Writing Prompt “I see and hear you”
Prompt: “I see and hear you.”
A beautiful blind woman, shy and scared to leave the house, falls for the guy who delivers her groceries. He’s deaf and can read her lips, but hates his speaking voice and is nervous to talk in front of her.
An embarrassing comment revolving around fruit.
Word Count: 1,200
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“The Apple of his Eyes”
Kurt grabbed Kiki’s hand and tugged her towards the stairs. He just knew she’d enjoy the machine he had found in his grandparents’ attic. It seemed made with fifteen-year old nerds in mind – the box held a smallish LED screen with speakers on either side and its face contained a multitude of buttons with letters on them. The buttons looked like a computer keyboard, but with raised dots as well as letters on each key.
Once they got to the attic Kurt pushed the power button that he had found during his initial inspection of the machine. Gratifyingly, the screen’s LED lights flashed twice, just as they had the last time he’d tried, and then, unlike last time the screen showed “Replay? Y/N.” Kurt, on a whim, opted for adventure and flicked the Y on the keyboard. Suddenly the LED screen showed a date several decades past while the machine sputtered, clicked and whirred until out came a print-out with a voice-over:
“Do you want to go out with me?” a metallic voice uttered from the machine’s speakers.
“I can’t, I mean, I don’t know. You seem nice but going outside is just too much. I mean, I’d let you in, but I don’t really know you…” a metallic voice replied.
“I like you…your apples…I mean I brought your apples again and I’d like to get to know you better.”
“Maybe, what’s your name?”
“Brian. What’s yours?”
Kurt realized that the machine was an old-fashioned, high-end braille-talker spitting out a recording of his grandparents’ first encounter. Everybody wondered how blind Grandma Maria interacted with deaf Grandpa Brian until the two whipped out their state-of-the-art handheld adaptive technology. Kurt had seen their newer machine but wondered if his grandparents remembered this old one or knew that it had stored their conversations dating back to their first encounter. He figured he would tell them eventually, but for now this was another puzzle for him and Kiki to enjoy. And Kiki seemed to be enjoying hearing about the slowly unfolding romance. Kurt chuckled to himself, “I like your apples.” How embarrassed must his grandfather have been to have those be his opening lines to his future bride! Apples, indeed.
“What do you think, Kik-ster? Isn’t this the coolest? The print-out matches the voice-overs!”
“It’s incredible that this thing still works! To think you could have a record of your first meeting. I can’t even imagine what ours would look like. But this is super sweet. Your grandparents are simply adorable,” replied Kiki as she looked off in the distance and twirled her hair on her finger. Kurt noticed Kiki’s wistfulness as he’d become sensitive to her moods. He’d known her since she moved in next door when they were in third grade. This seemed to be a new side of Kiki, but he mentally brushed her pensiveness aside so he could focus on the machine.
“I wish…I mean…I’d like…I mean… I like your apples” said Kiki, mimicking Grandpa Brian’s statement and pushing her face towards Kurt. Then she smiled a strange sort of half smile, winked at Kurt, and stuck her chest out so, if he were looking, he would have seen the outline of her training bra under her thin t-shirt.
Kurt was so focused on fiddling with the machine, pushing buttons all willy nilly, that he didn’t even notice Kiki’s half-hearted advance. “Very funny, Kik,” he said without looking at her, while finally, the machine’s LED screen showed a date several months after the first snippet and the voices recurred…
“Brian…I gotta use the machine, you need to know that I want you to kiss me…”
“Maria, I feel the same way. Do you want to…I…”
Kurt was embarrassed that he was listening in, and, judging by Kiki’s face she felt the same way. He returned his attention to the machine, not sure what to hope for, and thinking all the while that Grandpa had done pretty well for himself after his initial “apple” goof.
But the machine just spit out more paper. The LED screen was blank, and the voice-over was silent. For several minutes the quiet continued and the paper unspooled into a longer tail. Kurt began to think the machine was broken. He almost started pushing buttons again while even more paper spit out. Then…
“Brian, I…I really like you. Maybe its time you came inside the house…”
Kiki and Kurt looked at each other, oddly unable to stop the re-play as it went silent again and the paper again began to puddle into a confused mess at the bottom of the table where the machine was sitting.
The silence continued with only quiet hushing from the paper rubbing against itself. Kurt felt his stomach rise into his throat and he felt his breathing get stronger. Kiki continued looking at Kurt, still with the odd gleam back in her eye. “Do you think Maria was scared to, you know, to start?”
Kurt smiled weakly, “Yeah,” he choked out.
“I think Maria wanted him to kiss her so bad, but she didn’t know how to get him to do it,” Kiki said, as she started to move closer. “What do you think, Kurt?”
“I think…I think…I think I like your apples,” Kurt mumbled as he quickly moved to hug her tightly, and hurriedly snuck in for their very first kiss. And as he enjoyed the sweet sensations rushing through his veins, he thought, “good enough for grandpa, good enough for me.”
Good story, Trish, with a completely different take, even though both of our characters end up with a kiss in the last few paragraphs. Ahh, true love.
We must have been on the wave length when dreaming up character names. Kurt is the name of one of my characters, also. My story follows, just below.
That machine – did you invent it? It sounds very cool.
It took me some time to conjure up the image of this machine in my head, but then got to it, thanks to your description. For some reason, it brought me back memories of those Spectrum “computers” of the 1980s that used to print too, not unlike chits coming out of a cash-register. Perhaps a comparison to a cash-register with a screen, in your story, could help modern audiences (and me!) picture more easily this kind of special machine. If for nothing else, so that one focuses more on the characters and what they are saying/doing rather than take too long to figure out the mechanical technicalities.
Once I had the machine clearly printing in front of me, the story kept flowing nicely. I thought Kurt and Kiki were just props that would take us into Brian’s and Maria’s sepia romantic world, neatly preserved in this machine. A cliche’ often used in films. But then, I was glad that these two amiable teenage friends stayed with us all the way, and it’s beautiful how the grandparents’ story becomes also theirs. There is a sense of temporal stability in seeing that some things never change. “Good enough for grandpa, good enough for me too.” And me.
Even if it’s history repeating itself, we see some little but significant generational shifts in approaching delicate matters, which, whether deliberately or not, you don’t seem to miss. While Maria’s advances were merely in words (apparently), Kiki, in our more sexually-liberated times, is a bit more adventurous in trying to get Kurt to take note of her bodily assets. Grandpa brought up the apples by mistake (sort of), but Kurt means what he says (after thinking three times about it) and is clearly referring to Kiki’s other “apples”.
Yes, a very nice, memorable read.
It’s All In How You Say It
By Roy York
Word Count: 1,126
Kurt Maddox parked in front of the single story California ranch. He got out and walked to the back of the truck, picking up a large bag of groceries along with a basket of produce.
As he approached the door he noticed the curtains were closed on the large picture window. He was about to ring the doorbell again when the door opened. The house was dark, and there was a pretty young woman standing there.
“Yes,” she asked, “who is it?”
‘Odd,’ he thought. ‘Why would she ask who it is when she can see me standing here with groceries in my hand.’ “Umm … it’s me, Kurt, from Mike’s Groceries with your delivery.”
“Oh, I’ve been expecting you. They said you would be here over half an hour ago. You sound like you have a cold. And, a rather bad one, at that.”
Kurt felt the tingle of embarrassment flood through his body. Born profoundly deaf, Kurt was very good at reading lips. He was totally aware of the nasal sound of his voice. Ill mannered people reminded him everyday, so he talked only when necessary. Usually, he didn’t say much and he liked his work because he was the only one in the truck. He liked being alone simply because he didn’t have to talk.
Despite his discomfort, he said, “I don’t have a cold. I’m deaf. It makes my voice sound that way.”
The woman’s hand flew to her lips as if to shush the already escaped words. “I’m so sorry. I had no way of knowing.” She was looking over his shoulder, and he turned to see what she was looking at. There was no one behind him. He shrugged. She seemed slightly distracted.
“It’s OK. I’m used to it. Where would you like me to take the groceries?”
“Follow me,” she said. He shrugged again and stepped into the dark house following her as she made her way to the kitchen. When they got there, she reached out to the table and patted it on top. “Set them down here.”
He noticed she was looking at the cabinets as she spoke. He asked, “Do you want me to help put them away?”
“Oh no, I’ll take care of that. I have to be careful where I put them.”
Looking for something to say, he said, “You’ve got some nice looking melons, there.” As soon as he spoke, he realized what he had said could be misunderstood. He flushed, and stammered out, “I … I didn’t … umm … I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. Well, … they are nice looking, but I was talking about the cantaloupe, not your … oh, God … I don’t know what I mean.”
She laughed. That made him turn even more red. He couldn’t hear it but, she was laughing at him just the same. “It’s OK. I know what you are trying to say. And, thank you.” She smiled and looked past his shoulder.
