Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “What’s in the Attic”

Theme: This post is for stories related to the contest theme: “What’s in the Attic”.

Story Requirements: An elderly man or woman needs help cleaning out their house, as they prepare to move. A neighbor offers to help, and touched by the much needed assistance, the elderly person says the neighbor is welcomed to anything they find in the attic. What do they find?

Word Count: 1,200

  • This is the thread for stories as well as general comments. Say hello and be sure to check the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email” box for email notifications.
  • To leave feedback/Comments directly relating to a particular story – click “reply” to the story comment.
  • Specific critiques, comments, and feedback are encouraged. If you do not want honest professional feedback do not post a story.
  • Keep feedback and critiques to a civil and constructive level, please. Please critique stories for construction, style, flow, grammar, punctuation, and so on. The moderator has the right to delete any comments that appear racist, inflammatory or bullying.

Please Note: Comments may be considered “published” in regards to other contest requirements.

All stories are fall under general copyright laws. No part may be reproduced without the express consent of the respective author.

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must stay within the word limit set for each contest.

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday).

  • You may vote only once.
  • You cannot vote for yourself.

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by David Provost per the Writing Prompt Roster.

To be included in the “writing prompt roster”, you must have submitted two stories in the last sixty days. The roster is alphabetical and can be found here.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

click tracking

Photo by Tom Quandt on Unsplash

83 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “What’s in the Attic”

  • Chuck Lilburn
    Just making sure I have a link to the new contest, Good luck everyone.
  • Ilana Leeds
    Yes moi aussi!
  • Celine
    The Keys.
    I was happy that Harold let me clean out the attic. He said that his past was here, but it was okay to take one thing. I walked in, seeing mostly grey webs of spiders and boxes of items, some of which were empty. But then, I saw them, four mahogany boxes. They were beautiful, intricate boxes, covered in swirls of wood. The first one was keys, covered in dust. I blew it off, leaving behind a peculiar key, with a gem on it, held by some swirls ending in sharp tapers. The gem was a ruby, still kissed with dust. A single tap, and the gem emitted dust, leaving a fog. A hall, a small part of the palace, a long column riddled hall. Bending over the small black gates, almost off of the marble floor, it was a gorge, hidden in intoxicating blue fog. Peering down the hall, I saw 2 people, one I made out to be a princess, another a normal person. They had recently stopped dancing, but they were still talking. I could make out what they were saying. “Harold, always keep this key. You’ll thank me.” And she slipped the key in his pocket. A key formed in front of me. I touched it, and I was back. The keys were all memories, and I asked Harold if I could take it and he let me have a box of my favorite memories, and tutorials.
    • Cute story Celine!
      You definitely have a flair for flash fiction. I loved the idea behind the boxes and how you wrapped it up neatly.
    • Maud Harris
      Beautiful imagery Celine. I love ‘the gem was a ruby, still kissed with dust’.
    • Alice Nelson
      Sweet story Celine, I love the descriptive quality of the story. I could see this in a longer form too, it would be great. Welcome to the group!
    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      It’s great the way you were able to convey the sense of a story in so few words. I think it works, but would benefit by just a little more fleshing out. But being able to create such a descriptive snapshot in so few words is excellent!
    • Phil Town
      This reads like a dream (or a trip …), and is very nicely done for that – with descriptions of strange phenomena and illogical turns. I loved this (for its mystery): “…and he let me have a box of my favorite memories…”. A bit short, but I think it’s all you wanted to say, and you said it, neatly and succinctly.

      (And welcome, Celine!)

  • Celine
  • Ken Cartisano
    By now it should be obvious, there’s something funny about Harold and his attic.
  • Ilana Leeds
    Good stuff Ken. That is a really good writing activity by the way. We all have the same prompt, write for 3 minutes and pass the story on to the left. And the writer has to carry on the story. Who’s next mate?
    • I think that’s actually a fun idea.
      I would be willing to try something like that, maybe we should try a bonus prompt.
      Anyone who would like to participate could, we could do a rotation, and do a 250 word limit!
      • Ken Cartisano
        I’m a little concerned that I may have committed a faux pas. Celine my not be open to having her story used this way, but it sure makes a perfect set up for a lot of possibilities.
        If she prefers to flesh out her own story herself, feel free to delete my addendum. (Or whatever it is.) Sup to you ladies.
    • Ken Cartisano
      Thanks, that’s what I thought, A fun writing activity. Celine provided a great start. And her story seems to end somewhat prematurely, you’d have to change her last sentence to actually continue the story.
      • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
        Ken, you are incorrigible, but I actually like your continuation in spite of that. It would be fun to do an exquisite corpse type prompt.
  • Ilana Leeds
    This can be a really creepy prompt for the imagination to run riot over the rooftops like manic gargoles rampaging.
  • Chuck Lilburn
    I thought I would receive posts for this new contest. Do I have to sign up for the blog for each post? I must be missing something.
    • Alice Nelson
      Hey Chuck, you have to like the post above, then check the two boxes at the end of the comments.
  • wtf? I’m cracking up – your imagination never ceases to amaze me!
  • Maud Harris
    Great continuation, Ken. This could run and run.
  • Alice Nelson
    Wow Ken, great continuation, fits perfectly with Celine’s vision. Ya’ll should co-write a longer version.
  • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
    Kindred Spirits By Wendy Edsall-Kerwin ©2018 [1191 words]
    “Thank you so much for coming here on short notice, Deb. With mom going into the home next week and the house sold so fast, we really need her stuff cleared out asap.”

    “No problem, Ms. Miller, I just got back to work after a sabbatical, so my schedule was open. I’ll be able to get your mother ready to move in no time.” Did she notice my pause before saying sabbatical? No, she looked stressed out like everyone who hired my company to go through their parents’ belongings. Their kids never seemed to have the time, or perhaps the desire, to sort through the decades of accumulation.

    “That’s great. I couldn’t take off this week and it’s playoff season for my kids. I just don’t have time. That attic always smelled anyway and I think squirrels lived up there.” Her nose wrinkled at the remembered odor.

    “Donna, you know you aren’t allowed in the attic.” A plump, diminutive woman had come into the room.

    “Mom, this is Deb. Remember she’s here to go through all your things and figure out what to sell, what to throw out, and what to keep. She has to go into the attic, don’t stop her.” She kissed her mother on the cheek. “I’ll give you a call later.” To me she said, “Here’s my cell. Call me if you run into any issues,” then rushed out the door.

    “Don’t worry Mrs. Esposito; I’ll stay out of your way.”

    “Oh no, please call me Trish. If you’re going through my things we should be on a first name basis. Go ahead and start, I’ll just watch my stories.” My work was easier if I stayed neutral about my clients, but I couldn’t help it, I liked her.
    When I returned the next day she had baked some cookies.

    “I knew you’d want to pack up my kitchen today, so I used up my butter and flour. I used to bake so many treats for the neighborhood kids.”

    I did pack up her kitchen that day (minus a few necessities), as well as the garage and bedrooms. Usually I wait until last for those, but she kept deflecting me from the attic. I let her direct me to the other parts of her house first – just more evidence that she was growing on me.

    On my third day of the job, she sat me down, offering me coffee and the rest of the cookies.

    “Deb, I know you need to clean the attic today, but I just want to sit and chat first. I only have a few days left in this house and it would be nice not to spend them alone. It’s been harder than I thought watching so much of my life end up in that dumpster.”

    “You know how it is Mrs. Espo… Trish. People these days want new things to showcase their own style. They don’t want the clunky furniture of the past. They want to make their own memories.”

    “I know you’re right. It just seems such a waste. I heard you say you were on a, sabbatical was it? What were you doing?” She still had that plump abuela look on her face. I decided to tell her the truth, mostly because I was sick of keeping it inside.

