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Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “What’s Really Going On?”

Theme: What’s really going on?

Strange events have taken place, at home, work, a restaurant, anywhere you choose, that doesn’t make sense. What’s really going on?

Word Count: 1,200

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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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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 10:00am PDT / 1:00pm EST / 11:30pm IST / 6:00pm WET/GMT/ 5:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 5:00am AEDT (Friday).

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206 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “What’s Really Going On?”

  • Alice Nelson

    Read the stories here:

    (If you don’t see your story linked here within 24 hours after your posted it, please let us know as we may have missed the comment.)

      • berlinermax
      • Hello Max, and welcome. I’m Alice, one of the moderators of this group. Looking forward to reading your story.
        • Ken Frape
          Hi Alice,
          I have been checking out this “Not secure” message and I don’t know how to sort it out, or even if I need to. Effectively, it means that anyone who gets onto this site can see and use any of our info. That’s almost exclusively our short stories but does that include e mails etc?
          Also, I have posted a short story which has been acknowledged. However, my last two stories received a number of comments but thisone has hardly had any traffic. . It could be that not so many people are entering this time around or perhaps they just have nothing to say about my story and that’s ok but Ilana said she had some difficulty in sending me her crit.
          Is there a problem that you are aware of?

          I have really enjoyed my time on this site.

          Ken Frape

          • Alice Nelson

            Hi Ken,

            That “Not Secure” message is because this is an “http” site and not an “https” site. It costs quite a bit more to get that little “s” at the end, so we have forgone the extra fees and because of this, sometimes an IP firewall will try and block the site. I don’t believe you have to worry about any information being used or abused, it’s as safe as the internet can be safe.

            As far as the amount of entries, that varies from contest to contest, some prompts just get more interest than others. We still have until Wednesday, so hopefully we see more entries. I know Ilana has had some issues before, and Carrie was unable to trace it back to any particular problem. As of now, I’m not aware of any problems.

            I’m glad you’ve been contributing to the group, and hope to have you around for a long time.

            Take care.

            • Ken Frape
              Hi Alice,
              Thanks for your response. I will rest easy now I know that. I have tried to replace the http with https on other occasions but without success and now I know why.
              Yes I hope to continue writing and contributing to the site where I receive much excellent advice and, perhaps more importantly, can read such a wide range of short stories.

              Ken Frape

  • Adrienne Riggs
    Signing up for comments. Great stories on the last prompt!! I’m sorry I didn’t have time to comment (or write a story). I’m afraid I would have been out of my league on that one. Each story was awesome.
  • RM York
    Just thinking about my next story. Signing in.
  • The truth? These days, the truth sounds more like fiction than the fiction does.
    • I’m wearing my ‘Make Orwell fiction again’ T-shirt over here.
  • Ken Frape
    So apt, Ken C and it seems to be so on both sides of the pond. It put me in mind of the famous saying, “The first casualty, when war comes, is the truth” attributed to US Senator Hiram Johnson.
  • Phil Town
    “The truth?! You can’t handle the truth!”
  • RM York
    Attributed to Colonel Jessup, aka Jack Nicholson. Good friggin’ movie.
  • Strange events at work – Ken C, you could just re-enter your Chlorina Dreadmore story, perhaps.
    • andy, et. al. and sundry,

      I’d love to engage in my usual scathing banter but my computers, which were all purchased from government surplus auctions, don’t seem to be working properly. One seems to work only 3 out of 7 days a week, another one just goes too slow to bother with, another one comes on, but all I get is an orange screen, and my favorite computer boots up, but gives me an error message informing me that it won’t connect to the internet until it gets some kind of security upgrade.
      Meanwhile, when I do log on to this site, I get a message informing me that the site is not secure. I mentioned it to carrie but her response was 50 percent inaccurate. (If you’re reading this carrie? Your description of the problem was accurate, but your solution is much like several breadcrumbs leading off the trail and into the woods. It goes nowhere and doesn’t solve the problem.)

      I find it odd that no one else in the group either gets this ‘Not Secure’ message, isn’t concerned by it, or had no trouble applying the fix.

      • Ken Frape
        Mine says “Not secure” too here in the Uk (not sure if that is relevant).
        Don’t know what to do about it as I hadn’t noticed it until now.

        Ken 2

      • Ilana L
        You are not alone Ken. I have had it too. On frequent, too frequent occasions.
      • Well, at least I’m not alone in my confusion over this ‘not secure’ message. I should point out that Carrie explained the reason for the message, (she’s cheap), and suggested that I could remove that message, but as I understand it, only she can affect that ‘not secure’ message. There’s no way for me to modify my browser to affect that message. And that’s where I feel misinformed. She gave me instructions like, ‘go to settings, click on advanced settings, scroll down to the bottom of the sea, click on ‘Starfish.’ Select your preferred color starfish. Then click on configure starfish. And that’s where I got confused. Should I select ‘Secure Starfish’? Or ‘Insecure Starfish?’ She didn’t say. And that’s why I’m complaining. It’s as simple as that.
        I chose the blue starfish, in case anyone is wondering.
        You know, it just occurred to me that some people who read this might think this message is dirty. If you do, then you’re the weird one, okay? Not me. I’m just shooting the shit here, I’m not even trying to make sense or a point. You’re the one thinking weird thoughts. (And I don’t mean you, Carrie. You’re exempt.) Fortunately, as Alice has pointed out time and again, nobody reads my comments anyway so I guess the whole issue is moot. (Which, coincidentally happens to be my middle name.)
        Go figure.
  • Anindita Basu
    Hi all! Happy New Year. Missed a couple of rounds and back again.And here is my story:

    What’s Going On

    1058 words

    “What’s going on?… Ruby!” Jay yelled straightening himself up on the old leather recliner.

    “What? Going on where?” Ruby rushed from the kitchen wiping her hands on a red and white checkered kitchen towel. The T.V. was in full blast with discussions about the President’s decision about building a wall. Ruby felt that the President was throwing a tantrum like her little son Bobby did who was upset because his dad didn’t let him put his new hat on the snowman.

    Now their two boys were into another project which involved a lot of gooey mess.

    “That!” Jay hollered pointing the mess to Ruby. “Why are you looking at me like that, stupid? Can’t you say something to your kids?” Her husband hollered.

    Ruby felt her blood shot up to her head. a knot in her throat almost choked her. She knew there was no point talking back. She took a deep breath and tried to console herself. He is in a lot of stress with the shut down of his work, with no paychecks for the last twenty days, she thought.

    “What the heck is this?” He blared again and the children replied:

    “Slime indeed. Looks like a snort. Ruby, what kind of a mom are you that you allow them to make all these? Look, baking soda, glue, glitter…what a freaking mess!”

    Ruby blew another long sigh murmuring “That is what’s really going in power throwing temper tantrums.”

    “Hey kids, come over here, let’s go down at the basement and do it in the laundry room, much easy to clean up. Let’s put a plastic tarp.” She took them away. And when they were settled happily she thought about the drama that just happened. How could Jay be so rude and cruel? Could he say that to his boss even if he were mad, or treat his parents like that? Then why does he do that to her? Why is it okay to lash on her? Doesn’t she deserve the same respect as a wife? Ruby thought.

    As she folded the laundry Ruby wondered how one day she considered him her whole world and never hesitated to give him whatever she had. How do people change like that? How come Jay looked so different today calling her stupid, his face all crinkled in disgust or was it hatred?

    As the afternoon rolled Ruby didn’t realize that the day had changed. The clouds moved and the sun came out.

    “Let’s go out for a ride” Jay announced.
    “ Really, Daddy? Can we go to the park where they have the big kids’ jungle gym?” Bobby chimed and Jonny clapped.
    “Okay if you be good.”

    The boys hurried to put on their boots and coats, happy to go out. But Ruby declined. She rather wanted to have the home all to herself.

    As she washed the dishes, through the window she saw how lovely it looked when the sun rays danced on a drop of water that hung from a bare birch tree. Immediately she remembered Jay’s face humiliating her today. That’s what happens when you are hurt and the wound bleeds all of a sudden.

    She found a wet spoon in the sugar bowl, his dirty socks on the sofa, how he doesn’t care to put back the toothpaste cap. All Jay’s faults. A million of them.

    She caught herself as if she was in a race for counting and gathering them, and found it was only gnawing her deep down. She was not like that? Are these the challenges of married life? Do all couples go through such hardships- she wondered.

    She looked at the picture on the mantle, the wedding picture- their young faces looking at each other with love and candid smiles. Tears blurred it.

    As she straightened the room she started imagining a home without Jay, as if she was raising the boys all by herself, going to work and having the power to earn, to spend without explaining to anyone. She was making decisions where no one called her stupid. Let life teach her, she was ready to take it.

    One day when the boys were all grown Ruby visualized herself touring the world on her own; walking on Champs Elysee, browsing in the Smithsonian, volunteering in South America or somewhere empowering women. Jay would happen to bump on to her one day and be astonished to see her achievement.


    The family rushed home with kids chattering the fun they had with Daddy and Ruby’s dream was interrupted.

    “Look, Mommy, Daddy brought pizza for us. He even bought us ice cream, and let us eat even before dinner!” Jonny’s eyes twinkled as he danced around her.

    “ Good!” Ruby said bringing four plates on the table for the pizzas. After the kids were tucked in bed, she found Jay snoring on the leather recliner, the television blaring with the rerun of the same discussion.

    Ruby tried to remember the days when they used to date, their past lives as a newly married couple, and then fell asleep.

    In the middle of the night, she woke up suffocated by an embrace. As she turned to Jay, he smiled. He must be feeling terrible and wants to apologize in private Ruby thought, but he said,

    “ i napped so much watching T.V. that now I can’t sleep.”

    Ruby was shocked.She thought -Oh that’s why you want me? Is it so hard to say ‘Sorry’? She didn’t say a word, just moved his hands from her body and turned away.

    The next morning when Ruby was coming home seeing the children off to the school bus she met her neighbor Mrs. Cross.

    “Look at my husband!” she started complaining about something dragging the garbage can. Mrs. Cross loved to talk and most of the time it made no sense to Ruby. But today she heard something that did:

    “ What can you do? People are like that. With some good, some bad. Would you throw away your Bobby if he gets into mischief? You won’t. The same thing happens when you live fifty years together. Maybe I have faults too. He blabbers that all the time and I pay no attention. Who knows?”

    Mr. Cross appeared in his denim overall. “What’s going on?” he bellowed.
    “Going good… as usual….” Ruby replied with a smile.

    • Great story, Anindita. I am reminded of a long-forgotten Bengali poem, all on a sudden:
      Jaya bark hok indradhanush, sudur akashey anka,/ Ami bhalobasi mor dharonir prajapatitir pankha.
      The rainbow in the sky may be great, but what I like more than the rainbow are the wings of the butterfly of the earth
      “What’s Going on?” may look like a simple story of human relations at the outset, but it is much more. A great story, in Tagore’s definition of a short story, will leave you thinking (Shesh hoyey hoilo na sesh). You have just done that, Anindita. You have made me realize how mean I have been to my wife all our married life. She loves spending, but she has to account for everything to the family bread-earner. I’ll go back now and instead of calling her ‘stupid’, I’ll say ‘sorry’ and make up for all the pains, hurts and shed and unshed tears.
      Your story has taught me that, Anindita. The characterization of Ruby, Jay and the children is so realistically drawn that I had no problem relating or empathising with them. And I know that many will share my view. Your language is spot on.
      I know while correcting the last few papers, getting aboard the train, sitting by the window and looking at the aged couple lost in their own worlds on the opposite seats, I will be thinking of your story. That’s why I think so highly of you, my friend. God bless and be the best that you can. Love you.
      • Ken Frape
        Hi Anindita,
        I enjoyed your story and it engaged my interest from the start. I guess anyone who is married ( 42 years in my case) gets to realise that nothing in this world is perfect and that you both need to work at the relationship. Relationships change over time as we get to know each other’s best and worst points.
        This is very well drawn in your story and the careworn sighs of Ruby are so true. It suggests that whilst Ruby may not get to live her dream ( and how many of us do that?) she and Jay may well have a long term future together.
        One or two strange (to me) phrases but I am thinking that these have already been pointed out so I will not go further.
        Well done.
        Ken Frape ( Ken 2)
        • Anindita Basu
          Hi Ken 2, Thank you for reading my story and your feedback. Maybe Jay and Ruby would have a long married life or maybe Ruby ‘d persue her dream..I don’t know…but the story ends giving her a perspective that she might also have issues…Anyway! No, I am not aware of the disturbing (?) phrases …wondering what are they? If that’d improve my writing or this piece. Thanks again.
      • Anindita Basu
        God bless you 🙏 Rathin. If my story has touched just one person like you mentioned it is a success…no matter I win a prize or not. You made my day.
    • Hello Anindita
      Let me start these comments with a sigh. Your story about a wife who wants to please her aggressive husband is very close to reality – unfortunately. You manage very well to engage the reader – me – emotionally. I liked the woman’s daydreaming best, unfortunately it can’t last permanently. I wonder if the story would be more effective with a little ray of hope in the end. Definitely an emotionally unsettling story
      • Anindita Basu
        Thank you for your feedback, berlinmax. The purpose of this piece was to bring out that sigh, dear reader…even though Ruby kind of saw that she might need to fix some faults of her own at the end and save the marriage…Maybe that’s an easy way out…in another instance I’d bestow more strength and power in her so that she can pursue her dream.

        I love the way you use humor in your writing, and it is a great tool..but I didn’t intend that in this piece, my tone was different.

        • berlinermax
          Yes you are right. It was just a question. Thank you for answering me.
    • Dear Anindita,
      I wanted to say how much I appreciated your story, specifically for the way you included this idea of strange things into mundane everyday life. Things we should not consider normal but accept for various reasons. Yet, you do not press your judgement on us readers, as regards a heavy subject, that of women abuse. You do not write from a moralistic standpoint, yet the moral is here. Whatever our own conclusions might be, the subject is out there in the open and cannot be ignored. It is precisely what lies at the very heart of that subject. Very elegantly done.
      I got confused in the very end, because of the sentence ” she started complaining about something dragging the garbage can”… Maybe just a comma after “something” would clarify it…?
      The second confusion came from “Would you throw away your Bobby” because I got mixed up with the names… specifying “your son” might help…?
      Just minor suggestions, in the hope that they help.
      Thank you for your very sensitive text.
      • Anindita Basu
        Thank you so much Flo. You are right both those suggestions I’d take. When you are writing you are too much in it and don’t see such little things that may confuse the reader. Thank you again.
    • Anindita,

      This is a wonderfully conceived story.

      You have a commendable knack for understatement. You don’t tell the reader what to think about the characters or the events in the story. Your refusal to draw conclusions or offer judgement shows wisdom and restraint.

      Like your last story, this one also addresses interpersonal relationships, individual behavior, social standards, peer pressure, morals, ethics and, you know—the ordinary but foundational aspects of day to day living.

      The underlying message is not so unique or novel as is the subtle and entertaining way that you present the message. And it’s not really a message, it’s a question. Or a series of questions. Very well done. (Flo’s suggestions are great, as is your willingness to apply them.)

    • Interesting insight, as is usually the case with your stories, Anindita. The writing style is also progressing from one story to the next and make for a delightful read.
    • RM York
      My goodness, Anindita, what a well thought out story. No crazy plot twists, just a well chronicled report of an almost defeated housewife who has resigned herself to her station in life due to her choices. No tricky ending, or – maybe it is a tricky ending because you dragged me right into Ruby’s life as if I were there. It’s almost too real, as if you are either channeling someone who lives this life, or has been (or are) there, yourself. Thanks.

      A couple of things. TV sets (you don’t need periods after the T and V) are not IN full blast, but ON full blast. The blood shot up, not shoot up – (the tenses are wrong). You wrote ‘and found it was only gnawing her deep down.’ That should be it was only gnawing AT her deep down, I think.

      What I really liked about your story was the ‘realness’ of it. The believability. Well conveyed.

      • Anindita Basu
        Thank you, and I appreciate your editing… I am all phor it. I was just reading Robt Emmett’s piece. He must’ve thought of me.
    • Alice Nelson

      Nice story Anindita. I love the way you delved into a marriage, taking a look at the struggles and the sometimes mundane nature of it. I love this line, “That is what’s really going in power throwing temper tantrums.”

      The characters were rich and full, and felt real. I could sense the frustration Ruby was feeling. Nice job!

  • Anindita Basu
    Wow!! Very good Rathin and quite eery. That is my first impression. Was going too held the reader’s attention will go one more time slowly to really read and enjoy your piece. By the way, Happy New year.
    • Thank you, Anindita. Let me tell you that for the first time since joining this site, I read someone else’s story first before posting mine. I read your story to see if I got the prompt all right or not. I’ll comment on your story later.
      Welcome back. Missed you, if I ever really knew the meaning of ‘missing’ anybody at all. Take care and Happy New Year to you too. Love and regards.
  • Dear Alice,
    Anindita has pointed out a mistake in my story. I am off to marking the Board papers and can only correct the mistake after 5 (IST). So, please don’t put my story on the board till I post the revised one. I’ll let you know once I have posted the redrafted one. You can do the needful then.
    Sorry for any inconvenience caused. With love and best wishes.
  • Alice Nelson

    Rathin, I removed your story and the comments. Just re-post the story with the corrections, like nothing ever happened. 🙂

  • The Deadly Bet:
    It was a silent, stilly night. The walk past the Kali temple gave Dona the fright. Or the pujari rather. The barebodied, hairy man looked at Dona as if he couldn’t believe his eyes before breaking into a rumbly laughter.
    “You impertinent lass, how dare you step inside a sanctuary even men fear to trade? Don’t you fear for your life?”