Again, he turned to see what she was looking at. “I’d like you to look at me when you say something. I feel like you are talking to someone else, and it makes it easier to read your lips, “ he said.
“Oh, dear. I’ve taken things for granted. I thought you realized that I can’t see you. I’m blind. I thought the store would tell you.”
He realized then why the house was dark and her detached look. Once again, he felt unease stealing over him. Usually, it was people who made him feel conscious of his affliction, and now, he was the guilty party. He knew exactly how she felt. “All I’ve done since I’ve arrived is say something dumb. The deaf, the blind and the dumb. We’ve got all the bases covered.”
She smiled and said, “You had no way of knowing I’m blind. Just like you try not to make an issue of your difference, I try not to make a point of mine. We are all different.”
He liked what she said – his difference – not his problem or handicap. “How long have you been blind? Talk slowly, so I can hear you better.” He smiled a smile she couldn’t see.
“Since I can remember. How about you?”
“Would you like a cup of coffee? If I tell you where to put items, you can help while my Kuerig does it’s magic.”
Kurt readily agreed. He wanted to know more about this young woman, and for the first time in a long time, was feeling good about being with someone else.
“I’m Audrey.” She held out her hand, and he took it.
“Kurt,” he said.
“You might want to turn on the light. The switch is by the back door,” she said.
She deftly made two cups of coffee, all the while telling him exactly where he could put some of the items. She then made short work of the rest of the groceries he hadn’t put away.
They sat down in front of the two cups of coffee and she told him more about herself. He was also able to talk freely about himself and he could feel the dislike for his own voice fading. She didn’t mind it at all, it seemed.
“I don’t go out much, and you have made me feel comfortable in a way I hadn’t thought possible. I think I’d like to see you again,” she said.
“I feel the same, and I’d like to hear more about you.” Realizing what they had both just said, they broke out laughing. “Mike’s going to wonder where I am. I’d better get going. Don’t worry. I’ll be back.”
“I’ll make sure of that. All I have to do is order groceries.”
Kurt rang the bell in three short bursts. It was his signal to Audrey who it was. A moment later the door opened and she said, “Kurt?”
“Who were you expecting? Brad Pitt?”
“No, but I was hoping it was the melon inspector.”
Her laugh was musical, and he couldn’t hear it, but he could see she was laughing. ‘I wonder what she sounds like,’ he thought. “Mike says if I spend any more time here, you’re going to have to start helping pay for part of my salary.”
“You tell Mike if he wants to be our best man, he’d better knock off that kind of talk.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him.” He leaned forward, gently drew her close, and kissed her; then closed the door behind him. As they walked to the kitchen he asked, “what did you make for dinner?”
“Reservations,” she said, “but, that can wait until later, can’t it? In the meantime, I’ve got an idea.”
“If it involves melons, I’m all for it.”
Melons are next, and I don’t mean to Tom-peek any further; it would be inappropriate. Good you left it at that. But we know what’s coming. It must be ultra-sensual for two persons whose one of the five senses is unavailable to them, to engage in sexual activity. It would certainly enhance their remaining senses, and, particularly the sense of touch would take a more leading erotically-communicative role between them.
Many of us, though not blind or deaf actually do that deliberately when it comes to sex, if you come to think of it: cut out one or more of the five senses in order to enhance the others (and the brain): switch off the light, “shut up and…”, candles and perfumes to fool the nose, SM equipment to alter the sensations, perceptions and fear of touch, etc.
After all it all happens in the brain and the senses are there just to fire it up, so to speak. Ok, you (very rightly) stopped at melons station… and I’m nearly writing your Part 2 here. So let me stop here, on this, too!
The other thing I liked in your story is how gently (but realistically) these two people overcome their inhibitions centered around their “handicaps” (“disabilities”, “special needs”, what’s the latest politically correct terms? Ah yes, “differences” – brilliant!) and these same “differences” become not a handicap anymore but an advantage to them. There’s camaraderie between them, a celebration of the sameness of their differences. Thanks to the way they are, they found each other, after all.
It may seem like a simple boy-loves-girl at first glance, but it tells a lot more about several other important things, such as how less is often more, how differences make people special rather than weird, and the rest I hinted at above.
I’ve always felt an empathy for those whose special differences are overcome and they make it seem ordinary. I guess if your born that way, you either sink or swim. It’s why I became a Medic in the Navy. I loved patient work and making a difference in people’s lives by helping them get healthy.
Looking forward to your take on the – as you mentioned – already written plot and see how you fill in the blanks.
A relationship founded in fruity innuendo, perhaps! I was waiting for “I really love your peaches, want to shake your tree” to play in the background (Steve Miller Band, if anyone is wondering) 🙂
Thanks for your comments. They are truly appreciated.
Great little story. Nice touches of humor, the melons, and ‘Who were you expecting? Brad Pitt?’ The dialogue is marvelously realistic, and natural sounding, except for ‘dumb stuff’ and ‘put stuff.’ (But I can live with that.) And most importantly, where she describes their differences, where she starts with, ‘Since birth…’
“Since birth. I was lucky to be raised in a home with one blind parent. From the time I can remember, my mother worked with me every day. She taught me how to feel and how to listen. How to be careful, but most importantly, not to let my blindness be a crutch to prevent me from doing what I wanted to do.”
I would delete all of that.
It sounds like exposition, and it’s redundant. (since birth, and ‘from the time I can remember…’) People rarely say ‘since birth’ about themselves, but rather, ‘For as long as I can remember’ my mother encouraged me to be curious. Unfortunately, I don’t always follow her advice.’
I would delete everything else at the beginning of that paragraph. (Along with the redundancy,) it’s autobiographical, unnecessary, and I don’t think that such a shy person would begin a friendship by touting her upbringing within minutes of meeting someone. It simply doesn’t sound authentic, it sounds like the author trying to give us a little background on one of the characters. Background that we don’t need because we already like her.
It’s a minor blemish on an otherwise highly polished and wonderfully scripted story, Roy. I would fix that BECAUSE the story is so good.
I haven’t been saying much lately, busy as I was with others life commitments. Now I’m a bit more at ease. So I’ll answer your comment of last week here. After all, who goes to the old threads after it’s all said and done? A sad fact of life…
Thanks for your praise on “Inflation For Beginners”, in last week’s thread. It’s all very appreciated, as always.
You hated the title, though, and I agree it’s out of tune with the theme of the story. I tried to play with the notion of “inflation” as that’s essentially what happened to Mara and Len. Wealth first inflated their ego. Then, the economic type of inflation deflated them again by reducing their accumulated wealth to insignificance.
But, indeed, the title is stiff and unfitting. What do you think of “Filthy Rich” as an alternative title? In a dung beetle world, “filthy” must resonate even more than it does with us humans! The titles you proposed to me are all amusing too, but perhaps a little bit too Hollywood-centric. I had a good laugh, though.
So, the very one and only Ken Cartisano calling me “Master” – that’s quite big in and of itself! I’m the “inflated” one now! I know the bubble will all pop sooner or later, but let me bask in it while it lasts!
Then (for further self-inflation) the story ranked second – I’m astounded and very pleased, especially for a story I had never really wanted to write! (explanation of this in my other comments to Adi and Andy within last week’s thread – haha now you’ve got to go there to read them if you haven’t already. And all this incitement is going to get people to find out about your pic in the Speedo shorts, sooner or later!).
And while on last week’s matters I’d like to say a big “well done” to Andy for the top spot – my personal first choice too. Even if perhaps peripheral to the story itself, I loved the way the reactions of the characters are shown to us through their facial expressions and other physical gestures. Now here is what I call a Master! I took down lots of notes while reading the story again.
And another honorable mention: hands together also for Chitra for the Best Character Oscar. Rupa forever!
Filthy Rich would be a great title for your story – though I did think your title was clever and that inflation was key to their losing their wealth.
Don’t let the title go to your head. I’m just trying to cut down on the Ken-fusion. So I renamed you and the other Ken. (He’s Lord Frapes.)
What up? Congrats on your second place finish last week. (did your head swell up to the size of a hippo’s?) It was an amazingly original approach to the prompt. My friend Una’s story came in next to last. She was pretty bummed. I told her to comment on the other stories. Be complimentary, blow smoke up everyone’s asses, like I do. But Una, she’s so literal she said, “What kind of smoke, Ken?”
I won’t repeat my answer here, but you can be sure my advice was vague and long-winded. I believe Una is not American or English, which explains her frequent malapropisms. (For example: She recently told me she had a gay friend who she said, “Was thinking of coming out of the pantry.”)
She never gets any of my jokes, which is a shame, considering how hilarious I am, or can be.
I defer to your title, ‘Filthy Rich.’ (If they were passing bad checks you could call it ‘Dung Poo Kiting.’) I’m really reaching now. (Poo-popia? Shitz-cree-kay?)
I read all of your comments on the previous thread, along with everyone else’s, even though I did not post a story. Such is my dedication to this site and my fellow story-tellers. (Dedication is my middle name. But my friends just call me Ded.)