    “I had to take the time off work because…” I paused, remembering their faces. “I was on a boat with my kids on the river. Something happened, we capsized. Both of them drowned. I was in a facility to help me deal with their loss.” I looked into the murky beige of my coffee.

    “Come on dear; let’s get you back to work so you don’t dwell on it.” She moved me to the ceiling door. “It’s time I let someone into the attic.” With that she grabbed the string and down came the stairs. They were smooth and quiet like someone oiled them regularly.

    I could feel the oppressive desert heat as soon as my head crested the floor. The attic did have a distinctive odor, but it wasn’t entirely off-putting. I noticed that there wasn’t much up here – some wooden crates and in a corner a child’s bedroom set, a stack of old board games was near the bed. There was also a rusty old chain, but I had seen things in people’s attics weirder than that. Otherwise the attic was pretty empty.

    “This shouldn’t take long at all, Trish. You’ve kept it tidy. I wish all my clients’ attics were this easy.” I started packing up the board games for donation and moved on to the bedroom set. Mrs. Esposito came over and sat down on the bed, watching me work.

    “You know, my husband and I used to have so much fun up here. The kids were always so polite and listened to us, playing games and not cheating or whining about anything.”

    “I thought your daughter wasn’t allowed up here?”

    “No, she wasn’t. She never played games with us. I couldn’t stand it when she broke the rules or started complaining if she wasn’t winning. We never threw a game. Children need to learn that you aren’t just handed what you want.”

    I moved over and grabbed the chain to put in the trash. It was stuck on something and I moved the nightstand aside to see. One end was fastened to a rafter. I pulled the other end toward me and found what looked like a shackle. I took out a screwdriver and disconnected it from the wall. I looked toward the crates, then back to that smiling abuela face. Grabbing a crowbar, I walked over to them. She came up beside me, a look of fond remembrance on her face.

    “The kids were always so nice and obedient, at least until they started growing up. I couldn’t let them lose their childhood innocence.” She looked up at me. “I could tell when we met that you would understand. We are similar– we both know what really happened on that boat.” She gave my arm a squeeze. I knew I liked her.

    I wedged the crowbar into the nearest crate and pried the lid off. Nestled in straw was a girl about eleven years old, though it was tough to tell with her mummified face. The desert air had preserved her as a little girl forever. I thought of my children. Their faces were frozen in my mind; the fear and struggle as I held them under the water. Trish’s way seemed better.

    “Go on, you can have her if you want, but we best do something about the others. I doubt the realtor or my daughter would understand.” She ran a finger along the girl’s cheek. I reached in and grabbed the girl’s teddy bear.

    “I’ll stick with this.” I nailed the crate’s lid back on. “Let me get these down into the dumpster. Why don’t you brew some more coffee and when I’m done we can play some monopoly and talk more.” She squeezed my arm again. As she rushed down to her empty kitchen, I got back to work.

    • Christopher Smith
      Wow, Wendy. I did not see that coming; certainly not what I had expected. Great idea, and nice pacing!
    • Phil Town
      Terrific stuff, Wendy. Very unsettling. We know early on that Trish is hiding something in the attic, and we can kinda guess what it is, but Deb’s secret is just as chilling, and expertly revealed. A couple of things: When Deb comes clean about her ‘sabbatical’, I think it comes out a little too readily … needed to be less direct, I think. And Trish’s response seems to lack empathy (of course, the reveal later on perhaps justifies this, but even so, it would be more natural for her to show some sympathy?) And the crates are going in the dumpster? That seems a little rash, perhaps? But this takes very little away from a well built and creepy story.
    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      Thanks Christopher & Phil!

      Phil, I get what you’re saying. I did have some trouble staying under word count, but those are definitely things I will consider when I rewrite it later and can flesh it out a little more.

    • Ken Cartisano
      Hi Wendy,

      Well, the ending was certainly a surprise. Good writing too. Creepy and weird horror.

      I could be wrong, but I assumed that Deb taking three days to get around to inspecting the attic was a plot device to allow Mrs. Esposito and Deb to become better acquainted. (Enough to know that they were similarly minded.) But perhaps it takes too many words to set up? Is it possible that Deb could just sit down and talk with Mrs. Esposito? To get a sense of what the customer wants? (After her daughter leaves?) This would move the story along faster and allow you more room to flesh out the plot and set up the reveal.

      I may be a dummy, but a couple of points in the story confused me.

      The explanation that Donna, “never played games with us. I couldn’t stand it when she broke the rules or started complaining if she wasn’t winning.”

      How did she break the rules or complain if she ‘never played games’ with them? (Maybe she rarely played games? Or, ‘Was banned from playing games once we realized her penchant for breaking the rules and complaining?’)

      I assume that the bodies in the crates are Mrs. Esposito’s children. If they are, then who is Donna and where did she come from? And if her behavior was unacceptable, why didn’t Donna end up in a crate in the attic too? Especially since she ‘apparently’ was not the ideal child.

      What are the chains on the floor for? Clearly they’re some kind of restraint, but for whom?

      I got the gist of the story overall, which was very clever, but I was left with too many questions as to what had really transpired. If you shortened the beginning, you could devote more words to elaborate on the plot twists.

      • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
        Ken, you give me a lot to think about. The kids were supposed to be one’s she had lured in with treats like the cookies she had made for Deb. Donna is her kid who would be linked directly to the Espositos if she mysteriously disappeared.

        The chain was for the kids she would keep in the attic so that they couldn’t escape.

        The three days was basically for the getting to know you part, but also because I assume it takes more than a day to clean and pack an entire house.

        This story does really need a bit more time (and length) to get to be exactly what I want, but I did get a chance to work more dialogue in this time, which was a goal to help me improve that. The use of the term “never” was more just the way people speak – saying never but meaning rarely. I get what you mean though.

        You read this story like how I read books – noticing all the inconsistencies. Which helps me work on what I need to improve.

        • Ken Cartisano
          Now that you explain it, it seems pretty obvious. (But what doesn’t?) She was abducting and killing OPK. ‘other peoples kids.’ (Doh.) However, I stand by my advice to shorten the ‘get to know you’ period. If not that, then I would suggest you focus on the paragraph that begins: ‘No, she wasn’t. She never played games with us…’
          I wouldn’t say this story had inconsistencies. I would say that that specific paragraph led me astray somehow. I focused on Trish’s daughter. But she’s not a key player in the story. Maybe the thing that throws me is that Deb killed her own kids. Trish didn’t. With the reveal that they’re both child murderers, I kept thinking, the children in the attic were Trish’s children? Then how did her daughter Donna survive? But that was incorrect. A misplaced connection on my part.
          Everyone else seems to like this story as it is. I mean, I don’t hear any complaints so,,, this is a very sophisticated bunch, too. (Or so they’re constantly reminding me.) On the other hand, philosophically speaking, if everyone’s happy, you should disregard them. What do happy people know anyway? Nothing. They’re too busy being happy. People don’t think when they’re happy. That’s what unhappiness is for. Keeps us sharp. On our toes. When’s the last time anyone had a brilliant thought with their mouth full of ice cream, or cake? (Actually, it was me, 36 years ago. But that’s not important right now.) The answer is, Never! Isaac Newton had a great thought once, but he got HIT BY FOOD! He wasn’t enjoying it. Big difference. See where I’m going with this?
    • Alice Nelson
      Wendy, I love creepy stories. But something about it didn’t sit with me, I was having a hard time suspending disbelief, and I read Ken’s critique, he mentioned a lot of what bothered me about the story, so no need to repeat any of it here.

      I will say that it’s a clever concept, and if all the inconsistencies are smoothed out, it will be a satisfyingly spooky tale.