    As Dona sat down against the sycamore tree, she recollected, all on a sudden, the number of ghost stories she had read in her childhood concerning the tree. An owl, disturbed by the sudden unusual movements, screeched out of the shadowy branches of a solitary tree. Unnerved, she took a deep breath to steady herself. She glanced at the time on her tab. Exactly one o’clock. She’d still four hours to kill. She would dig the hole, put the cross in it, cover it up with the soil. She’d watch ‘The Last Samurai’ on her tab before getting back to teach a lesson to those chickenhearted friends of hers. In the twenty first century when girls were taking the world by storm, doing the impossible, her so-called educated friends were a disgrace really. She was brought out of her thoughts by the priest thundering out from the temple:
    Jai RaktaKali Mai ki …. (Let the blood-suckling Goddess Kali be praised.)
    His booming voice was more scary than she would like to admit to herself. Hardly did she take the small knife out of her wallet, when the silence of the samsan was shattered by the heart wrenching cry of a she wolf from the other side of the Matali river, separating the samsan from the dense forest.

    Dona had work to do. The crescent moon emerging in the sky, cast a mysterious spell. A gentle breeze rustled among the branches. Dona started digging. When she felt that she had made a hole deep enough for the cross, she unhooked the majestic cross from her chain. She held it in the hole with her left hand. She didn’t mind the end of the sari around her waist coming loose while gathering the loose soil around the cross. Once the hole filled up, she made sure that the cross would hold up. An eerie silence had descended on the burning ghat by then. Strangely, the thought of Jemima’s mom truncating her terminal disease with all the sleeping tabs, came to her mind. For an instant, she could see her on the bamboo cot, two tiny cotton balls pressed into her nostrils. And the nauseating odor of the perfume that permeated the air. She turned towards the Kali temple to get the scene out of her mind. But why did the air over where she was kneeling, smell of the same perfume? She tried getting the disturbing thought out of mind as well. As she tried to get up, with her back to the cross, someone tugged at her from the back. The owner of the Third Dan Black Belt; known for her courage and fearlessness; had a severe jolt. Something was out there behind her, keeping her from getting up and back to freedom. For some reasons she couldn’t turn her head back. Even then without losing her head, she tried to jerk herself free. The pull from the back was stronger, coursing straight through her up to her heart. Overcome with a sense of helplessness and fear, Dona stumbled and fell forward. She was gone even before she hit the ground, face down.
    As the deathly pallor gradually settled on her face, her soul left for the place where it had all started a week earlier ……..

    “This is preposterous. Are you guys nuts or what? How can you believe in ghosts and such stuff when Science and Technology has gone so far?” Dona asked us.
    “But it’s a fact. Jemi can’t stay alone since her mom’s tragic death. Being quite close to her, she hasn’t been able to sleep a wink since then,” I cut in. “Whatever it may be, I’ll stay with her for a few days.”
    “I can’t believe this! Are you both science grads from the most prestigious college in the city? You really want me to believe this shit?” Dona asked incredulously.
    “OK, Dona. Don’t buy our story if you don’t want to. You’re the Champion of Virtue and Valour, na? Can you prove that ghosts don’t exist?” Jemi was hurting from inside as it was clear from her challenging voice.
    “Let’s have a bet to see how daring, smart you’re by asking you to spend a night at the RaktaKali Samsan Ghat one of these days. If you can carry out our terms and conditions, we’ll accept your point of view over the matter unconditionally. “
    That is how the bet materialized between us. Dona was to spend a night at the scariest place away from the city. The terns of the bet were laid down at the gym later.
    As per the bet, she was to go to the samsan alone, dig in the cross under the sycamore tree at the extreme end, spend the night there and come back to the gym next morning. Besides the wallet, she could also carry her tab for calling in case of emergency. As Dona left the gym with a contemptuous smile on her face, Jemima lamented,” Oh, God! The scent of that perfume again!”

    We waited for Dona till late the next day. We informed the police when she didn’t turn up.. We were asked to accompany Inspector Sukhbir Singh to the RaktaKali Samsan Ghat at two in the afternoon. Even getting inside the cremation ground in broad daylight, with security, gave us the goosebumps. While heading towards the northern end, where the dead bodies were burnt on the river bank, I’d a glimpse of the image of goddess Kali in the temple under the banyan tree. It was the most terrifying image of a goddess I’d ever seen in my life. Standing over Lord Shiva with her tongue out in shame, she looked a sight with the garland of skulls around her neck, hanging low to her bare waist. I don’t know for sure but I’d this strange feeling that the blood tricking down the corners of her mouth, was more real than painted. And what about that fierce look of angst in her eyes? Both Jemima and I stayed close to the inspector, flanked by the constables on the sides.

    In the northern end, there was a ruined wall separating the samsan from the once swift-flowing but now dried-up river. As we neared the sycamore tree, we found Dona, lying on the ground, her body overturned. Blood drained out of Jemi’s face. I could feel her nails in my palm, holding hands as we were.
    The inspector asked the constables to shift the body to the ambulance waiting outside the entrance. As they tried to lift her lifeless body, the constables were in for a surprise. They had to disentangle a corner of Dona’s sari somehow clinging to the cross, sticking out the soil used to fill up the hole!
    Jemi wailed out piteously, “God! The sickening perfume again!”
    The End

    • Hi Rathin,
      your story has cast a spell over me right away. The exotic setting mixed with horror elements works very well. It was a very good idea to discuss the bet not right away, but in the second section. And another surprise awaits us in the third part, I did not expect that. For me, your story shows how superstition, religion and rationa thinking are not as easy to separate as we like to believe.
      • Thank you for the positive feedback. And sorry about addressing you as Mr./Mrs…etc..Surprisingly, and not unlike me either, I noticed your photo with the dark glasses much later. No offence meant.
        With love and best wishes,
    • Ken Frape
      Hi Rathin,
      A really interesting story that took me on a journey to a place and a culture that is different to everything in my experience. Examples are;
      the burning of the bodies on the river bank, the gods and goddesses, the juxtaposition of ancient beliefs and modern youth culture, the belief in ghosts when there is science and technology etc.
      Strange really. Now that I have written these examples down I can see that actually, they do exist in my culture. They may be different but they are here in modern day in the UK too.
      A really good story.
      Ken Frape ( Ken 2)
      • Thank you, Ken 2. You are not only a fantastic writer, you are a good and honest critic too. In case I fail to click the ‘like’ button in response to what you shared about Anindita’s story, let me tell you that I found that very positive too.
        I have this feeling that you are ready with your story now and it is going to be another smashing one. All the very best.
        • Ken Frape
          That’s correct, Rathin.
          I have just posted it!
          Ken 2
    • excellent story, Rathin. I scare easily and have never been a big fan of thrillers, yet your story has just the right balance between scary and fascinating to make me want to read on. It got slightly confusing at times, but that is simply because of my personal lack of familiarity with these folklore and beliefs. What better way to become more familiar then…
    • Riff-Rathin.
      I enjoyed the story immensely, the structure is especially clever. ‘The crescent moon emerging in the sky cast a mysterious spell. A gentle breeze rustled among the branches.’ That’s really nice writing, Raffin.

      However, I saw three mistakes in the first five lines of your story, which are critical.

      On a separate note, you used several words that I either am unfamiliar with, or they were errors. Not sure which. They didn’t exactly take me out of the story, though.
      Words like:
      ‘tab’ – ‘she looked at her ‘tab’;
      silence of the ‘samsan.’;
      the burning ‘Ghat.’
      ‘sleeping tabs.’

      Unusual words which I shall have to look up. Anyhow, the story has a lot of merit and as such I decided to play around with the beginning while I was correcting the mistakes. I hope you’ll forgive my immense arrogance and tasteless lack of decorum in this regard, but I enjoy showing other people their mistakes. I’ve been told that this makes me an asshole. Many times over. (i.e. ‘A burning Ghat.’) But, I already knew that. I enjoyed messing around with your story though. Just the first five lines. That’s all. What do you think?

      The Deadly Bet:
      It was a silent and chilly night. The walk past the Kali temple gave Dona a fright. Or maybe it was the pujari. The hairy, bare-bodied man looked at Dona as if he couldn’t believe his eyes, before breaking into a rumble of laughter.

      “You impertinent lass, how dare you step inside a sanctuary where even men fear to tread? Don’t you fear for your life?”

      The Super Natural.

      It was a still and eerily silent night. The walk past the Kali temple gave Dona the chills. Or maybe it was the pujari. The hairy, bare-chested man stared at Dona in disbelief. His scornful laughter compounded her fear.

      “You impertinent imp,” he growled. “How dare you step inside a sanctuary where even men fear to tread? You must have a death wish.”

      • Thank you, Ken. Going trough your critique, I realized that I still have miles to go. Three mistakes in five sentences is almost unpardonable. Thank you, Ken. When the rest of the world, including Roy, has given up on me, you still are hellbent on making something of me.
        I’ve to copy-paste your version on the starting of my story. Because in order to get to your critique, I’ve to literally cross over a mountain of outpourings. There are so many comments and stories in between! So here it is:
        The Super Natural.

        It was a still and eerily silent night. The walk past the Kali temple gave Dona the chills. Or maybe it was the pujari. The hairy, bare-chested man stared at Dona in disbelief. His scornful laughter compounded her fear.

        “You impertinent imp,” he growled. “How dare you step inside a sanctuary where even men fear to tread? You must have a death wish.”

        Beautiful writing, my friend. No wonder, you won the contest before last and nearly won the last one too.
        I didn’t caste my vote for you though. Because I like to read a story at my own, slow pace. Unfortunately, I barely had time to read yours! But irrespective of my vote, you floored the readers just like you always do.
        Finally, I used the sentence ‘she looked at the tab’ to mean the gadget ‘tablet’ ( Is that the right spelling?). I also meant the same word when I used ‘sleeping tabs’. Tabs for pills or tablets. Sorry, if they didn’t make sense to you. Keep correcting me, Ken, for you have the mastery, I mean to say, a great command over the language.
        I am hanging up the placard for now:
        Please don’t DISTURB
        as I am going to read Mr. Ken Kartisano. Good Luck.

        • Rathin,

          Your kindness and generosity of spirit will make a human being out of me yet. (Bless you.)

          The ‘tab’ definitely works in place of pill. As a reference to a tablet though, that’s what threw me off. It seems most people over here call them tablets or I-pads. When abbreviated, it becomes a word with a different meaning. (Doesn’t if figure?) For more on this, see Robt. Emmett’s piece.

          By the way, if its any consolation, my story has numerous mistakes too, from posting it too soon also. I removed 13 words from my first two paragraphs. Which eliminated confusion about the relationship of the three people in the story. The point is, nobody’s perfect. Not even Roy. (Phil is the exception to the rule. He IS perfect.)

          Hopefully, he’ll skip over this comment without reading it.

          • RM York
            I have friends, I’ll have you know, who think I’m a ‘perfect’ asshole. So there. And, you’re right, Phil is perfect. Maybe he’ll read what I wrote, since we know he skips over yours.
    • RM York
      Everybody else has been pretty thorough in their critique, so I shall just echo them. However, I like your story.

      I am going to move on to something else. Let me make this clear. I have not, nor will I ever give up on you. I won’t however, beat you up time and time again for the same things. Such as not going back through your story to fix things that are obviously wrong. When the day comes that you start doing that, it will be the day you realize it is YOU who must make that choice, and until you reach that, my nagging will not help. I think you can become an excellent writer, but you aren’t taking the time you need to develop your craft.

      In your critique of my story you wondered how I do it. Here’s a secret, and don’t tell anyone I told you. After you write your story, don’t publish it on the site. Let it sit there for a day or two. Then reread it, truly read it, and start making corrections of typos, misused words, repetitive sentences. Then, edit it again. Completely rewrite it if you have to. Don’t settle, because you are in a rush. You don’t have to be the first or second story on the site.YOU HAVE TWO WEEKS TO PUT IT ON THE SITE. YOU HAVE TIME. Yes, I yelled just then. I think you need yelled at. So, consider it done. Don’t think it’s because I’m mad at you. I’m not. I’m just exasperated as to why you won’t spend time on something you seem to want so desperately. So, yeah, I still love ya, Rathin. Just take some tender, loving care of your stories.

      • Thank you, Roy, for the priceless advice. Only you and you alone can offer such advice and open secrets to achieving constant success.
        I agree with you that I need to be yelled at, but I can hardly mind being yelled at by a person of your stature, authority and experience, can I?
        Thank you, Roy, for you are a blessing in my life. With love, regards and all the very best wishes.
    • Rathin,
      I wanted to specifically comment on your use of original words mixed within the English text itself, whether you translate them or not exactly: “The walk past the Kali temple gave Dona the fright. Or the pujari rather.”
      “She was brought out of her thoughts by the priest thundering out from the temple:
      Jai RaktaKali Mai ki …. (Let the blood-suckling Goddess Kali be praised.)”
      I was trying to analyze why I liked that so much, aside from a crazy love for languages, and I finally realized that it was the written equivalent of watching a movie in the original language with subtitles. We know that not everything is being translated, but the correct amount allowing us to follow the film. And on the other hand, it transports us to the world the movie takes place in.
      That’s exactly what it did for me in your story.
      • Thank you, Flo. Really nice of you. I appreciate your comments. All the very best.
    • Alice Nelson
      Wow Rathin, I love ghost stories and you did a wonderful job capturing the sense of dread felt by Dona, and then her friends as they searched for her. I love,loved the transition you did from the present back to how it all started, that my friend was well done.

      The story flowed nicely, it’s hard to do a time jump successfully and you did just that. Full characterizations and a spooky ending. Great job my friend!

      Ken C gave some great advice on fixing the little mistakes. But all in all this is a fine story.

  • Thank you, Alice. What an experience! You know, Alice, once I get to see a prompt, it is hard to restrain myself. I’d have posted the revised story during the tea break. But fifteen minutes didn’t just seem enough. When the hunk of an owner of the canteen found me fiddling with my mobile during the Lunch Break, pat came his query, “Sir, why aren’t you gone today?”
    Taken aback, I told him I’s working on a story. He gave me a suspicious look for the first time since I got acquainted with him. And looking at the watch (it was 1.24 in the afternoon), when I hurriedly got up and out of the canteen assuring him that I’d be back to clear the bill for lunch during dinner time, you should have seen the quizzical look on his face. Only thing that worked in my favour is the fact that my school is just three hours drive from the institution hosting the Marking Camp!
    The bottom line is for the first time I learnt how to restrain myself from the all consuming urge of posting a story the very way I do it! Now, what I’ve to find out is how long this experience is gonna last!
    If you don’t mind my saying a juicy story from you, is LONG OVERDUE? Love and best wishes.
    • Alice Nelson

      Rathin, that experience in the canteen, could be a story in and of itself. 🙂 And thank you, I’m really going to try and get a story in with this prompt.

  • Dear Anindita,
    Thanks for your suggestions and considerate opinion. For the first time, I have acted on someone’s advice. If I ever get to meet you, I’d love to talk to you about my multiple personality syndrome. I have tried to be humble all my life because my late father and elder brother were two of the most arrogant persons on the universe. People worshipped them as much as they were hated. Both didn’t give a damn to how others felt about them.
    I like the Dr.Jekyll side of me, but deep down there exists Mr. Hyde and for some reasons, I am scared of him. Don’t worry if I am not making much sense. What I am trying to say is that some people find a place in your heart, just like that. That I’ve come to respect your views, means a lot to me. Keep writing and posting for you are a far better writer than I can ever aspire to be.
    With love and regards.
  • Anindita Basu
    Come on Rathin..I don’t agree about ‘you are a far better writer than I am’..infact this time I like your posted story much better than mine. I try to compare only my previous writing with my newer ones…try to be better that what I was yesterday..and see I got serious this time. Posted as soon as I got the assignment! Hey you inspired.

    And I hope you changed your story because you agreed with the reader’s (me) angle..that is why critiquing is so important. I hope it is more objective than subjective. Not what you think of me..but the story.

    Also I think you are a very humble person. Anyway, here I try to be more objective with the written pieces and not get into the personalities of writers.

    I met a writer whom I adored like crazy, her writing I mean…but was bored to death when I met her in person. Our artist self could be very different from the real one. Any way, good luck with writing.

  • Phil Town


    When Wilfred left his apartment block, he was met with the same grey, leaden sky that had hung over the city for … well, as long as he could remember. But something made him stop on the pavement just outside the street door. He’d already felt a difference in his chest that morning – a tiny murmur, not indicative of any illness but rather a little signal that today wasn’t going to be exactly like the thousands of days of his life that had gone before.

    He looked up, searching for something, and soon found it. Over to the west, past the sooty-black form of the nearby factory, a light – not a brilliant light but a kind of glow, pulsating, as if that section of the sky was arguing with the rest of it, trying to state a case. One or two passers-by stopped and stood with Wilfred, following his gaze and also falling under the spell of the strange light. After a while, Wilfred’s internal clock broke his trance, warning him that he would be late for work.

    He said a tentative “good morning” to the now half a dozen people that had gathered. He was a stickler for good manners and would insist on offering everyone he met some form of greeting, whether they were friends, acquaintances or complete strangers, as was the case here. He was used to hearing truculent responses to his attempted bonhomie, which is why he took a step back when all of the people around him smiled and came back with a hearty “good morning to you!”