I voted too. And confess that I was not nearly as enthralled with Andy’s story as everyone else, apparently. I didn’t get it at first. But I got this machine. It’s called ‘The Simplifier.’ It’s a little machine I recently purchased on Amazon. You just put whatever it is that baffles you in the machine, close the lid and push the button, and it turns the object into an edible pill, you eat the pill, and shortly thereafter, usually in a few hours, you understand the thing that baffled you. Naturally, the machine has some limitations, like size constraints, and it converts (destroys) whatever you put into it, so if you only have one sample of something, this machine isn’t practical. That’s what I did with Andy’s story, and then it became clear, the various layers, the subplots, the misdirection and piles of poop… wait, that was your story. Oh well, it doesn’t matter. I’m furiously at work on the current prompt. (Hey. It WAS your story. That explains the shitty taste of that pill, yuck.)
What can I say that may help? That it was organic? At least! From cows that never saw antibiotic traveling through a needle into their veins. Not genetically modified, either. Locally-grown, slaughtered humanely. Not a hint of pesticide in their feed. Fairtrade, too (if that helps).
I mean, what you ate is plain poop. Nothing added. Nothing taken away. Old-style organic, nourishing, whole-meal. The way Nature intended to be.
You’re almost lucky.
I’m planning to write my short story into a longer one. It’s still growing on me.
What I meant to say in my comment was, I only had three things that bothered me, the two uses of ‘stuff,’ (which were so minor I shouldn’t even mention them) AND the part that starts with… ‘Since birth…’ Which did bother me as it detracted from the story, which I went on to explain and don’t have to do it again. (Once was more than enough.)
The Listening Project
It was the eleventh time we’d met, the first time we really talked. I was delivering vegan groceries in the gap between my Masters and PhD, and Miriam was one of my customers. She struck me as exotic, strange and gently wild. Miriam seemed to speak at random, and I struggled to follow her. Not just because of my hearing, but the logic between consecutive sentences was often missing. However, being everything I am not, she fascinated me.
It was then that Miriam made a joke about supermarket cucumbers being wrapped in plastic: only in England, she said, do we make cucumbers wear condoms. I didn’t know what to make of that. When I didn’t react, she turned abruptly then slipped, banging her head on the doorframe.
“God, I’m always doing that,” she said as I helped her to her feet. Even now I can feel the delicate touch of her fingers.
Her forehead was cut. She directed me to her first-aid kit and I tended her wound. I still remember the smell of her hair that first time, as well the antiseptic for the wound. They say I have a photographic memory. I don’t know if that’s exactly true, but I remember events, words, images, sensations very exactly.
Then Miriam began talking about herself and her artwork. She led me into her extremely messy studio. There were canvases of all sizes covered in swirls of paint and shadowy images. A large screen hung on one wall, while another was covered in various kinds of speakers, earpieces and microphones connected by a vast tangle of wires that I could barely bring myself to look at.
“Careful where you tread,” said Miriam, stepping straight into a small pool of paint. My anxiety levels rose as I took in the disorder of the environment, but something more powerful was happening as she explained to me about her work.
“The truth is, Gary, I’m going blind.”
“You’ll go completely blind?” I think she was taken aback at first by my directness.
“Perhaps not. But this much blind is plenty for me. It’s a genetic condition, juvenile macular dystrophy. I’ve been going blind since I was born.”
“And yet you paint.”
“It’s why I paint. I paint kind of furiously, trying to capture the world as I see it each day. It’s always changing.”
“And all this?” I said, waving towards the audio equipment.
“I turn sound into colours, shapes, and movement. Sound is movement, after all. Just kind of reinterpreting it.”
I nodded, trying to process this.
“Let me capture your voice, Gary.”
She led me to an old-fashioned telephone mouthpiece set amongst the jumble on the wall. “I want you to speak into it.”
“Really? What can I say?”
“You’re saying already.” She smiled. “Tell me something about your life.”
So I spoke to the wall about how I was born deaf, to a deaf mother and elderly, distant father. Mother was ferociously protective. She was a passionate campaigner for preserving deaf culture, and bitterly opposed to cochlear implants. She eagerly taught me sign language. Father once said as they argued that she insisted on me signing to ease her own isolation. She slapped him for that, and he withdrew to his own world.
Whatever her intentions, Mother was out of step with the times. As more and more deaf children were given implants, I became one of an ever more exclusive minority. Eventually she relented in the face of my incessant protestations. So, at the age of 12, I came late to the world of partial hearing. It was confusing, disorientating, frustrating for someone like me who needs everything to be perfect.
I gradually adapted. But I loathed my speaking voice from the first time I heard it. And I heard the mockery of the hearing kids too. So I kept quiet, and this quietness suited my nature. In time I settled with a small group of geeky friends with similar interests and passions. At least there is solidarity in being mocked as a group.
I stayed with Miriam for more than an hour while she played me weird collages of sound – including my voice – that combined with swirling colours on the screen. Then she danced in front of the motion sensors around the screen, shifting the colours left and right, forward and back, creating new combinations of sound and light with her movements. She turned to me and smiled warmly.
“Not many people have seen me do that,” she said, and laughed.
* * * * * * * *
How we met fifteen years ago was once a favourite story to tell our friends. It was not just unlikely that super-boff Gary should deliver groceries, but that I ordered selected boxes of vegan recipes and ingredients. My cooking was famously lousy, and I might as well have put the ingredients straight into the organic waste bin.
Gary’s a phenomenon. The kind of guy who learns languages for fun. The harder, the better. After his PhD he was headhunted to join one of the intelligence agencies, the one that monitors everything, picks up all the chatter out there, finds patterns, identifies signals out of the ‘noise’.
A bit like he did with my life, too. He supercharged the software I used for interpreting sounds into images. He bought a whole bunch of cable clips to impose some ‘rational order’ on my cables. He surrounded me in his protective affection. He’d do anything for me – whether I wanted him to or not.
Then the day come that I’d feared. After my first exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, he went down on one knee and proposed. I had to decide.
There’s no doubt my life is immensely better for knowing Gary. We supported each other. His passionate interest in my work was so touching, and he helped to give it order and direction against my tendency to chaos. To anchor and give substance to my projects, rather than flying off in new directions.
Somewhere on the way, though, I felt I was disappearing. It’s hard to justify my feeling. He was protective, over-protective even, but never controlling. Yet I felt even his thoughtfulness was nailing me down to his image of me. He looked so hurt when sometimes, perversely, I flung his kindness back in his face.
Gary said we complemented each other perfectly. I felt I was losing my real self. That I would never be able to break out of the cocoon he was building around me, around us. My impulsive and creative world and his logical, ordered world surely benefited by connecting. But merging them would prove fatal to both.
He sends me messages every birthday and Christmas, without fail. He remembers the anniversary of when we first touched that day in the hallway, down to the hour and the minute.
I don’t reply directly. But I do post messages out there that I know he will find as he sifts through all the chatter, that only he will truly understand. And though we cannot be together, it’s a blessing to know that Gary’s there, listening out for me.
Interesting observation, too
‘I guess she ‘fell’ for Gary (as the prompt directs) then pushed him away, but I’m such a romantic, any empathy I had for her losing her sight slipped away. As she pushed Gary away, she pushed me away, also.
Liking and disliking characters is a reader’s choice, and as an author, you offered me choice. That’s what it’s all about. Good story, Andy. And, as always, well written. I noticed the item pointed out by Ken C., also, but it doesn’t detract from the story like some errors can.
I know you’re going to be a busy guy, but I hope you continue to contribute. I look forward to reading your stories.
And I think that’s a fair assessment – I feel a little bit the same with the end product.
The approach was to have the characters presenting each other as well as presenting themselves. And also to have Miriam have a more pacy way of talking, generally in shorter sentences. And for their relationship to be about other personality traits, not only disability.
But I think the result of the editing down is to sell Miriam a little short, as the kooky digressions I intended for her fell by the wayside.
Actually, I really wanted to kill off the embarrassing comment with fruit to create space for fleshing her out a bit more. But that’s in the prompt and I had to stick with it – and I guess it does say something about her.
I got your email and it was fricking hilarious. Haven’t had a chance to get my team of email answering wizards together for a response yet. (One of them has to be summoned all the way from Siberia. He’s a turtle herder. Apparently its a very lucrative gig for Tundra-ites. Why would I make something like that up?) But rest assured, we, (meaning me) will respond.
Your story’s pretty good, well-written and composed, with your usual intricately detailed complexity. The dialogue is excellent. (Superb really.) You managed somehow to put an optimistic, futuristic spin on the prompt. (I didn’t see that coming.) Using scientific advances. (Okay, now I feel stupid.) On a second read, I realized that the man was obsessive compulsive, the woman was essentially the opposite. (Whatever that might be. Manic Depressive? Bi-polar dissonance disorder? Flighty-creative.) So, you got a great story here, but for some reason, the female character doesn’t generate much sympathy from me. Yet that is not for lack of information on your part. The story glosses over the woman’s impending blindness, which, it seems to me, could have been the focus of the entire story. But that would be a different story.
And yes, when Miriam says, ‘It was not just unlikely that superboff Gary should be delivering groceries…’ She’s right, it’s not just unlikely, it’s impossible. But, like a good story-teller, you don’t allow it slow us down. (Superboff is what slowed me down. WTF is a superboff?)
“On a second read, I realized that the man was obsessive compulsive, the woman was essentially the opposite….Flighty-creative”
– yes, I think that’s exactly it.
And I was trying to get the contrast that he had regained some hearing, she was losing her sight. Cochlear implants are fairly routine these days – my sister was a signing-specialist teaching assistant for deaf children, and she has told me a lot about this, and how it has reduced the requirement for signing-specialists like herself.
Then, like, the ironies (if that’s the word) of her being a blind person working with images and his being a deaf person with a job as a ‘listener’, and listening out for her.
The music/sound/images tech – I based that on something I encountered at the Haus der Musik in Vienna which has a lot of interactive exhibits to make classical music fun. Using Xboxy/Wii type tech to associate movements with sound and video. I could post a video of me lurching, lunging, cavorting and generally dad-dancing in front of it to create my own kind of movie – but I think I should spare you and everyone that. It’s not a pretty sight.
Are you kidding? That video would be hilarious.
Have you ever heard of a reactable?
Sight, sound and touch.
See in this video too at 3 min 48 – that’s Miriam there!
(You may not if you see what goes before it’s very popular with children. I had to chase them all away so I could use it …)
Means kind of an uber-boffin. I think. Well, it’s what she meant ….
My fave bit is actually the ending, an anti-romantic anticlimax to a love story that seems to start well (except for the bad fall), but which simply won’t go on second gear. It’s quite well known that happy-ever-afters are not usually that fortunate. So, perhaps it’s a good thing that you kept things forever fresh for Miriam and Gary.
Miriam keeps Gary on the edge of his seat as he listens out to her sporadic messages, in a lifelong teen-like rollercoaster of love-me-love-me-not drama. It’s what may keep the flame burning, after all. More than if she were to have said “yes” that day at the Saatchi Gallery.
I like the way you split the story, telling it to us from the perspective of the two characters. Miriam’s part doesn’t quite convey to me the chaotic character I thought she was. Her language is coherent enough. Even the grammar is good. Andy Lake should have let her take his pen (keyboard, iPad, Samsung Galaxy Note?) a little, mess up the language, break a few rules. The way Miriam would.
I see the ironies of improving deafness playing out against deteriorating blindness and all that. Art vs logic. The blind painting, the deaf listening. Brilliant stuff, really – the kind of things I want in the stories I read. But for some reason, I had to look for those elements – they didn’t emerge out of the text by themselves, didn’t slap me in the face. Perhaps it’s the descriptive nature of the storytelling, with little reliance on dialogue. Or maybe the moments in the storyline different things are revealed.
The chunky paragraph at the top did weigh a little on what seemed to me a slow start to the story. I’d have started with the prompt-required naughty bit (also to get it out of the way!):
‘ “Cucumbers in condoms? Only in England!”
Indeed, why do we have them wrapped in cellophane, in this country? Why not the carrots too? Or Christmas Trees, for that matter! But the way Miriam looked at me when she asked that question embarrassed me. I didn’t know how to answer her.’
Then, the PhD, etc. backstory could have come in later. This thing of cutting the head off a story by chopping off the first paragraph is known around here as ‘The Andy Lake Principle’ (at least according to one called Cartisano – I heard all this from him). Ok, one more irony in the mix, for you 🙂
Btw we were both thinking of cucumbers this week. I don’t even like them too much. What on earth is even going on? Trump, Boris, Climate Change. Now cucumbers everywhere…
“they didn’t emerge out of the text by themselves, didn’t slap me in the face” – yes, generally I don’t do face-slaps. But I can start 🙂
Thanks for your feedback, appreciated, Ken.
ONE MISSING CUCUMBER
by Ken Miles
1,200 words (excluding titles and this line)
“I didn’t program him that way. He must’ve picked things up.”
Kurt knows that Mr.Maxwell doesn’t quite understand robotics. True, he’s thrown tons of dollars into research. But he’s just a deep-pocketed groceries-guy, at the end of the day.
“Picked things up? You even said “he”? It’s a motorized shopping-cart, for fuck’s sake!”
Mr.Maxwell’s furious. This Mrs.Berkley is making such a big deal of it. Fine, it’s disconcerting to find a robot in your home cosying up to your own robot. But did she have to inundate Facebook with her version of events? This is a PR disaster for Vegsco.
“DelBot isn’t a motorized shopping-cart, Sir. He works on advanced neural-learning superchips. He may’ve learnt enough to – how can I put this? Evolve! Like cells that become baby, then acquire consciousness. Like you and I came to be, I mean.”
Mr.Maxwell rolls his eyes, but Kurt continues just the same.
“It shouldn’t be unheard of that algorithms as complex as biological cells may do the same – give rise to some degree of consciousness.”
Mr.Maxwell’s now shaking his head wildly.
“And even fall in love, perhaps! So, you programmed nothing of what happened at Mrs.Berkeley’s, right? Yet you assigned DelBot… sex! You call him “he”! Why’s that even necessary? I wanted a machine that delivers groceries from A-to-B, and you come up with all this!”
“I sorta always knew he’s male. Can’t explain that, Sir,” Kurt says so flatly he nearly comes across as ludicrous.
“And the other robot? The pretty girl-in-a-metal-box?” Mr.Maxwell’s blood boils.
“Robotka SusanEight? Mrs.Berkley must’ve bought her from Amazin. Yes, female.”
“Robotka!? You proggs even have a word for a female robot!”
“People – customers – want them that way. Girlish, boyish, catish maybe, but never neutral. That kinda thing. They buy them dresses or pants, even bras. That’s how it is out there…”
While Kurt’s talking, Mr.Maxwell Googles up SusanEight. She’s an eyeless, rather minimalistic, but prettily-designed oval-headed home-robot.
“Here! The hot babe our DelBot fell for! Why no eyes?” Sarcasm impinges upon Maxwell’s angry tone. “Do tell me, please: these lover-robots – how do they even do it?”
Typical of programmers, Kurt actually attempts to answer Mr.Maxwell’s questions: “She only takes groceries from DelBot and places them on a table; doesn’t need eyes, just sensors and strong arms. Robots use a wider range of senses than our five.”
“Fine, fine! Maybe I knew that much. You weren’t really gonna tell me how they make love too, were you? Anyway, SusanEight’s Amazin’s problem. I just wanna know what the fuck you put into our DelBot. Come to think of it, why does DelBot need eyes?”
“DelBot must be streetwise, it’s a much more challenging environment. He needs to see and speak to pedestrians, you know, that ‘Excuse me, could you please let me pass?’ kinda thing.”
“Our polite boy! At least, he hasn’t picked up the bad language too!”
“That’s why I made him deaf…”
“Oh, yeah, sure. Got that bit right – our PR disaster could’ve come sooner: ‘Hey, get outta my way, jerk – I can’t wait to be on top of my sweetheart circuit-in-a-tin-can!’”
Kurt isn’t sure if he should smile at that. It’s good he doesn’t. Mr.Maxwell soon erupts and goes into a tirade on all that can go wrong with robots.
“Way it’s going, robot-rights will soon be all the rage! They’re picking things up! They’d want holidays, overtime-bonus, sick-leave – or is it maintenance-leave? They’ll sleep on the job, shoplift. Ours has already had a fling with the first cute robotka he came across – while on duty! Remember the whole point of robots, genius? To fuckin’ replace humans! They become all too human, and your work’s been for nothing! My fuckin’ money too!”
“I wouldn’t put it that way, Sir, it’s actually very interesting. Fascinating. We’re living in exciting times.”
“For you it’s interesting. For me, what happened yesterday, is plain embarrassing. For the company, catastrophic.”
“It’s just a missing cucumber and two missing cherries…” Kurt says, defensively, referring to Mrs.Berkley’s botched order, and clearly missing the whole point.
“A cucumber and two cherries she may’ve depended upon, for all I know!” barked back Mr.Maxwell, “That’s besides it! Facts are: a robot entered an elderly lady’s home uninvited. This gets out of hand and our autonomous-delivery-system is dead!
The end for DelBot! Do you understand?”
Kurt’s eyes widen, but he expresses no intention to speak.
“People like you invent – we’re nothing without you. People like me make what you invent usable. You’re nothing without us.
And the other demon in the game? Public-opinion. Just one laughable flop and we’re done in. It’s not about a missing cucumber. This customer found our damned horny robot inside her home making out with her skirted food-tray!”