    • Chuck Lilburn
      Haven’t received any posts, and have been so busy with family staying at the house I didn’t check into this site. First thing I read is this awesome story and am now faced with rewriting my entire story. Mine was written in a horror theme, but I’m not sure it can compare with this. I’ll post it if I have time. I guess attics are just creepy and lend themselves to the horror genre. Very nice misdirection and keeping the ending a complete secret, at least for me. Very nice misdirection and a well-written story. I Liked it very much. Great job, Wendy. Good dialogue and sufficiently creepy.
  • Helena

    What time does it have to be submitted by on the 28th? I’m in England!


    • Carrie Zylka

      Hi Helena!
      It would have to be posted by 5pm your time.

  • Wow! Wendy, What a story. Absolutely brilliant. It leaves me speechless.
    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      Thanks, Maud!
  • Better to be lucky than rich.

    “Grandpa, are we rich?”

    Amy sits on the rug, her back resting against her Grandpas’ knees.

    “Are we rich? Are we rich? Well, I would say we are comfortable.”

    “How do people get to be comfortable?
    Amy asks, her blue eyes wide and her brow creased into a frown.

    “Well, there are two ways, my little pumpkin, we either work very hard for a long time, or we become lucky.”

    “Were you lucky, Grandpa?”

    “I guess I was, but I worked hard as well.”

    “Tell me about being lucky.”

    “It’s a long story, so settle down.”
    Amy crosses her legs and shuffles back against Grandpas’ knees until she feels comfortable.

    “ A long time ago, when I was young I did a good deed, and that good deed brought me luck.”

    “If I do a good deed, will it bring me luck?”
    Amy asks.

    “Well, child, you must always do good where you can, not just to be lucky, but because you are a nice person. Anyway, let me get on with my story.
    As I was saying, when I was a young man we lived in a street with lots of neighbours. Everyone knew each other and we never had to lock our doors at night. “

    “Were there any bad men?”

    “There may have been, but they didn’t live on our street. Mr and Mrs Groves lived next door to us but Mrs Groves had bad arthritis.”

    “What’s Arthur-itis.”

    “Bad knees. Now let me finish my story you minx. She had bad knees and they decided to move to somewhere warm. They had lived in the same house for thirty years, and the attic was filled with junk – you should have seen it. Old records, a broken gramophone, old newspapers, a toy pram with a wheel missing. Well, it was a lot of work for Mr Groves, so he asked me to help him clear the attic. He said that I could choose one thing from the attic as a reward for the hard work.”

    Grandpa paused, chuckling to himself.

    “I didn’t think there would be anything in that pile of rubbish that was any use to me, but I helped him anyway because I’m a nice person.

    “Mmm..” said Amy.

    “ At the time, I wanted to be a writer and I had an idea for a book, but I didn’t know how or where to start. I would sit up at nights and write reams and reams of words, but when I read them in the morning they were rubbish. I didn’t know any writers, or anyone who could help me. My Dad said I should stop dreaming and get a job. Anyway, going back to the attic story. I had just moved a pile of old railway magazines, and what do you think I found?”

    “Oh Grandpa. Stop messing about – what did you find?”

    “Underneath were a stack of exercise books. Out of curiosity I opened one. There were pages and pages of writing in faded ink. From the first paragraph, I was hooked. Sitting on the floor, I started to read. The time flew by, and I had been reading about an hour when Mr Groves shouted up the stairs to see if I was alright. What I had found was a novel so fascinating that I was drawn right into it. It was badly written with lots of mistakes, but the story gripped me. This was the thing that I wanted to take away.”

    Grandpa paused for a minute, remembering.

    “Now, child, that was where the hard work started. I took the exercise books home and read them over and over. Eventually I started on my own book, using part of their plot and some of their layout. Of course, I didn’t write it exactly the same, but somehow my ideas began to fit. My first novel took shape before my eyes. Using my Dads’ typewriter and a book from the library on ‘How to write for
    publication’, I knocked it into shape. Even my Dad liked it.”

    “What happened next?”
    Amy wriggled in anticipation.

    “Ah! That was just the beginning. I didn’t have any money so I couldn’t afford to get a cover designed. I tried all sorts of free designers myself but somehow they didn’t look right. I even sent it to a publisher, but they sent a letter back saying that the plot was interesting but it needed a lot more work. Of course, being young and impetuous, I only heard the negative bits. I’m afraid I gave up at that point. The book stayed in a cupboard for a few years while I grew up. I started work and met your Grandma. There was too much going on in my life to be sitting up late writing books. Your Dad was born and then Aunty Freda came along. I was a busy man.
    It was only when Aunty Freda started college many years later that I was reminded about the book. She was doing a project on literature when I mentioned that I had once written a book. Of course, she wanted to see it. I raked it out, blew off the dust and showed it to her. Your Aunty Freda took it away to read ‘without me looking over her shoulder’- that’s exactly what she said! Two days later she asked if I would agree to show it to her tutor. I was a bit embarrassed, I didn’t want to seem either pushy or stupid, but there was a small part of me that still wanted my work recognised.
    The next thing I knew, he phoned me. Well! As you can imagine, I was flabbergasted! He asked me if I would be willing for him to tidy it up – as he put it. I was a bit miffed. It was my book and I didn’t think there was much tidying up to do, but all the family agreed that I should swallow my pride and let him work on it.

    A month or so later he called round with – would you believe it?- my book, all done up like a proper manuscript. That was where luck came in. We sent it to a publisher and he accepted it. Before I knew it, I could see my book on the shelves of proper bookshops. As you know, I went on to write three more”
    I never saw Mr and Mrs Groves after they moved house, but I always dedicate my books to them, I expect they are long dead now, either that or they are both well over a hundred years old. “

    Amy straightens up, planting a kiss on Grandpas’ forehead she makes for the door, then pauses.
    “Grandpa, can I borrow a pen and paper?”

    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      I liked the rapport between the grandpa and the Amy. It was also cool that it was an older man remembering back to when he was young and helped out an older man. I do agree with Phil that it is a little unnerving that he took parts of the other man’s unpublished work and used for his own writing. Maybe if you added a section where Mr Groves sees that the novel is what the grandpa takes and says something like “If you could make it work you’re welcome to it.” You did have him entering the attic when grandpa finds it, so it could fit in there.
      • Maud as usual your writing just flows beautifully. But like Ken, I kept waiting for some kind of conflict to be resolved. As it was, it was just a grandpa telling his grand daughter a story, albeit a nicely told story. I wonder if it would’ve been more engaging if the conflict came in the form of the story. More digging into who wrote it, and them recognizing the plagiarism. Any hoot, still a fun read. 🙂
    • Ken Cartisano

      This story doesn’t rock me like last weeks offering. Not sure why. There’s nothing wrong with it. The writing is excellent, pacing is good. Maybe because there’s no real conflict.

      What I found amusing wasn’t in the story, it was in Wendy and Phil’s comments. (You guys crack me up.) Both of whom presented stories of deranged murderers and torturers, but when it came to your story, they ‘disliked,’ were ‘bothered,’ and ‘unnerved’ at the horrific, diabolical image of a gentle old grandpa plagiarizing a discarded and abandoned manuscript.

      Perhaps for you, like Phil and Wendy, the conflict is in the plagiarism?

      Not for me. And I hope they were kidding. (I’ll grant that they both hedged a little in their criticism.)

      The way I see it, this story shows that the old abandoned manuscript was given to grandpa as his reward for cleaning the attic. Grandpa says, “This was the thing that I wanted to take away.” That takes care of ownership. A deal is a deal. (If you cover a poker bet with your unpublished manuscript and lose to me—that manuscript is mine. I now own it. If it’s been published, then all I own is a book. Seems pretty cut-and-dried to me.)

      Maud adds that the manuscript was badly written, grandpa only used parts of it, those parts had to be re-written, and he dedicated each book to the couple who gave him the original manuscript.

      I don’t see any ethical problems here.