    Wilfred backed away, turned and hurried down the street towards his bus stop. The murmur in his chest was now a bubbling; it had been ages since anyone had treated him so warmly, and now half a dozen strangers had, in unison.

    He was still marvelling at this minor miracle when he saw his bus speeding past. He started running, with little hope that he would catch it. The stop was still 50 yards away and the driver, who was the same every morning, would never wait for him, although he must have seen him. Once, Wilfred had been almost at the door when the driver pulled away, and through the transparent plastic door, Wilfred could see him laughing. Now, as he approached the bus, which was idling at the stop, Wilfred remembered that day and was fully expecting it to happen again. But as he got nearer, he saw that the door was open. Breathless, he climbed onto the bus and the driver beamed at him.

    “Good morning, sir. Step aboard. No rush!”

    Wilfred mumbled a ‘good morning’ and made his way down the bus. The passengers, most of whom were regulars and to whom he’d never spoken, regarded him benevolently and fired comments at him as he passed.

    “Good morning!”

    “No hurry!”

    “All the time in the world!”

    “Be careful not to fall!”

    “There’s a seat here at the back!”

    A stupefied Wilfred took a seat and gazed around him at the beatific faces. What was happening? Maybe he was dreaming. He pinched himself. No!

    The bus progressed through the busy city streets and now Wilfred found himself sensing that something was missing. He carefully considered all of his senses and then realised what it was: there were no car horns! No angry motorists honking at red lights, fellow motorists or pedestrians. It was such an integral part of his daily journey’s soundscape that his realisation of its absence made his jaw drop.

    The bubbling in his chest had become a gentle flow, like a Möbius-strip-shaped stream. He looked out of the window; the distant glow in the sky was spreading, the streets beginning to lighten. Then the bus stopped in front of a shop that had televisions in the window. Wilfred caught a headline:


    He pinched himself again and shook his head vigorously, as if to shake out this nonsense – ‘nonsense’ because, well, it made no sense. This was not how things were, day in, day out. This was a different world from the one that he’d fallen asleep in the night before.

    It was 9:10 when he got to the office, and he knew that he would be in trouble with his line manager, Mr Butler. Unfortunately, Butler was in the corridor that led to Wilfred’s open space; there was no way to avoid him.

    “I’m sorry I’m late, Mr Butler – the traffic,” mumbled Wilfred.

    He winced in preparation for the customary verbal attack.

    “No problem, Wilfred. It happens.”

    And Mr Butler touched him gently on the shoulder as he passed.

    Wilfred exchanged good-humoured ‘good mornings’ with all his colleagues in the open space – even Derek Taylor, who he knew disliked him intensely, smiled and actually shook his hand – then sat down at his desk and stared at his computer screen, not yet switched on. What on earth was going on?


    On the orbiting Zendom B5 starcruiser, Cadet Drel’s flippers danced over the sense pads, both her mouths twisting into what for her were happy smiles. She was enjoying herself; this departure from normal procedure was of course highly irregular, but they controlled so many worlds that she was sure no one would notice.

    Unfortunately for her, someone had. The pod doors hissed open and Commander Tilk slithered in.

    “What do you think you’re doing, Cadet?!”

    “I … I …” Cadet Drel’s mouths opened but no explanation came out, because there was none.

    “We’ve had three million complaints from viewers in the last 5 klats alone. Get that switched back. Now!”

    Cadet Drel’s flippers worked faster than they ever had. She was already considering her fate – she hoped that her misdemeanour would be viewed with leniency. She was too young to spend the rest of her life in a bezanite mine.


    Wilfred finished a report, leaned back in his chair and stretched. He looked out of the window; the glow had disappeared, replaced by the normal lead-grey clouds, moving slowly, inexorably across the sky, visible between the craggy, black fingers of the surrounding office buildings. The stream in his chest had disappeared too, but in the rest of his body he could still feel the residue of the morning’s positivity.

    He stood up and took a deep breath. Perhaps today was the day to address his situation in the firm with his line manager, especially given the latter’s good humour of earlier. He was due a promotion, and if not, at least a raise, which he hadn’t had for three years.

    He knocked on Mr Butler’s door and entered. The manager had his head down, concentrating on a file open on his desk.

    “Mr But–“ Wilfred began.


    And Wilfred backed quickly out of the room, the stream in his chest now firmly replaced by an all too familiar leaden weight.


    • This is a fine story. If I understand it correctly, it’s about an interstellar Truman Show. I’m sorry, but I found nothing to complain about.

      On the contrary, your stories give me, as a non-native speaker, the opportunity to learn new words. “stickler”, “truculent”, “leniency” are some of the expressions where I asked Google for assistance.

      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Jürgen!

        (‘stickler’ is a really odd one!)

    • Ken Frape
      Hi Phil,
      Another great story in the best traditions of, perhaps, Philip K Dick who I have been catching up on lately.
      If only the world could be like that morning. Of course, in the world of the Ancient Greek gods, us mere humans were just pawns to be moved on a chess board so perhaps nothing has really changed.
      Great dialogue too, which I find to be a challenge.
      A great story that neither needs nor deserves any further critique from me.

      Ken Frape ( Ken 2)

      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Ken!

        Yes. I had to study ‘King Lear’ at school. At the time I was more interested in football, but one line stuck:

        As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods,
        They kill us for their sport.

    • Phil, you do have a talent for good sentences: “as if that section of the sky was arguing with the rest of it”; “The bubbling in his chest had become a gentle flow, like a Möbius-strip-shaped stream”… I love it!
      The description of the appeased world got me naively emotional, and I wanted to hold on to the hope, making the shatter of it all the more efficient. You know it’s going to happen, you just don’t know where it’s going to come from. The way you revisit the myth of human pathetic insignificance, from the image of playthings in the hands of the gods, to a Truman Show-like fiction, is both brilliant, contemporary, and funny. And all achieved in one fragment: “We’ve had three million complaints from viewers”… wow! what efficiency! It’s impressive. Thank you for a splendid piece.
      • Phil Town
        You’re very kind, Flo. Those lines that you quote were my favourites too!

        Thanks very much.

    • Phil,
      Well, it’s hard to improve on Flo’s comments regarding your story. But I feel the same gushing appreciation as she does for your talent, and skill. It’s a very well executed and entertaining story. On the one side of it, the beginning, completely mundane, on the other, literally, out of this world. Nice details, like, ‘bezanite mine’; and ‘Commander Tilk slithered in.’ Your stories are always decorated with little gems like this which, thanks to Flo, maybe you’ll finally get some credit for it.
      It’s another great story, Philip. Nice job.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Ken! And thanks for noticing those details. (‘bezanite’, you know, for making sket worbles)
    • This story brings to mind another one of your stories – NINETEEN it’s called, I believe. It’s funny, made gloriously funnier by this plot-twist. Let’s just hope Zendom B5 won’t decide to demolish Earth in order to build a bypass for an intergalactic highway…
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Sarig, and well spotted – it is on the same lines as ‘Nineteen’, yes, but fleshed out a bit more.

        Demolish Earth? What, and ruin the viewing figures for this quadrant?! Never!

    • RM York
      Enter the twilight zone. There was an eerie similar story on the Twilight Zone – one of my favorites, by the way – that had a guy flipping a quarter into a blind man’s donation box where it stood on edge and never fell, even though others added coins, the blind man moved it and so on, the coin stayed on edge. To the man who threw the coin, nothing but great things happened to him the rest of the day. Then, on the way home, just when the blind man packed up for the day, the coin fell over, and the man who threw the coin, suddenly started having his normal bad day again. We never know what cosmic throw of the dice will make or break our day, do we? Nice story, Phil, and as usual, I can’t find anything to pick apart. But, then we knew that going in, didn’t we?
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Roy!

        I tried to watch that Twilight Zone episode on YouTube, but it only has a 7-minute edited version (with Dick York from ‘Bewitched’! – any relation?). In the end he’s glad to have his normal life back because the gift he acquires through the coin thing turns out to be a curse.

        • RM York
          I don’t remember all the exact details of the episode, and the above could be backwards, the key was when the coin hit, things happened and when it fell, everything went back to normal. I often wonder if life may not be similar to that. Everything seems to be just a cosmic throw of the dice. even though we think we are in charge of our lives. Maybe there’s far more chance than we think.

          Nope, Dick York, as far as I know is no relation that I’ve ever been told about, although my son tracked the heritage line for Sgt. Alvin C. York, the most decorated American World War I veteran, and found out I’m a third or fourth cousin 3 times removed. We share a common ancestor. It means one of his grandparents and one of my great-grandparents were 1st cousins. I think that’s it.

          The Twilight Zone was one of my favorite TV shows. Anyway, congrats on your story and I liked it.

  • Fly.

    The most exciting day of my life was when I thought I had found a fly in the soup of the day. Sergios Cantina was a small restaurant at the waterfront. Here, the tablecloths were not changed every day, but Sergio’s son, who owned the restaurant now, cooked excellent food for little money. The guests especially loved the soup of the day; it was tomato soup that day. Sergio’s son put the bowl in front of me and wished me bon appetit. I saw at once there was something unusual in the soup besides a leaf of lemon balm.

    I called for Sergio’s son. Silently, I pointed to the bowl. He looked at the soup, then took the bowl and held it right in front of his face. “What’s that?” he asked. We stared at each other for a moment. Did he want to start a fight? “That’s a fly in my soup!” I said, maybe a bit louder than was intended. Sergio’s son looked at me again. He seemed confused, but he obviously did not want to start a fight. “Are you sure, sir? I do not think that’s a fly.“ Now that was a surprise for me. I reached into the inside pocket of my jacket. I need glasses lately to read fine print and recognise small things. I took the bowl and held it in front of my eyes. At first glance, the little black dot in the soup looked exactly like a fly. But when I watched it more closely, I started to have my doubts. The object looked like someone had tried to make something that looked like a fly. It looked similar, yes, but the legs were somehow too long and the proportions were not right.

    I looked at Sergio’s son and nodded. Now Pedro elbowed his way towards us and the soup. Pedro with his white shirt and impressive belly was the owner of the hardware store. He was considered the smartest person in our neighborhood, smarter than the priest. He, too, lifted the plate in front of his face and looked at the tiny thing with his eyes almost closed. He took a lot of time. The restaurant was quiet now, I could hear the wall clock ticking. All eyes were fixed on Pedro. First he set down the plate, then his glasses. “Strange!” he said. After a long break, he continued. “Could be a genetically modified housefly, maybe a horsefly. In any case, very strange.“ He stared straight ahead, obviously so deep in his thoughts that he did not notice us anymore. Then he looked at Sergio’s son: “Do you have a magnifying glass in the house?”

    That was the moment when the restaurant awoke from the silence. The guests rushed to my table and the bowl. “Probably a mutation,” said Bill, the American, of whom no one knew, where his money came from. An old woman raised her index finger “Maybe it is an animal from Africa.” She nodded as she spoke, probably to give her words more weight. “In Africa, there are lots of poisonous creatures.” Our neighborhood was close to the harbour, and exotic animals were nothing new to us. It was said that once a tarantula was found on the seats at the tram stop. However, I did not know anybody who had seen it with his own eyes.

    Pedro came back to the table, his belly dividing the crowd. He had a magnifying glass in his hand. He sat down on a chair, gave a short sigh, then leaned over the bowl of tomato soup with his magnifying glass. He took a toothpick from the holder on the table and touched the object carefully. The WhatEverItWas moved a tiny little bit. Someone shreaked. But the horror lasted only briefly. The object did not move again, and Pedro from of the hardware store continued his examination. “Or from South America,” said the old woman. Sergio’s son silenced her with an impatient gesture. We all held our breath. “This is weird!” The owner of the hardware store spoke slowly. I thought I noticed a trace of fear in his voice. “There is a pattern on the side of the object, it looks like characters. However, these are not characters I know.“ „Maybe it’s Thai!“ someone said, but Pedro shook his head. “I do know Thai. This font looks different from anything I’ve ever seen before. It could be a random pattern. But something makes me believe it’s not.“ His words lingered in the small restaurant like some kind of deadly smoke.

    Suddenly everything happened very fast. The door was pushed open, armed men stormed the restaurant and drove us all into a corner. We had to stand with our hands raised, while men in spacesuits entered. Bright white suits with protective helmets, hoses and something on their backs that probably produced breathable air. My first thought was that we were all lost. For some reason, I was sorry for the armed men. It was obvious they were not protected any better than we were. Protected from something for which we had no name yet. One of the spacesuits came forward; we could hear his voice from a little speaker on his chest. “Please keep calm. Everything is under control.“ Then he told us an amazing story. Mankind had been in contact with an alien civilization for years. Less than a hundred people knew about it. The aliens wanted to visit Earth before deciding on war or peace. The object in my soup was the spaceship with the delegation. It had obviously crashed. Now the earthlings had to prove that humanity had nothing to do with the crash.

    We were still standing against the wall and saw submachine guns pointed at us. The owner of the hardware store wanted to ask a question, but one of the gunmen raised his weapon.

    The spacesuit spoke again. “Unfortunately, we have to do everything we can to prevent a global panic. Therefore we will shoot you now, then we will burn the house. We are very sorry.”

    • I wish I could declare you a winner straight away, Mr./ Mrs./Ms. Berlinermax (Are you a German, by any chance?). Whatever, your story had me chuckling to myself all the way through. What I liked the most was the appropriate use of the prompt. How smartly you have made a story from everything, well almost, that hinges on absurdity!
      Your description of the fly cum the strange animal from Africa cum the spaceship will have the reader in peels of laughter. And the concluding paragraph is masterclass:
      “Unfortunately, we have to do everything we can to prevent a global panic. Therefore we will shoot you now, then we will burn the house. We are very sorry.” The spacesuit spoke it in such a matter of fact manner as if humans are the root of all evils and killing them was the only sensible thing to do in the situation.
      I read your comment on Phil’s story and thought your English might be stilted like mine. But the story tells us a different tale altogether. Your language is as good as it is humorous.
      I don’t remember having read any of your story earlier. So, if this is your first story to site, let me have the privilege of welcoming you. I really had a hearty laugh reading a story after a long time. Thank you for that.
      • Hello Rathin,

        yes, it’s Mr., my real name is Juergen, and yes, I was born in Berlin. berlinermax is my web-existence. (Max is a reminiscence of Max Headroom, a virtual TV star in the 90ies.)

        Thank you for the flowers. I am very happy about the friendly comments, because I just started writing fiction in English again. (I tried that once in the last millenium.) I use Google intensively in cases of doubt. Because I cannot be as ironic in English as in my native tongue, I work with strong images here. The story is actually a comic strip. 🙂

        I posted a story for the prompt about New Year’s Eve, under my real name. It’s a story about fear and power. Phil Town encouraged me.

        Oh yes, I am glad I found this place for fiction writers. I hope I’ll have enough time to participate in various prompts and read the stories of all of you.

    • Ken Frape
      Hi Berlinermax,
      A great line, “Pedro came back to the table, his belly dividing the crowd.” It instantly puts a picture into my brain.
      A great original twist to the time honoured, “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
      You have created a mixed world of the normal, a surreal sci- fi future and a totally unexpected finale. Well, I didn’t see that coming.
      Great stuff.
      Ken Frape (Ken 2)
    • Dear BerlinerMax,
      It is the third story of yours I read, and in all of them I find the same qualities: a great simplicity devoid of unnecessary flourish, which is both effectual, and make your texts very compelling, a pleasure to read; the ability to establish in very few words characters that are deeply human and would be multilayered if you had the chance to develop them in a novel, even when they are “the bad guys”; and a great sense of humor!
      Thank you for another delightful moment.
      • berlinermax
        Thanks Flo for drawing that big grin onto my face. 😉
    • Just the right balance between comfortable familiarity, which would make a reader such as myself feel like he knows where he’s standing, and bizarre plot-twists to pull the carpet right from under my feet, with a touch of macabre right at the end. Excellent story, Juergen. Enjoyed it very much.
      • Thanks! Yes, I like to surprise my readers.
    • Max Headshot.

      What a fun and creative story. Told in such a lighthearted manner, I didn’t even feel bad at the end. Your description of the characters is wonderfully comical and the source of all the intrigue, ‘the fly in the soup,’ is so cleverly and patiently revealed, that one is compellingly drawn into the story to find out what the mystery is. It’s a great story Berlinermax.

    • RM York
      You know, Juergen, I liked everything about your story except the ending. Not the fact everyone is going to get killed who knows about the spaceship, but your manner of apologizing. If this were mine, and please permit me to do this, I would have ended it this way:

      We were still standing against the wall and saw submachine guns pointed at us. The owner of the hardware store wanted to ask a question, but one of the gunmen raised his weapon and started to fire. I had time for one quick thought before the bullets ripped through us. ‘Why are they killing us?”

      Epilogue: The spacesuit stood over the bodies and turned to his men. “You never saw this happen. Now, grab that spaceship and let’s see if we can’t fix this thing before we have intergalactic war.”

      It was just the phrasing. Unfortunately, therefore we will shoot you now, and we are very sorry. Spacesuit wasn’t sorry, he was trying to save his own sorry ass. Besides, ‘bad’ good guys don’t talk that way. The shoot first and apologize later.

      I also know it’s in first person, and with my ending it should have been written in third person, because how can a dead man write his story after the fact. (Although I might point out, he didn’t have time to write the story between the time they aimed the gun at him and shot him.)