Mr.Maxwell’s last blood-pressure readings weren’t good, he must keep stress-levels down. Besides, he doesn’t want to scare Kurt off. He’d just be handing this star-kid over on a silver plate to the competition.
He takes time fixing his tie, allowing himself to calm down. Then, as older men often do with younger ones, he stood up, went over to Kurt’s chair and threw an arm around him, in fatherly fashion.
“Let me tell you a true story,” he says so softly as if talking from another room.
“Someone like you, in the Fifties, invented a flying-car. My granddad wanted to market it. Would’ve transformed the world. But there was a funny mishap. No-one got hurt, but the newspapers went on about it. People laughed. Embarrassment killed the whole idea. My granddad threw the towel, then started Vegsco. Fruits and vegetables, everyone! Big money, no complaints there. But he regretted the missed opportunity of the flying-car till his very dying day.”
Mr.Maxwell takes a breather. When he speaks again, he raises his voice a little. Not in anger, this time, but to overcome the hum of the autonomous vacuum-cleaner that’s just entered the room for its daily chore.
“Just before he died, Grandpa told me, ‘John, don’t be like me – do something that will change the world.’ That’s why DelBots are important to me. I don’t understand a thing about them, but I poured millions to stay ahead of the pack. To honor my Grandad. But just one stupid mishap like we had yesterday, just enough lolling idiots on Facebook, and it’s history repeating itself!”
Mr.Maxwell finishes, lets go of Kurt’s neck and returns to his chair, taking a deep look at Kurt’s eyes, checking if he’s left some impact on the young man.
Kurt’s nerdy look won’t give away anything and Mr.Maxwell turns his attention to the vacuum-cleaner, a state-of-the-art VaCuute.
“Why does it flicker its light each time I look it at?” he wonders aloud. “Is it winking back at me? Is it a woman by any chance? A robotka?”
Again, typical of tech-geeks, Kurt won’t let a rhetoric question go by. He actually answers it.
“VaCuute? No, not a girl. It runs on RonFive software, I developed that at Applintel – certainly a boy.”
“Dear me!” Mr.Maxwell replies, “So we’re already there, too!”
Kurt straightens his spine and adjusts his small-frame chest. He licks both lips and for the first time allows a hint of a smile to escape them.
Good story, Ken, taking a line that I would never have thought of. Well written and no serious critiques to speak of. I just can’t unsee a couple of Roombas getting it on and creating a dust storm in the hallway in front of the grandkids.
Kurt? Well, after seeing the two stories before me (Andy’s wasn’t in yet) using the same male character name, then I thought I may as well join in!
It may have been in the prompt and I didn’t see it, for all I know! (It happens to me all the time: in the excitement to get on with writing I might overlook something in the prompt!). Carrie would have come back to me and (curtly) say: “Nice story, but your man is not called Kurt – eliminated” ( 🙂 )
As for the Roombas, yes do keep an eye on them! But why would you need more than one in the same house? Unless you’re starting a Roomba farm…
BTW, what dd happen to the cucumber? 🙂
Pleased you like it, Andy.
Okay I’m gonna give it to you straight. (Straight from the horses lips, to your ears.)
I love the idea, but the execution left a lot to be desired. The title was great, the robot names were not. The dialogue was a bit, I don’t know, Circuitous? Stilted toward exposition?
I actually have a couple of problems with this story. One… you confused me by bringing up the software as separate from the robots. There’s a Susan8 that runs Robotka software, and a Delbot, no software named, but may have been designed at AppIntel, and a Vacuute, which runs Ron5 software. I found it confusing. (It’s possible that someone named their Susan8 Robotka. But that’s a pretty strange name, even for a robot.)
And TWO: You’re asking me, (forget your other readers for a minute, will ya?) you’re asking me, to believe that a programmer (did he say a programmer?) a programmer…. programmed gender……. into the software they were creating. (Now, you know, I mean, I’m willing to take a leap of faith, but I wasn’t really sure if that’s what you were actually implying. (I do not want to have to write your story while I’m reading it.). And if I did understand what you were inferring, is that bad? I guess it is if your water softener is doing it with your vacuum cleaner. But (forgive me, Mr. Dickens.) Where does the cucumber come into play? And when I say where, I don’t really mean where, I really mean when, because I don’t think I would understand where.
You see now, these are things I never asked to think about. I never asked to think about these things, Ken. I’m in a delicate state right now. I don’t need this, cucumber-robot imagery.
I know what’s happened. I’m very well aware of what’s happened to you Ken. Because it happened to me, too. You wrote the greatest story ever written, (who hasn’t?) and nobody liked it. It was like, you discover America, and everybody gives the credit to some dork from Spain with three rowboats. Or, you (and your people) build the Titanic, an unsinkable (under normal use, see instruction manual) ship, and someone rams it into an iceberg at 16 knots. Or, You invent the cotton gin but nobody can remember your name.
It’s like that.
So one of two things happen, you develop a personality disorder, (like I did, the easy way out) or, you simply churn out some words, shove them into an intestinal shaped prompt, twist up the ends, and shove it down the shoot.
There was a point, (Ken) when I began reminiscing about dung beetles. I wondered how they were doing. How many beetles they had, and grand-beetles, and great, grand-beetles, and sure, why not, even great, great, great-grand-beetles. What were their names? Not Kurt I hope.
Anyway, the point and the lesson here Ken, is this, if you want to leave this story as it is, I ‘understand.’ But if it was me, I’d be thinking this story needs quite a bit more polish. (So does Una’s. Just between you and me.) But that’s not the lesson, the lesson is that you can count on me to be positively pessimistic in the face of overwhelming optimism. You can count on me to always tell you what I feel like telling you Ken, regardless of how that makes you feel. Regardless of how it’ll make everyone feel. (As if any of this were real.)
All kidding aside for a minute. Your stories are memorable, Ken. The Wolf story, The Black and White Cop, The Domestic Dung Couple, and now Robot Sex. I feel like I’m forgetting one. But who cares, I’ve made my point.
Memorable though this story may be, I wasn’t really clear about the inferences made. So, maybe my observations aren’t relevant. But,
You present the story as an angry boss, incredulous and venting at the subservient programmer, who appears to be ‘on the carpet.’ Even though, in the story, the boss says, and acts like their relationship is more equal than it otherwise appears.
I think the business owner’s anger was obvious, and justified, but one would think that he would try to set aside his anger to understand what had happened, and why. If he was doing that, then why don’t I know what happened?
Know what I mean?
So, Ken I’m a bit disappointed that my story left you in such disarray. At the same time, I’m so pleased to have around one like you who calls a spade a spade – rain or shine. Really, that’s what we’re here for, right? (I mean at A Place for Fiction Writers, for receiving honest critiques. I didn’t mean why we’re here on earth, in the universe, I haven’t got around that one yet).
As starters, it could be that with my own work experience of deep-learning/autonomous artificial intelligence as something I deal with everyday (or, rather, it deals – messes up – with me!) and a recent mega-project I worked on within the same field (that’s why I was so busy lately and not very active in here), I may have taken it for granted that people out there are also very well-versed in the field… So, I’m guilty as charged, if I made that mistake.
If it was just the names of the robots, etc. I could quite easily rectify that and perhaps make things a bit clearer within the story. For now I can just say this:
DelBot is a type of robot (short for DELivery robBOT) developed inhouse by Vegsco for their own delivery services.
SusanEight is also a type of robot, developed by a company called Amazin.
VaCuute is a robotic vacuum cleaner, developed by a company called Applintel (where Kurt used to work before Vegsco hired him)
RonFive is the software on which VaCuute works.
“robotka” is a new word in the English language (invented by me!) for a “female robot” – start using it!!!
“proggs” is short, possibly pejorative, for “programmers” (also invented by me).
So, that was quite easy to clarify. Some work ready for whoever is going to write the Wikipedia article about my story 🙂 I will now investigate where some of these names may not have come across clearly in the story itself.
ANY FEEDBACK FROM THE OTHER READERS ON THIS ISSUE WOULD BE APPRECIATED!! Was it all clear to you guys when you read the story? (and before you read my explanation above) Or did you also face the same difficulties in telling the robots apart, as Ken C.? See what we’ve come to! My grandma never had this problem of having to tell robots apart. Those good old days…
Now, the cucumber (and two cherries). Well, I don’t know what DelBot really did with them when he met SusanEight. And, honestly, I don’t want to know. You neither. I needed to have them in because of the prompt. But, perhaps they fitted somehow. It’s just that it’s not PornHub here, so I’m certainly not going into details.
Aaaaanyyywaaay… the whole concept of deeplearning is that neural robots (or computers) can actually learn things along the way, ie. things they learn from their environment, things beyond what has been imputed into them by the programmers or original data-feeders. A bit like kids learn, in many ways.
You don’t need a leap of faith for that. It’s already happening. You’ve probably come across it too. That’s how Google Translate works – it learns from people, it’s users. And that’s why, like people, it makes mistakes. Autonomous cars work like that too. We have two bus lines, where I live, with driverless buses. They don’t have everything programmed in them right from the start. But they are programmed with the ability to learn.
Like not to drive over a person who is wearing a T-shirt with a picture showing a traffic-free road on it (this is actually a true example, that we’ve tried out!). Nobody told the bus that, but it learnt it – full marks!
What you need a leap of faith in, in my story, is that I stepped further and implied that algorithmic combinations as complex as biological cells might at some point give rise or acquire consciousness. And then thoughts, emotions, love… We’re not there yet. But watch that space!
Now, the the cucumber and the cherries again. Our DelBot (his original name was Norman, but then I removed that – maybe my mistake – or else how would the boss be wondering why he’s a “boy”?), must have seen something that people do, learnt it, and tried to do it with a robotka… I don’t think he could have been very successful, but deeplearning robots are not perfect (like the people they learn from). There’ll be stories of the “forbidden cucumber” in future robotlore. It might even find itself in the Book of Robogenesis…
Kurt is not completely innocent, of course. I suppose he’s gay, and he’s put in some predisposition to gayhood in RonFive software, on which VaCuute works. Maybe, he also tried that with DelBot – he made him male in the first place – but that one seems to have come out straight (given he’s interested in robotkas).
So, Ken – I really enjoyed explaining this, as it is something I worked on and a subject that interests me a lot. I would have wished all this to came out more clearly through the story itself, of course. But, still, thanks for giving me the opportunity to explain and to encourage me to go back to my story and see where it needs a good makeover. I’m not going to upload a new version here, as I have no time for that today. But I got your message, in case I need to use this story elsewhere. And for future writings too, especially the ones that try to push the envelope a tad too far…
Again, feedback from the other readers in view of Ken C.’s comment (did you have similar blocking points while reading my story?) would be very very appreciated and useful!
The machine learning etc I entirely got. All the same, one wonders why in their AI-ness, machine intelligence being quite a different kind of intelligence, they would interpret gender and attraction in such a classically human way?
(I didn’t quite buy the distinction between ‘eyes’ and sensors, btw, and you actually contradict yourself slightly in the explanation, if you take a close look. Trying to blind us with science, there)
But of course, you’re having fun and it doesn’t have to make sense..
And as a matter of principle now, I have to disagree with Mr C about your stories 🙂
One thing – wouldn’t it have been more in keeping, perhaps, to have one cherry (singular) being lost in these circumstances?
This week round, I didn’t want to follow the most obvious “prescribed line” as dictated by the prompt, which, then, of course, took me on a more challenging path. Now, Ken C. is of the opinion that I may have fallen over the precipice. He may be right, of course, but it’s good to see that some others got some fun out of reading my story.
Indeed, it’s about fun, more than scientific correctness. Still though, if I confounded some readers like Ken C. (and precluded them from having their bit of fun), then I didn’t quite succeed as I would have liked to. And I would be very interested in seeing exactly where the sticking points are, for the sake of improvement (not necessarily of this story itself, but to avoid similar pitfalls in the future).
As to your specific comments, AI is indeed a different kind of intelligence from human intelligence. Having said that, if we’re setting AI on the course of learning from us (and that’s what we’re actually doing at present), it might follow that AI might, in time, learn enough from us to become quite like us. I fast-forwarded that by quite a great deal in my story, of course.
You’re right about the lack of distinction between eyes and sensors. I would have left that bit out, if it weren’t for the need to satisfy the prompt’s requirement about the female entity having to be blind. In a rewrite, if there was to be a rewrite, I’d give SusanEight “infrared sensors” (like a remote control) as opposed to DelBot’s optical eyes. But for another use of this story elsewhere, I won’t be bound by the “blindness” requirement anyway, so the story can take a different slant.
As you said, it’s difficult (and there is no need) to use these stories elsewhere exactly as carved out for the prompts here. But it’s still good training to be here in this “story laboratory” – the prompts do bring up themes for stories that would otherwise remain unconceived and unwritten. I have a future project for which these stories can be used. The ones that pass the test, at least.
One cherry? I can live with that… but, you know, they usually come in pairs… and… ok enough on this!
I won’t repeat the same things I just wrote to Andy (have a look above).
The gender differences are quite key for the story to work. It would be quite a big leap in the history of artificial intelligence (for better or for worse) if robots/computers also assume gender.
The bigger, even more profound supposition in my story, though, is if AI actually acquires consciousness. That’s the big one.
After all, some physical cells interacting in a very sophisticated way with each other, at some point, several millions of years ago, acquired consciousness. And the result is us.***
Now, if some other physical cells, silicon-based, perhaps, instead of carbon-based (who cares?), and also interacting in a very sophisticated way with one another, at some point in the future (or while I’m typing this), also acquire consciousness, then, well… lo and behold!
That’s what my story is really about.
Of course, I didn’t do it too well in my efforts to satisfy the prompt. The rest was to make the story fun, funny and a somewhat bearable – hopefully enjoyable – read (in that, I succeeded with some, but not with my usual fan Ken C.).
(***not excluding the possibility that all I’m saying here is bull, and there was really a God of some kind who at some point made consciousness happen, at will and part of a larger Masterplan. I don’t exclude anything.)
I have no reservations about the potential of A.I., but you never actually mentioned it in your story.
I liked the overall concept but listing the names of the robots again, and their software did not elucidate the need for them. I vaguely recall your mentioning the evolution of ‘biological cells’ in there somewhere, but you don’t sketch out any corollary, robotically speaking. It’s all smoke and mirrors, Ken.
The execution of the story, that was my complaint, not the technology.
I wrote a story a few months back about robotics that were acting human. Taking over the company, creating more robots than needed, learning to lie, having sex (possibly), generally acting like humans by being despicable. They had genders too. I suppose the difference is that you’ve extended the scope to include specialized industrial robots. Then you throw the software into the mix as if it isn’t already integrated into the hardware. In my story, the ‘software’ was integrated and seemingly universal.
And of course, nowhere in this tossed salad is there a whole cucumber. Nor is there room for one. That was my problem. Wait, cucumber is a vegetable! So you did it too.
Having ranted about all that, I read a story in a science magazine back in the 1990’s, about these biologists that wanted to simulate life at a basic cellular level. So they created a simple program, (computers were still pretty basic back then, less than 200 mhz.) The program created a closed system and a few simple rules which I can’t recall exactly. Something like, each cell can eat other cells for a burst of energy and growth, but not all cells all the time, so there was some risk. Or, cells could link arms (so to speak) with other cells, which slowed down their growth, but they couldn’t be eaten. So there were several incentives for a variety of behavioral options and cells often changed from one strategy to another, and back. The behavior of the cells began evolving in a way that was very intriguing to the biologists, and then they terminated and deleted the program because their study was finished. The entire story was about the stupid experiment they were running, not the software they’d created in order to run the study. Can you imagine? And I’m reading it and thinking, ‘you idiots have created an A.I. and you don’t even know it. And you’re biologists for God’s sake!’
Anyway, such is life. And oblivion.
If A.I. doesn’t already exist, it may crop up in three or four different places at the same time. What if they don’t like each other? What if A.I.’s go to war against each other, and humanity becomes collateral damage. Not even relevant enough to fight for, or against.
Oh yes! I usually audit it every month or so and will get it updated today – thanks for the reminder!
Apparently my calendar notice ended and I missed yesterday’s voting time! So I’ll be posting the voting link in about 4 hours with the standard 24 hours to vote, gives everyone a bit more time to read, and since it’s a bonus we can give a little wiggle room hahaha
Hahaha right! Like going to the movies and the projector breaks 10 minutes from the end! (That happened to me once in a Star Wars movie – I thought people would riot lol!)
Once Upon A Time. (WC 1191)
Matt Grover pulled his car over to the curb and killed the engine. He had a paper route when he was a boy, and he remembered this house well. Its unique design set it apart from the other homes in this neighborhood. Some of the kids in school claimed its’ owner was a witch. Usually, they were the same kids who made fun of Matt behind his back.
The house, in fact, would’ve been charming if not for its condition: Shutters drooped; paint was peeling; the roof sagged. The yard was overgrown as well. Two fat evergreens crowded the concrete path to the front door, looming over him as he sidled between them. An ancient vine enveloped the porch’s wrought iron posts. He raised his fist to rap on the door.
Clara sat on a blue velvet couch with a book in her lap, mulling over one of her pet literary peeves: Color-coded cues. ‘Purple mountain’s majesty?’ ‘Taking the red-eye?’ ‘We like the blues.’ Blind from birth, phrases like these, though they were not meaningless, simply reminded her of something she would never understand: Color.
The teapot began to whistle and she rose to her feet, a simultaneous pounding on the front door nearly caused her heart to stop. She hurried into the kitchen and, using an oven mitt, removed the pot from the burner and turned off the stove. The unexpected visitor pounded on the door again.
Clara turned the latch and opened the door a few inches.