    • Charles Lilburn
      Nice use of the Grandpa, grandchild angle, always a winner with us more mature folk. Nice story Maud.
  • Phil Town
    This is a very good extension to Celine’s piece, Ken, taking up from where she left off (looking in the boxes) and sticking close to her style. (Though I do hope you’re going to post a story of your own, too! 😉 )
  • Phil Town
    Really enjoyed that, Maud. I like the cosiness of the relationship, and the thing that Grandpa takes is novel (groan!). The ending, too, is a nice little detail – Amy inspired to follow Grandpa’s footsteps. The conversation is well done, flowing nicely. I think that maybe the details of designers and publishers wouldn’t have been so interesting for Amy (I have her at about 8?). I was disliking Grandpa a bit for stealing the ideas … but then you explain that he only used the bare bones, and that he dedicated all his books to the old couple … so I suppose it’s ok (although there’s something there that’s bothering me still …). Nicely told story.
  • Phil Town

    Ned was in his bedroom playing a video game with his best friend Harry. His mother came in.

    “Ned, you know old Mrs Wilson’s moving?”

    Ned was a psychopath, slashing up Harry’s characters.



    With Ned distracted, Harry set his characters running.

    “Now look what you’ve done, mum!”

    “Ned Taylor! If you don’t stop that game right now, I’ll …!”

    Harry’s characters reached the weapon store and tooled up with knives of their own. They turned and faced Ned’s psychopath, outnumbering him. His goose was cooked. Ned saw a way out.

    “Sorry, Harry. Game over.”


    Ned dropped his handset and jumped up.

    “Go on, mum. I’m all ears.”

    “I said,” continued Ned’s mother, “that Mrs Wilson’s moving. She’s asked if you’ll go over and help her clear her attic, and I said you would.”

    “Oh, thanks a bundle, mum! Can’t she get the removers in?”

    “They’re coming later for all the heavy stuff. But she needs someone sensible and sensitive to go through the things in the attic.”

    Harry burst out laughing.

    “And you can take Harry along.”

    Harry stopped laughing.


    “Thank you for coming, boys. Very kind of you.”

    Ned and Harry stood in the hallway, looking sorry for themselves. Ned grunted.

    “Now, if you find anything you think is valuable, or might be of sentimental value to me, put it to one side. If it just looks like rubbish – there are some of my poor husband’s magazines up there, I think – I’ve put some bin bags just inside the trap-door.”

    As they climbed the stairs to the first floor, the boys saw the photos of Mr and Mrs Wilson that the old lady hadn’t taken down yet: happier, smiling times, before the illness that would take her husband.

    “So here it is.” Mrs Wilson pointed to the square gap in the ceiling, a heavy charm bracelet jangling on her raised arm. “Be careful up there, though. We don’t want the ceiling falling in!”

    Mrs Wilson laughed – a scratchy, wheezing sound. Ned and Harry looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

    “I really am very grateful for this, boys. So if you find anything up there that you like, apart from the family jewels, of course! …” That laugh again. “… you can keep it.”

    They clambered up the steps and emerged into the dim and dusty attic, the only light coming through a grimy window set in the roof. Things had been piled against the angled sides of the space.

    “What do you reckon?” said Ned. “Where shall we start?”

    “The magazines?” suggested Harry.

    He picked up the bin bags and they moved to the pile of dog-eared magazines under the window. Ned grabbed the top one and blew the dust off.

    “Bloody hell!”

    On the cover was a photo of a young schoolgirl in a short skirt, bending over a desk and being caned by her teacher.

    Harry grabbed the next. On this cover, three girls in school uniforms, on their knees around a man, pulling at his trousers. Ned picked up the rest of the magazines, one at a time; they all had similar scenes on the covers.

    “That dirty dog!” whispered Ned.

    “I bet old Mrs Wilson doesn’t know about this.”

    “I bet.”

    The boys spent a number of minutes leafing through the magazines amid gasps and giggles, one nudging the other in the ribs to share particular images.

    “Come on,” said Harry after a while. “I’m sure she won’t want to keep these.”

    He picked up a bin bag and held it open while Ned filled it up.

    “Let’s get started on them.” Ned pointed to a corner where a number of round boxes were stacked. He went over to the trap door and pulled on the light cord. Nothing happened.

    “That helps,” he said.

    “Hang on.”

    Harry pulled his sleeve over his fist and rubbed at the window, making a circle in the grime and letting a little more light in. He looked out.

    “Hey, look at that!”

    Ned joined him at the window. They put their heads together to look out.

    “Isn’t that the back of Zoe Meehan’s place?” asked Harry.

    “It is. Poor Zoe. No one deserves to go like …” He stopped and turned away, thinking.

    “Remember how they found her?” asked Harry, lagging behind Ned’s train of thought. “In her school uniform. Her head cut off. They never did find that. And they never found the …” Now his thinking caught up with Ned’s.

    “Murderer?” Ned ventured.



    Involuntarily, the boys wiped their hands, still dusty from the magazines, on their trousers.

    “You don’t really think …” Harry peered into Ned’s face, wanting it not to be true.

    “Why not?” Ned sat on the floor and crossed his legs. “He had a view of her back yard, maybe even her bedroom. And we know he liked young girls.” He nodded at the bin bag.

    “But you can’t just put two and two together like that.” Harry joined his friend on the floor. “I mean … old Mrs Wilson. She’d have got wind of it, surely. And she wouldn’t have let that go.”

    Ned considered this, and while he did, his eye wandered to the boxes. To the round boxes.

    “What do you reckon’s in them?”

    Harry looked over.

    “Don’t know. Hats? … No!”

    The two boys scrambled to their feet and hurried across the floor of the attic.

    Ned picked up one of the boxes and opened it. A bowler hat. Harry opened another. A woman’s hat with artificial flowers and feathers. Ned went to pick up a third but it was heavy. He yelped and stepped back in horror.

    The boys stood there, gazing at the box, needing to see what was in it, but not wanting to. Ned moved closer. He pulled at the box.

    It toppled off the stack and crashed to the floor. Its contents spilled out and rolled several feet.

    The boys burst into almost hysterical laughter. Ned bent down and used his fingers to pick up … a bowling ball.

    “We’ve been playing too many video games,” Harry grinned.

    “Too bloody true,” said Ned, his voice betraying a surge of relief.

    From below the trap door, Mrs Wilson’s voice wafted up.

    “Are you boys all right? I heard a bump.”

    “Fine, Mrs Wilson,” Ned called down.

    “Well, come and get some cake and lemonade,” she said. “You must be thirsty with all that dust.”

    The boys climbed down from the attic and went to join Mrs Wilson in the kitchen.

    “How are you getting on?” she asked. “Found anything you’d like to keep?”

    “Well there’s a bowling ball,” Ned winked at Harry. “Can I have that?”

    “Course you can,” said Mrs Wilson, busying herself cutting the cake. “That was my husband’s.”

    She handed the boys a plate each with a delicious-looking piece of chocolate cake, her charm bracelet jangling as she did.

    If the boys had been more observant, had not been focussing on the cake, they might have noticed something that was hanging from the bracelet: glinting with imitation jewels, a letter. The letter ‘Z’.


    • Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
      Haha, Phil, you kept us guessing! I assumed the boys would be the creepy ones, but they strangely didn’t even want to keep the dirty magazines. Then you made us thing the guy did it, then he didn’t, then it turns out that either he or his wife DID do it!
    • Ken Cartisano
      Good one, Phil,
      Nice bit of suspense, tension and reveal. It even has some lighthearted humor that changes the mood and misdirects the reader. Excellent dialogue too. A very skillfully crafted story.
    • Charles Lilburn
      Hmmm..I think the Butler did it and then planted the evidence on the charm bracelet to implicate poor old Mrs Wilson. But, then again, they could have been having an affair, while Mr Wilson was busy spying on Zoe who simply lost her head. At any rate a good story, but a bit of a stretch for me to think the old woman did it. It could happen, I guess. As always, the writing is excellent.
    • Ominous all the way through. We knew there was something to fear about old Mrs. Wilson, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Nice reveal, and you did a fine job of building the tension. It ends without us knowing exactly who killed poor Zoe, but that mystery is fine by me.
    • Phil Town
      Thanks to everyone or the positive comments.