      • Thanks for letting me know how you would end my story. I know I like to break rules sometimes. The very very short ending is such a break of the rules.
        • RM York
          I personally don’t think there are ‘rules’ for how to end a story. I just didn’t like the fact you apologized to the narrator before you killed him. Who does that in the wonderful world of government domination? Certainly not the guy giving the orders to his soldiers.

          However, having said all that, it’s your story, your plot, your characters and your ending. Do it however you like. One of the reasons for writing and posting on this sight is to get insight, critiques and so on from the other writers. I try to do that. And, when I see something I wouldn’t do or think is in need of comment, I do that. But, Max, do it your way. Someday, when I see you’ve made it to the top of the heap I’ll look back and say, “See, this guy breaks the rules. I didn’t think there were rules. I guess that’s why he’s there, and I’m here.”

          By the way, I do like your writing.

          • When authorities apologize,it’s just a nice way to say F.U.
            • RM York
              If politeness by our government is F.U., then our president is carrying the exact opposite to extreme levels.
    • Phil Town
      That first line, Jürgen … terrific! I love the blend of light-heartedness and mystery, but felt a little disappointed after “Then he told us an amazing story.” – it feels a little expositional and rushed, I think (maybe space constraints – no pun intended). The first part is top, though!
      • Thanks. No, it’s not because of to little space. I wanted an abrupt end as soon as everything was said.
    • Phil Town
      Terrific first line, Jürgen, and a really fun, light-hearted mystery. It only loses steam, for me at least, after “Then he told us an amazing story.” There’s a bit of exposition from then, and the ending feels a little rushed (it may have been due to space constraints – no pun intended). But I enjoyed the first part a lot.
  • Ken Frape
    Who Knows What Really Goes On Behind Closed Doors?

    As Margot jangled the keys to her tiny third floor flat, she looked down the dimly lit corridor at the other front doors. All slightly different and yet, somehow, boringly similar. What really goes on behind these doors, Margot wondered for the umpteenth time? She knew virtually nothing about her neighbours but then, she liked her privacy too. Couldn’t abide nosey parkers! She knew that Bobby would be waiting excitedly on the other side of her front door. He had very acute hearing and he would have heard her tired and heavy footsteps approaching.

    Margot loved coming home after her shift on the Mini Mart checkout. Inside her flat, everything was cosy and warm and reassuringly normal. She could close her door on the uncertainties and nastiness of the outside world and then ease into her familiar routine. “A place for everything and everything in its place,” she mumbled to no one in particular as she carefully folded her coat, removed her shoes and hat and slipped them into the dishwasher. She retrieved her slippers from the breadbin and pulled her faded red cardigan from the microwave. It had one button missing but that was OK as the button was safe under her pillow, wrapped in a piece of tissue. She knew that Bobby had his own routine too. He spent his day settled comfortably on the sofa. She could see the indent he had left in the cushion.

    The kettle roared away, angry at its enforced idleness since breakfast, whilst Margot burbled on to Bobby about some of her customers’ quirky purchases. Every time she looked up, there was Bobby, looking right back, hanging on her every word. She could see the sparkle in his eyes, especially when Margot laughed. Some days Margot laughed a lot. On other days she cried and got very angry and broke things. Sometimes she cried and laughed at the same time but she knew that Bobby didn’t mind.

    Margot hummed to herself. Today was a laughing day. She emptied her shopping into the kitchen sink before ticking every item off her shopping list. She wiped off any perceived dust or dirt. Couldn’t put dirty tins in the bedside cabinet, could she?

    “Old Mrs. Thompson, you know, her from No. 23, well you’ll never guess what she bought today?”
    Bobby couldn’t guess but it didn’t matter as Margot told him anyway.
    “Three packs of cigarettes and a tin of sardines, of all things! Didn’t know she smoked. Must have her son coming to stay….”

    Bobby continued to listen from the sofa, his head, as ever, slightly tilted to one side.

    “…and I know she doesn’t like sardines. She told me. Perhaps her son is bringing his cat. That’ll be nice, won’t it Bobby?”
    Bobby didn’t disagree.

    “Tea?” she called out. Then she laughed. Of course she and Bobby would have tea together. That’s what they did every day when she came home. Part of the routine. Tea made, three sugars in Margot’s, she set the egg cups down on the low table in front of the sofa. She flopped down beside Bobby, their sides pressed companionably together. How they both loved those moments of gentle relaxation at the end of Margot’s shift. She picked up the TV guide and flipped through it to plan her evening’s viewing.

    “ Oh good. Look Bobby, “Silent Witness” is on at 9. You like that don’t you?”

    Margot rummaged in her handbag. She popped a couple of her “special” pink tablets out of their foil wrapper and looked at them in the palm of her hand. Another part of her routine. An important part that the doctor said she must not forget. As if she would!
    “….or else you may have another of your episodes and we don’t want that now, do we, Margot?” suggested the doctor in that unintentionally patronising, slightly over-loud voice that the medical profession reserved for older patients. Margot didn’t mind.

    As she could never remember exactly what happened during her so-called “episodes,” Margot slipped the pills down the side of the sofa where they nestled with the scores of others, mingling with a pin, a fluff-covered mint imperial and a silver coin. All part of the routine. She never forgot. The doctor would be so pleased with her.

    Margot dozed off, Bobby resting contentedly by her side, his clear eyes unblinking. He gazed up at her through the many layers of cling film that Margot had wrapped around him to keep him warm after she came home one day and found that he was stiff and cold. He had always had a sweet tooth and those sugar coated pills of Margot’s that had slipped through the lining of the sofa onto the carpet, unnoticed by Margot, were too good to resist. She added extra layers of cling film over the next few months just for extra warmth and kept the heating on. Well, winter was coming on, wasn’t it? The extra layers also helped to keep the flies away.

    Margot woke up. Having a cat was such a comfort she always said as she gently stroked Bobby through the plastic. He crackled with contentment as she tickled him behind the ear. She didn’t notice as a tiny but well nourished fly wriggled free from between the layers and zig-zagged its bloated way across the room to settle lazily in the fruit bowl. Meat course over, now for the fruit.

    “Right, well this won’t do, will it, Bobby? Time for food, I think.” Margot stood up briskly and marched into the bedroom.
    “What would you like tonight, Bobby?” She called out. “Your usual, I expect, eh?” She opened the bedside cupboard and took out two small tins from amongst the perfectly aligned ranks, soldiers on parade. She carried the tins in and looked at Bobby and Bobby looked back. “ Tuna, pilchards, pilchards, tuna?” She juggled the tins from one hand to the other. “ OK, tuna it is then.”

    Margot went to the bathroom and collected the tin opener from the tooth brush holder. She leaned over her husband, sitting silently in his armchair, facing the television set with wide-eyed interest.

    “I’m still not talking to you,” she told him sternly, waggling the handle of the carving knife that protruded from his chest through his cardigan and the many layers of cling film that bound him to his chair. Surely thirty-five years of marriage should have been enough for him to know not to irritate Margot when she was having one of her “off” days. But then, some men never learn, Margot told herself.

    “You can get your own tea,” she told him as she put the opener and the tin on his lap. “Bobby’s having the tuna so you’ll have to make do with the pilchards.”

    It was one of Margot’s happy days so she laughed then.

    Her husband dripped silently onto the gradually growing stain on the carpet. His only reply was a faint crackle of cling-film as another fat fly escaped and headed for the fruit bowl.

    Margot was happy and her husband seemed happy too.

    He liked pilchards.

    • I read your story once in the train last night. I gave it another reading a little while ago. And even after the second reading I am not sure if I grasped it all right. It is undoubtedly, one of the weirdest stories I have read in my life. So, it goes without saying, Ken 2, you achieved your objective of developing a story on the prompt all right, nay, very skillfully.
      The story set off nicely despite the title, with Margot jingling her keys outside her tiny flat. And I liked the feel good quality of the line ‘Inside her flat, everything was cosy and warm and reassuringly normal’. It is gonna be one of those happy-family stories. My belief was further strengthened by another interesting sentence soon afterwards, Her flat was “A place for everything and everything in its place,” But then came a series of surprises as she slipped her coat, shoes and hat into the dishwasher. Into the dishwasher! And from then on, things went hey wire, to the wrong places. Whatddahell! What is happening in this anything but cosy flat?
      By the time I was on to the line, ” I am still not talking to you,” my faith in the happy-family feeling about the story was being challenged/shattered. What’s going on inside this flat? I reread the paragraph to make some quick conclusions. They were .married for 35 years. He was bound to the chair. She wriggled the handle of the protruding knife. Margot was fonder of the cat.
      Then I thought that I got it. The blood dripping, the second fly flying off for the fruit course. Then I had this eerie feeling that all was not as innocent as it seemed. Was Bobby a victim of some preplanned, torturous murder ? Was there some connection between the murder and one of those unmentioned ‘episodes’ that I missed? And lots of such unanswered questions cropped up in my head and jeered at my credentials as a reader of anything beyond average means. Whatever it may be, something tells me that ” What Goes Behind Closed Doors?” is a masterly creation in the tradition of Edgar Allen Poe. You are on your way to writing some truly great stories with your distinct style and flavour, buddy. Keep writing.
    • Ken Frape
      Thanks for the comments which are comprehensive and interesting.
      In a nutshell we never really know what goes on behind other people’s closed doors. What they think and do may be perfectly normal to them, whatever normal is.
      I am going to wait a little now to see what other readers think before I try to unravel the plot. I think a bit of a puzzle and a little mystery is good.
      Ken Frape
    • Excellent story, Ken. A most entertaining glimpse at the colorful lining of the Mad Hatter’s headgear. Smooth craftsmanship and great job with the humor. Since we were on the topic of suspended disbelief, one could wonder how a mind like that is capable of coping with being a Mini Mart checkout gal without alarms going off high and low 😉
    • Ken 2.

      Ha! What a great story. I mean, truly disgusting once you get down to it. But, in a way, like Max’s story, the gruesome nature of the events are camouflaged very well by the simple, lighthearted exposition. I suspected something a little bit before the reveal, but by then, I was so intrigued I had to know exactly what the real deal was.

      My only criticism is more of a question. The title would have worked just as well as a first line, wouldn’t it? And then you could have given the story another name. Perhaps one that further misleads the reader. Just a thought. A very enjoyable story though, Ken. As usual for you.

      • Ken Frape
        Hi K1,
        Thanks for your positive comments. I do value what you say.
        I think you are right about the title. It was originally meant to be “Bobby and Margot av home. ”
        Perhaps, on another occasion, I would change the title .
        Kind regards,

        Ken F ( Ken 2)

    • Phil Town
      A brilliant story, Ken. The skill of lulling us into a mundane day, then hitting us with “removed her shoes and hat and slipped them into the dishwasher.” I had to read that two or three times. Then the misplaced things come thick and fast, making the “A place for everything and everything in its place,” affirmation completely absurd. Which is what the story is … but then not. Dementia’s like this, I imagine. If there’s one criticism I could make, it’s that the weirdness is perhaps laid on a little too thickly – just a couple of references to misplacement would have done it. But it’s a very skillfully told tale apart from that.
    • RM York
      I’ve been on this site for a very long time and, for me, this ranks right up there with one of the best stories I’ve ever read on this site. Superb job, Ken Frape, IMHO. Got nothin’ to critique, and I loved your character Margo. Well done story, amigo. Glad you joined the site.
      • Ken Frape
        Thanks so much for your kind and generous support. I have only been writing short stories for a couple of years and mostly, if I send them off to a magazine or to a short story competition I get a rejection or no reply. I know that’s just how it is but that’s also why this site is so good. And it’s free to be a part of it. The level of critique is very high too and I try to reflect upon anything that suggests how I might improve.
        Bobby and Margot, as I was going to call my story ( and her poor husband) are all victims in this story.


        Ken Frape.

    • I do not like pilchards. But I like your story very much. Yes, it’s very close to what I try to do in my writing. Gently changing the rules, so when the reader notices something is wrong, it’s to late, she/he is already entangled in a net. Great!
  • Ilana L
    Great story but it would not let me post my comment for some reason.
    • Ilana L
      Well the first comment up after several attempts. The story has a the right balance of craziness versus everyday routine to make it creepy. Great build up littered with clues as to the fact that all is not right with this lady. She reminds me of someone in Minneapolis MN could be a dead ringer for a relative by marriage. LOL
      • Ken Frape
        Hi Ilana,
        Thanks for taking the time to post a comment. I have been a little concerned that, firstly, you had trouble posting a message to me and secondly, there is usually a lot more traffic on this site when we post our stories. I am wondering if there is a problem with my “feed”.

        I suggest you steer clear of your relative by marriage in Minneapolis. If she is anything like Margot, she is either a bomb ready to explode or a big warm cuddle and you can never tell which one!
        Ken F

  • Sarig Levin
    By: Sarig Levin

    There was this man, you see. Dunno his name. I don’t even know if he had a name. I used to see him at the train station on my way to work but never took much notice of him. He’d always be leaning against the wall, not far from the toilet, and people would pass him by without taking much notice of him either, like he was a part of the damn scenery or somethin’.

    He didn’t seem like a bad sort, a bum or a hobo or anythin’. He’d be grinning, always dressed in the same ragged suit and never harassing any of the passers-by. It was that stupid grin that had eventually caught my attention, and since then I began to seek him out every time I’d be crossing the busy station.

    – – –

    I remember it was a Friday evening, just before I was gonna take the family to visit my parents in the countryside. I’d just had a big fight with the missus the night before (don’t even remember what about) and was in no hurry to get back home.

    I stepped out of the train onto an empty platform. It was rather late. Must have lingered back at the office on purpose. The place seemed so quiet, so peaceful, I soon found myself pacing back and forth, listening to the echo of my own footsteps.

    When I noticed him, glued to the same spot as always, with that stupid grin on his face, his presence suddenly made me feel too self-conscious. Somewhat irritated, I crossed over and sat down right next to him.

    “Good evening,” he said, in a simple and rather pleasant manner.

    “Good evening,” I replied, and we both kept quiet for a while. My irritation quickly subsided and curiosity took over.

    “So, what’s your story?” I finally managed.

    “My story?” he replied, with a half-raised eyebrow.

    “You know, why’re you always here?” I inquired.

    “Ah…” said he, “I was born here.”

    I thought he was joking and so added – “Here, on this bench?”

    “Oh, no.” he said in an earnest tone of voice that didn’t fit that stupid grin of his at all.

    “I was born in there,” and he pointed in the direction of the toilet.

    “Are you seriously telling me you were born in a public toilet?” I demanded, feeling my irritation bubbling up again.

    “Yes,” was his reply. “A cleaning lady found me there, wrapped up in this very suit I’m wearing now. Being the pious woman that she was, Miss Nancy believed my birth mother would come back for me and took it upon herself to ensure the other cleaning ladies fed and washed me when she wasn’t around.”

    I had to admit I didn’t quite know what this bizarre fellow was playing at, so I decided to play along for a while.

    “And where is this Miss Nancy now?” I inquired, suppressing a little grin of my own.

    His eternal smile, however, seemed to vanish for a brief spell.

    “I don’t know. One day she just stopped coming. By then, I was basically old enough to take care of myself. When I’d grow hungry, I’d venture out into the platform and find some food in one of these bins.”

    I stared at his bearded face in disbelief and found myself drowning in deep blue eyes.

    “And what have you been doing with yourself since then?” I ventured.

    “Waiting…” he said.

    “Waiting for whom? I asked.

    “Nobody.” replied he.

    “Waiting for what then?” I tried again.

    “Nothing. Just waiting…”

    “But that’s impossible!” I cried. “Don’t you have any goals in life, man?”

    “No. Do you?” he turned and looked at me, not unkindly.

    “Why, of course I do! Everybody does!”

    “Oh, all day long I hear people talk about their ‘goals’. They talk of ‘work’, so they would have ‘money’, so they would be able to buy a ‘house’. Then they would make babies and raise them and keep them around, so they won’t have to die alone…” and his voice faded.

    I began to think of my own son as a goal, or rather a means to an end (and a mean end at that). It made me feel so uncomfortable I was glad when he finally re-addressed me.

    “No one ever talks about what ‘death’ is, though,” he said. “But I gather it’s a sort of an end, right? A negation of being.”

    “I s’pose. No one really knows. I guess it’s like the end of the line or somethin’.”

    “Do you suppose Miss Nancy is dead?” he asked, his eyes growing as big and bright as the light at the end of a tunnel.

    “She never did come back to empty her locker. Or maybe she just decided to get on a train one day and never come back.”

    “But, just waiting?!” I couldn’t help myself. “How can you spend your whole life just waiting?”

    “We are all simply waiting.” he winked at me, like he was letting me in on a little secret or somethin’. “Most people just don’t seem to know it. People are quick to derive a sense of meaning and purpose from what might very well be the sheer workings of their own imagination.”

    “Oh, and I suppose you know what’s real and what’s not…” I allowed my annoyance to breed contempt in his smug face.

    “No.” he calmly said. “I believe there is no such thing.”

    “So, how do you know there’s no meaning or purpose?”

    “I know nothing.” he said. “I simply believe a purpose is always the next station, the one you never reach. It’s the nature of Purpose to remain meaningful only as long as it hasn’t been reached. And so, people with a sense of purpose always live towards something they will never be able to achieve.”

    Dumbfounded, I began to consider my own life, my job, my family and my goals in a different light. A dim, sickly light that made me feel nauseous.