She seemed like an apparition to Matt. Enveloped in darkness, eyes downcast, but he had to focus on what little he could see of her lips. “I have some groceries. For a Miss Sutton?”
“Jimmy’s out of town. On vacation with his family. I’ll be your delivery boy in the interim.”
“You don’t sound like a delivery boy.”
“No ma’am, I suppose not.” She was not the first person to tell him this, today. He sounded like a man, and a deaf person. He owned the grocery, but she didn’t need to know that. “I’m just helping out until Jimmy gets back.”
“I see.” She said. “Bring them in then.” she stepped behind the door as she opened it and then pointed to her kitchen table. Not a single light burned in the entire house and all the curtains were drawn. He made three trips to the car and back, and on the last one, she closed the door behind him, plunging them both into total darkness.
“Um…would you like me to put these items in the cupboard for you, Miss Sutton?”
“Yes. Thank you. I was hoping you would. Jimmy does.” Jimmy also made a habit of juggling the apples, telling bad jokes and expecting a tip. But his voice was familiar to her. Clara suddenly felt self-conscious. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to prattle on. Would you like me to…”
The sudden change from light to dark had rendered Matt temporarily blind, and functionally incommunicado. He assumed that she was speaking, probably making small-talk, but he had no idea what she was saying. This was a very strange woman, he decided. A creature of the dark. “I think…” he forced himself to interject, “…I would like a little more light. If that’s okay Miss Sutton?”
His request was quickly granted. She glided over to the wall and then a single light flared to life above the sink, just in time for him to see her say, “Is that better?”
He was momentarily stunned by what he saw, there was an inexplicable power in her presence—and then she said, “What’s wrong?”
He didn’t know how to respond. But there was more than enough light to see that she was a woman of rare beauty, poise, grace and symmetry. Even her hair seemed to lay on her shoulders in a way that conformed to some cosmic mathematical constant. That’s how it looked to Matt. He forgot everything, including where he was.
“What’s wrong?” She repeated, a hint of alarm in her voice. She touched her face with one hand, wondering at what she felt. Worry lines? “What’s wrong with me? Mister Grover?”
That snapped him out of his trance. “Just call me Matt.” He moved in her direction with the intention of explaining, something. Everything. Nothing. The answer to her question seemed to be lying on his tongue, passed out cold.
She could hear and sense him moving closer, when all she wanted was an answer. Maybe there was something wrong with him? He talked funny, in an odd, airy kind of speech. She’d made no assumptions, but now she wondered. What if he was on drugs?
She backed away. Bumped into the counter near a drawer and slid it open. He saw her reach into the drawer. He thought he saw a twelve inch steak knife.
“Miss Sutton, please.” He said. “I’m not gonna hurt you.”
“Then stay away.”
What he didn’t see was her other hand had found the tea kettle. “Yes ma’am. I will. I’m leaving right now, Miss Sutton. I’m leaving right now and I’ll never come back. I promise you.”
He sounded hurt, it was clear, despite that weird stilted speech of his. She heard his footsteps moving away, the sound of the door opening… She realized she hadn’t paid him yet. “Wait.”
He paused in the doorway. “It’s all right Miss Sutton. You’re more than welcome to mail your payment, or I’ll send someone else out to collect.”
“Nonsense,” she said. He waited. “Didn’t you used to deliver newspapers around here, once upon a time?”
“Yes I did,” he admitted.
“I thought so. But not to this house.” She approached the doorway with him standing in it.
“No ma’am. There was a cantankerous old…”
“Witch. That was my grandmother…” She reached for the door, so he gently pushed it towards her. “…a raging lunatic if ever there was one.” The door swung over to rest against her upheld hand.
He noticed that she was holding a yam in her other hand. “Are you blind, Miss Sutton?”
“Are you dumb?” She replied.
“I’m deaf, actually. I was going to mention it.”
“I should think you would!” Her anger dissipated quickly. “You’re deaf?”
“But not blind.”
“Then why’d you gasp?”
“I what?” Matt was unfamiliar with gasps. He knew what they were but…
“You gasped,” she said. “When I turned on the light. As soon as you saw me, you gasped. It was unmistakable. Tell me. Am I that hideous?”
“Well,” he said, thinking furiously. “You’re pretty hideous alright. I’ll admit that, but I suppose I could get used to it if we kept the lights down low most of the time.”
She blinked. “Really? I’m not sure I want to submit you to something so traumatic.”
“I’m willing to give it a try, Miss Sutton.”
“Good, good. Come back inside, then. I’ll fix us some tea, write you a check, we’ll put the groceries away…and please, call me Clara.”
“On one condition,” he said.
“What were you going to do with that yam?”
“Nothing.” She said, truthfully.
An evocative tale, in both the atmosphere it’s painted in and also the well-chiseled language. You keep us completely in the dark about this mysterious woman. Until she turns on the light. We’re there with Grover, seeing what he’s seeing. And not seeing what he isn’t. Everything is so well-timed structure-wise.
Her initial fear (about her looks) is very believable, especially for a woman who just can’t see herself in a mirror (“worry lines…”). You build that up very believably into a greater fear (he may be on drugs, he may be dangerous – which, in turn, makes her dangerous!). The tension is palpable.
“…her hair seemed to lay on her shoulders in a way that conformed to some cosmic mathematical constant.” I know (from occasional feedback to my own writings) that such statements are not everyone’s cup of tea (they call them “bombastic” – I dislike that word). But I’m a sucker for such larger-than-life language, where the plain and simple (one woman’s hair) is set against something much grander in the great scheme of things. It sort of relates the mundane to the greater universe we’re living in, if merely by comparison. And it makes the mundane look grandiose. Because it sometimes is. As in this case. I personally love it! Let “others” say whatever they want.
Spanner-in-hand now: there is a case of “I didn’t used to…” somewhere – I think I saw it, but I have no patience to look back for it now and point out the exact location. No big deal.
I’m a bit disappointed, though. When I read the word “knife” I thought I knew where I wanted this story to be going. (Not that it necessarily had to go the way I wanted it, of course). I saw blood coming. Nothing personal against this Matt Grover, but I saw him done in. “He asked her why she was doing that to him. But whatever she said, he couldn’t hear it.” Hmmm. But indeed it all resolved so nicely like a beautiful fairy tale. With a yam in the way, that caused no harm.
I know that the prompt sort of hints at some love to arise between the protagonists. But that’s always a very malleable piece of Play-doh. I mean something as heart-warming as: “She drove his van off the edge and waited for the last air bubble to burst and the surface of the lake to quieten again. Next, his body. Cut in fine little cubes, Matt’s rump made a great stew with the carrots and onions he had just brought her. She thickened the stew with yam puree. It was a love affair.”
But perhaps this kind of thing is not in you, Una. I understand. If it was someone else, maybe… like, what would I know? Ken Cartisano, perhaps? Juergen, yes, Juergen. Phil? By the way, just where is everybody?
If YOU were Ken Cartisano, you would have thought I’m revenging against your railing on my poop story title last week. But, of course you’re not Ken Cartisano. I don’t know why I’m even saying this nonsense.
You’re very kind and generous with your critiques. This is, without a doubt, the most annoying thing about you, and is probably why you chose not to mention that a yam is not a fruit. Nobody mentioned it. That could be taken two ways. (I’m not blaming here, I didn’t notice it either!)
As for the phrase, ‘cosmic mathematical constant.’ That could easily be seen as ‘a little darling.’ A phrase popularized, (if not invented) by Stephen King, for those little gems that we authors love, but take our readers out of the story because they’re so ‘special.’
I left it in because I didn’t like it that much. And had intended to change it to what I was really trying to describe, the pattern-like hallucinations that often result from taking LSD or mushrooms. I couldn’t think of a better way to describe that, so I left it at ‘cosmic constant.’ But I probably shouldn’t have. But again, no one but you specifically mentioned it.
While Ken C. suggested that she might be a witch, I thought that was obvious by the time the story evolved into its nearly finished state. I’d say it was 95 percent completed before I realized that she was no ordinary person. Or else, what’s the point of the story, love? Gag me with a spoon. (despite or due to my glaring lack of knowledge about witchery, it took very little editing to suggest as much.) I was reluctant to address this prompt at first, as I had the same initial reaction as you did Ken. The prompt dictated the characters, their flaws, their fate, and the conclusion. That’s the whole story, it seemed more like what you do with a coloring book than writing a story. But I received (from the moon, let’s just say) two really strong visual images when I heard the prompt, the story opens with them. Beyond that, I had nothing. (And some would say it shows.)
But the story evolved, and I just kept revising it. I don’t think the dialogue is that good either, even though I rewrote it at least twenty times. Sometimes, I think I should stick with something easier, like, I don’t know, owner of a bank or something. Or just manager of the safe.
I’ll leave you with this Ken M. The story had 1191 words. I think people were disappointed that I didn’t add the final nine words.
‘Matt Grover was never seen or heard from again.’
I thought about it, but it would have violated the prompt. And I preferred the happy ending anyway.
As for the name. That is strictly the domain of Ken C. One can only hope that he CHOOSES to rename it. Such is the value of his cherished interest. I had a totally different name at the outset, but I don’t remember what it was.
Thanks for your comments Ken. Ken sends his regards.
A little puzzled though about the story from where the dialogue kicks in, seems, unusually, a little stilted, more than just the awkwardness of their conversation though there are also moments and phrases I really like
I don’t want to weigh in too heavily for very good reasons, (trust me on this, Una) that most of us know, but I believe it’s safe to offer a small kernel of ignorance relevant to your story.
I felt, (and maybe you did too) like Matt was congenitally sympathetic to Clara because they both suffered unfair ridicule and scorn for genetic flaws that they had no control over. His deafness, her blindness.
But the story left me wondering, even though Matt didn’t seem to put much credence in childish tales of witches, if in fact, that wasn’t exactly what she was?
On a few technical points, you use the words ‘suddenly’ and ‘sudden’ in two consecutive sentences. Then a few lines later, ‘quickly.’ Then, ‘momentarily’, ‘temporarily,’ and ‘functionally’. That’s a lot of adverbs and they all come in about a three paragraph span. I’ve been instructed to shy away from adverbs, and never, never, never, never ever use the word ‘suddenly’ in a story. ‘Sudden’ is not great either, but ‘suddenly’ is awful. If you must use ‘suddenly,’ substitute ‘without warning.’
I think it’s also safe to observe that I felt like the story built a lot of tension early on, but never released it so to speak. The story had no discernible climax.
Jazmin stood by the window and although she was blind, her eyes looked out as she raised her head to listen to each vehicle that was crossing over the road. It was the delivery day and she was expecting and looked forward for Jadon to bring her groceries. She liked him as she grew to trust him. She made sure she looked good for when he came around.
At first. after her motor accident. when she lost her eyesight, she was very nervous and unsure whether she could manage in her home on her own. She was advised to sell her house and move into sheltered housing for blind people. She refused to let go of her style. She cut herself from people who underminded her and turned into a recluse. But Jadon built her confidence and inspired her to fight her corner. She started to come out of her shell.
In comparison, Jadon had a worse adventure in life. Born to a mother who did not want him and an unknown father, he was physically abused by his mother’s boyfriends. As a result he lost his hearing and developped a speech impediment. He spent his childhood in Care Homes as no-one wanted to adopt him. As a young adult he was sent in supervised accomodation beacause of his deafness.
He met a few good people and his destiny changed. The local grocery shop took him on as a volunteer helper and he graduated as a paid worker within a month. He helped in the shop and the delivery driver when they do the delivery rounds. Although he learnt to drive the van, because of his deafness, he was not legally allowed to drive on the road. He made leaps of progress when he started working as a young adult.
Jazmin waited a few minutes, took a few deep breaths to compose herself as she heard the van crunch on her driveway, and Jadon’s steps as he walked up and knocked at her door.
“Hi Jadon.” She moved out of the way for Jadon to take the groceries into the house. She followed him as he went about to put them away for her.
“Been busy.” She struck conversation.
“Ve- very b-b-busy with new customers. The va–van is cho-choc-er block.” Jadon turned to face Jazmin as he spoke so that he could lip read her.
She heard him stepped back and clicked his tongue.
“Ouch, Squa – squashed bananas.” He exclaimed. “I’m so so- sorry, Jazmin. I’m so em-bar-rassed …”
Jazmin squeezed her eyebrows and lips. She went red in the face.
“Don’t! Do not take advantage of me. I may be blind but I am not desperate. I understand what you’re hinting. I know what you mean. Don’t you even think about it!”
Jadon stared at her, puzzled. He blinked.
“I d-don’t un-der-stand …”
“Well. I am telling you I’m a decent person, with feelings like any normal young woman. I thought you were a gentleman. But, I’m wrong. You’re like any man. Sex mad.”
“Wh-at are you tal-king a-about? I acci-den-tly dropped the ba-na-nanas whilst I was tal-king to y-you. I step-ped on th-them and sqa-shed them. Th-they’re da-maged. I will h-ha-ve to come back to re-place them.” He stuttered.
Jazmin went red in the face. Her body seemed to steam up. She pulled her mouth down. “What on earth was I thinking about? My imagination has ran away with me.” She thought.
She did not want to upset Jadon with her rash judgement. She was afraid of losing him.
“I’m sorry, so sorry. Please forgive me.” She burst out as she stammered. “My mind is playing me up. I’m so lonely. I don’t know what came out of me to think like that. I’m ever so sorry. I love you very much and would never think of hurting you. I don’t know how to make it up for you to forgive me. Please, don’t leave me… Don’t fall out with me. I’m so upset of what I said.” She croaked and swallowed hard. “I take my insults back.”
“D-did y-you just say y-you love me?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I’m not wo-worth your lo-ve. I’m deaf… No-no-one lo-loves me. I n-never had a girl-girlfriend.”
“I do. You’re a lovely person. Yes, people love you. The shop keeper does, the driver does and I’m sure the customers do too. I do.”
“As a girl – girl- girlfriend.” Jadon asked He wanted Jazmin to repeat what she said and wanted to hear the words again.
“I want to. I am living in hope. I know I’m not a kind of girlfriend you hope for. Soon, you won’t be deaf anymore. The doctor has told you that you can be cured. There is advanced treatment for your condition. You should have gone and seen him earlier. I’m sure you can find someone better than me.”
“I lo-love you too.”
“Oh, my God.” Jazmin reached out for him and wrapped her arms around his neck. They cried together for their newly found happiness.
“I’m so happy.” Jazmin closed her eyes to enjoy the moment.
Jadon disentangled himself from Jazmin. “Let me clear this mess.” He went to fetch the dustman and brush from the utility cupboard. Jazmin followed him. Before she knew it she stepped on the mashed bananas, slipped and went flying. He head banged on the kitchen cupboards as she tried to save herself. For a split of a second she lost conciousness.
Jadon dropped the dustpan and brush and rushed to Jazmin’s side. He cradled her head as she came around and blinked. She turned her head around.
“A-are y-you ok?” She heard the distant voice of Jadon which became clearer and clearer. She opened her eyes wider and wider. The face of Jadon started to take shape. She shook her head as realised she could see.
“Tell me, shout at me. Tell me I’m not dreaming. I’m still alive.” She screamed. “ Are you black, Jadon? You face is black. Everything around me are the same as I remembered them to be.” She held his face and cried.
I wrote it quickly yesterday and posted today. I found a couple of missed and unnecessary words after I posted. Strange how I missed them but noticed them afterwards.
I wasn’t going to write a story for this prompt but the ideas kept pouring in
I wrote it in a rush and posted it. Time to post almost ran out on me. I nearly missed getting listed.
Missed not reading yours and the Regulars’ stories.
You know the drill… It’s time to vote!Remember you MUST vote for your story to count, you can only vote once, and you may NOT vote for yourself.
You officially have 24 HOURS from the timestamp of this comment to read through the stories vote.Good luck!
I totally missed it, which is why it wasn’t blue, and not in the story comment at the top. l will add it and email the ones who have already voted, luckily it’s only two people!
Didn’t want to load you with extra work.
I wasn’t too worried really. I write for people who read my stories and I know they would pick the story up. I am satisfied as such.
I voted already
You are a doll Chitra!
I read your story and it’s really, really good so glad it was brought to my attention.
You’ve always been so laid back and I love that about you. I know exactly what you mean, I use these contests as fodder for my podcast episodes, the contest aspect is fun, but I can’t remember if I’ve ever won one and I’m totally ok with that hahahaha
But your story definitely deserves to be read and voted on!
1st Place: One Missing Cucumber by Ken Miles
2nd Place: It’s All In How You Say It by Roy York
3rd Place: Someone Knocking at the Door by Chitra Adjoodah
4th Place: The Apple of his Eyes by Trish
5th Place: The Listening Project by Andy Lake
6th Place: It’s Once Upon A Time by Una Poole
Favorite Character: The Listening Project “Gary”
Best Use of Dialogue: The Apple of his Eyes
Loved the stories this round, great job everyone!!
Congratulations to the others too.
Surprised to come up third. Thanks for liking and voting for my story
I’m formulating (concocting) a rebuttal to your response to my reply to your comment about my original critique, but I’m not telling you exactly where in the thread you’ll find it since you’ve exhausted all of the little ‘thread-handles’ to attach comments to. (Pretty good strategy. I’ve used it myself a few times.) Seriously though, congratulations Ken.
I’ll be getting back to your “rebuttal” comment in due time. I’ll let you know when that happens. For now, I need to get on with the Halloween story of the (Not) Haunted House For Sale – it’s a one week deadline again!!
Congratulations to all the others too.
Thanks for voting for my story. Surprised to come up third.
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