      Yes, I wanted there to be some ambiguity at the end there. Mrs Wilson could have done it – not so likely, but possible. Or she could have helped her husband (we had a notorious couple here in England, Fred and Rose West, who murdered at least a dozen people). Or her husband could have worked alone and gave her the ‘Z’ charm as a gift for her bracelet.

      Or the ‘Z’ could be a souvenir from the local zoo, and neither of them had anything to do with Zoe’s death at all.

      We’ll never know …

  • Clever story, Phil. Nice red herrings – like Wendy, I thought they would have kept the magazines, or at least a couple of them, but perhaps they would have been too embarrassed to ask for them. Then I thought the head was in the hatbox,- excellent dialogue and pace all the way. I found it difficult to swallow that old Mrs W could have sawed someones head off, it must have been her husband. Another brilliant tale, though.
  • Nice one, Ken. The name – Shmidt and the clue that she was cooking bratwurst – was well thought out, though it didn’t click until I read further on. Your story said a lot without putting it into words. I wondered why she didn’t leave the money to her daughter? or maybe she didn’t know what was in the suitcase. A satisfying story.
    • Ken Cartisano
      Thanks Maud,
      Leave the money to her daughter? Good point. We’ll never know. Maybe her daughter didn’t need it. Maybe she’ll get the suitcase full of U.S. Dollars. (The monogrammed silverware one presumes, is a family heirloom, it had sentimental value, that was its importance to Mrs. Schmidt. The money? Not so much.) BTW, the silverware was in the back of her hall closet. She would have found it later that year, but I used up all of my words.
      Come to think of it, I invented the daughter to give Mrs. Schmidt a reason to be obsessed with finding the silverware. With more words, I could allude to her daughter’s wealth or independence, but it didn’t even occur to me.
      • Ken Cartisano
        To tell you the truth Maud. I like the story, the plot I came up with, but my writing sucks. I’m going to ask Carrie or Alice to take it down so I can fix it up. I read it out loud earlier today, and I could barely get through three sentences in a row without stopping or stuttering. I couldn’t read my own writing. So I looked it over and saw a lot of ways to improve it. I think. (Plus, the business with the silverware goes on way too long in the beginning. It’s overdone, unnecessary.)
        It needs work. IMO
  • Phil Town
    I really like this, Ken – works as is, I think. It was wise not to go into the contents of the docs – more mystery that way. Frank’s sneaking out with the docs, and the conversations with Carol, are well handled. Frank’s first impulse (to make a buck) is nicely balanced with Carol’s essential honesty. Good, natural dialogue. A couple of things: I don’t really buy Mrs Schmidt handing Frank all that cash, just like that. And there’s a bit of confusion early on with how to refer to the silverware: Is it singular or plural? (“I would not have thrown them away. I want to leave them to my daughter. You’re sure you didn’t find it?”) Enjoyed this, though.
    • Ken Cartisano
      Philip, (this is a joke) I can understand you and Wendy’s cynicism toward the innate kindness of little old ladies, considering the stories you two wrote. (I can sort of understand now why Wendy carries a blowtorch around. She’s a little old lady burner. It’s okay Wendy. I don’t judge.)

      Seriously though, Good points Philip. And yeah, I made a mess of that silverware tense. I kept fiddling around with it, (after I posted it) and it still sounds wrong.
      The smart thing to do (which always occurs to me last, if ever) would be to conjure up a different item that she’s obsessed with. (But what? I can’t think of a thing. Something sentimental that you’d leave to an heir, yet keep in your attic. Photo albums? It’s gotta be something other than photo albums. A tea service? Meh.)

      I certainly did re-write it though. It needed it. And as for the money. I could see how implausible it looked. (Without extenuating circumstances, to cynics like you and Wendy, and rich people, like Charles.) My intent however, which I guess I failed to convey, was a woman who had several suitcases of money. One for every passport. (She used to be a spy, you know.) And absolutely no need for any of it anymore. And I think I can fix that, infuse that information into the story. Or hint at it somehow. Because, what’s clear in my latest version of this story, is that the suitcase full of money is a quid pro quo. They both know the value, and the implicit criminality of the documents that he’s destroying, for her, (and his wife.) In the final version, I suggest that Mrs. Schmidt concocted the search for an imaginary item and manipulated the entire affair to get rid of the evidence once and for all.

      That’s why I think this story has potential, but, it would serve me well to tweak the plot, it’s still evolving. It won’t do well in this contest, maybe, but with some polish. Maybe a Pulitzer. (That joke was a reward for anyone who’s still reading at this point.) (But really, the story is really shaping up. With another few edits, it’ll be as smooth as one of Alice’s grocery lists.) Hahaha. — That was a joke and a compliment Alice. A jocompliment. That’s my word. I just made that up. A jocompliment; a statement that cleverly blends a compliment, into a joke. You were there (quantum mechanically,) when it happened. You’re all witnesses to the birth of that word. This is an historic moment. Or is it ‘a historic moment.’ Whatever, it’s totally historic. Think it’s easy? Inventing words for an audience like this? Christ. I should get paid to be this brilliant. Inventing words and shit. You people. Got my jive all up.

      But seriously. Thanks for the feedback Phil. It’s always useful, and as usual, I agree with it. (I don’t understand how man as smart as you…)
      You finish it.

  • Chuck Lilburn
    Bummer, I’m not getting a single comment or story sent to me and I’ve done everything. I got these posts for the first two stories, but not this last time. I’m following the site on WordPress. Just wondering if I’m being monitored or banned for some reason?

    Anyway, I hope to post a story later in time for the vote in three hours and also post some comments on some pretty good stories.

    • Carrie Zylka

      Chuck, there haven’t been many comments – maybe check your spam filter?
      We don’t monitor or ban, once a comment is approved you’re always approved. I checked the settings and you should be getting an email every time.
      I’ve sent WordPress helpdesk an email.
      All I can suggest is continue to check the “follow comments” option in the comment form until I hear back from them.

    • Phil Town
      Alternatively, Chuck … do what I do: save each theme to your favourites and pop in occasionally to see if there’s anything new.
  • Charles Lilburn
    That’s what I’ve been doing, but I don’t even get my own comments back. I see it’s kind of sparse this time, but maybe it will fill up. I’m posting soon.
    • Carrie Zylka
      Charles, we had a tech post a test comment and check the “Notify me of new comments via email.” they received a confirmation email – did you ever receive one? Maybe check your spam filter for it.

      I do see that you’re signed up to receive email notifications for new posts. Did you get one today? I got it via email because I subscribe than the one I use to admin. under a different email.

      Other than that I’m not sure what to tell you.

  • Charles Lilburn
    Rockabye Baby

    Marisa Dunlap called her husband Steve to the window. “Look, Honey, Matilda is leaning up against her mailbox crying.” Steve quickly headed outside with Marisa following, to see what was wrong.

    Crying and holding a crumpled letter, Matilda, their 84 year old widowed neighbor, told them her stepdaughter had sold the house.

    They got her inside her house, and Steve got her some water; then listened to Matilda’s sordid tale. “I’ve got a week before they come and take the furniture and send me to the Willows Retirement Center.”

    Steve, thinking of his own grandmother, asked, “How can we help?”

    “Well, you can help me clean the attic, I want to hide some of my nicer things from her. I’d really appreciate that.”

    The next day they were finishing up in the attic when Matilda brought up a bottle of wine and three glasses. She smiled and said, “it’s five o’clock somewhere.” They felt they couldn’t refuse.

    After a glass of wine, Matilda smiled at the couple. “You two have been so kind, I’ve got a surprise for you. For helping me, anything in this attic you want is yours.”