    “Miss Nancy used to say cleaning these toilets was pointless,” he continued, “as the next day they’d always get filthy again. Yet, that was her purpose and that’s what she did. Would you call that meaningful?”

    The cascading sense of nausea became overwhelming. Luckily, my phone rang just then and I quickly clung to it as if clinging to life itself. My wife was on the line, demanding an explanation, and I was so happy to be reminded of ‘caring’ and ‘sharing’ that I promised to be home in no time and made haste to depart.

    The queer fellow did nothing to hinder my hasty departure. He simply turned his head, maintaining his kind smile.

    “Mind the gap, my friend,” he called after me.

    “I’ll see you around, man,” I replied half-heartily and was quickly out of the station and back home, where my darling wife soon revived our quarrel of yester-night.

    – – –

    I never saw him again after that.

    Every time I’d pass through the station, I’d throw a quick glance at the empty bench where that damn moron; that queer, brilliant man used to sit

    Who knows? Maybe he finally decided to get on a train and never came back.

    • Ken Frape
      Hi Sarig,

      A most unusual story, the like of which I have not experienced before. The so-called mystery person, brought up in a public toilet by a series of caring women and yet, he has such wisdom. From humble beginnings and all that..! His simple questions certainly stopped the narrator in his tracks and made him question his very existence.

      Nice dialogue too.

      There was just one issue for me and it is a practical one, when perhaps I ought to simply suspend my disbelief. This is the issue of a child, from a tiny baby. being brought up by a succession of women in a public toilet.

      The story has spiritual and mystical undertones and therefore perhaps I should simply accept the underlying message, or ask myself those same questions as are being asked in the story about the meaning of life.

      In any case, this is a darned good story, worthy of praise, so well done!


      Ken Frape

      • Thanks, Ken. Background story does call for a touch of suspended disbelief, that is true enough 🙂
    • Sarig,

      Your story reminds me of something that happened to me some 30 years ago. I was taking classes at the local community college. In one particularly memorable Philosophy class, a young woman sitting next to me seemed to take a liking to me. We laughed at each others jokes, appreciated each others comments and observations, and, all in all, I would say that we were clearly attracted to one another.

      Now, I’m no lady’s man. My most successful dating strategy was to triangulate onto the most desirable ‘possible’ female candidate, and then do something like a ‘full court press.’ Or, for those unfamiliar with that phrase, I would turn on the charm offensive.
      This young lady was that candidate. She seemed single, sat next to me, was friendly, pretty, interesting, smart and possessed a good sense of humor. I KNEW I was going to ask her out. And I knew that she would accept. (After that, nothing is guaranteed, but you have to commit to that before anything else CAN happen.) I wasn’t sure if we were soulmates, (naturally) but I felt very, very good about her. And, I’m not a one-night stand guy. I always play for the long-term relationship.

      On the day that I knew it was time, I unconsciously lingered in the classroom talking to the professor. (This was both a delaying tactic, and, if she was still in the parking lot, that too would be a positive sign. From her, or God, or the laws of nature, I don’t pretend to know. I just read signs.) And sure enough, as I reached the parking lot, there she was, two spaces closer than my truck, sitting in her car, with the door open, smiling at me. I smiled at her and automatically initiated a minor course correction. Directly towards her, when I heard a voice call out my name. “Hey Ken.” I was startled by another classmate, standing between two cars about 15 feet away.

      I tried to keep the annoyance out of my voice. “Yeah?” I couldn’t remember his name but he was also in the class. He sat at the back of the room. He was my age. Mid 30’s.

      “Did you catch the assignment for next week?”

      Of course I did. What a stupid question. What an idiot! That’s part of your obligation as a student, to make a note of the assigned homework. “Sure,” I said. With the intention of transmitting this information as quickly as possible. But he wanted to chat too. I chatted, I repressed my irritation and maintained a civil and polite tone until he seemed properly up to speed and totally convinced that I was a decent human being.

      Naturally, when I turned and headed to my truck. She was gone. I sighed, mentally, but assumed I would see her in a few days. But I never saw her again. Him? I saw him several times over the years. At gas stations, working as a greeter at the Walmart, here and there. But not her. She never returned to that class, and I’m sorry to say that I only inquired after her whereabouts very casually to the professor after a couple of missed classes. He seemed unconcerned at her inexplicable disappearance, and I didn’t want to be mistaken for a stalker. I got on with my life. I don’t remember her first name, and I never knew her last name.

      But I always wondered about that girl, and that guy. I felt, that her life and mine were linked by fate. Which brings me back to the character in your story. Was he really born in a train station bathroom? (Unlikely.) Or was he placed there to ensure or prevent you (your character) from some other fate? A fate that should have been his, or yours, but for some inexplicable and contrived complication. And then, like demons or angels, having completed their missions of meddling or intervening on ours or someone else’s behalf, they then move on. And we, but pawns in some larger game, are resigned to daydream and wonder at what might have been.

      • Phil Town
        A great story, Sarig. Like in Jürgen’s, the first line is excellent (“There was this man, you see.”) – it does several jobs: throws us straight into the story, introduces the protagonist, establishes the tone, engages us in one-on-one story-telling. Love it! And the action is great, too – odd, yet very well described. Ken addresses the question of being born in a station toilet. I accept it because although you’ve described humdrum daily life (the commute to the city), you want to introduce a quirkiness, and for me it works perfectly (I was reminded a bit of ‘Perfume’ – that new-born baby should never survive under the fish-stand). I could relate to this story – I often see people like this in the street; I’m sure they have many a story to tell, but people are not normally interested, or they’re scared.
        • Aye. Like Ken F. put it, it does take a certain amount of suspended disbelief. I’m glad it works for you 🙂
      • Excellent story on it’s own right, Ken. Also goes to show the what a philosophy degree gets you is a job as a greeter at the Walmart 🙂
    • Sarig,

      By the way, your story is very entertaining, full of intrigue, mysterious and puzzling. The dialogue is masterfully done, and the ending is perfect. I think it’s safe to say that I enjoyed it immensely.

    • Last night I read your story right after it was posted. I liked the look, the feel and the sound of it, Mr. Levin. So, I kept the thought if commenting for later. Tonight, I have just finished reading it for the second time:
      “Oh, all day long I hear people talk about their ‘goals’. They talk of ‘work’, so they would have ‘money’, so they would be able to buy a ‘house’. Then they would make babies and raise them and keep them around, so they won’t have to die alone…” and his voice faded.
      “I know nothing.” he said. “I simply believe a purpose is always the next station, the one you never reach. It’s the nature of Purpose to remain meaningful only as long as it hasn’t been reached. And so, people with a sense of purpose always live towards something they will never be able to achieve.” Wao!
      I think, with some deft touches, you have created a unique character in the form the ‘queer, brilliant man’. There is a lot of weight, philosophy underneath his words. Who would have thought of ‘purpose’ as ‘the next station’? Starting with the title, to characterization, to dialogue to the ending, you have reached a new high/ height in this story.
      Keep writing, my friend, for you are only getting better with each new story of yours. God bless and all the best.
      • Sarig Levin
        Thanks, Rathin. I appreciate your kind words and God bless.
    • RM York

      Damn good story that simply goes nowhere … and I think that’s what you intended. A story with no ‘purpose’ as if to prove your point. Well, if that was your intention, it worked for me. Enjoyed it.

      Nice line to finish it, too, because I was kind of disappointed he wasn’t there to find out more about. Or, maybe he will be back one day. That’s a nice thought for a sequel.

      The only quibbles I have are few: first, he’s in the same suit, had a little trouble with that … in fairness, though, we don’t know if he had other clothes and just happened to be wearing that suit that day, and secondly, the last line in the second paragraph:

      It was that stupid grin that had eventually caught my attention, and SINCE THEN I began to seek him out every time I’d be crossing the busy station. ‘Since then’ doesn’t sound right to me. I read it twice and I may be wrong about this, it just seems to be in the wrong tense. I think it would read better this way: It was that stupid grin that had eventually caught my attention, and AFTER THAT I began to seek him out every time I’d be crossing the busy station.

      Otherwise, for me, an excellent story.

      • Sarig Levin
        Thanks 🙂 I changed that line to – “It was that stupid grin that’d eventually caught my attention and I began to seek him out whenever I’d be rushing across the busy station.”
  • Anindita Basu
  • just testing to see if I can introduce italic and bold
    • looks like something is coming soon. I’ll stay tuned.
    • Holy cow Flo! Italic AND bold. How did you DO that?
      • just regular html code: for italic and for bold, and it works! 🙂
  • Words
    by Robt. Emmett ©2019

    This piece is for the non-native speakers to ruminate on and the edification of the rest. English is the easiest language to learn, mostly because it doesn’t make use of male/female/neutral for everything, like other languages do. But even as an ‘easy language’, it doesn’t mean it’s easy to master, or that it doesn’t have some pretty weird features that have made their way into the language with time. Enjoy these 3 examples of why English is a crazy language!

    1. Things that make no sense!
    Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England nor French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads (which aren’t sweet) are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither a Guinea nor is it a pig…
    And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?
    If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If olive oil is made from olives, what is baby oil made from? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?
    How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.
    English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. PS. Why doesn’t ‘Buick’ rhyme with ‘quick’? Or why is Detroit and Beloit pronounced with and ‘oit’ at their end, but Benôit ends with ‘Waa’?

    2. Words with double meanings
    a) The bandage was wound around the wound.
    b) The farm was used to produce produce.
    c) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
    d) We must polish the Polish furniture.
    e) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
    f) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
    g) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
    h) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
    i) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
    j) I did not object to the object.
    k) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
    l) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
    m) They were too close to the door to close it.
    n) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
    o) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
    p) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
    q) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
    r) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
    s) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
    t) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

    And here is another couple of dozen –
    pale/pail, ate/eight, alter/altar, band/banned, red/read, blew/blue, boar/bore, canon/cannon, coarse/course, fair/fare, genes/jeans, foul/fowl, grate/great, in/inn, hour/our, knight/night, no/know, nose/knows, maize/maze, meddle/metal, rain/reign, sea/see, role/roll, veil/vale.

    Oh and here/hear are to/too/two triples, their/there/they’re and buy/bye/by.
    Speaking of 2s, “There are three 2s in the English language?” So, what is the word to replace ‘2s’?

    3. UP is a very strange word!
    There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is ‘UP.’
    It’s easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?
    At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?
    We call UP our friends.
    And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen.
    We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car.
    At other times the little word has real special meaning.
    People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.
    To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.
    A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.
    We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.
    We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP!
    To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary.
    In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.
    If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used.
    It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don’t give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.
    When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP.
    When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP.
    When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP.
    When it doesn’t rain for a while, things dry UP.
    One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it UP,
    for now, my time is UP,
    so…… is time to shut UP!
    And now it’s UP to you what you do with this knowledge!

    [1100 or so words]

    • Sarig Levin
      Gave me geesebumps…
    • RM York
      And you didn’t even mention you drive on a parkway, but park on a driveway. Good stuff, Robt. Good stuff.
      • Ken Frape
        Great stuff, Ken C, as usual.
        Your story makes me ponder over what the typical / average American feels about these killings. We see huge outpourings of emotion after each mass shooting and I have met enough American people ( not that many, I agree) to feel that they are just ordinary, nice people like the average UK person and they hate what happens. So the idea that this is a disease is more than plausible.
        I think the twist is so unexpected. Well, I didn’t see it coming anyway. Such a good use of scientific data and analysis too.
        I suspect this will resonate with many of your readers.

        Ken F

        • Thanks Ken F.

          (I’m not sure I have any readers.) BUT, and it’s a big but, you’re an excellent writer and praise from you is very gratifying. This is one of those (very rare) stories that amazed me, because, really, I had no idea what I was even going to write about when I sat down and started typing. Believe me, that doesn’t happen very often. At least not to me.

          I woke up this morning and found numerous little errors, excess verbiage and minor tweaks that make things clearer, and I wish I could easily replace the posted copy with the new, improved version but…I’m not sure it’s really worth the trouble.

          As for the subject matter. Yeah, so often we hear, (not always, but often enough) we hear friends and co-workers who say things like. ‘We had no idea. He was a nice quiet neighbor. He was just an ordinary guy.’ Everyone seems so baffled. I almost named the story, ‘Ordinary 1.’

          Thanks for your feedback Ken F.

    • Robt. Emmett,
      Excellent and fun. I’ve wanted to do something like this for some time. I don’t think I could have done it the kind of justice that you have though. This is very comprehensive. I once wrote an essay titled, ‘A Coarse Course in Learning (About) Learning.’
  • I know that a few or more of you have seen/scene this before but/butt I found it interesting and hope others will also.
    — Ԙ —
  • Ken Frape
    Hi Robt.
    A veritable tour de force. A whistlestop tour of the intricacies of the English language. As a former primary school headteacher, I am very familiar with the challenges faced by young people when they start to learn to read and write English. However, this is the first time I have seen so many brilliant examples of what a daft language it is.
    It amazes me that so many people who are not native English speakers, actually learn English and speak the language so well.
    One mischievious example, which I will leave you to ponder is the use of the “F” word, which, with the addition of the odd ending, can be a noun, a verb, an adjective etc etc.
    Now what is going on there?
    Great stuff,

    Ken Frape.
    PS I note the little circled “C” after your name, for copyright but let’s not get started on the “C” word!!!

  • Thanks Ken 2 four your comment. Yes It’s amazing that people from other countries learn the crazy thing we call “English.” Yet, what we speak here really should be called “American,” because what they speak over there is not always what we speak here. They will chime in and add there two cents. [Where did that fraze come phrom?]
    more later, time to shovel snow.
    • David Crystal: “English has been this vacuum cleaner of a language”
  • I don’t even have an idea yet, let alone a story. Looks like I’ll be up very late tonight. Now, where did I leave those mushrooms?
  • Alice Nelson


    A New Society (1200 words)

    Bullets pierced the shimmering windows of the tranquil Parliament of Lebanon. It was near empty, but it was doubtless the epic seizure of power had sent waves of shocked bliss throughout the congregated army. The last shriek dispersed from the immense, now squalid monument as Ghafran Al-Kamali shot the final lingering Maronite traitor, their blood spilling a jet black; he hadn’t bothered learning the name. Dehumanizing the scum had been his only remedy to rectify his otherwise trembling resolve. Ghafran lacked free time to experience remorse, regret or doubt. This was a war for which the very soul of Lebanon was at stake and consequently he would sacrifice his own life for the cause, not least his sanity and mind.

    Fortunately, the war was won. Rejoicing shouts echoed around the glowing walls, as if the entire building had been revitalized by the revolution. Ugly crimson stains formed beautiful pictures on the floor, and Ghafran smirked, observing that even their own construction had spat them out like the garbage they were. His peers danced in relieved joy around the dotted corpses; they had been wary, anxious that their work might all be for nothing- Only pure bliss leaked from the fact they were incorrect. They were swiftly called for outside, and thus they went in disgruntled fear – Was their horrendous work not over? Had they not already emerged triumphant? What more could Imad desire them to commit?

    A collective sigh was released as they perceived what they’d been requested for. Imad had personally scaled the parliament with one intention. As the breath-taking flag of red, white and green was raised, Ghafran felt himself descend into fantasy. The Lebanese Arab Soviet was no longer a few scrawls on a ripped document, fictional words on a page. It was a reality.

    For so long, Ghafran had experienced the emotions of isolation and oppression from the malevolent Christian Maronite regime. It was thus impossible for him to take it in so quickly; He shuddered, stepped back and allowed a wide grin to sweep across his face. He forced himself to blink as the fresh aroma of air wafted towards his nostrils. The usually aching sun bled shining rays of joy upon the golden sands as Allah smiled from the heavens. His blissful, serene thoughts of victory were swiftly interrupted by Imad’s booming voice cutting through the group from above.

    “Inequality. Suffering. Neglect. For too long, my brothers, we have been forced under subjugation from foreign oppressors manifesting in our nation’s control being thrust into the hands of the greedy Maronites. Mark your calendars, comrades, because there is a new dawn on our great territory. Elitism has been abolished by this war, and you will finally obtain the fruits of your labour instead of it being selfishly seized by the wealthy. We will make Allah proud. For Freedom! For Lebanon! For Allah!”

    Ghafran was overcome with energetic, childlike joy and alongside the rest of the people’s army, he participated in some festivities to celebrate. Following extensive partying, he took in a gulp of fresh air and began to stroll back towards his home. Gazing around Beirut, he’d never noticed the aesthetic appeal of each house. He supposed he felt empowered by the knowledge of a better future, but regardless he didn’t care for the reasoning. He was just ecstatic to be happier in general. It was like a switch had been flicked, and for the first time, he was looking forward to tomorrow.

    As he descended into sleep, he realized it wouldn’t be instantly beneficial for Lebanon that Imad had assumed leadership because he still had to set up a functioning government and redistribute resources and wealth. The only thing he could do was wait.

    Ghafran waited. A day, a week, a fortnight and then a month. Each day Ghafran woke up, prayed and attended his pottery to begin crafting and selling, waiting for his income to increase. Waiting for his living conditions to be improved. Waiting for the state to begin pursuing the policies of collective wealth they had promised. He… Doubts had begun formulating in his mind, but he swiftly suppressed them. He had endured decades of Maronite rule, he could endure the wait. Imad would be their saviour. For Freedom. For Lebanon. For Allah. With those thoughts in mind, Ghafran persisted; He could wait indefinitely, he knew.

    One month after the revolution, the tax increased. Ghafran endured it; To achieve socialism, redistribution had to occur. He even embraced it; the administration had finally acted. Ghafran once more thanked Allah and went to his work, discovering an extravagantly dressed, affluent man. Identifiable as Imad’s close advisor, Jamal lurked like a predatory wolf by his craft. Ghafran, surprised, approached him, observing two women near him.

    “Jamal? What are you here for?” He hadn’t intended for the words to spill in such a hostile manner, however he couldn’t deny his disdain for the short, smirking man.

    “Under the order of the Lebanese Arab Soviet, you’ve been instructed to accept Maariya and Zaahira as employees for your craft.” Jamal’s eyes bored deep holes into his, however Ghafran defiantly glared back.

    “Is that all?”

    “You will also no longer sell your products, they will be handed to the state to provide equally among our populace and in return, you will receive redistributed rewards of your own.” Ghafran hated the deceptive tone of Jamal’s voice, and he disliked the idea of the entire abolishment of individual trading. Perhaps it was merely nostalgia, but he felt intrinsically bonded to bartering culture. Still, it was for a greater Lebanon. He nodded back to Jamal, who responded by sneering and exiting.

    Ghafran spent the remaining daylight hours teaching the women, who eagerly attempted to learn. Unfortunately, these were soldiers with harsh hands and lack of delicacy which rendered their ability to aid pottery weakened. Despairingly, he forced himself to quit and strolled distractedly back home. On his way, he noticed a Maronite teenager sleeping roughly in a makeshift shelter on the street; He’d heard they’d been banned from holding employment. He wasn’t entirely sure why – Had Imad not promised equality for all?

    The thought increasingly disturbed him as he repeatedly passed the boy while waiting for the month to end. His rewards were meant to be provided that day, and thus when the box was delivered outside Ghafran was ecstatic; he’d ran out of leftover food. Inside was a single loaf of bread and a dirty plastic cup. Filled with bewildered anger, Ghafran left his home to see a group of citizens protesting and joined them. On their way towards the Parliament, Ghafran noticed the crude shelter was uninhabited; by the looks of it, maybe for days…

    Upon arriving, Ghafran was shocked. The Parliament had been refurbished and inside celebrations could be heard; raucous, presumably alcohol-triggered laughter emerged from affluent figures from behind the window, just like Maronites. Before he could process everything, some of his peers had revealed guns and shot through the energetic, shining windows. It was upon that when they flooded out the door; Burly Lebanese and Russian men, equipped with machine guns. Their bullets sprayed. Ghafran fell. Allah grimaced. What had it all been for?

    • Valladares,

      WOW! A powerful, morally compelling dissertation on power and corruption. Well done.

    • RM York
      Takes the reader inside the conflict, of which we know little about, especially the human drama they live with every day. Well done. Ken C. said it very nicely, and I have nothing to add to that.
    • Loved this story from the get-go. Fascinating subject matter and a deep and meaningful way of exploring it. well done.
    • New leaders, same same but different. Your story exited me, because I wanted to believe something would change. Although I knew better.
  • Doctor, Lawyer, Indian, Chief. (wc 1174)
    by Ken Cartisano

    Originally, I thought it was a good idea, bringing the doctor in to see the Chief. When I say ‘the doctor’, I’m talking about a PhD. He was not so much an acquaintance as a source of intelligence, and by ‘Chief’ I meant the Chief of Police.

    Who wasn’t exactly a ‘friend’ either. He was my boss, and that makes a difference. My point is that this meeting was strictly professional. I had no personal stake in it, other than solving one of the biggest and deadliest crimes in human history.

    Of course the Chief had good reason to be in a foul mood. The murder rate was high and climbing, while the conviction rate was less than 10 percent. That’s because the ‘perps,’ or perpetrators, were mostly killing themselves after committing their crime, which was usually murder, and most often mass murder. As bad as it was in the first few years, school shootings, church shootings, concert shootings, movie shootings—people wrote it off as a terrible trend, willing to accept that there were a few sicko’s among us. Psycho’s. Terrorists. Call them what you will.

    But it became clear after a few years, that it was more than a trend, it was becoming, by far, the most common form of death. Multiple mass murders in multiple cities across the country. Every day. It was like an epidemic. Perfectly ordinary people showing up at their jobs, or the salon, or a bowling alley with guns, and shooting people. Sometimes friends and family, sometimes random strangers. It seemed to depend on some as yet unidentified variable.

    Enter Dr. Stine: My go-to-guy for information on everything from criminal behavior, to chemical composition. Dr. Stine was a criminal forensic pathologist, by day, and a decent chess opponent at night. (Actually he beats me every time.) We were discussing the latest killings when he sat up, cocked his head to one side and said, “I’ve come across some pretty interesting studies, Singh.”

    I glanced up briefly, more focused on my next move. “Yeah? So.”

    “So you should look at ‘em.” He said.

    I slid my bishop across the board, but was reluctant to commit, to remove my hand.

    “What kind of studies?” I finally let it go and stood up. “You want another?”

    He shook his head while studying the board. “Medical, criminal.”

    “You have criminal studies?” I retrieved a bottle from the fridge.

    “N-n-n-n-no.” He said, moving his queen one square. “The criminal stuff is mostly statistics, the medical data is from studies.”

    I popped the top off the beer and approached the chess board. My suspicions proved accurate. “You’re in check.” He said.

    “I see that.” I studied the board. “Why would I want to look at these studies, Jim?”

    He gave me that look. That, ‘Hey, I’m a Doctor,’ look. I waited. Doctors can be real pains-in-the-ass. He got up and returned with an impressively thick and intimidating file folder. He read the apprehension on my face and said, while holding up one finger. “There are a few charts you need to see. You don’t have to read all the reports, I mean, you can if you want to, that’s fine. But you can see the relationship graphically.”

    And he laid them on the table next to the chess board. And that’s what brought us here, to the Office of the Chief of Police.

    “So what’s this all about, Sergeant Singh?” The Chief asked. As he closed his pen, slid some papers in his desk, dropped something in the trash can, fished around in another drawer… literally cleaning his office to avoid visually acknowledging our presence.

    I cleared my throat, and introduced them to each other. They shook hands and we all sat down.

    “I have some information that should prove interesting, if not useful.” The Doctor said. And laid out the same charts and graphs he had shown me.

    Despite all the stress he’d been under, the Chief seemed extremely calm. I began to entertain the idea that this might actually go well. (What fools, we mortals.) I thought… Well, that’s not important. So Doctor Stine begins to explain.

    He lays out a series of maps in fact, covered with myriad dots.

    What Doctor Stine has discovered, quite by accident, and what he explained, is that when you shrink the map of mass killings down to the size of a small state, the pattern looks exactly like a disease outbreak. The numerous maps he laid out were for comparison. Sars, the Bird Flu, Legionaires, Chicken Pox. You name it, he had it. It was as if we were looking at fingerprints. Sure, the fingerprints were all different, but you could tell that they were fingerprints. In the same way, all of these full color outbreak maps had the signature imprint of disease, the map of mass killings bore an inescapably obvious commonality.

    The conclusion? These mass killings were, in fact, some kind of epidemic. The doctor sniffed, and waited. The Chief sighed. I frowned and clenched my interlocked fingers together.

    The Chief finally huffed. “Well? What d’ya want me to do about it?”

    The Doctor looked at me as if , you know, as if, WTF?

    I didn’t know what to tell him. He was far more intelligent than I am, or ever will be. The Chief repeated his question more forcefully. “Huh? Doctor Stineman?”

    “Doctor Stine,” we both said in unison.

    “Whatever.” The Chief seemed like he was on the verge of a heart attack. “How is this supposed to help me, Doctor?” He bellowed, and flicked his finger at some of the papers, sending them skidding off the desk and fluttering to the floor. “So its a disease. SO WHAT? SO FUCKING…”

    I had risen from my chair, drawn my gun and fired, hitting the Chief right in the heart, he collapsed in a heap. Before he could utter a word or move, I turned and fired at the Doctor, at point blank range. He never had a chance.

    I was about to turn the gun on myself when two large detectives, Scott and Cohen came flying into the room and tackled me. And that’s it.

    I dotted the ‘i’ and said, “Do you want me to sign it?”

    “Is that it?”


    “Okay. Sign it then.”

    I signed my confession and pushed it across the desk. “Can I see those papers now?”

    He was a deputy marshal, sent by the governor. “You really expect me to believe that bullshit? That you’re just sick?”

    “The proof is in those papers, deputy.” Prior to his death the doctor divulged the fact that, along with several other symptoms, anxiety and stress were important catalysts in the onset of the disease, but once the initial and infectious phase was over, the urge to kill others, and oneself, subsided. Leaving the few survivors with nothing but remorse. But I needed those papers to prove it.

    “I’ll see what I can do,” the deputy said. As he got up and left the room.

    I’m still waiting.

    • Hi Ken,
      What really interested me in this story, is that it is bringing together 2 profound phenomena of today’s America: mass murders, and this desire to view everything via the lens of medical conditions… e.g. no one feels the blues anymore, here, everyone suffers from depression, etc.
      Not that I have any answer, but I find them to be fascinating topics, as regards the biggest one of all… taking responsibility…
      In short, a story that will stay with me and make me ponder: always a good thing! Thank you.
      • RM York
        Wow, you never cease to amaze me. Twisted, wicked plot line and well written. What else can I say? This friggin’ site has so many good authors, I wonder why we aren’t (yes, I included myself, ego, I guess) ripping the literary world apart with our talent. Anybody have an answer for that?
    • Phil Town
      This is so well structured, Ken – from the vague opening paragraphs that have us asking loads of questions (who? what? where?) that need answering as we read, to the acceptable exposition addressing the theory of the charts, to the shock of the bullets out of nowhere, to the realization near the end of what form the story is taking (although I’m not sure the conversational style suits a police statement) – it’s really brilliantly done. And it addresses a serious topic, too, in a serious but enjoyable way. Great stuff.
    • This story made me very thoughtful. Are mass shootings an infectious disease? I think maybe automatic weapons are contagious. Whoever holds them in his/her hand is infected. Even the good guy holding a gun. I like this kind of science fiction, stories that ask questions. Thanks, Ken
      • Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy. John le Carre is one of my favorites.
  • RM York
    What’s really going on at the Hargrove House
    1175 Words

    He awoke and lay still for a moment to collect his thoughts. His head hurt. He could see the color red through the lids of his unopened eyes and realized he must be in a well-lit room. His head swirled with unanswered questions. The last thing he remembered was telling Stacey, his wife, that he was going downstairs to get a screwdriver.

    He fluttered his eyelids to help ward off the brightness of the light radiating from the fluorescent fixtures in the room. ‘Apparently’, he thought, ‘I’m in a hospital.’ It took a few moments, but he adjusted to the light. He swiveled his head to one side and saw Stacey curled up in an overstuffed chair, asleep.

    “Hey,” he said softly; his voice gruff from thirst. Stacey opened sleepy eyes and suddenly sat up when she realized it was Paul who had spoken.

    “Paul! Oh, thank God. The doctors weren’t sure how long you were going to be out.”

    “What happened? Why am I here?”

    “You were heading down to the basement and I heard you call out. Then I heard the sound of you tumbling down the stairs. When I got to the bottom of the stairs you were still conscious. I asked you if you were OK and you looked at me with hateful eyes and asked, ‘Why did you push me?'”

    “I don’t remember any of that.”

    “Well, you did. Then you passed out, or whatever it is that happens after a fall like that.”

    Stacey wrung her hands and stumbled over her words. “You … you don’t … don’t think I pushed you, do you, Paul? I didn’t, I really didn’t.” Stacey burst into tears.

    “Certainly not, I … I don’t know what to think. I have no memory of anything except starting downstairs to get something. Could I have some water, please?”

    “Of course, Honey, let me get a nurse.” Stacey pushed the button on the hospital call buzzer hanging on the side of the bed.

    Moments later, a doctor stuck his head in the door, “Well, I see you’re awake. You had quite a fall. The fact you were pushed probably saved your life, rather than kill you.”

    Paul looked at Stacey questioningly. “Pushed?”

    “Well, that’s what your wife told us. You said somebody pushed you. And, it looks as if that may be the case. Your injuries are consistent with a push rather than a fall down a flight of stairs. The ambulance attendants told us there was a blood smear high on the wall at the bottom of the steps, consistent with that bloody contusion on your forehead. The swelling will go down in a few days and you’ll more than likely be fine. But we’re going to keep you here for a day or so more and run a few tests.”

    A nurse entered the room while the doctor was talking and Stacey motioned and stepped outside with her. “Could you get my husband some water, please.”

    The doctor took that opportunity to give Paul a quick examination. He shined a light in Paul’s eyes and took his pulse, listened to his heart and thumped him in a few spots, gently twisting a few limbs looking for any signs of other damage. He made a few notes in the chart and left the room. Stacey was waiting for him.

    “Will he be all right?”

    “Mrs. Davis, your husband is a lucky man. He has a concussion, consistent with a sub-dural hematoma, and his pupil is already returning to normal, compared with the protocol exam I gave him several hours ago. I think he will be just fine.” He turned to go, then looked back and said, “Have the police contacted you yet?”

    “The police? Why would they contact me.”

    “The fact is, your husband was pushed down the stairs. He didn’t fall.”

    “I don’t know who could have done that. I was in a bedroom putting our three children to sleep when I heard Paul shout, ‘Hey.’ Then I heard him fall.”

    “Somebody pushed him, he just didn’t fall.”

    * * *

    Paul and Stacey sat in their living room with the two detectives assigned to their case. “Mr. and Mrs. Davis, we have talked to the children and they corroborate your wife’s story of being with them during the accident. Is it possible you just fell?”

    “I have no idea officer. I have no recollection. Let me tell you this. Since we moved into the Hargrove House several months ago, there has been a series of unexplained incidents. Cabinet doors swinging open with no one there. Doors closing of their own accord. Lights going on and off. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear we have malevolent ghosts who want us out.”

    The two detectives looked at each other, and rolled their eyes. “Well, if you come up with something or find other evidence, give us a call. If you stick with your ghost story, have you considered calling ‘Ghostbusters’? In the meantime, here’s our card.”

    “Very funny, officer.”

    “I was serious. The doctor thinks you were pushed, your wife thinks you were pushed, and the house was locked. Based on what you’ve told us, I’d give it some thought.”

    * * *

    Paul and his wife stood watching with their three children as the two men with the strange instruments roamed through their house.

    Finally, one of them walked up to Paul and his wife. “We’re ready to wrap things up. My partner and I are convinced there are no paranormals in this house. Based on the incidents you told us, and our findings, we feel it’s due to explainable abnormalities such as the house shifting, moisture, air pressure, wind and so on.”

    “We also found evidence of poor structure from neglect over the years by the previous owners,” – he paused and looked at the piece of paper in his hand – “James and Dorothy Hargrove.”

    “What about me being pushed down the stairs?”

    “We feel you thought you were being pushed, which caused you to throw your body weight forward, simulating a push. It’s a very plausible theory which we tested and it fits the pattern. We can say unequivocally there is no paranormal activity in this house. I’m afraid there are no ghosts, no ghosts at all. It’s all in the report.”

    The two men packed up their truck and climbed into the front seat. The driver looked over at his partner. “Jim, you know that house is crawling with activity. There’s more evidence of paranormality in that house than we’ve ever seen. There are real ghosts in there. You know I’ll back you up, but why did you tell them there’s nothing wrong?”

    “Have I ever talked about my grandparents?”

    “What does that have to do with this?”

    “My grandparents were James and Dorothy Hargrove. They died within hours of each other in that house several years ago. They built that house together, board by board. Family is family; I’m leaving them alone.”

    “What about the family in there now.”

    “They’ll move soon enough.” Jim put the truck in gear and drove away.

    • What differentiates a great writer from the ordinary ones? Is it the choice of subjects? Characters? Language? Universality? A mix of all these?
      I don’t know for sure. But I know one thing for sure, Roy, and that is – one can learn a lot about the art of story writing by reading you. Every time you write a story, I feel like shouting my lungs out, seeking an answer to my question.
      How do you do it, man? How do you write such gems?
      I am not hundred percent sure I got the ending all right. Especially the lines below:
      Family is family; I’m leaving them alone.” If Jim was related to the Hargroves, should he not have said, Family is family, I’m not leaving them alone? Wouldn’t all his efforts be directed at keeping the other family in there as long as possible?
      Whatever, you are a master storyteller and God bless you for that.
      • RM York

        Thanks for your always kind words. I’ll be sending something your way soon on your story.

        Since the Hargroves are his grandparents, and are obviously the ghosts in question, they are family. He is leaving them (his family) alone to haunt their old house and scare off all intruders so they can live alone in peace throughout ghost eternity, however long that may be. Now that you have brought that up, maybe the use of “what about the ‘people’ in there now,” instead of ‘what about the ‘family’ in there now’, would be a better ending with less confusion.

    • Creepy, exciting, surprising, great! Family does matter!
  • RM York
    Well, I’ve managed to read all of the stories, some more than once, and will be doing some critiques in a bit, but first, I need to brave the elements and go clear some snow which is already higher than it needs to be. Besides, the snowplow just came by and sealed my driveway shut, so that will need to be taken care of as well. Never fear folks. it’s still a balmy 11 degrees, and the windchill is only at -15. I got this! Ya gotta love winter. Yahoo!
    • Roy, I have some balmy swampland for sale down here in Florida. 66 degrees, clear skies, no snow plows. Of course, in the summer you can walk to your car on the backs of the mosquitos.

