know about the ‘red’ sanctuary doesn’t mean that they weren’t known to the screamers or incapable of self-defense or even an upper hand. Especially since the reveal, the point and the last word in this story is ‘HOPE’! (I’m not a fan, but I don’t think there’s much of that in the Mad Max enterprise.) In fact, we’re informed that the Red Canyon Sanctuary has a strong and resourceful leader, a gate, people (milling about), a guard, or a lookout, who ‘drops down from somewhere.’
If you scanned my comments to Ken Frape under his story, you know about my confusion over the authorship and what I think of his writing. And it’s true, I think he writes beautifully. His writing, especially in the last year, is excellent, better than yours and mine most of the time, in my opinion. But even though his story is emotionally charged, this is a better story, there’s no repetition; the writing is excellent as well; (if not beautiful,) and everything the story needs is in the story, in the proper order.
An interesting contrast between you and Ken’s is that his story is deliberately concise. In fact, I believe much of it is actually based on real people and real events. (With a few name changes here and there. It seems way too familiar. The French and German names and references to historical events reinforce the realism behind a rather straight-forward, if sentimental story, with no reveal. Your story is deliberately vague (no place in particular, some time in the future) partly because of the word limit I suspect, and it’s irrelevant.
I liked it. You weave an intriguing tale.
I did see your comment and how you thought that Ken Frape’s story was me writing in Ken’s style. That gave me a good laugh. No, I’ll never write like Ken Frape; at a risk of sounding corny as – I aim to get better at writing like Vicki Chvatal. 🙂
Well done, this is a terrific piece of writing. I really enjoy the way you have set the scene but only by giving us a trail of breadcrumbs to follow. We don’t know what has happened and at the end you leave us with lots of questions.
A really good use of the prompt too.
Thanks for your honest comments on my piece too. I can see how I could improve my story and I think a rewrite might be in order.
by Robt. Emmett
Handing the photo back, “Who is she, Lang?”
He didn’t answer. He became lost in a world of his own. I watched as his eyes caressed the image of the old black-and-white photo I’d found in a box in the attic. Mom asked me to clean the garret of granduncle’s stuff. There was more than the usual detritus of the average octogenarian. A dozen boxes filled with old manuscripts of his gathering dust in the dormer. They remain unpublished because they were, in his words, “Childish doodling’s.” Others were, “My teenage misadventures should never see the light of day.” He made me promise to burn the entire lot. Adding, “I need to stay in your mother’s good graces.”
I read all of his stories, published and unpublished, before destroying them as he’d requested. I burnt all the boxes in the fireplace of my suite at the Manor. Then I scattered the ashes over the rose plants in the conservatory. But not the last one. In its former life, it had contained a silk top hat. I suspect that in his time he’d been a lady’s man, but one with a conscience. Even though most of the ladies, which is how he still thought of them, had passed on decades ago, he would not allow their names or reputations to be sullied. It was marked, “NEVER TO BE OPENED.” It was to me, a flag before a bull. I had no choice but to open the dozen white store string-bound bundles of old letters which bore witness to Uncle Langford’s love of corresponding with women of a certain class. The names and addresses of the senders in the return corner were a list of who’s who in not only Duluth but the Twin Cities and parts in between. There was one packet from a woman who later became the wife of the mayor of Chicago.
The littering of old newspaper clippings at the bottom of the box concealed the smallest bunch of letters. The lavender ribbon binding them had become brittle with age. I hesitated. These were not ordinary letters. Dare I read them? I couldn’t not read them. I was careful, but the ribbon fragmented into dozens of bits. The envelopes said they were all sent to Cottage #11, Beaver Lake Minn., and arranged by date. Hesitantly, I slipped my little finger under the flap of the earliest postmark. I had already learned more about granduncle’s escapades than he would have liked me to. Did I need to delve further into Langford’s romantic adventures? I can’t help myself. I’ll soothe my conscience and share this last packet.
As was Uncle Langford’s habit when building a story, he’d stay at his lodge on Beaver Lake and go fishing to free his mind. Occasionally, he would bait the hook. On a late August afternoon in 1936, while fishing, he took little notice that the southern breeze had freshened, and pushed his rowboat to the north shore of the lake. A lightning bolt split a nearby tree. Simultaneously, the skies open and drenched him. She came to his rescue and took him to her cottage to dry off.
Reading the letter from Katerina, I get a distinct feeling that some time had elapsed as his garments dried and he left her company. The detail in the second note is a little more descriptive and we’ll leave the contents undisclosed. It was signed, “Your dearest, Kat.” Her third letter is also best left unread, except to say the affair has transformed into a love affair. He has a way with words and women. And he is deeply and inalterably in love, as is she. As per his last request to me, I’ve burned them, burned them all, except the last letter. It bore a red smudged RETURN TO SENDER stamp. If Katerina and granduncle Langford were so much in love, then I need to learn why the last letter was returned.
If Granduncle were alive, I could ask him. As it is, I have few clues besides the old photo of a woman on the fender of a 1934 or 35 Packard Twelve. Langford had left the driver’s door ajar as he’d stepped to the gravel road near the Cottages to snap the photo. I know of the Cottages. They are a mile down the lane from my cabin on the north side of Beaver Lake. There were, at one time, twelve. One, #11, burnt down, but I don’t know when. I know Bergman Realty owned them and I know Stan Bergman… casually.
Stan remembered the fire very well. He was, according to him, about eleven or twelve at the time. He said his father was extremely upset about the loss of that rental property. A man and his family had rented it for the entire summer. Although it was insured, the insurance company refused to issue a reimbursement check for over three years. The reason was the statement by the first of the local volunteer firemen on the scene. He said he saw a man run from the cottage and into the woods. And there was a strong smell of gasoline in the air. Stan had another memory of the fire. They had found her lying on the floor of the living room, in her nightclothes. She’d died of smoke inhalation.
Her father, the cottage renter, was a stoker at U.S. Steel’s Duluth Works in Morgan Park. Stan estimated that a couple of hundred people attended the wake. Many were co-workers of her father. Buhunks, my father called them. They were a rough and surly lot.
Langford and your grandfather, arriving at the funeral parlor, demanded the return of the engagement ring. The grands did not fare well in the ensuing scuffle. Fortunately, the police arrived in time and hauled the bloody pair to the emergency room at St. Mary’s hospital.
Last, the rumor. It was never mentioned openly, but only behind hands, that the young lady was pregnant and the medical examiner was going to open an investigation, but it was quickly squashed.
Yes, I thought, grandmother could suffer rumors, but not facts. Having her name bandied about negatively would send her to her bed for days.
It’s satisfying to now know why my granduncle Langford never married.
— Ԙ —
I’m a little confused by who some of the characters are (I need a family tree!). Who is ‘Lang’ in the first paragraph? It can’t be the granduncle, can it? (Because he’s dead, and that’s why the narrator is clearing out the attic.) The pregnant woman is Katerina, right? Why would the narrator’s grandmother be affected by rumours about her?
You story raises the question of why people keep old letters if they want them to be destroyed when they die (I’m going through a similar dilemma at the moment, having uncovered some quite racy letters from my youth.) Why would we bother about what people think of us when we’re dead? We won’t be around to care.
Enjoyed the story.
Now a little explaining is in order.
Lang is my granduncle Langford. My Grandpère Phil’s brother. He was a scamp and a raconteur first class. By the time the story reaches the first set of ~~ marks, Lang [Langford] has died]. As I’m the eldest grandson, I get all Grandmère’s ‘fun’ tasks whether or not I want them.
Grandmère was a member of many clubs and organizations. She assumed, rightly, dirt or gossip about Lang would rub off on her, as they both had the same last name.
I never had a problem with letters.
First, we never committed to paper anything we didn’t want her father to read.
Second, they were burnt immediately after reading.
And of course, we were always proper.
I’m confused about a few things. Firstly, which parts happen when Granduncle Langford is still alive, and which – after his death? Eg did Langford himself tell his grandnephew the story of his first meeting with Katerina? (The way it’s presented, the narrator is unlikely to have gleaned all the details from the letters. And what does “when building a story” mean?)
Secondly, is Stan’s contribution told as direct or indirect speech? It mostly appears indirect, but “Langford and your grandfather” suggests a direct quote.
Thirdly, the narrator’s mother would be Langford’s niece; why does he need to stay in his “good graces” by having all his old writing burned? The grandmother I could understand – she’s Langford’s sister or sister-in-law, and could have been concerned about the family’s reputation at the time of the events.
Just before the ~~ is the line “I need to stay in your mother’s good graces.”
It should have read, “I need to stay in your grandmother’s good graces.”
I learned of his love for Katerina, only after Langford’s death from the small packet tied with the blue ribbon.
Stan’s comments are, for the most part, indirect.
“Building a story” means that small story, such as these 1200 word flash fictions, are massaged and grow into a larger, more elaborate construct.
Thank you for forcing me to illuminate what was obvious to me, but not others.
I enjoyed your apocalyptic take on the prompt.
I can just remove the italics.
Wherever you wrote the story included the ~~ code when you inserted the ~.
Alllllll right writers!
Here is the voting link:
You have 24 hours to vote !
Today Ella was on her way to the auditorium. The show was to start in an hour. She brazened herself as she sang the high notes popping marbles into her mouth, careful not to swallow them. She chose the quieter route, avoiding heavy traffic, mainly because she didn’t want to keep applying the brakes, perchance swallow the mint balls by mistake.
Time for a breather.
She stopped the car in some pretty woods. Deep breathing, lung expansion, stomach suck-in were all required, along with some throaty yodeling and ble-ble-ble exercise of the lips. She sat astride the horn rim of the Merc with the aura of a princess, just as her grandmother did. Except grandma sat in splendour- in a palanquin. That’s how granma went anywhere. Four men carried her on their shoulders. Thereby hangs a tale.
Ella loved singing but she knew this time she better be prepped, not wanting to be singled out as the one bleating the wrong note. She hated the side looks given by some. Singing was to be fun, not a chore. Having to deal with female hormones running loose wasn’t really her cuppa. Some women could get real nasty.
Ella knew for sure where she needed to safely poise herself during the concert. Away from Ana, whose face now flashed in front of her. Theirs had been a simple, happy group of singers till she joined.
“Oh Ana! I can’t speak of Ana ‘cept in terms of love, emotion, closeness,” Eli mused. “The love that must arise from forgiveness, the emotion that wells up inside because of her nastiness, and the degree of closeness I must positively avoid.”
That last thought made her giggle.
Ella got back in the car, heading straight to the auditorium. The show went splendidly and her solo was quite something. As she was basking in the glorious aftermath, Ana crept up to her like a weasel.
“You sang some wrong notes. As usual.”
“Com’on Ana, don’t be mean. I know my notes and you don’t have to keep picking on me. The audience loved it. Didn’t you hear them clapping?” Ela replied, her chin up.
Ella quickly moved away from her, but she could feel the hairs on the back of her neck rising.
O God this woman. Two weeks ago, she remarked publicly that her breath smelt of garlic. That was an insult, raised to the power of 1000.
Ela didn’t have one nasty bone in her and so never knew how to tackle this specimen from Gestapo country. But they were from different continents, so there was understandably a big divide.
Her good friend told her to forgive and pray for her. Love covering a multitude of sins and all that? Which she did anyway.
Can prayer solve things as mundane as this silly altercation?
So she made doubly sure she was at the opposite end of the arc when they stood in performance mode.
Life was getting out of hand. Today’s concert. The fear of catching the dreaded silly germ 21. She needed to boost her immunity. Ella thought of the homemade remedies her mama prepared with the air of an expert.
Her memory took a spin to a million years ago, on a safari, when she was a wee girl of ten. The family was ‘going on a lion hunt with their binoculars’ just as her kiddy rhyme went. So none of her family lost that immunity thingy, Mama had brought along her super healthy drink of spinach,turmeric, ginger, beets and chia… those little seeds which she stored in a fancy bottle in her bag. The customs waved her through, whenever she carted this across continents or cities.
Mama made sure never to venture out anywhere, especially on long road trips, without her health drink mix.
“This stuff can energise you to climb the highest mountain, wade the widest ocean,” she said, as she force fed her family, every morning.
One day it was a green slush, the next day, orange and the third day, it was a purple slush. As kiddos, it tasted both horrible and good. The gooey sludge made you want to puke. But they didn’t dare. The rock salt and honey gave it the touch of exotic.
With all this mama juice, today Ella’s skin glowed like a thousand stars.
Ella’s mind now hurtled once again, back to a scene from her childhood when she was the littlest one. Her papa had caught her with her mouth full.
“Open your mouth. What do you have in there?” Papa said.
“Nofffthinnnn,” littlest Ella lied.
“Open, right now. I know you got something in there,” glared Papa.
“Ahh.. ahhh..I ate some of that,” the little girl replied, pointing to the bottle, now crying her heart out. “It tastes awful.”
Mama looked at the bottle. There was just a small amount left. Before she could start the rant, Pa shut her up.
“Why do you leave things lying around, I just don’t see. You know we got a curious little bunny. Hope she will sh#@% it out without a problem.”
Looking back to the incident thirty years ago, Eli blamed all the black spots on her face for that extra dose of seed she had had from the bottle.
That must be the reason Anna didn’t like her.
It was all due to the color of her skin. Whatever you say, there’s something about this skin that makes people fear, or doubt, even be a little jealous of.
But, on her wedding day, looking into Abe’s eyes, she recited boldly :
For better or for best,
For richer, for poorer,
For black spots or white,
For heavy weight or light,
In good health and better,
To be joined together, as one,
Till the day we part.
She had added the ‘spots’ bit in her wedding vow the night before and giggled as she wrote it. Reverend Randy might omit reading that, she reckoned, but no harm giving it a shot. He did have a sense of humor but you never know.
That was 40 years ago.
Today Abe was the health freak who believed part of his strength emerged from drinking Emperor’s matcha green tea. He had a special stirrer, and a special sea green bowl into which he carefully dished out a teaspoon of matcha into hot water. Then placing his elbow anywhere between 70 to right angle, he carried out some vigorous stirring. It was a moment of holiness. This rapid stirring caused a wind tunnel of sorts, so much so that if there hovered a mosquito closeby, you could be sure he’d either be sucked in or blown off to the roof.
Abe sometimes stirred a portion for Ella, forcing her to drink it hot, so hot that it burnt her tender lip.
Life was good then. No complaints.
A little bit of matcha here, a little bit of chia there.
Red chicken curry with a dollops of spices,
Delicately dropped in, to arouse the senses.
It mattered little if Ms Kartoffel was nasty. Ella was fine and she would continue singing as loud as she could.
But she would never be rude.
You’ve got a lovely story, full of flavour (literally and metaphorically) and potential. However, I think it needs to have a clear main focus: either Ella’s singing & attendant conflict with Anna, or folk remedies and health drinks. As it is, it’s unclear to me what the story is about. (Incidentally, the spelling of Ella’s and Anna’s names is inconsistent throughout.)
An unrelated question: why is “garlic breath” such a terrible insult from Ella’s POV?
So made a mishmash of connected themes. Threw in a bit of racial prejudice, which is topical now, and reduced its significance to some seeds. Crazy, right?
The names did change during the writing and I was in a hurry. I realized that after posting. Yikes.
I’d say bad breath, whether garlic, pizza or alcohol, is yuck in close proximity.
But it’s polite not to remark.
Thanks for reading! 🙂
Garlic is so strong that it can give you bad breath just from applying garlic ointment to your feet!
I get garlic breath the traditional way though.
It smells like spicy cooking but sounds like a song or a poem at times.
Lots of clever wordplay here, which I always appreciate…. the way I say things out loud to people often bewilders them or amuses them, even though I am just speaking “normally” and don’t intend to be some vocal jester for their laughter, but I love it when I see a similar divergence, deliberate or not.
I learned about vocal exercises and other preparations for singing, had to google palanquin because I never use that word but I will now whenever I can, I identified with the bit about work rivalry and petty grudges, and I thought that the whole bit with the potions and the back story about the spots makes for a good main character in a novel!
It really felt like you were just getting started – darn you word limit!
It was subtle, but that little tiny bit about the flight path of the mosquito getting thrown off by the stirring was a really, really, nice touch. I like bugs and this time you didn’t hurt one, you just messed with it in a funny way, but also just throwing in references to nature or animals like that rekindles my interest when I read or do anything really (I care more about what the insects, lizards, and birds are doing out the window than my coworkers half of the time).
You should be a professor.
Now you’ve made me like my story more than I thought.
I guess we are two peas in a pod with our divergent writing!
It’s all good.
I am late by minutes! Hope it’s okay.
Hi Marien – so sorry but it’s almost 30 minutes late and I’ve already created and posted the voting page. I’m not at home and have a hard time updating the page and the newsletter from my phone.
Going forward if you need more time just let me know before the deadline.
Or it can stand like a stark reminder that time waits for nobody!
I do love the conversation here- it’s like a fun coffee morning.
And here are the winners!
What a great round of stories!!
Without further ado….
1st Place: The Girl in the Picture by Vicki Chvatal
2nd Place: Devotion by Ken Cartisano
3rd Place: Shoebox by Phil Town
4th Place: True Love Always is forever by Ilana Leeds
5th Place: Set Europe Ablaze by Ken Frape
6th Place: Shattered Dreams by kirstennairn
7th Place: From Another Era by Robt Emmett
And the the favorite character is “Odette” in Ken Frape’s “Set Europe Ablaze”
And the story with the favorite dialogue is “True Love Always is Forever” by Ilana Leeds
Congrats to all!
I’ll have the new prompt up shortly.
Well done Vicki, Ken and Phil. Great stories.
Happy to see that Odette (a composite character based upon real SOE female operatives) was favourite character.
(Pleased to be on the podium!)
You ‘out futured’ me, plain and simple. Nobody’s ever out-futured me before. (Well, very few people.) Heavy sigh. It was bound to happen sooner or later. I just never expected it to be someone who looks like you. (Some kind of evergreen tree, with worms for arms and a human brain attached to her upper branches? (Your profile pic?)
Seriously, congrats on the win Vicki. I’m very pleased with my second-place finish and thrilled to share the virtual podium with you and Phil. I enjoyed your keen and amusing comments on my story, too. I wanted to reply to all the comments and stories but didn’t allow myself enough time to do it.
I noticed that you, Phil and Ken F do a great job on the critiques, too. Hope you all can keep up the good work there as well. I love reading other people’s impressions of the stories.
And thanks to all for the votes.
[VICTORY IS MINE, MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!]
Congratulations to Ken Frape for the unbeatable heroine and Ilana for the great dialogue, Ken Cartisano and Phil.
Ken Cartisano, you’ve got me all worked out. I used to have a human avatar, but it vanished into the ether for some reason, and now my true face is exposed for all the world to see.
As for your sex-bot – I reckon it simply wasn’t explicit enough. I mean, it’s a “relationship model” – maybe it’s all about romantic hand-holding walks, poetry and flowers, with no sex involved (and perhaps that’s why his marriages never lasted). I guess if you aren’t prepared to go X-rated, post-apocalyptic wilderness wins hands down.
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