    Marisa’s eyes went wide. “Oh, Matilda, we can’t take your stuff.”

    “Honey, I only got a little time left on God’s earth. I have no use for any of this. You and your husband have been more like my children these past few years than my step-daughter ever was. And, I sure as hell can’t use it at the Willows.”

    Steve was looking around the attic when he thought he saw movement. Startled, he asked, “Did you see that?”

    “What,” Matilda asked?

    “That rocker, it moved by itself.”

    “That old thing. I forgot it was even up here.” Matilda grimaced, ”Bought that at an auction in Salem, about 35 years ago. Quite a steal at the time I thought. Sat in it once and got the creepiest feeling. Never sat in it again.”

    “Well, I think it’s beautiful,” said Marisa, “What do you think. Steve.”

    “Honey, if that’s what you want, we’ll take it.”

    When they got home, Marisa took it upstairs. Marisa smiled, “It’s so beautiful.” Marisa sat down and rocked, her eyes closed, “It’s so comfy. I can’t imagine why Matilda felt it was creepy.”

    Downstairs, Steve texted his grandmother several photos he had taken of the rocker. “WHAT DO YOU THINK OF OUR NEW PIECE OF FURNITURE?”





    The phone rang and his Grandmother’s voice was tense. “I’ve seen that rocker before. I’m sure we used to own it. I can’t believe this.”

    “Grandma. What’s this all about?”

    “That rocker is evil. Where’s Marisa.”

    “She’s upstairs.”

    “Go find her.”

    “Grandma, get a grip.”

    “Just do it, Stephen. NOW!”

    She never called him Stephen, Never!

    As he climbed the stairs, he heard laughter, but unlike any he had ever heard before, hollow and echoing down the stairs. He found Marisa sitting in the chair, her head back as the rocker slowly rocked by itself. “Marisa!” Steve rushed to the chair and grabbed Marisa’s arm, pulling her onto the carpet.

    Marisa jerked awake. “What’s wrong with you? I was sleeping.”

    His grandmother was screaming in his ear, “STEPHEN, WHAT’S HAPPENING? IS MARISA OK?.

    “Marisa is fine, she was sleeping in the chair. You’re scaring me to death with this crazy talk about the chair.”

    He heard the catch in her throat. “It was trying to kill her. That chair is alive.”

    Steve shuddered. “Kill her?” What makes you think that?”

    “If I’m right about it, that chair was in our family for years. It was made by an ancestor burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials. We kept it in the attic because my mother said it was made by witchcraft. After Mom died Dad gave it to your mother when you were born.

    “They found Lisa dead in that chair with you, barely alive, in her arms. After the funeral, your dad sold the chair at auction. That was the last time I saw it until I saw those photos. Stephen, take that chair, chop it up and burn it. It’s evil. I lost my only child in that chair.”

    “Grandma, It’s not alive.”

    “Trust me, Stephen, it’s a soul stealer. It’s waited 35 years, now it will take yours or Marisa’s.”

    “This is crazy, Grandma, but I’ll destroy it if that will make you happy.”

    They were getting ready for bed and Steve held Marisa close. “How’re you doing?”

    “Fine. Why did you take the chair downstairs to the porch?”

    “It’s a long story, but I think it’s broken, so don’t sit in it anymore,” he lied.

    She kissed him goodnight. “Explain in the morning.”

    Steve woke up early; Marisa wasn’t in bed. He made his way downstairs to the kitchen. “You certainly got up early.” Marisa wasn’t there. He heard the hollow laughter again, and a faint creaking noise. He went to the porch and saw Marisa in the rocker as it slowly rocked back and forth, her head back, eyes closed.

    Frantically he pulled Marisa to the floor. “Stephen, so help me. What is wrong with you? Why are you doing this?” Her eyes flashed in anger.

    “You don’t understand, there’s something wrong with the chair.”

    “No, there’s something wrong with you.”

    He shared his grandmother’s story. “She said it would steal my soul, but you’re right; it’s an old woman’s crazy story. We’re adults. Chairs aren’t living things. It stops now.”

    Marisa had gone to bed early while Steve finished watching a late game on TV. Steve heard faint echoing laughter and went to the back porch. The chair was slowly rocking back and forth. He felt drawn to the rocker and touched it. A sense of calm enveloped him. “Either I’m crazy or Grandma is. Soul Stealer, huh?”

    He sat down in the chair and felt it suddenly tighten around him. His pulse quickened. “I will burn this damn thing,” he thought. He tried to move but was paralyzed. He struggled and tried, but could no longer talk, or call for help. The pressure got tighter and tighter as blackness closed in and he could no longer breathe.

    The next morning, after waking, Marisa stretched. ‘I wonder where he is? Probably making coffee,’ she thought. She walked downstairs to the kitchen. Marisa heard hollow laughter and turned toward the porch. As she approached, she could see Steve in the rocker, his eyes open, staring. She got close, then teasingly pulled on his arm. She tugged again, then realized Steve wasn’t aware; Steve would never be aware of anything again. Marisa called 911, but knew it was too late.

    The autopsy was inconclusive. After the funeral, standing in the back yard, there was just the two of them. Marisa invited Grandma to light the gasoline soaked chair tied to a pile of wood branches, “It could laugh,” Marisa said, “but will it scream? Let’s find out.”

    • Ken Cartisano
      I like the beginning and the ending. The writing is great. The middle is good too, up until the explanation from the grandmother. It seems complicated and contrived. But especially complicated. But I still liked the story, that didn’t take me out of it. It had a good pace and flow, action, good dialogue, great gradual increase in tension, great reveal. I loved the idea of a haunted chair. As well as the method by which it takes its victims, as described when Steve finally sits in it. I just wish you could have simplified the means to introduce the chair and its history. I thought the idea of him yanking his wife out of the chair and onto the floor had great comic potential. And it was, in fact, funny.

      I came across one line that jumped out at me.
      ‘When they got home, Marisa took it upstairs. Marisa smiled, “It’s so beautiful.” Marisa sat down and rocked,…’
      (You’ve got the name ‘Marisa’ three times on one line.)

      I noticed your comment on my story. My wife got a pretty good laugh when I said, “A guy who wrote a story about a haunted rocking chair, said my suitcase full of money wasn’t believable.” So, thanks for that. I thought it sounded fairly fictional. Unlikely, but not beyond the realm of possibility. You weren’t the only one to raise that issue and as I told Phil, I suppose I needed a stronger motivation and explanation for the reveal. I also thought: You just take one thing that’s real, a suitcase, and add another thing that’s real, a lot of money, and you get a suitcase full of money. It’s not really that fantastic if you think about it. (I’m just messing with you.) Now me, I was wondering how all the old documents in my story could really be worth anything. That’s what I was worried about. (Maybe their lack of value is really a good thing, or irrelevant.) Should the documents have been from the Iraq war? Korean war? Cold war? Like I told Phil, the story needs serious work, cash, suitcases and silverware(s). I didn’t do any research before I wrote it and maybe that’s part of the problem.

      But thanks for reading it Charles, and your comments are well taken, despite all of my joking around.

      • Charles Lilburn

        Ya know, one of the strange things about writing critique comments is when they come back to bite you in the butt. As in this case.

        However, I found it hard to believe someone would simply give away a perfectly good half million francs to someone for the reasons you supplied. I thought I put in pretty good stuff about you supplying a line of her not knowing it was in there giving you an out.

        I do have to take umbrage with you calling out my haunted chair as unbelievable, because all of us are aware of the propensity of inanimate objects having the ability to haunt people. I could list a jillion movies and/or books (well, maybe only a million – I tend to exaggerate sometimes) that are based on haunted inanimate objects. And, as hard as I’ve tried (I even googled it) I couldn’t find any examples of movies or books with people giving away a half million francs to someone just for giggles and grins.