      Great story. Very entertaining and with a tremendously satisfying ending. The writing is fabulous too. A very polished piece, Roy.

      • RM York
        Thanks, Ken C. At first I wasn’t in love with this story and let it sit for a couple of days before returning to it. I felt it needed a little more ‘ghost action’. Upon rereading it, I realized that probably wasn’t necessary, so I fixed up a few things, tinkered with it here and there, and voila – a story fit for publication. I don’t know how well it will fare against some of the stories posted this week, but i’m OK with that. As there are some fine, fine stories. Yours included.
        • It’s perfect as it is. No more action. I think this way it adds to the surprise.
    • You spend hours clearing the driveway, the sidewalks, and the crosswalk. Finished at last. Your heart is thumping like it wants to jump outta your chest. A frost-bite nose wants get inside. You’ve almost got your breathing under control as you stand there surveying you hand work.
      Suddenly, a snorting diesel sound disturbs your reverie as a steel blade clunks, followed by a grinding sound that sends a non-temperature related chill up and down your spine. Open-mouthed, you stand and watch the grinning plow driver pour tons of snow over the eight-foot wide boulevard and onto your pristine sidewalk and then fills your drive apron with ice-chunck laden snow higher than the surrounding banks of snow you’ve spent the morning shoveling.
      That’s my 75 years experience with winter and snow.
      Think positive, the days are getting longer. Spring’s not that far a way – is it?
      • Originality – that’s what your reply to Roy is all about, Robt. Kudos to your rich imagination and awesome language that has even the snow on fire!
        God bless you, my friend.
      • Ken Frape
        Hi Robt.,
        Here in the UK, or at least in the south west where I live, we are awaiting our first significant snow. As we are not equipped as a country to deal with infrequent snowfall, the one or two inches will almost certainly bring the UK to a grinding halt. Snow on the track, leaves on the line, high winds, gridlock, jack-knifed lorry on the M1…..we certainly know how to live in this first world country of ours!
        Ken F
      • RM York
        Yup, that’s what happened. Nice call, Robt.
  • Wht’s Rll Gg n?

    A brown hand slowly rises upwards, wrapped around an indefinite… thing. Slap! slaps the thing down unto a plank. The somewhat square panel, about fifteen inches in size, is usually made of white cheap laminated chipboard, chipped around the edges. A random plastic crate acts as a stand, raising the display to knee-level. The thing that lands on it is slime. Or looks like it for a few instants, at any rate. It has instantly stretched flat like an overspread egg sunny-side-up. Colors vary, from midnight blue to glossy green, safety jacket orange, barbie pink, all translucent. In lieu of a yolk, inexplicable stains dot the core of the flattened-out mass. A question is formed.
    What’s Really Going On?

    A pause. The absurdist layer of color remains mute. Pure ugliness. Sometimes the hand is black, at times amber. The other hand might hold a plastic pouch with a close semblance to a trash bag. Usually though, it handles a cell phone, in varied proximity to an ear; often enough it remains leisurely dangling by the side of a dejected body. Large crowds of tourists are required for the scene to occur. Lisboa. Roma. Paris. Amsterdam. The brown black amber hand reruns its recurring gesture, which idiocy seems only equaled by that of the stuff itself. A pause. Scum oozed on a sterile surface, white page where no words will ever stick, the gunk starts to shiver as some life pushing to be born from the mud. An inner tremor gives it body and depth. Relief is acquired on its own, while new planes of sheer color appear next to it. Safety Jacket Orange. Midnight Blue. Barbie Pink. Glossy Green. Slaps persist. A question insists, obstinate gnat refusing to be brushed off.
    Wht’s Relly Going On?

    Let’s take the time and seat down, let us be drawn into the mesmerizing repetition: we will see the hypnotic folly. We will feel substance stripped away as cracked skin we irresistibly peel off bit by bit after too long a day at the beach. But barely anybody stops. A child occasionally tugs at a mother’s arm for a shot at the fascinating transformation, a chance at a superfluous purchase. Will an artist perhaps have the insight, dedicate time and attention to the mysterious performance, and translate it into an original and sensitive video? a passing writer take notes, providing one of his next novel passages with a contemporary background? a clown, street-companion, mimic the grand gesture as a show of solidarity, minute dash of spice at the heart of an insipid passage of empty time? Overall, however, the background is that of shuffling feet, shuffling, shuffling along. By now, the glop, still rising, has achieved the shape of a repulsive cone, reminiscent of a turd, as represented in emojis. Slapping hand comes up and down, up and down, always male. No women behind those boards, no woman kneading the dough-like matter. Gelatinous waves rock the failure at form from right to left, independently of the thrusts still hitting the miniature theater stage, devoid of character, scenario or dramaturgy. Yet, drama is easily descried. The lack of lines turns into curves, as the goo takes on the shape of a ball. A snout emerges. Stains turn into beady eyes. Indiscriminate ears stick out. Aborted legs protrude. A pig. The baffling cycle has lead to a pig. A cartoonish pig, whose animation appears entirely generated from its own inexistent organism. Brown black amber hand seizes it, rises, wrapped around the… pig. Slap! forcefully slaps it back into nothingness, converts the whole gesticulation into another scenario; one of dislocated shoulders and carpal tunnel syndrome, the result of unnecessarily repetitive gestures, assembly-line operation that will never amount to anything. A question slowly loses its backbone, as language itself is being drained off of its marrow.
    Wht’s Rlly Going On?

    They are Pakistani, they say, or come from Bangladesh, which has to be pretty much the same. Somalia as well, is one of those countries, they say. There’s also Afghanistan, and let’s not forget Syria, these days, they say. These are the 3 countries that account for 57% of refugees worldwide. They are desperately flying wars, they say. Nah, they should stay in their countries and figure it out, they say. Let’s not forget climate refugees, they say, we all have a responsibility in what’s going on. Nous ne pouvons pas accueillir toute la misère du monde, they say. They will submerge us, they say. And we have enough problems of our own. They are not like us. They are too much like us, they (don’t) say. It is scary. It means it could happen to anyone, they (don’t) say. They don’t have the same religion, and Europe was shaped by Christianity, they say. One out of every refugee is a child, we can’t let them fend for themselves, they say. They refuse to change when they arrive. They insist on their (ugly) habits. The Mediterranean Sea has become a vast graveyard for unclaimed bodies, they say. They rape women, they say. 44,400 people a day are forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution, they say. The NGOs trying to rescue drowning people are playing in the hands of evil smugglers and potential terrorist groups, they say. Europe is an overcrowded dinghy at sea, they say, it will sink anytime now, if we do not stand strong. 68.5 million people around the globe have been forced from their home, they say. Words overflowed by numbers, a question loses its footing.
    Wht’s Rll Going On?

    he extends his hand and places it against mine – Look, I am black, and you are white.
    That’s true, you are darker than I.
    Yes, I am black.
    Black? You call this black?
    Alright, chocolate, then.
    Yes, you are of a very beautiful color.
    Yes, chocolate, don’t you think?
    Alright – says I – if you say so.
    But my mother, she is as white as you are.
    Is she, now? – I (do not) ask – Is it important?
    Where are you from? – he asks
    Ah, France. – no comment
    And you? Where are you from?
    Ah… Bangladesh… (what is in my tone of voice…?)
    You know, Bangladesh…?
    No, I do not know anything about Bangladesh.
    Bangladesh, it is a very mixed country.
    Is it, indeed? – I (do not) ask –
    – I want to ask –
    But a question dangles like a gutted mass of pure absurdity.
    Wht’s Rll Gong On?

    I suppose I should ask you the question quite simply. But as I look at you from the other side of the street, I make do with conjuring the story up for myself. I will read articles about refugee crises shedding a light on your presence in this here inhospitable Europe. I will research figures giving a sizeable photograph of the phenomenon. I shall watch heart wrenching youtube testimonials. And let a letter from any alphabet we might have shared be lost in every slapping motion.
    Wht’s Rll Gng n?
    Wt’s Rll Gg?
    W’s Rll Gg?
    W’s R Gg?
    W’s R?

    • Anindita Basu
      Loved your story, Flo. A very important and current crisis you probed with the tech savvy details of RIIG …Well done.
      • Thanks a lot, Anindita. But what is RIIG…? (I’m always struggling with acronyms…)
    • RM York

      Wow, just wow. Well done. Good job. Nice. Have I made myself clear? It makes me think.

      • Wow, many thanks, Roy. It means a lot.
    • So much depth, Flo. So many layers. Beautifully written and very thought provoking. I would have used the word ‘undefinable’ instead of indefinite in – “wrapped around an indefinite… thing.”
    • Flo, I love your comments, they’re loaded with brilliant insights and delightful observations. So I was eager to read one of your stories. But I don’t understand it. I’ve read it three times, and I’m completely baffled by the first two-thirds of the story. The first 400 words describing some kind of street vendor, or performer using a strange, multi-colored, putty-like substance? That seems to shape itself? I suppose it could all be metaphorical, but if so, a metaphor for what?

      ‘A question slowly loses its backbone, as language itself is being drained off of its marrow.’

      Past the half-way point, I get the fact that you’re describing, partially, in a rather oblique way, the plight of displaced people, the ubiquity of racism, or bias, and the general complacency of people in general to those less fortunate. (At least, I think.)

      But just as I feel like I’m catching on to your theme, you begin repeating the phrase and title of the story. ‘What’s Really Going On?’ But with each repetition, more and more letters are missing from the phrase. More metaphor?

      ‘But a question dangles like a gutted mass of pure absurdity.’

      Wht’s Rll Gong On?

      Answer: It beats the hell out of me. This story is more poetry than prose, which means it tends to induce emotion more than convey information. And, this is why I don’t like poetry, because it’s a shortcut to an emotional response. If you don’t understand the meaning of something, a song, a poem, a picture…then the emotions it evokes have no basis, no foundation, no reference point.

      If a poem makes you FEEL loneliness, what is the value of that emotion? An unfettered emotion, void of meaning, or purpose. When you feel lost, it’s because you’ve lost something. The emotion has relevance. Emotions without relevance are meaningless.

      By contrast, If a story conveys the experience of loneliness, expressed as an inevitable consequence of the human condition, THAT, is like a long-awaited signal blocking out the perennial static of solitary existence. Or a hand, reaching for you out of the darkness and grabbing you firmly, but not painfully around the upper arm. A guide. Or like a light on an endless horizon…

      Loneliness, without a reference point, is just depressing.

      On the TV the other night, I witnessed a high-level American Military Officer who was ‘seriously’ defending the military mobilization of 5,000 troops in response to a ‘caravan’ of homeless Central American refugees. In essence, the once mighty United States, now reels in fear at the prospect of 8,000 ‘marauding’ Honduran men, women and children, traveling mostly on foot, armed with rocks, seeking asylum.

      If your story is meant to convey a sense of regret over the European response to an upsurge in refugees, then it could have been much clearer. As an American, I’m in no position to criticize, as the duplicity and cowardice of American leadership at this point in our history is beyond comprehension. Or excuse.

      You see what you’ve done? You’ve provoked a deeply felt emotional response. Which, no doubt, will just encourage you do write more stuff like this.

      • At your brilliant best, Ken. There is so much to learn from you. Your honesty, your straightforwardness, commitment and critiquing are some of your trademark characteristics.
        Help me grow as a good human even if I prefer to keep silent about your stories, and some others’ as well, at times.
        With love and regards.
      • And it will, Ken, it will. Thank you! 🙂
    • I like poems though I rarely understand them. I like your piece (is it a story?) though I’m sure I did not get all of the details. Your prose produces a resonance in me. „Colors vary, from midnight blue to glossy green, safety jacket orange, barbie pink, all translucent.“ „Scum oozed on a sterile surface, white page where no words will ever stick, the gunk starts to shiver as some life pushing to be born from the mud.“
      We all know the topic addressed in your text. Or do we? We all read, hear, talk, sing, paint, write about them. People who migrate. It’s hard to find a new image that brings us back to the topic that we think we know so well. For me, that is, what I get from this text, a vivid image, a slapping noise, another perspective.
      Is it really that difficult to talk to people? Is it impossible to cross the street? I don’t know, I have not tried yet.
  • Hi all, just thought I’d follow up about the “not secure” error message that you see above.

    “https” means that any information flowing from your web browser to the fiction website is encrypted, payment information, HIPPA etc.

    The “Not Secure” warning does not indicate that your computer or the site you are visiting is affected by malware. It only serves to alert you that you do not have an encrypted connection with that page. Google rolled this out in July 2018.

    It’s an extra $100/year. As it is I pay $95 a year for the hosting of this website that you all enjoy for free (except Ken C – he actually supports the podcast with the membership which helps offset costs so thank you!!) not to mention the hours Alice and I spend here. So an extra $100 is a big deal. How much should I pay out of pocket to work so you have a place to post stories?

    Since we don’t take credit card payments I don’t want to pay $200/year just for a not for profit website.

    When you get the not secure message just scroll down and click advanced. This should add an exception to your browser letting it know you still want to navigate through.

    Each browser is different so you may get a different screen, but essentially you will get a warning screen and you will have to figure out how to navigate through and accept the notion t hat your credit card has a minute chance of being stolen. (good thing we don’t take any credit card information eh?)

    Here is an image example:
    Just click on “Continue to this website”.

    • Anindita Basu
      Carrie, How do you contribute/donate to this site? You mentioned that you don’t take Credit cards, then how’d I pay if I want to ? Also I saw that link long time ago but couldn’t find it now. Some of my comments are posted with no problem but some didn’t. Looking forward to hearing from you. You have my e mail address, you may write there too if you want or right here in this forum. Thank you.
  • Alice Nelson

    Small Town Stories: Contact, Nevada

    The Contact, Nevada sheriff’s Department was a 3 person operation located in the Leonard G. Tillman building along with the post office and DMV.

    Dorothy Jean Dugan, DJ to her friends, was the office manager. If you wanted to see Sheriff Nathan Newburn, you had to go through DJ, and believe me, that was no easy feat.

    It was Tuesday, Deputy Dan Simmons was on a fishing trip in Cascade, so DJ and Newburn were holding down the fort, at least they’d have Burt’s donuts to look forward to.

    Every Tuesday like clockwork, Burt Estes, widower and owner of The Sagebrush Cafe, delivered a dozen donuts to, as he said, “My favorite lawmen —and woman.”

    But it was 11am, well past Burt’s normal 10am delivery time, and the sheriff was practically dying of hunger. DJ was typing up reports when she heard the door open. Thinking it was Burt, she said without looking, “Sheriff was gonna up out an APB on you Bur—”

    However, it wasn’t Burt Estes standing there with his bright smile, it was Simon Waller, professional sourpuss. Simon moved to Contact a few months before, kept mostly to himself, and never gotten so much as a parking ticket.

    Simon was a small man with salt and pepper gray hair, but his age was anyone’s guess. “He could be anywhere from 35 to 55,” DJ told Deputy Simmons, who then accused her of having a crush on the man.

    “Hello Simon,” she said cheerfully.

    “I Need to see Sheriff Newburn,” Simon was all business.

    DJ wasn’t about to disturb Sheriff Newburn pre-donut, so she said to Simon, “Sheriff’s busy, but I can take a message for you’d if you like.”

    Then Simon just said it. As easy as someone telling you what day it was. He said, “Tell the sheriff I murdered Burt Estes.”

    There hadn’t been a murder in Contact since 1983, when Doyle Hibbard, “accidentally” ran over his loud mouth wife with his new truck. So you could understand why DJ just stared back at Simon dumbfounded.

    “Are you joking, is this some kind of joke?” she asked. But DJ had never heard Simon Waller tell a joke, she wasn’t even sure he knew how.

    “No joke,” he said, his dark eyes boring through her.

    Without taking her eyes off of Simon, DJ buzzed Sheriff Newburn’s office, “Sheriff, I think you better get out here quick.”

    Now, there was only two reasons that Sheriff Newburn ever moved in a hurry; one, was when Burt showed up with the donuts; and two, was when he had to evacuate his bowels after a particularly heavy lunch.

    So when he rushed up to the front desk with that, ‘Oh, where are those donuts,’ look on his face, imagine his disappointment when DJ said, “Simon Waller’s here to see you.

    “Dorothy Jean, you know I ain’t had my donut yet, ” Newburn said irritably.

    “I think you need to hear what he has to say. Tell him what you told me Simon.”

    And he said it again, with the same ease as he did the first time, “I killed Burt Estes.”

    The Sheriff looked from Simon to DJ and back to Simon again, “You mean accidentally?”

    “No, I meant to do it.”

    Then the sheriff turned and went back into his office, returning moments later, licking the remains of the emergency donut he kept in his office from his fingers.

    He paused to wipe his hands on his slacks then asked, “But why?”

    “Well, ‘cause he had it comin’,” Simon said simply.

    “Why’re you telling us Simon?” DJ asked.

    “Just so’s you don’t go wastin’ time tryin’ to find who did it. I know ya’ll are pretty shorthanded.”

    DJ and the Sheriff were speechless.

    Newburn didn’t believe Simon, and said to DJ, “Call over to Burt’s, see if he’s in.”

    Both men watched as DJ sat with the receiver pressed against her right ear, “He’s not answering, Sheriff,” she said finally.

    “Go to his house,” Simon said, “You’ll find him there.”

    Newburn stared at the man, his face went through a myriad of emotions. Finally he said, “Well shit, let’s get goin’ DJ.”

    Newburn put Simon in Contact’s one and only holding cell, until they could figure out if Burt was dead or alive.

    DJ drove since Deputy Simmons was on vacation, and Newburn looked like his emergency donut was about to make a return appearance.

    Burt lived in a little gray house on Warrington Road, alongside several other neatly kept bungalows.

    Sheriff Newburn knocked on the door, “Burt, it’s me Nathan.”


    Sheriff tried the door, it was unlocked. He looked at DJ who nodded, then they went inside.

    The smell hit them like a punch to the gut, and it looked like someone or something had torn the poor man apart.

    “No way one person could’ve done this,” Newburn said. It was hard for DJ to hear, because the sheriff had his nose and mouth covered with a handkerchief.

    Burt, or what used to be Burt was propped up in an easy chair that sat in front of the TV. He had been split in half, his innards splattered all over the beautiful egg shell colored walls. A note was pinned to his chest, written in his own blood. It said, ‘Here lies a murderer.’

    The Price is Right was playing soundlessly on the TV, and DJ kept her eyes on host Drew Carey, so she wouldn’t have to look at Burt.

    The place where Burt’s lower body should have been, was an old newspaper from the Dorset Vermont Gazette, dated 1973.
    The headline read, Couple Brutally Murdered.

    65 year old Ramsey Paulson and his wife Ada, were discovered in their Dorset home by neighbors. 20 year old Mathers Caldwell, a drifter who did odd jobs on the farm, is the prime suspect.’

    There was a picture of this Mathers fella, and even in one 45 years old, it was easy to see that Mathers Caldwell and Burt Estes, were one in the same.

    “But why’d Simon do this?” the sheriff said, handing DJ the paper, “And what connection does he have to this couple?”
    “Maybe we need to ask him,” DJ said, finally taking her eyes of the television.

    Newburn nodded, “We’ll question him, then call Elko County Sheriff’s Department, They’re better equipped to handle this kind of…of…,” Newburn’s voice trailed off.

    But how could they explain a man being ripped apart?

    But Newburn never had to explain events, because when they returned, Simon was gone. The cell door was still locked.

    Newburn and DJ never told anyone what really happened.

    Newton, Idaho was a beautiful town of about 470 people, about 80 miles north of Boise.

    Simon Waller sat in his regular booth at Belle’s diner, eating her world famous blueberry pie.

    He looked disinterested in any and every one, but in truth he was keeping an eye on someone sitting at the counter.

    A rare smile spread across Simon Waller’s handsome, yet weathered face, as he thought about how he would take care of matters this time around.

    • Nice, prompt-based story, Alice. The only thing I can complain of is that it is the kinda story that warrants a second reading.
      You have played around the topic to a nicety. The characters are believable as are the brutal murders. The narrative flows very smoothly and cohesively.
      I’d have loved to find out how Simon could get himself out of the cell and if DJ had anything to do with him ( She kept her eyes on the TV while things kept happening). You see, that is why I needed to go through the end once more. Right now, I don’t have the time.
      Good luck with your story. Keep smiling.
      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you Rathin. You seem like you are a busy man, hope you get some time to relax.

    • RM York
      Well done, Alice. Having lived in Nevada 41 years, I’m sure I came across Simon/Mathers/Burt from time to time. Well described story Alice. You have a natural talent to bring out the best (worst) in your characters.
      • Alice Nelson

        Thanks Roy very much. Nevada is one of those places for me where there are endless weird and fascinating stories.

        • RM York
          Anytime, Miss Alice. I now call the meeting of the Alice Nelson Fan Club to order. As president, I would like to thank all of you for showing up today …
          • Alice Nelson


    • Sarig Levin
      Excellent story, Alice. Not sure I got it in one go, but thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless 🙂
      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you Sarig

    • A light story, a cheerful story. First it’s about donuts, later on about a man who was cut in two or torn to pieces. Devilish is the way this story portrays a murder as something not so scary because the killer was probably right. And because he was not human, not in the true sense.
      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you Max, I’m so glad you saw the lightheartedness in a story with darker overtones. And Welcome to the group!

  • I like it, Alice. A kind of ‘Fargo’ meets ‘Dexter.’ The amazing thing about this story is that not much really happens, yet this bouncy writing style adds a zippy feel to the whole story. A very enjoyable read.

    I only have one critical suggestion, it’s a minor thing, and I’m so happy to see one of your stories that I’m going to keep it to myself.

    • Thank you Ken, but now I’m dying to know what that critique was.
      • Alice,

        ‘…it was Simon Waller, professional sourpuss. Simon moved to Contact a few months before, kept mostly to himself, and never gotten so much as a parking ticket.

        Simon was a small man with salt and pepper gray hair, but his age was anyone’s guess.

        You repeat the character’s name three times in three consecutive sentences. The third sentence could refer to him as ‘He’ and be appended to the tail end of the preceding paragraph. That’s it. That’s the only flaw in the entire story. (If you could even call it that. A flaw, I mean.) One other thing I just remembered. Is the title supposed to be: ‘Small Town Stories’? Cause you’ve got ‘Small Town Stores.’

        • Alice Nelson

          Oh man Ken C. you are right, I missed those. That’s why this group is so awesome, you all point out things I’ve looked at a million times and missed. And it is “Stories” I just can’t spell. Thanks dude!

  • Ken Frape
    Hi Alice,
    I loved the understated delivery. It’s all in the description not the action. I found myself immediately believing Simon’s confession but I still wanted to know what would happen when DJ and Newburn arrived at Burt’s house.

    The running gag, if I can describe it as such, was the donut thread ( food in general, blueberry pie too) and I can picture the police chief a bit like Boss Hogg ( I think) from the Dukes of Hazard. Not much good at moving at speed on foot but a very effective one man road block.

    Mischieviously, I wonder if in fact Burt ate too many off his own donuts and simply explded! Perhaps Simon held him hosatage and force fed him donuts until he went “Bang!”

    The mystery of Simon’s escape from his cell and his next “job” in Newton, Idaho remains just that, a mystery. I personally think it is great to leave readers hanging so that they are still processing what they have just read well after they finish reading.
    A great story, Alice.

    Ken Frape (Ken F) or (Ken 2)

    • Alice Nelson

      Wow Ken 2, thank you so much! I love how you liked the running gag (and that’s what I was hoping would come across), and what’s so funny is I also imagined a Boss Hogg type sheriff. I really appreciate the comments, take care.

  • Today was different to any day before it. I woke up to my alarm going off, sat up and sat on the edge of my bed and put my slippers on, normal so far, but when I looked down at my slippers, they were brown, yesterday they were blue.
    I opened my door and called down to my mum.
    “Mum, what colour are my slippers?”
    “Brown!” Came the reply.
    I shrugged it off and went to brush my teeth.
    I grabbed my toothbrush and squeezed toothpaste onto it, but it came out black. I was shocked for a moment, but I dismissed it, assuming mum had bought that weird charcoal toothpaste, she was always doing weird things like that. I brushed my teeth, it tasted normal so I wasn’t really worried and went downstairs.
    I walked into the kitchen and sat at the table, mum had already made breakfast so I greedily helped myself.
    I looked up at my mum as she walked past and dropped my fork.
    “Mum! Did you dye your hair green!?” I asked.
    She looked at her reflection in the window and there was only the briefest moment of hesitation before she replied.
    “I’ve always had green hair, what are you talking about?”
    Did she? Was I going crazy? I went to the living room and looked at the photo on the mantelpiece of our family, and sure enough she had green hair. Weird, I must be going crazy.
    I went back up to my room and got dressed. I had to go and help Mr. Byres next door, he was really old so I helped him out whenever I could. He usually paid me a dollar or two.
    I went downstairs again said goodbye to my mum, briefly hesitating as I looked at her hair, but I shook my head and went next door.
    Mr. Byres was sitting on his porch in the chair he always sat in. I waved happily to him as I walked up his driveway. He grunted back at me. Nothing weird there. As I walked closer, I noticed that his chair didn’t have any legs! It was just floating!
    “Mr. Byres!” I shouted. “How are you doing that? Your chair doesn’t have any legs!”
    Mr. Byres looked down dismissively and looked at me like I asked him what the sun was.
    “It’s never had any legs boy, what are you talking about?”
    “Then why doesn’t it fall to the ground?”
    Mr. Byres looked back down at the chair again. “Well, it, um, it…” He looked to be in some discomfort as he tried to work it out.
    “It just works alright boy!” He snapped. “Always has. Don’t you have better things to do than mocking an old man?”
    I knew better than to hang around when Mr. Byre was in a bad mood, so I threw the odd chair from my mind and scuttled into the garage to grab the rake and start my chores.
    Maybe it’s because I was so busy, or maybe Mr. Byre had scared me so much I just kept my head down, but I didn’t notice anything else weird until later that afternoon.
    It wasn’t until I was walking back up to my house after finishing my chores, I heard a car coming. I turned and looked and saw the strangest thing of all that day. A man was sitting in the car, his hands holding the wheel and his feet on the pedal, his left arm was resting on the window and he was staring straight ahead, except there was no car. He was just floating along the road at 45 miles an hour. I could still hear the engine, but I couldn’t see the car.
    Now I knew something was wrong. Either I was going crazy, or the world was.

    I stood still and looked around my surroundings. Now that I was looking for strangeness it was everywhere. A Tree was growing through someone’s wall. A dog was disappearing from the garden and reappearing on a roof, then just as suddenly reappearing in the garden, barking maniacally as it happened. A plane suddenly appeared overhead so loud and so low it knocked me to the ground, then just it vanished again, leaving silence in its absence. All the people I could see on my street appeared totally unfazed by the oddness of our world.
    Just as I began to resign myself to life of strangeness and incongruity, I saw something even more peculiar than my slippers, and mum’s hair, the floating chair and the teleporting dog. In the middle of the street was a black wall. It was running diagonal across the road and it wasn’t connected to anything. It was just a black wall standing where it had no right to be standing. I saw people driving and walking around it without giving it so much as a second glace.
    I walked up to the black wall, it was completely smooth, like polished stone. I walked to the side of the wall, it was as thin as paper, but it felt completely solid. The other side of the wall was the same, except at the far end of the wall was a man, kneeling in front of the wall, with what looked like an electrical panel open in front of him.
    I walked closer to the man. There was something strange that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I crept closer. I noticed it now, he had 4 arms. Well, it certainly wasn’t the strangest thing I’d seen all day. I continued edging closer. I noticed his skin was grey and he was wearing what looked like a black lab coat too. I was a little nervous, but my strange day had numbed me enough that I didn’t immediately run away. I took another step closer and kicked a can that I hadn’t seen. As it loudly scuttled away from my foot the man looked up at me and was startled, he hastily closed the panel, the wall became a completely flush, smooth black finish again, like there was no panel at all. Then the man and the wall just disappeared. Vanished, into thin air.
    I shook my head again and walked away. This seemed no stranger to me than anything else I had seen that day.
    But as I walked back to my house, I saw the dog, happily laying in the sun on his front lawn. I saw Mr. Byres rocking back on forth on what appeared to be a whole chair. I ran inside and saw my mother reading a book on the couch, her hair as brown as it had always been.

    • So, what’s actually going on, Mr. Lyoyd? Was the protagonist drunk, dazed, duped or dammed? Otherwise, how do you account for the fact that when he left home, the colour of his mother’s hair was green. By the time, he got back home, the color was back to normal. The dog was in the garden and the chair of Mr.Byres was whole again?
      You know, Mr. Lyoyd, I try to avoid the last minute stories habitually. I just chanced upon your story and I regretted the fact that the thought of writing a story on similar lines, never came to me. In other words, what I am trying to convey is that I enjoyed this narrative. Good luck with your story.
      • Thank you for the very kind words!
        I’m afraid I’m not going to tell you what my intention was with the plot of the story, you can interpret it as you see fit! Since posting it here I have decided the title, “Making Someone’s Day.”

        Thank you again.

    • Ken Frape
      Hi Lloyd,

      So, the magic mushrooms are working then.

      An excellent read in a surreal style. As I think back to what I have just read it puts me in mind of Salvador Dali where nothing is quite what it seems. It’s a mirror held up to show what you didn’t expect and yet, the reality remains unchanged.

      Having said that and perhaps to support my own theory, I see a grey old man in the bathroom every morning that I’m sure I don’t recognise. I certainly don’t remember giving him permission to share my bathroom but the thing is, you see, my wife seems to like him. Anyway, I went on holiday to Iceland ( as you do!) and you’ll never gues what? The old bugger followed me there!

      A good story,

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      • Thank you for the kind words, and the entirely undeserved comparison to Mr. Dali.

        I hope you and the grey man reconcile your differences, he seems like a wonderful man!

    • Welcome to the group, Lloyd. A wonderful story. Once again, someone has written something that I’ve frequently thought of writing, but could never quite figure out how to tell it. You did a marvelous job of it. The tricky part, and maybe the reason I never tackled it, was how you treat the people other than the main character. Do they know too? Do they think you’re crazy? The main character has to be done with finesse too. What type of person carries on their chores while reality goes haywire and needs a technical tweaking? But your character fills the bill somehow. His youthful insouciance is actually quite believable. A very fun and creative story Lloyd.
      • Thank you for the compliment Ken. And I appreciate the feedback on the story. I think I’m guilty of not thinking of things like that when I write and it can come across. A lack of thought does benefit the flow of the story sometimes, perhaps one day I’ll be able to blend the two. Thank you again!
    • A story like a dream. Salvatore Dali and Rene Magritte form reality. Or don’t they? Thank you!
    • Ken Frape
      Well done. A thoroughly deserved rise to the top of the pile.
      Ken Frape
  • RM York
    Lloyd, welcome to the site. A simple, but interesting plot line. And, descriptive, but with a lot of telling. What I’m wondering about is how to make it more show with less tell, but not sure how to do that. I noticed little things like the last paragraph. You don’t need the word ‘But’ to start the last paragraph at all. Simply this: ‘As i walked back to my house,’ the dog raised a sleepy head, gave a short little, “ruff”, and Mr. Byres gave me a wave from a normal chair. When I got inside, there was Mum, reading a book, her hair brown as it should be. (Yeah, I rewrote part of this, because you don’t need all the repetitive descriptive stuff). Then, I would add this ending: All was right with the world … for now. Which I think kicks the story a bit, giving the reader a sense of wonder and thinking about how long until the guy and the wall reappear?

    As always, my critique is to be dealt with however you like. Ignored, loved, hated, used, whatever floats your boat. I just think you have more than a modicum of talent and aren’t yet using it to it’s full potential.

    • Critiques are always welcome. I am only one set of eyes so if someone sees something I don’t then I’m all ears (and eyes.)
      I happen to agree with your rewrite and your comments on this occasion so thank you very much!
  • Well, seeing as how I can’t win this week, I’ve decided to re-frame all of our tittles. (!)
    Which, as long as I do this right, I should be able to insult at least a half a dozen people at once. It’s important to be efficient, whatever you do, and I believe we must not take ourselves too seriously. So, here they are. Back by popular (vote stuffing) demand. Your new Story Names.

    1. What’s Going On. 1. Trash Talk.
    2. The Deadly Bet. 2. Burnin’ Down the Ghatt.
    3. A Glow of Hope. 3. A Hopeless Glow.
    4. Fly. 4. Spacesuit Ointment.
    5. Who Knows What Really Goes On.5. American In Paris, Texas.
    6. Waiting. 6. Bum Spotting.
    7. Words. 7. Wide, Wads of Woods. (R)
    8. A New Society. 8. In Fidel We Trust.
    9. Doctor, Lawyer, Indian, Chief. 9. Proctor, Liar, Idiot, Cheat.
    10. Hargrove House. 10. Ghost Lives Matter.
    11. Wht’s Rll Gg n? 11. Tookin’ Our Sacred Vowels.
    12. Small Town Stores: Contact, Nev. 12. The Missing Donut: Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
    13. Untitled. Lloyd Edwards. 13. No Titties! (Just Kidding.) Zero Plot Exploit.

  • Alice Nelson

    First Place: Untitled by Lloyd Edwards
    2nd Place: A Glow of Hope by Phil Town
    3rd Place: Who Knows What Really Goes On Behind Closed Doors? by Ken Frape
    4th Place: Fly by berlinermax
    5th Place: Doctor, Lawyer, Indian, Chief by Ken Cartisano
    6th Place: What’s really going on at the Hargrove House by RM York
    7th Place: Waiting by Sarig Levin
    8th Place: A New Society by Lucas Valladares
    9th Place: What’s Going On by Anindita Basu
    10th Place: Wht’s Rll Gg n? by Flo
    11th Place: Small Town Stories: Contact, Nevada by Alice Nelson
    12th Place: The Deadly Bet by Rathin Bhattacharjee
    13th Place: Words by Robert Emmett

    Favorite Character: Ken Frape (Margot)
    Best Use of Dialogue: Waiting by Sarig Levin

    Congratulations Lloyd, and welcome to the group!!

  • RM York
    Congrats to the top three. Good job, boys and girls. On to the next prompt.
  • Hey Lloyd,
    Congratulations on the win. Especially considering the competition this time around. There were so many good stories it was hard to make proper fun of them all. (Cheeky bastard that I am.) Tough choosing the best five too. Sure hope you’ll write a story for the next prompt, as well. Don’t leave us hangin’.
  • Wow! What an awesome start to my weekend. And amazing to get validation from such talented writers. Onto the next!
  • Phil Town
    Congratulations, Lloyd … and what an entrance!

    Great stories all round.

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