        Seriously, Ken, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. As usual, they are pretty much complete with your reasoning, so I take them to heart. Two things in defense of my story. The Marisa thing three times in a single sentence is the result of 6, yes 6, rewrites and even though I went through the storyline by line I didn’t pick up on that little discretion.

        And, my wife had the same problem you did with the explanation of the ‘haunted chair’, but with the limit of 1200 words sometimes what seems like a good explanation at the time really isn’t, as in this case. In hindsight, it would have been better to explain it differently, such as when they were lighting the chair on fire replicating the burning at the stake of the builder. Now, that would have been a good idea. I think.

        I enjoy your writing. You have good crisp dialogue and your twists and plot lines are way above average.

        It’s amazing how many good writers are in this group. I just placed third in a statewide flash fiction writing contest with 900 entries and last week ended up in 8th place out of ten with a story I thought deserved a better finish. I guess my complacent cowboy with the rattlesnake bite was unbelievable, and I have learned from that. Sometimes as a writer one needs to listen to the people reading the stories and absorb why they are telling you what they like and don’t like about your story. Let’s see how this week shakes out.

        • Ken Cartisano

          You shouldn’t feel like you’ve been bitten, Charles. It was just a joke. I thought you and Phil correctly pointed out one of the biggest problems with my story, which prompted me to pull the story, re-write it with your criticisms in mind, and re-post it. I take feedback seriously.

          And I didn’t make fun of your story, or the possessed rocking chair in my critique. What I said was, ‘I loved the idea of a haunted chair.’ I only made a joke about YOUR critique of my story. And in all fairness, (to you) I altered the meaning and intent of your critique to make the comparison sound funny. You didn’t actually say that you found suitcases full of money unbelievable. (Although I think that’s how it sounded, and the reason why I made a joke out of it.)

          Your actual criticism was that the old lady needed more motivation to part with that much cash. A valid point. (And one that Phil made as well.) With the word limit though, I had to do quite a bit of editing before I could make room for the necessary detail to get that across. I think the story is better for it, but I’m still not sure that people understand it. Or that I did a good enough job of conveying what the story is meant to convey. (I guess I’m a little disappointed that a story that seems to me to have so much potential was so quickly found wanting.) Although for the life of me, I can’t see why it wouldn’t.) I generally don’t defend my own stories on the thread, but I like this one. I think it’s got potential. But some of my least favorite stories appear to be the most popular with others. I recently wrote a story that I had to be coaxed into reading out loud. (I mean, I knew it was bad.) But they loved it. It came in first in the contest too. I didn’t think it was any good at all. Go figure.

          I thought your story was quite good, and if you don’t believe me, you can ask Alice or Carrie how good I thought it was.


          BTW, have you ever read ‘Great Expectations’?

    • Unfortunately I am forced to agree with Ken. I do like this story all except the part where he just so happens to help out the person who just so happened to buy the cursed chair that had been in the family for years. If I think about it a little, it’s like the chair was searching for him, so I would maybe focus in on something like that or just spruce up the explanation a little. I do love that the grandma texts with her grandson. Plus you pace and dialogue worked and I like that the chair didn’t kill Marisa because it was waiting for him. Favorite line this week= “Trust me, Stephen, it’s a soul stealer.”
      • Charles Lilburn
        Thanks Wendy, loved your story, which forced a rewrite from me. Originally it was a “Christine” (Stephen King). remake with a chair, then I realized that and changed it, but it still wasn’t creepy enough, or as Alice pointed out, she knew where it was going. Gotta work on that I guess. It’s funny, my wife and I as grandparents have discovered that your kids and grandchildren will generally answer your texts before they will call you back, so we went down that road with much greater success. (If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em.) Thanks for reading and commenting.
    • Alice Nelson

      Hey Chuck, nice story, flowed fairly smoothly. I’m not sure it worked for me though, on the whole. It felt a bit forced, making it hard to get into. It’s a familiar story and I could see where it was headed, and like Ken said the grandmother’s explanation was contrived and didn’t feel real for me.

      There were two sentences that stuck out to me:

      “Crying and holding a crumpled letter, Matilda, their 84 year old widowed neighbor, told them her stepdaughter had sold the house.” I think it would’ve worked better to have Matilda saying why she was crying, instead of you explaining it to the reader.

      “They got her inside her house, and Steve got her some water; then listened to Matilda’s sordid tale.” 2 of the word “got” so close together, makes the sentence feel disjointed. You could’ve said, “They took her into the house, and Steve got her some water.” Nit picky I know, but it stuck out to me.

      All in all, nice writing my friend.

      • Charles Lilburn
        So, once again you point out one of my weaknesses. Telling instead of showing. You are right and even though I’m pulling the “I rewrote it so many times I missed that” card, I know better. Thanks, it’s something I’m working on. I even gave a lecture on that very subject last week at a high school to a freshman class on the importance of rewrites, editing and showing instead of telling. Dang, hoisted on my own petard.

        Originally Steven ‘gave’ her some water. And in the original, Matilda’s story was spelled out in all it’s sordid detail, but I soon realized I had two stories. Matilda’s and Stephens in one short story that needed to be ‘shorter’. Hence the sacrifice of several paragraphs into one, and then forced it to be a quick ‘stepdaughter had sold the house’, you take it from there sort of thing using your own imagination as to what really happened.

  • Carrie Zylka
    Ok people! Voting page is up!
    Remember you must vote for your story to count, you can only vote once and you may not vote for yourself.

    You have 24 hours to cast your vote. Good luck!

    • David Provost
      Hey, Carrie. How should I contact you about the next contest prompt?
  • Charles Lilburn
    I have to agree with Phil on this one. While clever and well written, handing over a half a million francs was a bit over the top for me, unless of course, you qualified it with a statement as to her NOT knowing what is in it and he just decides to keep it. Cleans everything up nicely, and no says he has to tell her she just parted with a half a million. If she didn’t miss it by now, I don’t think she’ll need it. No one says our characters have to be honest.
  • Charles Lilburn
    Carrie, I realize I didn’t give a character name when I voted. How can I correct that?
    • If I reply to this comment, does anything happen?

      • Carrie Zylka

        Why yes it does…..

  • Ken Cartisano
    I didn’t feel a thing. Try it again.
  • Ken Cartisano
    I’m tired of being a blue blob crab with a giant exposed brain–and chicken legs. But when I try to change the picture, my computer takes me to a place invented by Stephen King–on acid. I’m supposed to go to gravatar and log in, after I log in it wants me to take a vow of loyalty to an invisible alien race of metamorphs. And I thought, ‘Hmmm, metamorphs. That can’t be right.’ I was okay with the vow, as long as we weren’t expected to sleep together, but the metamorph part, it sort of sounded like a jocompliment. But it couldn’t be, because they don’t exist yet. I mean I just invented them, so how could the metamorphs be using them already. Unless…
  • Ken Cartisano
    Unless is doesn’t matter. Because even after taking my vows, I was sent to a page to update my profile picture. But I was only allowed to choose from the pictures on that page. A page with no pictures. I thought it would let me choose something from my computer, or the cloud,or a floppy disk. But no. No. The only place I could copy pictures from, was a place that didn’t have any pictures. Is it possible that this is some sort of secret society, and you have to solve the riddle before you can gain entry, after which your status is then elevated and you get a real picture? And everyone with a picture knows, they’re in, they’re the puzzle solvers. While brain blobs like me are out of the loop. I’m not just wondering, I’m making loud, quick, uneducated guesses. Hypertheticals. BAM! Another new word. Hyperthetical. A poorly conceived but loudly proclaimed theory or concept. Hyperthetical. That one’ll catch on. Probably. It should. Go ahead and use it folks. Just don’t forget who you got it from. Okay–I guess I’ll go vote now.
    • Carrie Zylka
      lol Ken – create a (or account and then when you comment use the email associated with it. Then your photo will populate. 🙂
  • Ken Cartisano
    Mrs. Schmidt’s Attic.
    By Ken Cartisano © 2018 (1171 Words.)

    I wrestled the small suitcase down from the attic and into the kitchen. It was just one of several identical luggage sets, which differed only in color.
    “Leave it right there,” she said.
    She was standing by the stove, one hand on her hip, the other holding a spatula, Bratwurst sizzled in an iron skillet. She squinted in my direction and said, “Did you find it?”
    “No, but…”
    “I know I didn’t throw it away. You’re sure you didn’t see it?”
    “Yes ma’am.”

    She looked skeptical. “They’re real silver, you know, monogrammed, in an old wooden box, and I distinctly remember putting the box up in the…”

    “Yes ma’am. I understand.” I didn’t mean to interrupt her, but I was dirty, sweaty, and famished, and she’d already mentioned the damned silverware at least twenty times. I added, “I’ll find the box if it’s up there.”
    “Oh it’s up there. I think I should know what’s in my own attic, Frank. Would you like some iced tea? A soda?”
    “Uh, no. Thanks.” I was hungry, not thirsty. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but—what’d your husband do for a living, Mrs. Schmidt?”

    “Henry? Lots of things. He was an archivist, mostly. Why?”
    “Well, I came across some documents.”
    “Documents. What kind of documents?
    Well—they look like government documents.”

    They WERE government documents, and far more important than I indicated. Though the material was clearly from a bygone era, much of it was stamped ‘Top Secret,’ or ‘Classified.’ But I didn’t mention any of that to Mrs. Schmidt.

    She opened her refrigerator and extracted a tub of butter. Her expression turned wistful as she closed the fridge door, then she brightened noticeably. “Henry was a man of many interests and talents. A dealer in historical relics; we traveled all over the world. He loved adventure, but he loved to read too. He was always reading. Brought a lot of his work home with him…”

    I felt like she was going to continue.

    “The documents are rubbish, Frank, as far as I’m concerned, but the silverware, you’re sure you didn’t see a large wooden box up there?”
    “I’m sure, Mrs. Schmidt.”
    “So I suppose you’re done for the day then. Is that it?”
    “Well, yes ma’am. It’s getting late.”
    She remained silent, stirring the bratwurst with the spatula.
    “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then,” I said. “Alright?”
    She didn’t look up. “All right, Frank. See you tomorrow.”

    While we ate, my wife, Carol, quizzed me.
    “So? How did it go?”
    “Did you find Mrs. Schmidt’s precious silverware?”
    “Oh. Well—you will.”
    “That’s what I told HER. What I did find, was this.” I produced a folder that I’d hidden under my shirt, and placed it on the table.
    “What’s this?”
    “Secret documents.”
    She snorted and laughed.
    “No seriously. Take a look.”
    She scanned a few pages and looked up, her eyes searching mine. “You got these out of Mrs. Schmidt’s attic?”
    I nodded.
    “Well that seems strange doesn’t it?”
    “Doesn’t it? I found an old leather satchel, filled with telegrams, memos, communiqués, diagrams, and there’s plenty more.” I tapped the folder. “This is just a small sample.”
    She read one of the papers as I ate. I watched her face.
    “What on earth is she doing with all these documents?”
    I shrugged. “I’m not even sure she knows.”
    I pulled a random document out of the folder. “Look, this one’s ‘Classified.”
    My wife’s eyes narrowed. “Did you ask her about these?”
    “I tried. Actually, I did ask. But all she cared about was that damned silverware.”
    “Why would her dead husband have a bunch of secret papers? You think he was a spy?”
    “I’m kidding, Frank. She’s lived here for years. Hell—you grew up here.”
    “I know.” I cleared my throat. “Know what else I found?”
    “I’m afraid to ask.”
    “A half a dozen passports—German, Swiss, French, Brazilian. They all had his picture, with different names.”
    Carol was speechless. She stared at me, then the folder. She didn’t get it, so I spelled it out for her. “Do you know what this stuff could be worth?”

    Carol had a very scary look on her face. “Are you planning on blackmailing her?”
    I balked. “Of course not! I’m talking about historians. What they wouldn’t give to get their hands on some of these, I don’t even want to speculate.”

    “I don’t like it Frank. I don’t like any of this.” She dropped the paper she was holding as if it were toxic. “Just put ‘em back.” She got up. Pointed her finger at the folder and said, “Put it all back.” Then she snatched her plate and fork off the table and dumped them in the sink. Her voice carried from wherever she was going. “Don’t forget to do the dishes, Frank.”

    I called Mrs. Schmidt the following morning and told her I’d be a few hours late. She sighed and said that she wasn’t surprised which kind of annoyed me. Then I contacted an antiquities expert at the local University, and when I explained the nature of my find, he was understandably excited.

    We spoke at length and he agreed that the documents, if authentic, could be invaluable, but he couldn’t confirm anything without seeing them. Either way, he seemed delighted at the prospect, but cautioned me that such a revelation could result in unexpected consequences for the current owner, whoever she may be. But that the whole of it could be lost if the anonymous old lady moved, died or in some way lost the historical trove. “And that,” he said, “would be an even greater loss.”

    I was inclined to agree.

    I’ll confess right now that I never found Mrs. Schmidt’s silverware, I don’t think there ever was any silverware, but she honored our agreement and allowed me to take the leather satchel, documents and all.

    Carol came home early from her cleaning job, and strolled out back where I was minding some steaks on the barbeque grill. It was late afternoon, cool and pleasant.

    “Smells good,” she said, then glanced towards the smoldering burn barrel, normally full of leaves. “What’s cookin’ over there?”

    “Just some old documents and files. Nothing important.”

    She kissed me affectionately on the cheek and stated, “So, we’re still poor then.”

    “Actually, no. You just missed Mrs. Schmidt. She said I missed a couple of things.” I showed Carol several passports, a younger Mrs. Schmidt was pictured in all of them.

    Carol gasped. “No!”

    “Yes!” I could barely contain myself. “She just stopped by to make sure I was getting rid of ‘all that useless trash’ as she put it. Then she thanked me, and handed me that suitcase over there. ‘Compliments of her husband,’ she said.”

    “Oh my God! I need a drink.” Carol said. “She was in on it?” She looked stunned. “What was in the suitcase? Or shouldn’t I ask?”

    “Just these old passports of hers,” I said, “and a half a million Swiss Francs.”

    • Alice Nelson

      I liked the way you told the story Ken, the writing is really good. But I’m with Wendy, the fact that Carol and Frank were unconcerned about a spy living next door, I found strange. You know what though, I still really enjoyed the story. I think however, that as was the case with Chuck’s story, some of yours felt forced, as if you were making connections in order to make the story work instead of the connections fitting naturally into your story.

  • I like this story, but I’m not exactly clear on her laissez-faire attitude about the secret spy documents. I mean, there’s no statute of limitations on espionage and she would have to start over again if anyone found out about her. I can buy that she would pay him off, but why did she care so much about the silverware and so little about the money or the documents. And why show him that she was a spy as well? That doesn’t sound like it, but I did really enjoy this story. I liked that the wife made him do the dishes too. Could your next story explain how to get this to happen in the real world?

    (going back through it I see the mention of several suitcases in the beginning which would imply more money hidden in them. being a natural snoop, I I would have looked through all of the suitcases after finding the documents)

    • Ken Cartisano
      Wendy, I was about to reply to your comment by pointing out that Mrs. Schmidt is 88 years old. But before I did, I checked the story. It appears as though I deleted her age in one of the many re-writes. The point being that her spying days were well behind her, but the incriminating evidence was still in her attic. It’s a minor point, (her age) but it may well have clarified the story and the motivations of its characters a bit more. Then again, maybe not.
      • It’s tough to get some stories into the word limit! I had to cut a lot of mine too.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: