Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

First Line Contest “Traveling Through the Night”

Theme: Travelling Through the Night

You can use any mode of transportation you like, it’s the journey that matters.

Story Requirements:

  • None

Word Count: 1,200

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  • To leave feedback/Comments directly relating to a particular story – click “reply” to the story comment.
  • Specific critiques, comments, and feedback are encouraged. If you do not want honest professional feedback do not post a story.
  • Keep feedback and critiques to a civil and constructive level, please. Please critique stories for construction, style, flow, grammar, punctuation, and so on. The moderator has the right to delete any comments that appear racist, inflammatory or bullying.

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

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

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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 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).

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

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

286 thoughts on “First Line Contest “Traveling Through the Night”

  • Alice Nelson

    Read the stories here:

    (If you don’t see your story linked in this comment, feel free to copy and paste the title and permalink in the comments below so it does not get missed, or use the contact form to let us know we somehow missed it.
    Meanwhile, please be patient, moderators are not always online. We’ll get to it as soon as possible. Thank you.)

    • Hi everyone,
      This prompt is going to be fun, I’m sure. 🙂
      • I hope nobody minds if I read their stories to get some ideas. I don’t see how I could make a beer run entertaining. Unless I was a zombie travelling through territory controlled by psychic cows–with laser fences, then the earthquake hit. It was all lasers and cows and zombies piled up on top of everything, and the worst part was that it shook up the beer. Like a minor disaster movie. What do you think Amy? I’m afraid to look. Has anyone done anything like this yet?
        • Lol Ken C! I don’t think anyone has done a story like that just yet (you can read through them to be certain, I highly doubt anyone would mind) and I’m certain you could definitely make it great.
          Just remember: Shaken up beer fizzes everywhere when you open it right away, be careful that it doesn’t get into the driver’s eyes while he’s driving. He may stop short and be turned into a zombie himself because the earthquake threw his car into the laser lit cow fence.
          Then again, scientifically thinking, I suppose a spewing brewskie could possibly refract the light just right and may work like a perfect alcohol laser beam that could inevitably kill the zombies and you, my friend would heroically save the day… or night in this case.
          • And the title of the story would be… (Drum roll please.) Zombie Apoc-hiccups.
            • Trying to congratulate you on your story Ken last prompt. Great story in a very full field of contenders. However this site keeps telling me it has been reset. I have wasted an hour on something that should have taken me five minutes to do. Glad to see your name in lights or first past the post so to speak. So for the twenty- fifth time I am trying to say congrats and then get some work done.
    • In the UK, we write ‘traveling’ with 2 ‘l’ . The Americans have swallowed one of our ‘l’.
      • Peter Holmes
        We want justice for that lost l don’t we Chitra

        (also I’m signing in for comments)

      • Alice Nelson

        Chitra, I know. When Ken F sent us the prompt there was that extra ‘l’ I just thought he’d made a mistake. Now I know that you Brits just like adding extra letters to words 🙂

        • Hi Alice,
          I don’t think we have added extra letters to words.

          The English Language origins from the English. Other countries have adopted it or forced to adopt it. and have changed bit of it here and there to deny that the roots of the language are from England. Seems like they identify themselves in that way.

          No offence meant.

          Americans like to show they are different

          • Chitra and Peter,

            We have your ridiculously unnecessary L. And if you Brit’s ever want to see your L again, you need to release the extra i you’ve been holding in aluminium. That second i belongs to us and we want it back. The idea that one of our letters would go to London to ride a giant ferris wheel named in its honor, and end up being detained, quarantined and sequestered in a strange metal is inconceivable.

            You have no one to blame but yourselves.
            Release the i, and nobody gets hurt.

          • Alice Nelson

            Oh no offense taken Chitra, see we even spell the word ‘offense’ differently 🙂 I know the origin of the English language, I was just joking. Not sure why the spelling was changed, but we’re Americans, we have to do it our way. Remember 1776 🙂

          • “Two countries separated by the same language”, eh?
            (Who said that, btw? Churchill? Oscar Wilde? Mrs Maisel?)

            “Remember 1776” – some us aren’t old enough for that, Alice 🙂

            But it’s interesting that American English contains a lot of archaisms, bits of language that stopped evolving when they crossed the pond. Maybe around 1776. Like all those -ize endings we talked about last time around.
            And words like ‘oftentimes’. Sounds quaint when you hear an American say that, like they’ve just walked out of a Shakespeare play.

            But not so ‘aluminum’, Ken C. That’s just an egregious error. A sore thumb in the US and Canadian periodic table.

            I’m guessing in North America kids are taught “25% of the mass of the sun consists of helum”. Or you go out and buy “lithum” batteries.
            Even the French agree with us on this, and they disagree with us about most things on principle.

            So, willingly and with considerable joy we’ll send you back your missing ‘i’, for the sake of our ears and international harmony.

          • Phil Town
            “I don’t got…”

            I rest my case, m’lud.

          • Alice Nelson

            Andy, hahaha, I look good for 243 🙂

            Phil, “I don’t got,” is not the normal vernacular here. It’s not considered incorrect, it’s a lazy use of the language. 🙂

          • Peter Holmes
            Ken C, you offer an interesting negotiation. You may have your precious i, just please have mercy on our l. It doesn’t do well under pressure…
          • Peter Holmes
            Oh my god I’m British and I’ve always spelled ‘offence’ as the -nse ending.
            That makes me feel stupid…
      • We also took care of your excess U’s as in color and neighborhood. I can think of more things we corrected, but not at the moment. I would have said we dumped the thing about having a King or Queen, but since our latest president is in office, it seems we failed on that account. Never thought I would see that day.
        • … still work to do to deal with the excess ‘gh’ in neighborhood
    • Adrienne Riggs
      This should be fun!
    • Looks like I may have posted my story at the wrong place… it came on top instead of at the bottom of the string. Could this be fixed? Sorry, it’s a bit confusing…
      • Alice Nelson

        Hi Ken M. I deleted your story, so if you could re-post it underneath at the end. Don’t reply to a story any comments, post your story in a fresh comment box. Thanks my friend 🙂

        • Yean, and can you change you’re name while you’re at it?
          Jesus, what’s with all the Ken’s around here. I can’t relax. I’m tense. (And they’re all better writers than me.)

          Just kidding Ken. Carry on.

          • Alice Nelson

            Yeah it’s some kind of Ken bacteria, that just keeps growing and growing 🙂

          • Peter Holmes
            it’s like a sweets store (candy for Americans, but let’s not get into that conversation again…)
            but as I was saying, it’s like a sweet store
            because it sells
          • Ken Miles
            Haha – there must be some Ken-magnet in here!

            My story will be coming back in a moment – I’ll make sure I’ll post it at the right place this time…

    • Ken Miles
      Hi Alice – there’s also Ken Cartisano’s story to add to the list…
      • Thanks Ken M. 🙂
  • Actually like this prompt.
    • Anindita Basu
      Hi Alice and fellow writers. Hope I can cook up something. Hope summer is blissful . Catch up soon.
      • Alice Nelson

        Hi Anindita, I hope you have a story this time too!

  • Travelling Through The Night

    A short story by Ken Frape.

    Admission: As this is my prompt I decided to get a head start before heading off to Ireland on holiday. Yes, Ok it is another train story but that doesn’t mean anybody else has to include a train. It’s up to you.

    The Night Train.

    There’s something languorous about travelling on the night train and making love to the rhythm of the railtrack. Darkness adds an additional frisson of excitement to the nocturnal journey, imbuing with it a sense of delayed gratification. There’s no need to rush. We have all night. The night train cruises through the slumbering countryside, in no particular hurry, at ease with itself compared to its daylight companion that hurries and bustles, one eye always on the clock. Circadian rhythms dictate a slower pace now. “We’ll –get- there, we’ll- get- there, we’ll- get- there,” sigh the carriages as they slide through the dark-shrouded towns and villages, a highwayman’s horse with blanketed hooves, the night fox on the prowl. The people in the houses near the tracks are barely even aware of the gentle passage of the night train as they slumber on towards daybreak. Only the insomniac and the night hunter watch its progress with passing interest.

    On board, the sleeping compartments are now occupied, doors closed tight against the chill and prying eyes. The restaurant car is shut down, the tables cleaned and prepared for breakfast to be served an hour before pulling in to the terminus in the early morning. Then, with a shriek of brakes and a crashing of doors the journey will come to a halt, the magic shell of darkness broken. The frenetic day will take over from the languid night. But for now, there is no movement in the train’s lengthy, dimly lit corridors except for the gentle hip- swaying motion of the carriages following the curving track.

    In my compartment in that early dawn prelude to the new day, my partner and I have been sleeping, entwined in each other’s arms, legs exposed to dissipate the heat generated by our recent passionate exertions. Clothing lies scattered, abandoned in wanton haste. An inverted champagne bottle lolls from side to side in the ice bucket, its contents long since consumed, the ice now turned to water. A dressing gown, never worn, modesty cast aside, hangs casually from a hook on the door. The catch is pulled across to reveal a single external word, “Engaged.”

    Rolling up onto one elbow, I look down at my sleeping bedfellow. I am looking down upon a most exquisite face, certainly not a fellow in the male sense of that word. She stirs and elongates her sinuous body, raising her arms above her head in that wonderful first stretch of the morning. Her full breasts, the subject of much of my attention and anticipation as we sat in the restaurant car the previous evening, rise above the still crisp, white railway sheets. Last night, she was clad in a classic blue silk dress with a deeply scooped neckline, part of that alluring décolletage decorated by a silver and pearl necklace. Since then I have explored every inch of those mounded breasts and found so much to enjoy in that journey.

    As requested, I was already seated when she slid into the seat opposite in the dining car last night. I had been careful when dressing for dinner. Smart casual was the order of the day so I dutifully obliged. She looked at me, a long held look and then, apparently satisfied, she looked away.
    “Have you ordered? She asked.
    I shook my head.
    I looked back into her hazel eyes, skilfully made up, my gaze moving on to her carefully brushed auburn hair and the glistening silver and diamond-studded hair slide.
    She tapped the menu with a reddened fingernail.
    “I am hungry,” she said simply, with crystal-clear ambiguity, “so let’s eat first.” She was enjoying the situation.

    The food was foreplay. Little conversation was required as we savoured the textures of the chef’s specials, the fine wines and the delicate sweet offerings. Around us, other couples were enjoying the same selection of food. I wondered how many of them were anticipating the same après-dinner activity as was on our menu. As we slowly drank our coffees, several other couples dabbed their serviettes to their lips as if giving a secret signal and left the dining car.
    As I rose to follow suit she reached out and placed her delicate hand upon mine.
    “Not yet,” she said. “There’s no hurry. “
    I looked across the table at her and she smiled.
    “After all, we have all night, don’t we?”
    We were the last to leave the dining car and almost immediately the waiter swept in and removed our coffee cups. Like us, he was anxious for bed.

    Everything that night was almost dreamlike, a dance, choreographed in slow motion. We both knew the moves, had danced this dance many times before. This time though, like Ravel’s Bolero, we started slowly, removing each other’s clothes with care but as the tension mounted we became more abandoned, more urgent in our lovemaking, more exploratory. Soon, we cast caution and clothing aside and writhed on the tightly tucked bed linen, undoing the cabin porter’s hard work.

    As Ravel brought his lovers to the top of the mountain, to the lip of the bubbling volcano, so too did we reach our peak and then threw ourselves from the top with cries and shouts of pleasure. Not death for us into the volcanic inferno but rather a slow and gentle descent to earth, to return our hearts to a steady beat once more.

    We made love again before dawn and then slept as we travelled on through the lightening skies towards our final destination.
    At six in the morning she rose from our bed and I watched with interest as she opened her suitcase and selected her clothes for onward travel. The outfit of a rich and educated woman. A woman used to giving commands and seeing them obeyed. Any further physical contact between us was now clearly forbidden. A barrier that had been lowered between us had been raised once again. I was unconcerned about this as it removed any awkwardness regarding our parting. I quickly dressed myself, picked up my case and stepped forward to open the door of the compartment for her. She held up her hand to halt me.
    “I shall leave first and you will immediately close the door behind me and remain here for one minute. Then you may also leave. Agreed?”
    I nodded.
    “Don’t I even get to know your name?” I asked as she turned away.
    She reached for the door, turning towards me once more and, for just a brief moment, I glimpsed the lover from the night before, not the haughty gentlewoman.
    “That would be…… unwise,” she said “and it could spoil what has been a most satisfactory arrangement.” She paused, glancing down briefly at the money-filled envelope on the bed. “One that I hope we may repeat.” With that she brushed her lips against mine then eased out of the compartment and was swallowed up in the early morning melee.

    I counted out the full sixty seconds then checked my make-up, smoothed my skirt over my hips and left the compartment, slipping the envelope into my handbag.

    Ken Frape
    July 2019-07-11
    1188 words.

    • Adrienne Riggs
      Very smooth story Ken. I loved the descriptions and imagery. What a surprise twist at the end. Well done!
    • Very well done, Ken.
      This is tauntingly titillating but tastefully done. I like the notion of describing the rhythmic sound of the train with a repetitive phrase. That’s a really nice touch. The writing is excellent all around, wonderful dialogue. Clever twist at the end that I didn’t see coming, at all. You totally fooled me.

      I only have one objection, with one sentence. Which reads:
      ‘Darkness adds an additional frisson of excitement to the nocturnal journey, imbuing with it a sense of delayed gratification.’

      One: You used the word ‘frisson.’ That’s bad enough by itself.

      Two: It means ‘a sudden thrill.’ So ‘a frisson of excitement’ would be on the redundant side. (a sudden thrill of excitement.) .

      Three: The sentence contains three redundancies. Darkness, nocturnal; frisson, excitement; adds, additional.
      Without the duplicates, it’s a good sentence. (reversing ‘with it’ as well.)

      Darkness adds a layer of excitement to the journey, imbuing it with a sense of delayed gratification.


      Darkness adds a mysterious frisson to the nocturnal journey, imbuing it with a sense of expectation.

      I would change that sentence. Other than that? I salute you.

      • Hi Ken,

        Thanks for your comments and they are well made. I can’t quibble with your grasp of the language and the improvement to this sentence.

        An admission here- you probably remember of few prompts ago, we had a spate ( or so it seemed) of train stories. I decided to write another one at that time in order to start a collection. Thus, I had this one all lined up and when I got the message that it was my prompt I was poised and ready to go. I added a rider that it did not have to be about a train journey.

        I have just posted a tongue-in-cheek message to everyone about your success in the last prompt. Very well deserved of course.

        Happy reading,

        Your fellow Ken


        • Ken,
          Posted it where? Where is it? So I’m finally famous. A sea shanty has been written in my honor? Uh-oh, wait a minute. Tongue in cheek? That’s my weapon of choice. This is gonna hurt. But that’s okay. I’m ready. I deserve it. (Notice I didn’t say I could take it.)

          Your story, by the way, is excellent Ken. I read that sentence the first time and didn’t notice a thing wrong with it. It wasn’t till a second reading that I noticed something funny about it.

          Is your lampoon on the old thread? I look forward to reading it.

          • Ken Frape
            Hi Ken,
            Greetings from Ireland!
            I posted a comment but it may have taken itself off onto cyberspace. I will try to retrieve it or redo it.
            Watch this space.
            Ken Frape
        • Ken La Frape,

          I found and read your tongue-in-cheek message to everyone, and all I can say is. I knew it. I knew it all along. A goddamned conspiracy. (Cue the dramatic music.) I don’t doubt that the Russians are involved as well. Carrie Zylka, indeed. More like Catarina Zylkastrewveskitros.

          But seriously. Yeah, that was pretty funny. In fact, I think you’ve done a good job of duplicating my style of humor. (Okay, that’s a little frightening, but impressive just the same.) You have a very good sense of humor, Ken. (No matter that you incorrectly spell it.)

          I just watched the entire ‘Good Omens’ movie from start to finish. Don’t know if you’re a Terry Pratchett fan but based on your sense of humor I think you should be. As good as the movie was, (pretty good) it can’t come near the humor that Pratchett and Gaiman attain through their writing. In the movie they include a lot details from the book, but things are moving along so swiftly, you hardly have time to notice. Whereas in the books, the authors (can and do) take the time to describe each and every visual prank in detail. The style and circumstances of the narration are very funny too.
          It put me in a mood to write a funny story, but, looking at what I’ve got so far, it ain’t happening.

          I’ve considered the idea of writing a story very badly. But then I worry, will bad writers think I’m mocking them, or, worse, will no one KNOW that it’s comedy? But then, I write badly all the time. I just assume everyone does. My significant other will say things like, (just recently, mind you).

          “What’s this? Why is THAT in there?”

          “Take that out. It’s not funny.”

          “This sucks.”

          “You should delete the whole first paragraph.”

          And one she does so well, ‘the long, dramatic sigh.’ “Here, let me see that.– Uhfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff……”

          These are actual recent quotes. Thank God I have such a, such an honest, and intelligent person to get feedback from. (Really, her allegiance with Satan is a wholly separate deal and doesn’t affect her literary advice and opinions. At all.)

          Because of her incisiveness, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people thought I was a little harsh in my criticism towards them as well. The good news is, well actually, there is no good news. The good news is, we’re done with the bad news.

          In fact, I was just telling a fellow author how I came up with a great plot last week, and then proceeded to do everything in my power to foul it up with horrible writing, redundancies, typos, unnecessary falsehoods, incorrect Nobility references, too many adverbs, cliche’s, trite-isisms.. I spent more time RE-writing that story than actually writing it. And one of my pet irritants is the ‘conflicting fact.’ I don’t know what they’re really called but, they’re like:
          All eyes were focused on him as he inconspicuously boarded the train. Every seat was taken, so he made his way down the aisle as the train got underway and settled into a seat by the window.

          You know? That could be kind of funny. A story filled with contradictions. Literal and grammatical. (Step away from the idea, everyone. Step a way.)

          My how I do prattle on.

          So tell me Ken, were you a Principal? Or something else? You probably had several positions. Started out as a janitor, say and ended up High Commissioner Of Hall Passes. You said you worked around schools for 35 years. What did you do?

    • Great story Ken F. It’s definitely nice and sultry. I did not expect the final reveal, wow.
    • Phil Town
      Lovely stuff, Ken. You’re a master of description, we’ve seen that before, and this is no exception. I love the period feel. The sex is very delicately but … sexily written. And the (as Andy says) double twist at the end is terrific … and makes all that comes before doubly decadent.

      In the first part, I got a sense of this famous poem & documentary film:

      And mention of Bolero reminded me of Dudley Moore/Bo Derek in ’10’.

      But these are mere observations. Your story works really well and I enjoyed it immensely (as I did your last one, with its several [as Ken C said] LOL moments).

    • Anindita Basu
      Enjoyed your story with the O’Henry style twist at the end. Liked the description, the sound effect of the rhythmic thud of the train, your sexy descriptions, lucid, smooth. But I agree with Ken. C regarding wordiness. Overall a great read, Ken F.
    • Well done, you naughty rascal. Had my attention. If you are going to travel through the night, this seems like a good way to do it. Did that once or twice and it was pretty good sleeping, and I, alas, slept alone. There’s a story that goes with that, but I’ve already published it on this site a few years ago.

      I agree with all the others. Good story.

    • Ken Miles
      Hi Ken,

      Your story honours whoever (I don’t remember who) once said that railways are the most romantic way of travelling. Especially no rush night trains with full living (and loving) amenities. Well, you take it somewhat beyond romantic, but never losing your elegant composure even when the story goes into bubblier waters. It’s a masterclass in the fine art of erotic fiction that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, descend into the vulgar. Anyone who had a go at it, knows it’s not at all easy.

      I found the narrating character’s definition of a bedfellow a bit odd. Maybe it was an intended clue, for a man would not usually think and talk like that. At the moment of reading it, it jarred a little, although it’s validated by the ending.

      I’m unsure as to what exactly make out of the money bit at the end. The intentions of payment/getting paid or otherwise on the part of either character can really take the gist of the story in very different directions. Perhaps I was trying to pick the direction I prefer!

      The ending really comes down as a surprise. It goes to show how much is still cast in stone in our heads in spite of all the talk of gender fluidity and all. Who knows if the surprise will still work in thirty or fifty years’ time?

      Besides the story itself, thanks for providing us with this prompt that has proved to be a good source of inspiration.


    • I’m probably the last person to read the story, so I don’t have much to say that others haven’t already said. I like the rhythm of the story, which reflects the movement of the train through the landscape. I love trains. And I love train stories. Luckily, this time, no aggressive criminal was on board.
    • Great story, Ken – hot and steamy much like our weather here the past week. It’s great that you used the idea of the sexy train – which is so often a stand-in for a man doing the deed – with two women instead. Yet you were still able to make a train sexy without using the old tunnel metaphore.
      • Ken Frape
        Hi Wendy,
        Thanks for your comments.
        What was I thinking, not using the old train in the tunnel metaphor?
        Strangely enough I didn’t set out to write the story as being an erotic journey. It just seemed to happen and it was nice to write too.

        Kind regards,

        Ken Frape

    • Hi Chitra,

      Wow, that was a rapid response! Here in the UK I am just about to switch off and get to bed as it is 11.30 at night.
      Glad you liked the twist.

      it’s always a risk to post a story early or be the first but I needed to do it so now it’s done.


      Ken Frape.

      • Hi Ken,
        Love the whole read of your story. The end gave me a jolt.

        I am from The UK too, from Buckinghamshire in England.

        • Hi Chitra,

          Buckinghamshire, eh?
          I used to work in Slough, before it was designated as being in Berkshire, lived in High Wycombe and got married in Haddeenham, near Aylesbury.
          Small world isn’t it?
          Ken Frape.

          • Hi Ken,

            Small World indeed.

            I am from High Wycombe, more towards West Wycombe. Been here for the last 44 years. Will end here hopefully.
            Slough was one area I covered before I retired from work.


      • Very well written, Ken, and a good twist at the end. A couple of twists, really.
        And a nice instance of zeugma thrown in -: “we cast caution and clothing aside” – along with the rhythmic description and volcanic extended metaphor.

        Unlike your last story, however, I’m guessing this one isn’t based on experience?
        Or is it?

  • And now for something completely different….
  • A Certain Time

    You listen patiently as she sets out her case, a wry smile playing on your kindly face. People are always questioning your faith in the scriptures. You’ve heard it before and know the answers.

    “As a scientist, you must understand the speed of light?” she asks.

    “I’m a biologist, not a physicist,” you reply. “But of course, I understand the basics.”

    “Well, think of this. If the Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light years away, light from there takes at least 2.5 million years to reach Earth. Therefore, the universe must be older than the 10,000 years you believe. So as a scientist, you cannot hold everything written in your book is literally true.”

    “It’s obvious,” you say. “At Creation, God said ‘Let there be light. And there was light.’ Don’t you see? He created all light everywhere at once – including the light visible that’s from all stars, no matter their distance. You think that would be impossible for God to do?”

    “You seem very certain of that.”

    “I am.”

    “So is there nothing anyone could do to put a little dent in your certainty?”

    You shake your head and smile.

    “What if we could take you back to before the time you believe creation happened? In the spirit of science, will you come with me on that journey?”

    You laugh. But she is serious, and presses the question. A little anxious that you may be tempting fate, yet overcome with curiosity, you agree. Besides, there is an argument to be won!

    She leads you into the university’s Temporal Mechanics Institute where she works. You enter the temporal containment chamber, a small theatre with four seats that can rotate and view any side once the journey begins.

    She tells you that here you can travel through time to view what has passed before, anywhere on earth. To view, but not participate or change. Travelling, as it were, in a self-contained viewing ‘bubble’. Two assistants – ‘time pilots’ she calls them – take their seats and pull control consoles towards themselves.

    “As a matter of interest,” she asks, “what do you think existed before your creation?”

    “By definition,” you say, “there was nothing existing before creation. Only darkness. Perpetual night, only night that was not defined by its opposite, day. Anyway, I don’t believe we can go and see what didn’t exist!”

    “Well, let’s see if a little time-science can illuminate some shadowy corners of that dark night for us!”

    As the journey begins, you look through the windows. Colours blur and you see the world you know empty into white. You are flying now across the world in 11,000 BCE, travelling east. You see the stretch of land connecting Britain to continental Europe before it was submerged. You home in on human settlements, watch people walking the Earth before Adam and Eve. And you wonder.

    “Let’s go back further,” she says. The world around again fragments. The colours empty into white, then re-emerge. In the course of a few minutes, you have travelled back through ten million days and nights. ‘We are now around 40,000 BCE. What do you see?’

    You see small groups of people. As you move in closer, you can see they are Neanderthals. You are fascinated by them, by their camps, by their society. She tells you the time bubble has full sensory capability. Now you can hear them talking, the children chattering. You can smell their cooking, their body odour, and the freshness of the fields carried on the wind.

    “Shall we go back further?” she asks. “I can show you the time when the inorganic becomes organic, when life begins. We have the deep magnification to show the process, just as if we were in the lab.”

    You see it, and are shaken. Your cherished beliefs around Creation are emptying into a void of uncertainty. But you sense also a great opportunity. The temptation is too great, and you ask to see Moses, the Prophets, Jesus and St Paul.

    She nods, and the bubble travels forward, eastward again and further south. The world empties into white, and new views emerge of sand and slaves, temples and pyramids.

    She tells you the Theology faculty has quietly funded extensive searching during the development phase, but to no avail. They have not found Moses in ancient Egypt or Sinai. Instead they have found the time when his legend was born, when the Israelites told their stories round campfires during the conquest of the land.

    You witness battles with Canaanites and Philistines. You witness first-hand the massacres, the commands of prophets and priests for whole tribes to be slaughtered. You smell the death and blood, hear the ecstatic celebrations, and see heads paraded on spears.

    You see some historical events confirmed, but moral certainty empties into a void of repulsion.

    Fast forward to a new world, and Jerusalem under Roman rule. You see Jesus teaching, and are elated. You witness the crucifixion and weep. You go to the tomb on the third day – there is no activity, you do not see anybody emerge from any tomb. A short jump to a few weeks forward and you see his followers delight in seeing their Lord risen, much as St Paul described his own encounter: a vision.

    Exhausted, your journey ends. You bid farewell with conflicted thanks.

    For several days you are troubled. In the end, after much soul-searching, you find there is only one possible explanation. Just as God created light instantly at all points everywhere, so God created histories everywhere, for all possible times and for all viewpoints!

    It is written in the story of ‘doubting Thomas’: “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.” In an age of time research, where we can comb the past for evidence, we must add “Blessed are those who have seen, yet still believe”.

    You look to the heavens and give thanks, for you are sure that you have passed the test.

    [993 words]

    • Hi Andy,

      This is yet another wonderful example of your writing, or, should I say, another example of your wondeful writing. The ideas that you discuss are as old as time ( however old that may be) and I expect that man will be forever seeking answers to these same questions.

      Great idea to invent the time capsule with the proviso that you can see, hear, smell but not interfere in the events being witnessed. Time travel with human interference is a nightmare scenarion. Such an invention could answer so many historical questions but leave others unanswered.

      As a person of no particular faith I am always surprised by the degree to which others do believe in something that cannot be proved but then this is the definition of faith, isn’t it? Belief without evidence.

      As you said, something completely different from my effort and a world away from my train journey that you rightly mention, was not based upon my own experience.

      Great stuff Andy.

      • Many thanks for your generous comments, Ken.

        I’m trying not to say too much abut my story, but rather see how it goes down. But of course, you’re right about it revolving around the idea of belief without or despite the evidence – the unfalsifiability, if you like, of beliefs one is strongly invested in.

        It could as easily have been about other beliefs or ideologies. If you check out websites like Quora where people pose questions and, in principle, get answers from people who know something about the topic, you’ll find it’s more or less 50% conspiracy theories and supernatural mysteries now, e.g. about pan-European elitist plots to wipe out the ‘white race’, or that aliens built the pyramids – no solid evidence or learning offered up makes a difference. And indeed we see similar in some recent political trends too, in the disregarding of evidence and detail.

        The time capsule/bubble – this is a risk. Stories with speculative/Sci-Fi elements usually come 8th in this contest! I’m glad it worked for you 🙂

    • Adrienne Riggs

      Awesome story! I loved how you connected the character’s faith with the seeing and even seeing, still believing and holding on to faith. As a PK (Preacher’s kid), my faith has been the cornerstone of my life. Very well done!


      • Many thanks, Adi 🙂
    • Hi Andy,
      Nice journey in the time bubble. A great reminder of time gone by.
      Got my thinking cap on, questioning of my belief of what really went on in the past before and around the creation of the World. And what is to come after I leave.
      • Many thanks, Chitra.
    • Very well done Andy. I have never been much for reading spiritual or testimonial work of any kind but you kept me interested and reading which shows your amazing writing skills are keen and versatile. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. 🙂
      • Many thanks, Amy – glad you enjoyed it 🙂
    • Hi Andy a great use of the prompt and as a fan of your writing, you have not disappointed me. Travelling through the night or darkness and unravelling. Good work.
      • Many thanks, Ilana. Glad you enjoyed it.
        Yes, in a sense it’s all about light and darkness and how things hold together (or not)
    • Phil Town
      Another great story, Andy. To watch as the believer has his beliefs sorely tested is uncomfortable, all the evidence beginning to break down the edifice of his faith. But then he (?) comes up with a catch-all (and very convenient) new theory that protects his faith from any and all future doubts. While I can’t personally share that kind of impermeable faith, I like the way you got him to that point – the time travel is a neat device (though it seems like it’s the first time anyone’s thought of testing faith in this way – a bit odd since the technology seems to be well established … unless it’s simply a metaphorical time machine). I also really like your use of 2nd-person narration, which feels just right for this (but I’m not sure why).
      • Thanks, Phil, glad you like it.
        And that’s the journey the ‘you’ who is addressed goes through – whether the catch-all theory is convincing against the evidence is up to the reader.

        Established technology? I meant to mention that it was still in its testing phase. The Theology faculty (in the story) is funding a little research on the quiet, as is mentioned. Actually, the Vatican has done similar, in a way, quietly enabling some high-tech investigation of ancient documents in its possession using both carbon dating and very new kinds of imaging technologies (e.g. to read inside some of the Dead Sea Scrolls in its possession that cannot be opened due to their condition). I think they would be interested in a time bubble, perhaps …

    • Anindita Basu
      Thought provoking, Andy. Well done. Loved your second person narrative style and the way you took me through this journey in the bubble machine.
      I am glad I passed the test at the end. Good job.
      • Thanks, Dita. Glad it was thought-provoking.

        As for passing the test – I have a certificate to send to you 🙂

    • Hi Andy,

      You take us on an apparently gentle ride into the most troubling question of our existence. The ride may look smooth, sliding neatly on the cold tracks of objectivity, but we can sense throughout the whole piece the subjective despair bubbling inside the second person narrator.

      The way you portray and carry along this tension is done, IMO in a masterly fashion – allowing space for both points of view to fully express themselves: the cold scientist and the emotively charged human being seeking connection with a higher consciousness.

      I get the feeling that there is overall empathy towards the religious person, and that deep down we should all wish his point of view prevails. But the evidence is to the contrary, and the story all in all supports – unfortunate as it may be – the cold universe theory of cosmic dust flying in immense emptiness with no underlying purpose or conscious design. I’m not sure of this, but I re-read the story with this in mind and that’s my feeling.

      Perhaps you planted the very well-crafted pro-religious ending to reinstate the balance. Perhaps the story is specifically told in the second person so that the reader feels closer to the religious narrator.

      Living with the question of why we are here constantly looming above our heads is only bearable because of the ambiguity that remains with us, in spite of the ever expanding far-reaches of science. You take science further, in your story – with Space sort of conquered, it’s Time next to be dug into. Your time-travellers take away the last few straws we may have been clinging to, the “Jesuses in our heads” – they’re mere fables or exaggarated/manipulated histories at best, as your story explains, so beautifully, but catastrophically for the religious mind.

      I happen to be reading a book right now that is quite the opposite of your story: it takes down the pillars of science in quite a similar way your scientist takes down the pillars of faith. It’s called “We Have No Idea” and is written by a top CERN physicist, who takes a humourous-but-still-serious look at what science still can’t explain, which as he concludes is almost everything, from dark matter to antimatter and all that kind of stuff. We only know the things that our meagre five senses let us know, and apparently most of reality lies beyond that. Anyway, its’ a good (and also entertaining) read and brings in enough ambiguity to the scientific side for anyone who wants to keep believing to feel free in doing so!

      “Blessed are those who have seen, yet still believe” – I love this one! It’s certainly a valid update for our times!


      • Ken 3M.

        Your critique of Andy’s story is perfectly balanced and fascinating in and of itself.

      • Many thanks for your generous comments, Ken (M). That’s pretty much it – the scientific objectivity and, for the time-scientist, the excitement of discovery, and for the believer the subjective spiritual belief with the emotional challenge and distress of the journey.

        You detect sympathy for the believer, but I’m not sure it’s ‘pro-religious’ as such? It can be taken either way, so I did want a balance, as you say. But from the writing point of view I wanted to get inside the head of the central character who has such strong beliefs and has been on a seriously testing journey.
        (I have known many people with very strong beliefs that I don’t share but who nonetheless I’ve liked and admired for the kind, thoughtful and intelligent people they are.)

        I like the sound of the book you mentioned. Sounds like my kind of reading. It highlights one key difference between science and many beliefs: science embraces falsifiability, as progress depends to some extent on being wrong, or at lest incomplete, in many things we know so far.

    • Good story, Andy, although I don’t know how much night you traveled through, but I guess if you went back 5000 years, 2500 years or so of the time would be at night given 12 hours for night travel. I asked my Aunt Louise once who was a strong believer in The Bible and that the world was created 6000 years ago. I asked her about all the bones of dinosaurs they dig up that are millions of years old, proven scientifically. She just looked at me and said, “God put them there to test your faith, not mine.” I had to admit I didn’t have an answer. I don’t agree with her, but I did respect her.

      Nice story, Andy, I got no quibbles with it.

      • I also liked your use of 2nd Person and have started my story the same way. And, I had already started it that way before I read yours. I enjoy the challenge of writing in 2nd person. Good work.
        • Thanks for your comments, Roy.
          Yes, it was a long journey through the night (a couple of million years of nights and days, in a way), but also in a metaphorical sense and a bit of a play around light and darkness.

          The idea for the story was partly inspired by a couple of programmes I saw which focused on the work of a creationist geologist, who would teach students the ‘as if’ version while personally holding an alternative ‘young earth’ view where all the fossils, and igneous and sedimentary layers, etc, fitted into a narrative around Noah’s flood etc. I’m sure he would agree with your Aunt Louise!

    • I am often critical about time travel stores as it’s so hard to write them without paradox. Your idea of the time viewing bubble was excellent! It cleared that right up and the idea of someone who can come up with an excuse to holdhis own beliefs so firmly in place speaks so much truth.
    • Hi Andy,

      I like it. Your story. It draws attention to the resourcefulness of the clueless. But your writing is, as other ‘Ken’s’ have pointed out, pretty ‘wonderful.’ Worth emulating. That having been said….

      I noticed what you did there in the first line. You used the phrase ‘wry smile’ in the first sentence of your story. This is very similar to the phrase I body-checked Amy for using.

      (Imagine me squinting at you with my weather beaten face.)

      I know you. I know what kind of guy you are, and this is no accident. You used ‘wry’ on purpose. In fact, you used ‘a wry,’ even more odder. (Take that, you rascal.)

      Did I ever tell you that, as a fledgling sign painter, I once misspelled the word ‘USED’? I painted, U-S-D. Yoozed. In black paint, on a yellow building, in broad daylight.

      So, I think I should know ‘wry’ when I see it. Having faced it head on so many times.

      You want me to go easy on the wry? I hear ya. I get ya. I’m chill. I’m wry-pellent and wry-sistant.

      To get back to your story, before I veer off on another tangent, it actually inspired me to write a story of my own, based upon you, and the time bubble in your story. (This is really true.) It’s quite funny and flippant, you’re not actually ‘there’ in the story, but your name comes up in a very significant way. Kim and I figure pretty prominently because we’re the only two people in the story. (Aside from you and you’re not there.) I was going to post it, but then I dreamed up a second half of the story which, sadly, means I have to take you out of it. You die, or something. Sorry. You’re done in by someone famous, though. Really famous. And yet, unknown. So, that’s a bit of a bright spot, isn’t it? No. I suppose not. Well, cheer up. I’ll change his name, in fact, your character really needs to live, and that’ll be the trick, figuring out how. But he’s still going to act like you. (He’ll be British and very civilised, but not fond of tea. A bit quirky, the character drinks tomato juice fluently.)

      I need to get to work on it. I think it’s going to be a doozey. And if, and when my turn finally comes, to pick the prompt, (if that day ever comes, before I die of stupidity,) I’ll say: the story has to start with, ‘The cure for religion was discovered in 2023…’ the rest is up to you. …etc; etc; etc.

      Maybe I should forego even the date, as that might be too limiting too. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m in no hurry.

      Great story Andy.

      • Reading your comment with a wry smile, Ken …

        It’s a good word, ‘wry’, and a useful facial expression on appropriate occasions, or even just when the mood takes.
        Or when eating with a knowing, perhaps ironic, look. As in pastrami and mustard on wry.

        I look forward to being or not being in your story. In the meantime many thanks (I think?) for your comments 🙂

    • Hi Andy,

      I have just read your story again, for the fourth time and it is a well deserved winner, as are you.
      So thought-provoking.
      Well done.
      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      • Many thanks indeed, Ken

        Your story is absolutely excellent, risqué in more ways than one, and very original. Obviously gathered a lot of support too and deservedly so.
        And now for the next one
        All the best

  • The Crack Of Dawn
    By: Amy Lynn Raines
    (1196 Words)

    Traveling through the night wasn’t easy for Sydney, at least for as long as she could remember. Not that she remembered anything beyond the last two days or so. Of course, she only assumed her name was Sydney because she kept having flashes of light in front of her eyes accompanied by severe pain behind her temples followed by hearing someone scream the name.
    “Help me! Someone! Please!” No one answered her choked out pleas.
    She wiped tears from her face and kept walking, not knowing where she was going or why but trudged along anyway hoping to find anyone that could help her or at least see something that would trigger a memory that would tell her what had happened to her.
    The blood on her jeans and the rocks grinding inside her shoes like shards of glass as she walked had not told her anything at all. Nor had the dirt caked in her hair revealed anything, nor the dirt and splinters under her fingernails. She wiped away another tear she hadn’t even noticed crying, looked at her hand and found a smear of wet blood. Cautiously, Sydney wiped at her eye again and found more blood. Walking her fingertips along her hairline and nudging drying mud patches aside, she discovered a long gash that ran parallel to the crest of her forehead. The pain flashed with hot, white ferocity when she touched the gaping wound. The world swam in front of her eyes in confusing shades of black, blue, gray and red when she touched the deepest part.
    Sydney lost her footing, stumbled to the ground and acquired a brand new cut on her cheek. She turned, sprawled out on her back in the middle of the paved highway that seemed to be leading her nowhere in particular, closed her eyes and let the world fade away into nothing more than background noise of chirping insects and croaking frogs.
    Bright lights flashed in the trees as a car sped toward her. The driver slammed his brakes, jumped out of the car and ran over to the young woman laying torn, broken and bleeding in the middle of the road.
    The figure walking toward her looked horrifyingly familiar. Sydney held still keeping her eyes closed, hoping he would assume she was dead.
    “Frankie is going to be pissed.” He growled angrily as he lifted her body like a large baby and placed her in the back seat of his car before climbing under the wheel and pulling out his phone.
    “Hey Frankie, its Mark. I went back to make sure everything looked normal and found Sydney in the middle of the road! From the look of her and judging by the distance, I think she dug herself out. I’m sure she’s dead now, although she’s still warm.”
    Mark paused, listening as he drove in the direction Sydney had walked from. He pulled over next to a large stand of trees and turned the engine off. Sydney could hear familiar shouting through the phone that sounded just like the voice she had been hearing.
    “Yes, I know we had a deal. How in the hell was I supposed to know a shovel wouldn’t kill her? Like I ever killed anyone before. I know, don’t worry. I’m putting her back in her grave where she belongs, I’ll roll that huge rock over top so she can’t escape, you know, just in case she isn’t dead yet.” Mark listened to Frankie rant in return.
    “Look, your my cousin and I understand that you don’t want to go through a bitter divorce but c’mon, really? You’re seriously going to threaten me for taking out your pretty little wife for the huge chunk of change you gave me so you can marry that rich broad you been chasing after Sydney’s declared legally dead? Don’t threaten me, you will regret it!”
    The sound of Mark arguing with her husband faded away as everything she didn’t remember came flooding back. She realized the car she was in belonged to Frankie which meant there should be a loaded nine millimeter with a silencer under the driver’s seat. Sidney turned as quickly and quietly as she could, slid her hand under the seat and found what she wanted.
    “Go to hell! Maybe I’ll just send you there!” Mark hung up as he glanced in the rear view mirror and saw Sydney moving.
    “Oh, no you don’t.” He got out and opened the back door to pull her back out of the back seat.
    He didn’t notice the gun aiming up as he helped her stand so he could look her in the eye before returning her to the shallow grave he had dug for her off this back road in the middle of nowhere.
    “I’m sorry, Sydney. You’re a nice enough woman but Frankie is family and Emma is loaded.”
    “So is this.” She croaked out as she squeezed the trigger, the shot was silent.
    Sydney fell backward into the backseat as soon as his hands released her.
    Mark’s body hit the ground with a new hole in his chest, he was dead.
    Pulling herself up, she dropped the gun on the passenger seat and carefully stepped over Mark’s corpse giving the back door a shove as she went. She slid into the driver’s seat, pulled the door closed and started the car. Her head was pounding and her mind kept going blank but she finally made it all the way up the long driveway of the home she had shared with Frankie for over four years.
    He and his new woman ran to the car with the tinted windows as she reached for the gun she had tossed in the seat beside her.
    “Mark! Oh no!” Emma screamed as Frankie pulled the driver’s door open to face his almost dead wife.
    “Sydney! What did you do?” Her husband turned to stare at the bottom of the car.
    She didn’t hesitate to fire off two rounds. One for Frankie, and one for his mistress. They hit the ground side by side in a pool of mingling blood.
    All her strength spent, Sydney slumped to the side to do the only thing left to do. She pulled herself beside her husband, reached into his pocket for his phone and dialed 911. She repeated the address to the emergency operator in a hoarse voice then flopped onto her back to wait for help to arrive.
    She turned her head toward the sound of the sirens. In the well lit driveway she saw that Mark’s arm had somehow managed to get caught in the back door.
    “Look what I brought home today, Dear.” She giggled wryly as her last breath escaped her body just before dawn.
    The cops and paramedics filled out their reports leaving the crime scene unit to clean up the gruesome mess.
    In the newspapers the next morning, the front page headlines read:
    “Wife murders her husband and his mistress after dragging his cousin for twenty-five miles, seeking vengeance after being buried alive.”
    The most chilling detail was the one the newspapers hadn’t printed, Sydney died with a satisfied smile on her face.

    • Hi Amy,

      A really good story with gruesome outcomes. A familiar theme, adultery and murder but tackled in a way that you made it all your own. I loved the notion of unknowingly dragging Mark’s body along for all those miles. He deserved it, didn’t he?
      I’m glad that Sydney made it back to her house to finish her business but sorry for her that she then died too. Perhaps she could have been allowed to live.

      A slight disconnect for me was the spacial accuracy of where Mark was shot ( beside the grave off road) and then how he could have got caught in the car door. Small point, I know.

      Well written and an enjoyable read.


      Ken Frape.

      • Hi Ken F,
        Thanks for your comments and feedback, I’m glad you enjoyed the story. I couldn’t help myself in going a bit dark with this one.

        It would have been just as easy to let Sydney live but in all honesty I am one of those writers that has a tendency to kill off my own favorite characters just because it seems like a good idea at the time. I have always enjoyed stories with happy endings too but have a lot of fun with showing that sometimes the good guys don’t always survive at the last second and prevail. I did enjoy giving Sydney the satisfaction of seeing Mark before she died though, lol.

        To clarify the disconnect you found (I may have worded my idea incorrectly in this particular area)-
        Mark had parked the car at the edge of the road (The driver’s side would still have been slightly on the asphalt) but had not moved Sydney toward the grave just beyond the trees just yet- that was merely his intention. He was still on the phone when he saw her moving. When he helped her out of the back seat, she shot him next to the back door of the car before he could carry out his intentions. When he slumped to the ground it is not too far fetched that his hand could have landed inside the car door and getting stuck when Sydney shoved the door closed. (My mom actually dragged her book bag like that once. The strap had just barely gotten caught on metal just inside the door, it had closed most of the way and didn’t swing open at all. Her book bag tore pretty bad by the time she got home.)

      • Hi Amy,
        Enjoyed the story despite the gruesome details which dressed it up as it is a crime story.
        You expressed your thoughts nicely.

        Good punishment for the adulterer, husband snatcher, and greedy family member, not to be recommended in real life.

        • Thank you Chitra, for your comments and feedback. I’m glad you like the story. It was a lot of fun going a bit darker with this prompt.
      • I echo Ken’s concerns. Great story, but that jarred. How did he get caught in the back door? Unanswered question there. Plus, I am still trying to understand how she could drive home and then die a few minutes later. Internal injuries maybe, but death by a blow to the head from a shovel surely would not bring about that early demise. Human beings are pretty tough when all is said and done. Maybe her husband had a gun and shot her before dying or something of that nature. Good story, but you want to build tension more and involve the reader more. I thought about it. Maybe she should have played dead and had her have the gun and shoot him in the back of the head when he pulled up at the house….???
    • High octane story that carried me along all the way. Is crime one of your favourite genres?
      Pacey and well-written.

      There’s a paragraph in the middle that’s a bit expositional, where Mark crams the whole backstory into one piece of the dialogue, telling Frankie a lot of things he already knew, but for the readers’ benefit. Maybe could have drip-fed that in bit by bit in the dialogue and when they arrive home?

      Tough ending for Sydney. Actually, I also felt a little sorry for the mistress. Seems she’s maybe being duped by the scumbag husband for her money? Or does her running to the car mean she is complicit? But hell hath no fury and all, so she gets it.
      So – you certainly got me involved, a very enjoyable read.

    • Adrienne Riggs

      Well done. I truly didn’t expect the part about Mark being dragged by the car. Well played.

      My only quibble about this well written story was this. I had to suspend some disbelief at the end. I questioned how Sydney managed to drag a body for 25 miles without being seen by anyone or another car on the road – even in the early morning. Also, catching an arm in the door would have been tricky since the door would not have been able to close and latch. Most vehicles alert drivers when a door is not fully closed. I realize that Sydney wasn’t fully alert but she managed to drive. Would his body have remained intact for 25 miles? Would his arm bear the weight of the body being dragged without being severed in the process?

      Maybe I’m overthinking it. I love forensic science and maybe I’ve watched too many crime shows.

      Other than that, I enjoyed the story!


    • Amy,

      You have a wonderfully gruesome story with a very diabolical plot, and I like where you’re going with this. But I have a couple of suggestions.

      Regarding that long expositive passage that Andy mentioned, and begins with:

      “Yes, I know we had a deal. How in the hell was I supposed to know a shovel wouldn’t kill her? Like I ever killed anyone before….” And ends with: “…your pretty little wife for the huge chunk of change you gave me so you can marry that rich broad you been chasing after Sydney’s declared legally dead? Don’t threaten me, you will regret it!”

      Too much information.

      You could shorten it like this:
      “Yeah, you told me your wife was a tough cookie, but Christ, I hit her in the face with a shovel and buried her alive. Good thing the car wouldn’t start, ‘cause the next thing I know she’s staggering down the road headed back to town. Which means I’m going to half to kill her and bury her twice, and that’s gonna cost you and your greedy little mistress extra.”

      In the final scene, you write, “Look what I brought home today, Dear.” She giggled wryly as her last breath escaped her body just before dawn.

      Forget that ‘giggled wryly’ stuff. Dying people rarely giggle, wryly or not. They may grimace, grin, sneer, gasp, cough, spit, drool, shudder, shake, stare blankly, (which is very risky, because a blank stare will get you buried quicker than you can say ‘ribonucleic acid reflux’) but they don’t giggle, as that diminishes the poignancy of their death.

      “Look what followed me home today, Dear.” With her last dying breath she whispered, “I think it’s your cousin.”

      I would keep the title but change the wife’s name to ‘Dawn.’ And the ‘crack’ would either be the sound of the shovel or the crack of the pistol shot.

      You’ve got a great idea here, but you’re complicating it with too much back story and missing out on some clear opportunities for literary mischief.

      It’s not too late to make some changes.

      • Yes Ken is right. Great story with loads of potential to be better and better.
    • Phil Town
      I like this story, Amy – very gruesome, and satisfyingly so (if you like that kind of thing, and I do). As with Ken F’s story, I had a flashback to a film I like – maybe you know it? ‘Blood Simple’?

      I have to echo the comments of the others: firstly about the paragraph that Andy and Ken mention – yes, I think the info needs to be sprinkled in a little more subtly; secondly about Sydney dying (although the next best thing is as you did – giving her a smile as she departs); finally, Mark could have got his jacket caught in the door, rather than his arm (which might be impossible, as Adi suggests). And an extra bit of karma/torture might be to have Mark groaning at the end; he wasn’t killed by the gunshot, but has been dragged for 25 miles …

      Enjoyed the story!

      • I really like these suggestions Phil. I think Amy’s a bit like me, ingenious and devious, but her creative process generates a lot of false positives, minor inconsistencies, or stereotypical drama that, once removed leaves behind some wonderfully inventive stories.

        Unfortunately, we can’t all be like you Phil. Cavalierly dictating your story with a glass of sherry in one hand, to some overworked minion, in fear for their job, inscribing your words with the dedication of a Sistine Monk sworn to silence, and then bowing subserviently as they back away toward the gold-inlaid door of your Victorian mansion sitting high atop the Iberian Plain.

        What a life you must lead.

        • Phil Town
          I have a number of minions, who work in pairs – one writes the words, another the punctuation. Any mistakes and they take a dive off of, as you uncannily guessed, my Victorian mansion sitting high … etc. Plenty where they came from.

          (Not sherry but Port, though.)

    • Ken Miles
      Hi Amy,

      you’ve created a good plot and a gruesomely painted canvas to accompany it. An enjoyable read.

      Like others mentioned before me I did get the feeling that a lot of what Mark told Frankie was really being told to me, as the reader, in order to fill me in. As thirsty as I was to get this important information, it would have been more satisfying to receive it along the way rather than all at one go. Some of it could have perhaps come by showing rather than telling.

      I for one wasn’t troubled by how on earth Mark’s arm could have got stuck in the door. One never knows how such things may happen, especially in panic situations. Perhaps getting caught in an electric window could be more believable?

      For one thing, however, I wouldn’t have made sure Mark is dead from the gunshot before Sydney set off. That would open up the possibility of him trying to crawl up the departing car and somehow getting stuck and dragged along alive.

      Since gruesome is the name of the game, perhaps only the arm arrives and the rest of his body is littered along the way. There’ll be no need for the phone call at the end: the patrol police get to the scene of the final shootout by following Mark’s body parts; sort of a Hansel and Gretel remake, 18+ version.

      Some suggested keeping Sydney alive. But what for? Why keep alive a woman who is severely injured, memory-challenged and certainly traumatized for life? I think that having her die with a satisfied smile on her face, as you do, is a good solution. I can’t think of a happier ending for her.

      Ken (the other other one 🙂 )

      • You have offered some brilliant and ingenious suggestions, Ken. My favorite? ‘…police get to the scene of the final shootout by following Mark’s body parts; sort of a Hansel and Gretel remake, …’

        That’s an outstanding idea.

        • Ken Miles
          If I think about it, Hansel And Gretel is even more gruesome: there we have a cannibal woman with stove ready with childstew in mind for dinner… and it’s literature for little kids.
    • In the newspapers the next morning, the front page headlines read:
      “Wife murders her husband and his mistress after dragging his cousin for twenty-five miles, seeking vengeance after being buried alive.”
      The most chilling detail was the one the newspapers hadn’t printed, Sydney died with a satisfied smile on her face.

      I had a few problems with some of your story, but nothing I’m not guilty of myself, but I did have trouble with your headline and ending. A shorter headline – then a follow up. such as: Buried Alive, Wife Gets Revenge: April 24th, Phoenix: 36 year old Sydney ____, buried alive, crawls from grave, kills her attacker, then drags his body for 25 miles, while caught in a car door, to her home where she confronts and kills her husband and his mistress. And so on…

      And I can’t imagine the reporter omitted the smile on her face scenario. If he did, I think your last line could be written a tad differently, such as: The article omitted the fact Sydney died with a satisfied smile.

      I know there are word restrictions, but you have lots of places in your story where you could cut down on your word usage. For example, when the cousin explains to the husband why he’s killing his wife for the reader’s benefit. That’s a little wordy, in MHO. (My Humble Opinion)

      But, on the bright side, I enjoyed it and was happy for Sydney until she died. Maybe you didn’t have to kill her off, I mean so many people have died already, but apparently it didn’t satisfy your author bloodlust. Can’t blame you for that. It’s your story. Kill off whomever you please.

    • I love the beginning of this with the descriptions and her slow realization about what happened. She deserved to die with that smile on her face.
  • Thank you Andy for your comments and feedback and am glad you enjoyed the story. Yes, I absolutely love the crime genre. (John Saul and John Connolly are a couple of my favorites in this genre)
    You are also correct in my ‘blooper’, feeding the background slowly would have been a bit more suspenseful. Maybe through a final argument between the dying wife and cheating husband? Or maybe by letting Sydney inform the mistress to watch her back because Frankie had already tried to kill her?
    • Love John Connolly and I’ll have to check out John Saul. I just picked up a stack of Elmore Leonard for $1 each and am about halfway through an early book. Hope he gets better, because I’m not picking up all the ‘Elmore Leonard Is The Best at his craft’ vibes and comments I’ve read over the years. Have you read Lee Child? Jack Reacher is not exactly a detective, but his stories are along the same line and Lee Child is excellent at describing how one guy can kick the absolute crap out of four or five heavies at one time. In one book he tells a group of bad guys, “This is sort of one sided, isn’t it?” When they all laugh and say, ‘Yeah, that’s the way we like it.” He smiles back and says, “I wasn’t talking about me. It’s not too late for you to back out.” Then proceeds to destroy them, some of them forever. Love Lee Child if you haven’t guessed.
      • Hi Everyone, I’m sorry I haven’t been able to come on and comment like I normally do. This week has been especially terrible, we lost 2 dogs to raisin toxicity. (I never feed my dogs this sort of thing, the little girl next door gave it to them through our fence not knowing any better.)

        I want to thank everyone for the comments and feedback (all duly noted, understood and highly appreciated.)
        I will be reading through the stories and adding comments as I go before its time to vote.

        • Phil Town
          Very sorry about that, Amy – didn’t even know that was a thing. You must be terribly upset. A hug from me.
          • Thanks Phil,
            The family is pretty upset, our fur-babies have always been family rather than just pets.
            I realize this has nothing to do with writing or anything but if you have dogs, please remember grape/raisin/current toxicity is a very real thing with all of them highly lethal to dogs while a piece of banana is wonderful for their digestion.
            The little girl next door had no idea about this when she shared her snack with them, it was an honest accident.
            Thanks, hug received and passed along to the family.
  • Adrienne Riggs
    Hi all,

    I’ve been bragging about this great group for some time to my writer’s group, the Word Weavers. I’ve encouraged the members to join us here so don’t be surprised to meet some new members in the group! I hope this was ok.


    • Love it. Keep them encouraged. Love new writers and styles.
    • Hi Adi,
      We must think alike. I did a feature about this site and the amazing writers here on my podcast! 🙂
      The talent and atmosphere is too good here not to share the experience.
  • Wow the more the merrier I say.
  • Phil Town

    “Ok,” she says, “Let’s imagine something.”

    I close my eyes and sink back in the chair. It’s a comfy chair. I’m sure they choose them deliberately. Of course they do. It wouldn’t be any good to be sat on a kitchen chair for the full 45 minutes, feeling the wood, fidgeting. No, I’m in cotton-wool clouds, letting her soft, smooth voice take me.

    “Let’s imagine you’re at a party. It’s a good party. Lots of booze and the drugs you like. Lots of nice-looking women. Great music. You’re having a good time.”

    I can picture the scene. It’s like a lot of parties I used to go to. In the wild days.

    “Yes, it’s one helluva party. But at one point in the evening, a moment arrives. It’s a significant moment. You look around and see all your friends getting wasted, and they’re a mirror image of you.”

    I open my eyes and look around. I’m still in the room. She smiles gently and pauses. I get the message and return to the clouds.

    “They’re a mirror image of you, and you find yourself not liking it. You don’t like them – or the way they are – and by extension you see that you don’t like yourself.”

    I can feel my face twisting into an expression of disgust. I want to be out of that party.

    “It’s still a great party, and it’s still quite early, but you decide to leave.”

    I realise that I’ve tensed up, but now I feel myself relax, knowing what my next step will be before she tells me.

    “You say goodbye to the host and your friends – make some excuse – and head outside. It’s a clear night. The autumn air chills you, but that’s ok, your car’s close by.”

    My car – my best friend these days. I let out a little laugh.

    “Are you all right, Steven?”

    I nod and she continues.

    “You get in the car and drive. The party’s out in the countryside, but you know it’s a simple route home, so you don’t need to worry about maps or sat navs. You just need to drive, to get away from the party.”

    I feel myself behind the wheel of the car, familiar, and I imagine myself turning the key and putting her into gear.

    “It’s a straight road, tree-lined. Firs. Your headlights pick out the trunks as they slip silently by. You’re heading home.”

    The warmth I feel from the car doubles at the prospect of home. It was a good idea to leave the party.

    “You’re driving fast enough to feel the speed, but not recklessly. Because that’s not you. It’s a straight road with no other traffic. You take out a joint and light up. Put on some good driving music. Feel the buzz.”

    I know exactly what music it is and my foot starts tapping.

    “This, you think, this is the life. Just you in your car. Doing what you want, when you want to.”

    It’s true. I feel very content, but I sense a big ‘but’ coming.

    “It’s a long road. You finish the joint. You flip through your music files. Nothing takes your fancy now. You turn the music off.”

    My foot stops tapping.

    “You drive on. The same trunks of fir trees. Trees. And trees. And trees. And up ahead, to your right, one that’s fallen, by the side of the road. And behind it, before they slip past, a glowing pair of eyes.”

    I clench my fists.

    “Your headlights catch them as you pass. A pair of eyes. In the night. Watching.”

    I want to open my eyes but I’m afraid. I shake my head – at least I think I do.

    “They’ve gone, hundreds of metres behind by now. You just have the trees. Illuminated by the headlights. Slipping past. Then to your left …”

    She pauses. She’s freaking me out a bit now.

    “… another pair of eyes, between the trees. No, several pairs. No … many.”

    I sit up and look at her. She’s still the kind-faced person from before. And still that gentle smile. And a little reassuring gesture with the head that leans me back and closes my eyes.

    “You should have brought that woman with you. For company. For protection. The one you were talking to at the party. The one with the stories and the funny laugh.”

    I go back to the party that I had in my mind before. I can’t think of any woman in particular, so I conjure up an old flame: Carmen. It occurs to me suddenly that I miss her, and that perhaps we didn’t finish completely, though I haven’t called her in ages. When this is over, maybe …

    “But you’re on your own. The trees slip past. The eyes multiply. And there’s the monotonous parade of trees. Each the same as the previous one, and the next. There’s no break in them. No side road. No road signs. Just the straight road. And the trees. And the lines in the middle of the road, drawing you on.”

    I’m tense again, fists clenched, eyes screwed tight, head shaking.

    “Then you see it.”

    My muscles loosen immediately; the tone of her voice is light and hopeful.

    “A figure, way ahead, in a hi-vis jacket. You can’t see if it’s a man or woman yet. You’re approaching the person more slowly than you think is natural. Why haven’t you passed them yet? You were driving quite fast. But no, they’re still ahead.”

    I find myself trying to figure out who this could be, and why they’re significant.

    “But you know, deep down, that you’re approaching this person slowly to give you time. Time to decide. So, Steven. What are you going to decide? Are you going to stop and pick them up? Or …?”

    Or carry on along the road on my own, past the trees that appear and are as quickly gone. The trees. And the eyes.

    I open mine and I’m in the room. That gentle smile, the pad put aside now.

    “Have a think about what all this might mean and we’ll speak next time, ok Steven?”

    I nod and stand, stiff from sitting. I say goodbye and as I leave, a face pops into my head again: Carmen.

    • Well-written as always, Phil. And structurally interesting story, as it reads like a half-and-half first person and second person narrative, as the (hypno?) therapist creates a story for the client to live through, a journey into himself.

      Steven seems to be a character inclined to self-loathing, perhaps, or looking to make a change from a rootless and uncommitted life. Whose are the eyes watching him from the side, though, from whom he can’t escape. His own, or someone else judging him …?

      Given that this is a therapy session, I half-expected a Freudian ending, where the figure in the hi jacket would be – his inescapable mother! At which point he puts his foot on the gas and …

      But in the end, maybe he just needs a good woman to keep him on the straight and narrow, help him settle down. A (possibly) romantic ending, with a note of hope.

      • Andy,

        I think I liked your assessment of Phil’s story almost as much as I liked Phil’s story. (Although your assessment made more sense. And I didn’t say I didn’t like his story.)
        I wasn’t sure of the meaning, though, (Phil can be so subtle, and we can’t waterboard him over a plot twist so….) I think, either Phil’s character was an ordinary chap with anti-social tendencies, or a serial killer with a therapist. Not sure.

        • Phil Town
          Thanks, Ken (I think!)

          For meaning, see Andy and Ken M.

          (btw You are allowed to address me directly, you know – as long as you make sure to tug your forelock beforehand … 😉 )

      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Andy. It’s a personal story – maybe a bit too obscure … but you’re pretty much there. The eyes … well, they’re more open to interpretation.

        (Ha ha re the mother … mine was very dear to me and quite safe, in fact.)

    • An introvert making himself believe extrovert lies about the good life (partying, booze and drugs, women, etc.), but then getting back to himself and realising that the good life has to come from within him? But, then, there is a limit to what he can give to himself. He still needs Carmen. That’s my reading of the story, Phil.

      It’s probably a totally different reading from what you intended to write. But that’s after all the essence of a great story – every reader can take out of it what he finds for himself. And every reader may find something different in it. And even the same reader may find something new with every new reading.

      It’s a thought-provoking story, not only because a story with a hypontherapist has got to be so, but in the way it’s paced and structured, as well as the exquisite use of language. Along Steven’s journey, I felt his (and my) comfort of the known threatened by the menace of the unknown (the eyes, but also the trees, the never ending road that should have been a short drive, etc.). The call of home is comforting – but there are two homes, the one he’s heading to and the other called Carmen.

      I can’t quite figure out the meaning of the person Steven comes across close to the end of his session. There must be something metaphorical there. Perhaps something in his life he ought to overcome, but simply can’t get over? The following makes me think so: “Why haven’t you passed them yet? You were driving quite fast. But no, they’re still ahead.”

      It’s a literary sort of piece, not the “mass-market” kind of stuff. (I mean that in a good way!). Haunting, too…

      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Ken. As I said to Andy, it’s a personal story, but you come pretty close to some of the meaning (though anyway, as you say, the reader may interpret it how he/she wants).

        The figure, for me, is ‘a’ Carmen – a person that could save the driver from eternal ‘trees’ (and eyes … whatever they mean here 😉 ), and would be the alternative ‘home’ that you mention.

        • Phil,

          I’d like to echo Andy a bit. I enjoyed the 2nd person and 1st person treatment. Something I had never considered and find it fascinating. I intend to employ that at some time in the future. Thank you for that.

          I liked your story, but would have liked a more satisfying ending, but, I guess, since you said it’s a personal story, maybe I shouldn’t go there and open any closet doors with skeletons behind them. As always, well written. And, I never get tired of saying that.

          • Phil Town
            Thanks for the kind words, Roy. The ending … well, I mentioned it in my comment to Ken M – the figure on the road and Carmen are one and the same … although the narrator doesn’t know that (yet).
    • Phil,

      There’s something strange about this story, not in a bad way, like, eerie strange. She’s telling the story, but he’s experiencing it. Feeling bad, then good, then bad again. (So it’s not at all like some pleasing fantasy.)

      Since he’s seeing a psychoanalyst, one presumes that he needs to, so he must be dealing with some psychological issue.

      In the story that she tells, I think the eyes would represent guilt, the trees would represent barriers, or monotony. (Definitely monotony.) In her story, she (the psychiatrist) makes him leave the party, and then she makes him feel guilty about it, for leaving without a woman. (So typical of a woman.) And he could only guess at which woman (at an imaginary party) that he should have left with. Carmen is all he comes up with, but Carmen is in the past. I don’t think the psychiatrist even knows about Carmen. (I thought everybody knew Carmen.)

      There are certain key phrases in this story, some made by the psychiatrist, some by the character.

      “Like a lot of parties I used to go to. In the wild days.”

      ‘It’s a good party.’
      ‘It’s a helluva party.’
      ‘You see that you don’t like yourself.’
      ‘It’s still a great party, but you decide to leave.’
      (I like beer.)

      “My car. My best friend these days.”

      ‘It’s a straight road, tree-lined. You’re heading home.’
      ‘This, you think, is the life.’
      (It is if you like long, straight, tree-lined roads.)

      “I know exactly what music it is.” (This goes without saying, but we’re still glad you said it.)

      ‘You drive on. Trees and trees, and trees.’
      ‘Up ahead, to your right. One that’s fallen.’
      ‘Behind it, a pair of eyes. In the night, watching.’

      “I want to open my eyes but I’m afraid.”
      “She pauses, she’s freaking me out a bit now.”

      ‘…between the trees. Another pair of eyes. No….many.’
      ‘You should have brought that woman with you. For company. For protection. The one you were talking to at the party.’

      “I can’t think of any women in particular… so I conjure up an old flame.”

      ‘But you’re on your own. The trees slip past. The eyes multiply.’
      ‘The monotonous parade of trees.’
      ‘Then you see it. A figure way ahead.’

      “I find myself trying to figure out who it is and why they’re important.”
      (That makes two of us, Philip.)

      ‘Are you going to stop and pick them up… Or?’

      “Or carry on along the road on my own…”

      (At this point, you really deserve to run out of gas.)

      If we rule out a deep-seated phobia of muskrats, we’re left with two possibilities.

      a. The psychiatrist is trying to get him to dredge up what she believes is a long repressed and painful memory. (That’s what shrinks do.)

      2. The psychiatrist is trying to get him into bed. Psychiatrists are people too. Was the psychiatrist at the party? The dynamic between these two should not be a factor, because there are ethics guidelines for this sort of thing, so that would have to be ruled out.

      3. This is the method the psychiatrist is using to treat the man’s chronic inability to form lasting relationships. (With trees.)

      c. The guy seems pretty normal to me. (Except for his fear of trees.) I’m sure there are many who would balk at that conclusion because of the joint, but I don’t see a psychological problem with that. Could be a license suspension problem, but not psychological.

      Okay I’ve got it. The guy was a lumberjack in his last incarnation. The eyes are the spirits of all the dead trees he’s sawed down in his past life. The one downed tree is symbolic of his fate. A Karmic tree awaits his passing, to fall on his drug addled, car-obsessed mind, sure to put an end to his boring, party-less existence. (The solution? More parties, more women, wear a hardhat when driving, and fire up another joint, my man.)

      Seriously though. I think the story’s plot is not as relevant as the way that you told the story. Her dictating the parameters, and then you switching the point of view to the man as he imagines the details of what she’s dictating. It’s a really novel way to tell a story, maybe even unique. I don’t believe I’ve run across it before. So that’s a cool thing and you did it so seamlessly that it deserves appreciation. (Hopefully, you’ll get that somewhere else.)

      So, in conclusion: The rest of us are just trying to create a readable story, while YOU Philip K Town, are experimenting with Points Of View, and using us as your therapists (AHA! That’s where you got the idea. From me!) while trying to solve the mystery of your great fortune to be single and unfettered. (You pathetic bum. Don’t you realize how lucky you are?) Oops, I hope there aren’t any women reading this. But of course not. I already drove them all away. It’s what I do. (I also drive men away, aliens, non-specific gender people, amphibians and blowfish.) Only cows truly understand me. I am one with the milk.

      So uh, what’s the name of your psychiatrist? Mind if I give her a call?

      • Phil Town
        Thanks for taking the time to produce that detailed and very funny comment, Ken. Luckily, I didn’t actually have a mouthful of milk when I read “I am one with the milk.”

        I know exactly what I meant by the references in the story (except for the eyes – and you’ve come up with a perfectly valid interpretation of them) … but I’m loath to spell it out really since readers might get a kick out of trying to work it out for themselves (but then again … maybe not). I did sow a few clues with my responses to the other guys, but as I say … it would be like explaining a joke, and we know what effect that has (on the fun of the joke).

        The analytical technique … I was just playing with that. Normally, this kind of narration comes from the patient/client, doesn’t it? (e.g. dream description). I figured the analysis sessions might have come up against a brick wall, and the analyst is now experimenting with a different technique whereby she knows enough about the ‘subject’ to extrapolate a quasi-realistic scenario, creating the narrative using bits of knowledge of him to elicit a reaction (and an unblocking) from him.

        Probably wouldn’t work in real life/analysis, though.

    • Anindita Basu
      A fine flash fiction, Phil. See you involved each reader with their own interpretation, creating their own story. It is a great skill for short story. don’t need to solve all problems. Your job was to just ignite. Youv just held the lantern up and a showed a little bit and let them unfurl. It worked with my imaginative mind as a reader than the logical one.
      I liked it.
    • I like the soft tone of the story that gives you just enough but still leaves room for interpretation.
  • Ken Miles
    DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL – A short story by Ken Miles

    “You’re nothing but carved wood!”

    Fr Savior glares at the large pastiche crucifix hanging above the main altar, in front of which he prayed for forty years. The pain from his prostate cancer verges on the unbearable. His prayers have been left unanswered. Every single one of them. He is totally abandoned.

    “I’M TALKING TO A DAMN PIECE OF CARVED WOOD!” he now shouts the words out loud, jolting the members of the small congregation: no more than four elderly women, seated sporadically in the church, praying and forever fingering their rosary beads.

    There is an earie, if momentary pause in the monotonous hum of prayer, but in no time the women resume, praying a little louder as their senses have been awakened and there now seems to be a more dire need for divine audibility.

    Fr Savior, not without difficulty, rises from his knees. The cancer feels like it’s tearing his back-passage and perineum apart. At 64, he is the only remaining priest in the Parish of Huntington County. Disinterested in women, he joined the Seminary at 19, when it dawned upon him that the one thing that interested him was back then abominable, even punishable by law. “You’re gonna waste your life!”, was his father’s harsh judgement, when he first saw his son in priestly frock.

    Eventually, Fr Savior did make a name for himself, not for any holy deed, but by becoming a world expert in the preservation of relics. Body parts and sometimes whole corpses of New World saints would come from places far and wide so that he fixes them for eternity, if not in the ethereal sense at least in a good dousing of formaldehyde. He became such a master of this unbeautiful art that not once but twice the Vatican called him for work there on important relics.

    “Idiots! JUST PLAIN IDIOTS!” he roars at the old ladies. They’re not receptive to the voice of his squashed soul, and simply compensate by further raising the volume of their obstinate prayers, made mostly of words they barely understand. “Where are the youngsters, where is everyone? They’re out their living their lives! They’re not idiots like us in here. My father was right!”

    He climbs up the altar, with that kind of agility only anger or fear can infuse in a man, and forces down the large but surprisingly light balsa crucifix from where it hung for over half a century. The artifact flies onto the marble floor, shattering and echoing like thunder in the large empty stone building. Jesus’s head detaches from the rest of his dead body and rolls like a wild ball stopping right in front of one of the women, who rises and respectfully makes the sign of the cross.

    Sister Patricia has just pulled in the reserved carpark by the sacristy and got out of her Mini when she hears the noise and runs inside the church. John, the sacristan, also comes in from the churchyard, where he was picking weeds from ancient gravestones.

    “Are you all right, Father Savior?” screams out Sister Patricia, visibly panicked as she sees the priest sitting on the altar, legs hanging down, like some spoiled brat. She notices the broken crucifix on the floor and covers her mouth in shock.

    John picks up the longest fragment of the cross, and inspects it, wondering what on earth has happened. He only checked the hook that held it onto the wall last week, during his routine safety check.

    “Don’t worry, Patricia” – Fr Savior usually called her ‘Sister Patricia’ – “It was of no value. The work of some untalented artisan.”

    The priest gets back on his feet and stares at the young nun. “Instead, worry about yourself! Don’t waste your life, young woman!”, he tells her fervently. In his fit of anger, he irreverently grasps her habit, which rips all the way down revealing her underwear.

    On seeing this John, quite instinctively hits the Reverend on the head with the crucifix piece he was holding.


    Fr Savior is blinded by the bright light. Quite like emerging from a dark tunnel, his eyes take time to settle. Two beaming exotic faces take shape right in front of him, almost magically materializing out of the blinding glare. They are almost identical, warm and welcoming. Their perfectly smooth skin glows, bathed in a halo of bright light.

    “Are you angels? Did I die?” asks the priest, bewildered but somewhat easy in his mind.

    The two look at each other and giggle, then say something to each other he could not understand. In a flash, as if programmed, they both disappear and in one voice call Dr Rutgers.

    “The Father is back, he woke up again!” the two interned student-nurses excitedly inform the doctor in their cheerful Filipino accent. Since Father Savior was brought to the hospital three weeks ago, it’s been unclear if he’ll ever return from his coma.
    Dr Rutgers dismisses the nurses, shuts the ward door and tilts away the bright examination lamp.

    “So Father Savior here, right?” The doctor seems quite devoid of enthusiasm. “I’ve been told of your fight with Jesus. You gave him the first blow. And then he hit you back.”

    “Is that what happened?” asks Fr Savior, credulously, still figuring out on which plane of existence he now resides. “Who are you? Where am I?”

    “So you don’t recognize me?” asks the Doctor, not without a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

    The priest lifts his head up, his neck aching badly in doing so. He can now see the man who is talking to him, holding on to a stand on which hangs a bag filled with pink liquid that’s connected to a pipe going to a needle in his wrist. Seems like a hospital ward, but the tall and slim forty-something ginger-bearded man in the white coat doesn’t ring a bell.

    “You used to call me ‘Cookie’ when I was your altar-boy.”

    Cookie! Yes, of course. A shiver runs down Fr Savior’s spine. Alfred Rutgers. Such a long time ago! This must be his life being played back to him, just before judgement. His sins being laid bare.

    “We’re in a closed room together, just you and I, like in the old days”, the doctor affirms, now sounding menacing.

    “Forgive me, Alfred!” begged the priest.

    “No, that’s not you! Call me ‘Cookie’, like you always did. I’ve suffered ever since, I lost my religion soon enough. No, I won’t forgive you!”

    He gulped, and then continued, “But I will do you a favor: I will cut short your journey in the long dark night of the soul. Yes, God exists, if you must know! He gives us life and then takes it away. At will.”

    The doctor looks intensely at the patient, his eyes overflowing with hatred, then adds, “And today, right here, I am God.”

    With that, he twists the dosage knob on the bottle with the pink liquid in it from 5% to hundred. The patient shakes wildly, lights flicker like fireworks in his eyes as his blood pressure rises to dangerous heights. The cells in his brain melt. Then it is night again. A much longer night.

    1,200 words (excluding title and this line)

    • A pacey and visually gripping story, Ken – I felt I could see the action almost as if on film. There’s an underlying story of having power and being powerless. And of a heartfelt revenge, although he doctor has the possibility of causing him more suffering by prolonging it?

      Phil picks up the spellings and the slips in tense. I also am not sure about ‘interned’ for the nurses – maybe a US/UK thing, but I would associate ‘interned’ with being put in a prison camp.

      And I’m not sure what a nurse or pharmacologist would make of the last paragraph. Do drips have dosage controls in percentages rather than drip or flow rate? And I wondered what medicine or poison would ‘melt’ brain cells. A graphic way to portray suffering, but is that literally possible?

      All the same, it’s a vivid story centring on a disreputable and memorable, thought-provoking character.

      • Hi again Andy and thanks for your comments!

        I’m glad you enjoyed my story and I read your observations with a lot of interest. As for the story seeming almost like watching a film, well, I’m professionally trained in film-making – so that might explain it! Perhaps I should put together a little film crew, get some actors together and borrow a church and hospital ward for a weekend or so… If I’m there at Oscar night, I’ll mention you and say you gave me the idea 🙂

        You ask this good question: “The doctor has the possibility of causing him more suffering by prolonging it?”
        That would certainly add more drama (but, first up, Ken Frape would have had to prolong the word-count, lol!). The way I see it, the doctor and ex-altar-boy certainly wants to have his revenge and kill his former abuser. But perhaps he also wants to eliminate his horrible memories and “kill his childhood experiences” so to speak. For that reason, he may not want to prolong things by too much. But a lead-up to such a frame of mind would have needed exploring the doctor’s psyche deeper. We don’t know him to well from the very few words he utters. And again, the word count was my worst enemy there…

        As for a “nurse intern”, I think that would be a “resident nurse” in the UK, right? I wanted young, foreign, student nurses as the only other ward staff-members in the story, so that the doctor will have more of a free hand to kill his patient with impunity and still keep it believable for the reader.

        I don’t know much about nursing, but I worked at a private school in the past and we had what we (correctly?) called “interned staff members” ie. graduates and even undergraduates who would work for a short while for us just to get the experience (and a new entry on their CVs). I assure you we didn’t use to lock them up!!

        You catch me off-guard with the exact way fluid medicine dispensers work. I have the feeling that these bottles-hanging-on-a-stand-attached-via-a-pipe-to-a-patient* are one of the most hateful things one sees in hospitals. Like in you’ve got to be in a really bad state to end up like that! But, honestly, I never noticed the exact way they work and if they are marked in percentages or other ways. Perhaps there are different types from different manufacturers. Next time I’m in hospital, I’ll take note of this. But I’m in no hurry for that…

        And, no, as you say, I don’t think that there is any sort of medicine that can “melt brain cells”, the way I put it in the story. (Although we may assume that the revengeful Doctor, who knew who he had in that bed, could have put something other than medicine in that bottle). I sort of meant it metaphorically – a meltdown of the character’s consciousness and destruction of the self. Or at least of the physical hardware in which concsiousness resides. That’s why I specifically went for the cells in the brain. But, true, it may come across as overly metaphysical in a story that is otherwise very firmly rooted in vivid physical reality.

        Btw. I’m not sure if you’ve been back to last fortnight’s story thread (the “…she accidentally swallowed…” one). I replied to your comment to my story “A Hooker Named Hailey” about bananas – with potatoes! Have a look, if you haven’t already.


        * “bottles-hanging-on-a-stand-attached-via-a-pipe-to-a-patient” – this is how I could have saved on the word-count in my story!

        • Yes. Great story!
          • Thanks Ilana, I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂
    • Ken M3

      Yo. Great writing. Very intense and gripping story. It unfolds itself very nicely, with a nice bit of divine justice at the end.

      I concur with Andy on the realism of the medical equipment. And it’s effects. A more realistic treatment could be encapsulated in pushing a plunger, opening a valve, or tapping a few keys on an electronic medication dispenser. It’s a minor issue, but becomes critical because it’s an integral part of the ending. In fact, shortening the actual means of killing the character is secondary to the realization by the character that he is about to be murdered. The means by which could be incorporated into that realization. (Does that make sense?) This is not a criticism so much as an observation. That is the crux of the story.

      Like: He watched helplessly as ‘Cookie’ tapped in a twenty-fold increase in medication. A level that would effectively burn his synapses and fry his brain. (You know, be vague enough to suggest it might just be metaphorical, instead of literal.)

      But these are pretty minor tweaks to what is already a very good story, carried along by what I think is excellent writing.

      My biggest complaint, is the ‘Fr Savior.’ It’s used six times. As a voracious reader, I overlook a lot of minor literary gaffs. Like annoying bones in a well-cooked fish, you just pick ‘em out and toss them aside without slowing down too much. This is like that. BUT, it was so glaringly obvious, and so easy to have fixed, I had to wonder what on earth would make you think that ‘Fr Savior’ was grammatically correct?

      Still, it’s a good story Ken 3.

      • Ken3 to Ken… (are you Ken1 or Ken2?) …here.

        Thanks loads for the nice words about my story. That’s very much appreciated and I’m pleased to have entertained you in some way (besides some annoying fishbones I left here and there).

        You being you, I wouldn’t be a hundred per cent sure if you really mean what you say at face value or if you’re being somewhat sarcastic. One’s got to read well between your lines!

        But then again, I read what you wrote to Amy the other day, and by your own rulebook – since (1) I haven’t been in here for long enough yet and (2) I never won this contest – I can’t as yet have the honor to be the target of your “harrassment” lol So you may have actually liked my story, as you say. For real!

        Also, the other time, I read a passing but very positive comment you made about my story “A Hooker Named Hailey” while you were talking to someone else, which makes it sound all the more real. Thanks for that too!

        So, to the story… About the medical equipment, which both Andy and you mentioned, I admit I have not researched it and it’s not technically precise (unless I happened to be very lucky!). Have a look at my reply to Andy, above, which I’ve just written, where I explain my take on that issue.

        I tried to figure out this one: “Shortening the actual means of killing the character is secondary to the realization by the character that he is about to be murdered.” If I get it right, worse than being killed in itself is the realisation of being killed. I’d say so, too. As we see from life, the realisation (and anticipation) of something bad about to happen is usually worse than the actual happening.

        I could have emphasized that further, as you suggest in your comment. The Reverend could have been tormented for longer. Also calling the perpetrator “Cookie”, as you suggested, instead of “the Doctor”, to look at him from the priest’s perspective would be a good idea.

        Honestly, I tried to slant the story (perhaps not so succesfully) in a different way, to make it seem that the priest believes he is already dead and dealing with his “afterlife” even before he actually dies for real. His return from the coma seems to him like the oft-mentioned tunnel of death with light at the end it. Then he mistakes the two young smiling Filipinas in the bright light of the hospital lamp for angels, complete with halo and all. Then comes “Cookie”, a ghost from his distant past and he believes the film of his life is being played back to him (as they used to tell us in religion class) just before judgement.

        I wanted him to swim in those deep waters of not being able to tell for sure if this is life or the afterlife that he’s experiencing. So when he does die for real, it is less important to him (he thinks he’s already dead!) and more important to Cookie, who finally gets his revenge and buries once and for all his ignominious past. But I may have rushed through it, and not explored these possibilities to their fullest extent. And, alas, the word count alarm was ringing loudly by that point…

        About the “Fr Savior” thingy, I couldn’t understand, at first, where exactly you picked a (fish)bone with me… Did I write “Saviour”, God forbids (and saves us!), instead of “Savior”? The British way? God save the Queen. No, I didn’t!

        Is it because I sometimes wrote Father Saviour in full, and sometimes in abbreviated form? I actually did that deliberately – in full when people addressed him in direct speech, in abbreviation when I, the narrator, was talking about him.

        Then it occurred to me. I think I found it! It’s probably the lack of period after Fr! Now, I was taught back at school (and I know we should unlearn a good part of what we where taught at school, but that’s another issue for another day) that when we abbreviate a word by using its first and last letters (as in “FatheR” = “Fr” or “DoctoR” = “Dr” or “MisteR” = “Mr” we do not put a period. Period.

        When, instead, we use a different last letter in the abbreviation from the last letter of the full word, such as in “Number” = “No.” or “Professor” = “Prof.”, then we must use a period. I always went by that rule.

        Now, that you brought it up (or so it seems!), I checked it out (my teachers could have been wrong after all – they’ve got a well-documented track record of being wrong in many other things).

        And – here we go again – it’s one of those things the English language seems to have dropped in the ocean from the decks of the Mayflower. Quite like my Mr Janusz Jwaszkiewicz, Kizzy’s dad, as it happens, the British rule about abbreviations and periods, was thrown overboard and drowned somewhere in the Atlantic well before reaching America’s shores! Along with all the “…our”, “…ise” and a host of other British gems (of doubtful value). Just the switch from “…our” to its leaner cousin “…or”, as in “colour/color”, “neigbour/neigbor”, etc. must have saved enough ink, paper and electricity in four centuries of American printing to have had a discernible positive impact on climate change… It’s not just the Paris Accords that count.

        Got to leave it at that!
        See you next time round – I’ll be back to comment on the other stories, once at a keyboard though…
        Ken (the other one)

        • Ken M3,

          Thanks for that explanation.

          1. It’s true, and an unfortunate consequence of being a failed, and often flailing comedian that my sincere accolades are frequently misconstrued as mere sarcasm. I must be more careful about that. Periodically, I specifically identify my so-called ‘comedy’ by placing them/it in parenthetical marks.

          2. This is not the first time that I became highly agitated and indignant over what turns out to be something the British invariably call ‘a grammatical rule.’ This is extremely unsettling. Not a custom, tradition or informal usage: A rule. My bad.

          3. I picked up on a lot of what you elucidated in your explanation. The mistaken assumption of his own death, for one. Ironic twist, that was. And I saw nothing wrong with the character’s rush to consummate the murder. While it might seem desirable to prolong your enemy’s death, one can’t dilly-dally when offing people in a more-or-less public setting. (Unless the murderer doesn’t care about his own welfare.)

          • Ken Miles
            Keep the humor coming, Ken C. – it’s one of the big attractions in here 🙂 I made that part of my comment with tongue firmly in cheek too!

            Besides the humor part, since finding this site I sort of got the feeling that amongst the other very valid people in here you’re sort of – how can I put it? – the unofficial commentator of reference. So I do seek you out (while trying to read everything that’s written by everyone else, which is somewhat of a challenge sometimes).

            As for the Atlantic divide of the English language, yes, it does get annoying sometimes, and features quite often in here. It’s a mere technicality, and a good story doesn’t have to depend on that. I was raised with British English, but have no qualms with using US English when called for. Although sometimes something will slip through, and there’d be differences I might discover along the way. As with the Dr./Dr, Fr./Fr thingy.

    • Hi Ken,
      Great name that!

      I really enjoyed your writing and felt that it was crisp and concise. You chose a topic that has received masses of publicity in recent years but I felt your take on it was still fresh indeed, raw. The emotional intensity experienced by Fr Savior was well handled. Losing your faith as a priest must be one of the worst things that can happen, apart from being uncovered as a child abuser.

      The strange thing for me, as a person of no particular faith, is that the priest actually expected his prayers to be answered after the way he had behaved with Cookie. Hypocrite, or what?

      I read with interest the comments from the others so far and whilst I agree with the general thrust of their comments, I did not feel that this detracted in any way and tended to just go along with it.

      I am really looking forward to reading more from you in the future.

      kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • Ken Miles
        Hi Ken,
        (feels like some Freudian world of narcissistic self-reflecting starting so many messages greeting my own name in here… 🙂 )

        Thanks for your appraisal, much appreciated. I took a different type of night to travel through in reply to your intriguing prompt. I happened to be reading the biography of St Therese some months ago and that’s where I luckily bumped into the term “dark night of the soul” as an established term used by the Catholic Church to describe a rather common phenomenon, as I learnt, amongst priests and many saints too.

        Indeed, as you suggest, hypocrisy might be the first thing that comes to mind with someone like Fr. Savior and would have been a factor that played a part. But perhaps there’s more to it than that. What’s certainly child-abuse (and we see the horrendous result of it in Dr. Rutgers) was probably for the young Fr. Savior his way to seek love and make a connection. In the most barbaric way, of course, but society and the way it treated him (which didn’t back in the day accept his sexual orientation and instead led him into vocationless priesthood) is probably at least part to blame too.

        He probably feels short-changed by God, too, when the return on his years of service was the cancer. I purposely chose a usual retirement age for this to happen, a life’s harvest time of sorts. I portrayed him as an unholy priest (or “irreverent Reverend”), but through his own eyes he probably felt useful to the church if for nothing else for preserving saintly relics. Hey, even the Vatican called, twice. His CV, if not his heart, was quite remarkable… So, yes, I tried to dig into a complicated character and may have succeeded only in part. Being totally unfamiliar with the priestly life didn’t come to my aid either. But I’m glad I raised some issues, while remaining entertaining…

        I read your story and liked it very much. Will be giving you some more feedback later on. So watch this space 🙂


    • Ken M, without echoing the other critiques, a great deal of which I agree with, I noticed this line:

      Since Father Savior was brought to the hospital three weeks ago, it’s been unclear if he’ll ever return from his coma.

      In telling the reader, you have presented a good case for author intrusion – by using the word ‘since’ – as if you are talking directly to the reader as the author, reminding us of something about which we have no knowledge. If it had been written,

      In the hospital for three weeks, doctors were unsure if Father Savior would ever recover (recover is a bit better word than return, IMO) from his coma.

      Otherwise, you have some very good skills but yet, are a little bit raw – again in my humble opinion. Your work reminds me a lot of how I used to write when I started. If only I could go back and rewrite my published book, I would be much happier, even if I’m the only one who reads it after revision.

      In the meantime, keep writing. You’ll be grabbing the brass ring before long. You’re too talented not too.

      • Ken Miles
        Thanks Roy, and especially for the critique. That’s one important reason why I am (we are) here, so I get not only fresh pairs of eyes to look at my stories but also constructive criticism of where things can improve or feel less raw, as you put it. Please keep the criticism coming, particularly through concrete examples of where the use of language and plot creation could do with some polishing or rewriting. I’m very receptive of this and take note of anything that is suggested to me.
        I see from this and also a past story on which you also commented that I over-employ the word “since” in the beginning of sentences, where a better construction is desirable. I’ll be keeping a close watch on myself for that!
        On return vs recover from the coma, I opted for the unusual collocation as I was more interested in the return of the person/self than the actual medical recovery. But it may have jarred somehow, as you suggested.
        Sorry to bring you bad memories of your hospital stays and the dreaded drip bottles. Wish you the speediest recovery and a quick return to normality!
      • Hey Roy – please give me some more instances of where you feel my writing is somewhat raw and would do with a bit of polishing if not a makeover or a rewrite. If you have the time and feel like, of course. It would be precious for me to know
        where I still come across as a newbie 🙂
        • Ken M. Contact me at with your email. I’d rather do it between me and you, rather than on this open forum.
    • Oh, almost forgot, since I spent a good portion of my most recent winter in the hospital with hundreds (as many as ten or fifteen a day for over four weeks) of bottles of various liquids being dripped into my veins, the controls are all machines that are programmed with milliliters/minute. I wear a pump (pushing poison into my veins) every two weeks I have to carry around for two days, and It’s programmed to last exactly 46 hours. Damn if it doesn’t ring exactly 46 hours later telling me it’s empty, after the nurse sets the rate and says, “You’re free to go.” I had five of those machines attached to that pole you can walk around with, but usually just have hanging around like a sore tooth. Fun times … NOT!
  • Phil Town
    Hi, Ken. A quite common theme – revenge for wrongs done – takes on a new slant here. The first part, in which the priest loses his faith and goes a little berserk, is very nicely done; you give us a strong reason for him to flip (his cancer) … and in fact, if he were a real believer, his 40 years of service would surely support him spiritually in his time of need. But we see that maybe God was never really the main reason for him to serve the church anyway, rather some other attraction … The confrontation with the doctor/altar-boy is well set up by the incident in the church, though I felt his demise was a little ‘on-the-nose’ (but perhaps he needs a nasty end for the nasty piece of work he is?). There are a couple of typos (‘earie’, ‘their’ for ‘there’), and you slip occasionally into the past (e.g. “On seeing this John, quite instinctively hits the Reverend on the head with the crucifix piece he was holding”) when you’ve chosen (validly) the present tense as the main one to tell the story. It’s an eventful story, well told.
    • Hi Phil – and nice to meet you! I’m pleased you liked the story and thanks for all the observations.

      True, I may have been severe in the nasty way I saw the Reverend off, but I didn’t want to be too kind to him, unlike the way I treated the snake in “Tamed, Twice” four weeks ago. In my first draft, I allowed for some redemption by finishing the story with “And this time it will be long till dawn.” But then I removed it. Let’s leave life after death the mystery that it has always been, I thought. And especially for this unsavoury man in my story.

      I purposefully threw in a good deal of imagery of death throughout the write-up (picking weeds from gravestones, the crucifix, the terminal cancer, the relics business) in preparation for where the Rev.’s would be heading at the end of his long “night”. So, when that moment came along, I just let him have it!

      Oh – and those typos! They slipped through the net in spite of my checks (and spell-checker). Sometimes, it’s got to be a fresh pair of eyes. Thanks for pointing them out! The same goes for the occasionaly slip into the past in a story I wanted to plant firmly in the present.

      I will comment on your story and the others shortly – so be back soon 😉

  • Anindita Basu
    Some awesome stories I read in this site so far. will get back for comments later. Here is my story:

    979 words
    Traveling Through the Night

    “I am scared of dark.” I screamed and flicked the light. “I can’t sleep in the dark. I have to keep lights on.”
      “Why? What are you so afraid of, Nisha?” Alan squinted. 
      “Worries. They take advantage of the darkness. They creep up on me like bugs, like a line of ants. Black ants with huge eyes if you look closely.” With a pause, I added,
      “Like the eyes of my boss. Droopy huge eyes hovering on me showing his gritted teeth, exclaiming ‘FIRED!’ Like those hooded headlights of cars. BANG! head-on crash!. And when my eyelids get heavy, I feel I am falling. Falling in a deep, deep pit. A bottomless dark hole. Dark, dark, oh so dark. And then, Alan, I feel I am dying, going down, down deep in the dungeon. I can see my baby. My little Shayan, only three years old, cringed in a fetal position, lying on the cold concrete floor, abandoned, orphaned, like the picture of the child I had seen recently on FaceBook, the immigrant child, separated from his mom, imprisoned in a camp in the USA.” I panted. But also felt better, lighter to open up to Alan. My eyes went blurry with tears but his eager eyes were on mine. 
      “I can’t sleep, Alan. I’d sit up and light up all the switches in our apartment to make sure I am alive, Shayan is not an orphan. I can take care of him. But what if I can’t meet deadlines and I am fired? Do I have the guts to set me free and start my dream job of being a writer?”
      I felt a warm soft press on my palm.
      “You’ll be fine,Nisha. You fear yourself. Nisha, your name means night- dark night. Beautiful. Tonight I have a surprise for you. In the dark!” He grinned turning towards me. His eyes have iolite-blue hue. Peaceful. I never noticed before.

      Alan turned his face to focus on driving. Clouds gathered in a pattern, like scales of fish. Gray silvery ones. Then within a short time, it changed to puffy cumulus ones with darker splotches of steel and slate.  
      “The cloud is worrying me.” Alan clucked but didn’t quite open up. 
      “It is beautiful. Seems like it might rain.” I gave my opinion.
      Tekapo twenty kilometers – read a sign. Lake Tekapo would be our night stay before we head out to Christchurch tomorrow. 
      “Do you know what’s so special about Tekapo?” Alan asked and I shook my head. 
      “It is one of the rarest places on earth free of light pollution.” 
      “You mean Nisha is respected?”
      “Yes.” Alan gave that killer smile when the dimple on his chin deepens. 
      We saw a lake, pristine, surrounded by snow drizzled mountains. 

      Inside the cafe a delicious smell of caramelized onions and nice window seats invited us. The drama of the clouds began. Though it was not raining cumulus clouds now formed a tower almost starting from the ground at the horizon. Orange, yellow burnt sienna streaks splashed on the gray mounds. The sun was setting. Across from the lake, lighting struck and then it was like watercolor pouring from the sky. It rained there, but not here then. 

      “That’d clear it. Phew!” Alan blew a sigh of relief. Gradually the rain came to our side too, pitter-patter and when it was over Alan took me to my hotel room. “Take a nap, rest and meet me around ten at the lobby,” he said.
      I still had no idea what surprise he had stored for me. When I asked, he laced his fingers in mine, “Just trust me. The darkness will not kill you, Nisha, I promise. We will travel through the dark, you’ll see.” 

      In a short while, a van came. There was no headlight. A guide descended and helped us climb where we found two other couples and two students already in. The car would drive in total darkness. Though we were bundled up well, steam emerged from our mouths and nostrils. 
      The van stopped. The guide showed a red torchlight in that pitch darkness directing to a hall. They gave us hot cocoa and a warm blanket, then took us outdoor and directed to look up. 

      There was no moon in the sky, not a trace of cloud. Just stars. I had no idea there are so many stars up in heaven. In the beginning, I could only locate the big dipper which I call the Big Question. Then the hunter guy Orion. Through the telescopes, I could see the Alpha Centauri, our closest star, (not considering the Sun), only four light-years away! And the Southern Cross over the horizon.
      By and by a huge imaginary canoe floated in the sky; the guide told us the Maori legend associated with it and the Greek mythology that the goddess’ breast milk spurted and sprayed when baby Heracles fussed and that was the story of the Milky Way.
      The more I stared at the sky the more stars appeared. It was a strange revelation- the more I wished to see, the more I wanted to know, the more it gave. This abundance of the universe, the vastness gave me chills, not the freezing cold temperature. It was a mesmerizing feeling I had never experienced before.

     I remembered that seeing the Southern sky was in my father’s bucket list and it didn’t happen. But it happened through me. I shared that with Alan the next morning.
    “It’s strange that I felt his presence in that infinite ambiance, in that darkness, among the stars, Alan. Thank you!”  
      “Are you scared anymore?” He asked. 
      I took a deep breath. The dark coffee, midnight black in that little cup smelled delicious. “Yummy!” 
      He planted a kiss on my cheek with a smile.  


    • This is a beautifully observed story, Anindita. You have a way with descriptive writing that employs all the senses – sight, smell, taste, touch, sound – and here creates the perfect atmosphere for the story. You also convey something of Nisha’s sense of awe at confronting the cosmos, and that sense of scale runs back into history, to mythical beginnings from different cultures.

      The relationship is sweetly depicted, and is a stabilising factor in Nisha’s life. Is the man too perfect? I guess some of us are … 🙂

      The presentation of Nisha’s fears struck a chord, and it’s a nice touch that her name means night, which helps give an understanding of the source of her fears.
      And the contrast between the worries at the start with ‘black eyes’ like ants, staring at her from the dark, and at the end the bright stars illuminating the sky is also classy, helping to give a balanced structure to the narrative..

      I didn’t so much read this story as bask in it.
      Now I’m booking my flight to Lake Tekapo!

        • Only 113.00 U.S. Cheap. Airfare? 1600.00 (If you ride in the luggage compartment. $2700.00 if you want to sit in a seat in the cabin.
          Do you live in New Zealand, Anindita?
          • Anindita Basu
            No, I live in the USA. I went there last year. I was not in the business class, not in the luggage compartment either. But travelled with just a carry on :))
    • Anindita,

      You really amaze me. You wrote a story once that made me cry like a baby. It came in last place. It was very distressing to see such a beautiful story encounter so much indifference.

      There are a few spots of rough-looking writing in this story. Like, “Do I have the guts to set me free and start my dream job of being a writer?” Should be: (Do I have the guts to quit my job and follow my dream of being a writer?) I sure hope so.
      I felt a warm soft press on my palm. (I felt a warm, soft pressure on my palm.)
      I still had no idea what surprise he had stored for me. (I still had no idea what surprise he had in store for me.)

      Little stuff.
      You omit a lot of commas that would greatly clarify your sentences into specific phrases.

      I endorse Andy’s comments wholeheartedly. You have a knack for creating beautiful images, and evoking feelings of warmth and empathy with your writing. There are some paragraphs, (yes, unbelievably, more than one, several, bunches,) that are so beautiful, it rivals the feeling one gets when confronted with some divine natural landscape, like a snow-covered mountain, a gurgling country stream or a towering waterfall.

      ‘The drama of the clouds began.’ (That sentence, ‘the drama of the clouds’ !!!) Though it was not raining(comma) cumulus clouds now formed a tower, almost starting from the ground at the horizon. Orange, yellow, burnt-sienna streaks, splashed on gray mounds. The sun was setting. Across (from) the lake, lightning struck, and then it was like a watercolor pouring from the sky. It rained there, but not here. (Period.)

      ‘The more I stared at the sky, the more stars appeared. It was a strange revelation – the more I wished to see, the more I wanted to know, the more it gave.’

      The ending is superb. ‘I took a deep breath. The dark coffee, midnight black in that little cup, smelled delicious. “Yummy!”

      Beautiful writing. Beautiful story. (Needs a few more commas, but—I don’t even care.)

      • Anindita Basu
        Oh Ken C, I had been last many times. Many pillars of successes! Thank you for your editing and the commas. I am glad that I could touch your reader heart. That is what I strive for. Thank you again for your feedback.
        Enjoyed reading your story too. Crisp dialogue and the mystery at the end..chic!
    • Phil Town
      Anindita, I can only third Andy and Ken’s comments. This is very lovely. You mention at one point “it was like watercolor pouring from the sky”, and in fact your descriptions are like a painting – a painting with words. Exquisite. Yes, there are some mistakes, but the spirit of the piece shines through that. If there’s one thing I would change, it would be the description of the narrator’s worries – not the content, but the form. Rather than have it as dialogue, I’d report it, i.e. “I told Andy about my worries. How they…” etc. (This is because I felt that little section sounded – to me, anyway – a little unnatural as dialogue.) That ending is terrific – when Alan asks her if she’s scared and she doesn’t answer directly but obliquely using a comment about the (midnight black!) coffee. Smashing.
    • Very nice, Anindita. The descriptive flair is nowhere boring and is essential to the story. The external descriptions – the weather, the sky, the coffee – seem to reflect very well the internal workings of Nisha’s psyche and her journey of deliverance from fear to embrace of life. Including the darkness. It is not easy to portray what goes on inside a troubled mind (or any mind, for that matter), and your way of showing us what was going on in Nisha’s through the sensorial descriptions of what was happening in the physical world around her is done as effectively as it is done graciously.

      This may have been intended and labored upon on your part or maybe it came out naturally as a result of your writing talent. Or, as often happens, as a mixture of both (inspiration and perspiration, as someone famous, I forgot who, once put it). Well done – and now, after your story and the mention of Tekapo as the least light-polluted place of earth, I’m a bit apprehensive not of the darkness but of the light. There is too much light around us! This also reminds me of Andy’s story – too much light there too (light of knowledge/science in that case), troubling the religious soul. We can do with some more Tekapo-darkness and ambiguity!


      • Btw, I wanted to say that I especially loved this line:

        ‘The more I stared at the sky, the more stars appeared. It was a strange revelation – the more I wished to see, the more I wanted to know, the more it gave.’

        I would make it even leaner – it’s self-evident that it is a strange or paradoxical revelation:

        ‘The more I stared at the sky, the more stars appeared. The more I wished to see, the more it gave.’

        Thanks for giving us those words!

        • Anindita Basu
          Thank you Ken for your feedback. You are right pointing out that wordiness in that sentence. I decide to omit that. I am so thankful to you and the other Ken for making my story more polished and tight. I loved your piece too Ken M, and think I posted that earlier. Thank you again. Dita.
    • Hi Anindita,

      A lovely story and one that really tackled my prompt head-on. Well done for that.

      The other comments have pretty well covered any minor “errors” and I use the word errors with no criticism implied. Instead, reading the story as a whole was a pleasure and, as others commented, it has a beautiful section under those stars.

      Alan sounds like someone to hang on to.

      I have just returned from south-west Ireland. on my travels I saw ( but had no time to stop) a tourist attraction where there is no light pollution. It would have been great to stay and see the night.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

    • Dita (if that is OK, since you signed as Dita), I would only be echoing others in my praise for this story. Your use of descriptive phrases rivals that of Ilana Leeds, but, as the others point out, you do tend to use incorrect wording from time to time as Andy pointed out with several corrections. It detracts slightly from the story, but not enough to stop me from giving it high consideration for where it stands in the voting. Good job.
      • Dita, I wanted to add about this line: Inside the cafe a delicious smell of caramelized onions and nice window seats invited us. I loved it and promise you that you won’t recognize it when I steal it. Great line. (For me, anyway,)

        If you ask anyone how many stars are in the night sky, most of them (if not all) would answer millions. I read a few years ago that on any given night, the number of stars visible was no more than two or three thousand. I was rather startled, so my son (who once considered a career as an astronomer) and I portioned off a section of sky (using degrees and meridians and such) and counted the stars in that section, then projected the number of stars that would be scattered over the visible portion of the night sky we could see. They were right. Try it yourself. It works. In both hemispheres. Interesting, Yes?

        • Anindita Basu
          Thank you Roy. Yes, when I looked up the numbers of stars were not that many in the beginning, but when I keep staring it increased more and more!
          My wrong wordings could be my style as a bilingual voice in English language…critiques have said that I see and describe things differently… Some mentioned not to lose my unique voice and accent . There is something positive in it , some negative.

          I am really researching this aspect. How
          not to lose the accent while writing correct English…and there is a fine line. Some readers will like it , some will not. And it is true for all writers.

          Thank you very much for your feedback, Roy.

    • C N Wilder
      Anindita, You’ve written a beautiful story. The descriptions of her anxiety in the beginning were wonderful, humorous in their absurdity, yet totally relatable. I loved the imagery of the night and stars and her shift in how she experienced the night. One detail that was particularly meaningful to me was how her father had wanted to view the southern night sky but never had, and now she had done it for the both of them. Well done.
      • Anindita Basu
        Thank you for your kind words .🙏

    Sandra, Madeleine and her two children came across one another when they took the long haul night flight back home, when the fare was at its cheapest.
    They slid along the four seats in the front row in the belly of the aircraft.
    Sandra sat upright, casting furtive frowns at Madeleine as she fastened the seatbelt across her toddler’s waist, then opened the cot in front of her for her other infant

    “Excuse me.” Sandra caught the arm of the stewardess as she strode along the aisle. The stewardess bent slightly to Sandra’s eye level as she listened to her request. “Could you find me a better seat. I don’t want to spend seven hours watching this woman nurturing her babies. I hate bodies, children especially, around me. The plane is unusually full of all sorts of bodies. The bodysmell! Oh!” Sandra pinched her nose.

    “Oh!” The stewardess straightened up and said. “I believe you chose this seat. ”
    “Yes, but not the company here.” Sandra motioned to Madeleine and her children. “I thought it would be fairly away from everyone else. I don’t have anything against them, mind you. I just want to travel in peace and quiet. These children will soon be crying and the mother would be faffing about with them. She has started already.” Sandra swept her hand towards Madeleine.

    “I’m so sorry to hear about your anxieties but the plane is full. The only seat vacant is next to yours. There’s nothing I can do to help you.” The stewardess rushed away without waiting for an answer.
    “I’m sure there are seats in the business class. You owe me a decent trip on this plane. I paid for this. I’m going to make a complaint.” Sandra shouted at her.

    Later on, everybody settled down when the lights went out and the shutters came down. The plane plunged in the dark and was well up in the night sky when Madeleine decided to visit the lavatory as her children had fallen asleep.

    “Excuse me.” Madeleine touched Sandra’s hand which was resting on the arm of the seat, to talk to her.
    Sandra removed her eyepatch to stare at Madeleine.
    “I want to let you know I am popping into the toilet for a few minutes. Do you mind keeping an eye on the children for me in the event of them waking and looking for me?”
    “No!” Sandra leant forward to face Madeleine. “I’m not a childminder. You can do whatever you like but don’t ask me for help.” She wrapped a blanket around her knees.
    “Sorry!” Madeleine leant back and pressed herself into the seat. She was not expecting that kind of rebuke.
    “Why are you travelling alone when it is obvious you need help to look after these mites?” Sandra asked and pointed to the children. “Where’s your husband? He should have been with you, helping you. That is what normal people usually do. You won’t have to cry or beg for help.”
    “Hum!” Sandra was hesitant to say more of her private life to a stranger. “He is with us.”
    “Really! Are you kidding me? Is he in the back, resting whilst we’re suffering here?”
    “We know he is with us.”
    “Who do you think you’re lying to? Oh! You mean he is here in spirit. If he is, then I have the Holy Spirit here with me, helping me with the discomfort you’re forcing me to bear.”
    Sandra bit her lips, put her eyepatch back on, turned her head over one side and closed her eyes.
    Madeleine raised her head above her seat to look back and around her. Everyone seemed to be sleeping. She got up and crawled to the toilets.

    She caught up with some sleep when she came back, then she woke up with her toddler asking for a drink.
    “The lady, the stewardess, will soon come around with some drinks and food. It is almost morning.” She whispered to her.

    Sandra fidgeted in her seat and talked as if to herself. “I don’t understand why people have children and can’t look after them. Look at this one. I bet you her husband has abandoned them.”
    “What is she saying mum?”
    “Don’t take any notice,” Madeleine answered.
    Sandra turned to her, switched the light above her head on and peeled her blanket away from her. “She will when she grows up and asks about her father. He doesn’t seem to be here, does he?”
    “When is daddy coming back, mum?” The child cut in the conversation.
    Madeleine could no longer control her civilized manner, “You don’t know us and you are building stories about us. If you want to know I will tell you.” Sandra put the earplugs over her toddlers ears. “Their father passed away whilst we were on holiday. You cannot imagine how much we have been through in the past couple of weeks. I am taking his body back home and he is in a casket in the cargo compartment in this plane.”
    “What?” Sandra eyes popped out. “You mean we have a dead body beneath us. We’ve been travelling with a dead person on board.”
    “Oh, my God! I never go to funerals because I am scared of dead people and now you’re telling me we have a dead body in this plane, we’ve been travelling with one all this while. ”

    Sandra flapped her hands in front of her face to ventilate. She got up to address the passengers. She shouted, “Listen to me passengers.”
    People started switching their head lights on.
    “This woman here is telling me that there is a dead body in the belly of this plane. We have been duped, not warned about it. I and most likely most of you did not get the choice to be in such a position. I tell you, we have grounds for a complaint and compensation. I demand that the airline have an answer to this. I’m disgusted and so should you.”

    “Please sit down.” A stewardess came over to calm Sandra. “You can make whatever complaint to the airline when we reach our destination, but for now, please stay quiet. You’re distracting and upsetting other passengers.”
    Sandra pointed to the empty seat next to her “ The spirit of the husband is sitting here. She told me.” Sandra lied.

    “If you carry on like this, we will get you arrested by the Police as soon as we touch down.”
    Another steward sat her down and threatened her. “I will get you a drink if that helps.”
    “Please do. I’m so disturbed.” At the mention of being arrested Sandra seemed to regain her composure. She sat down and pretended to be on the verge of crying “I demand a free first class ticket for my next trip.”

    “Poor you!” One of the passengers came to talk to Madeleine. “This is the last thing you need. She makes it harder for you. Perhaps, you could seek compensation for harassment on the plane.”

    • Chitra, I hope someone was videoing this to add to the store on YouTube of obnoxious people on flights 🙂

      I enjoyed your story. The depiction of Sandra and Madeleine makes for a good contrast in personalities. One self-centred and narcissistic, who feels the world should be organised around her preferences and irrational fears, and the other who is quiet and self-effacing. Good to see the other passengers and cabin crew rally around Madeleine.

      Nice prefiguring of the later turn of events with the empty seat. (And I’m guessing the airline wouldn’t refund the ticket …)

      One thing – though I think the story is well told through the dialogue, I feel it may be too grammatically correct, the English too perfect? A few more contractions, some incomplete sentences (e.g. you could have Sandra interrupting people) might add further realism.

      Minor point: “Sandra, Madeleine and her two children came across one another” – I felt was slightly confusing at the start. Perhaps “Sandra came across Madeleine and her two children when …” or something like that, just to show where the boundaries in the separate travelling parties are.

      I was on a long-haul flight one time when a mother flew in first class and her two young children, who looked about 5 and 7, were in economy, like me. The mother just popped in to see them two or three times. Extraordinarily well-behaved kids, but I did wonder about the set-up. And I wonder how Sandra would have coped with that?

      • Chitra,

        I loved the story, but would’ve liked a better ending. Something more definitive. Although that’s not to say it wasn’t realistic. I think I was surprised that ‘Sandra’ was incensed even at the idea of a dead body in the cargo compartment.

        Like Andy, I too was confused by the first line. I think a more critical choice of wording would fix that. And it’s the first line, so it needs to be absolutely clear. Like:
        ‘Sandra first encountered Madeleine and her two children on the long haul night flight back home.’ (Omit the bit about the fare, because, as we later find out, ‘the seats were purchased in advance.’)
        The second sentence doesn’t add clarity either. They’re not in the belly of the aircraft. They’re in the cabin.
        These two confusing sentences are no way to start such a moving and heartfelt story. Because from that point on, the story is riveting, the dialogue is realistic and the plot and characterizations are fascinating.

        (Now that I think about it, maybe it was you who wrote the story that made me cry. How could I get you and Anindita mixed up? That’s ridiculous.) I’ll have to check my emotional index catalog and see what I can unearth about this mystery.

        Your story is very moving, Chitra. Change those first two sentences or I’ll really start blubbering.

        Nobody wants that.

        • Anindita Basu
          Hi Chitra, what a touching story! I could relate very well as I had to travel with two small children many times across the continents at one time. Fortunately never met a neighbor as obnoxious as that lady. The mom in your story is so poised and her kids so well behaved that the obnoxious lady stood out darker. And we felt more empathetic when we came to know about the husband.

          With that thought in mind I wished the ending was different…s the airlines or someone did something dramatic. Just a fellow traveler’s passing remark is not enough for this strong story.

          Your language is lovely and fluid, only the first sentence felt a bit odd to me. Maybe the two ‘when’ in one sentence made it..
          (Sandra, Madeleine and her two children came across one another when they took the long haul night flight back home, when the fare was at its cheapest.)

          Hope you don’t mind me critiquing that. You can easily fix it breaking the sentences and submit to a good magazine!

          It was nice knowing you Chitra, though virtually. 😀

          • Hi Anindita,
            Nice knowing you too.

            Taking the advice from my fellow friends here, I have corrected the errors I made in my copy. I have made some changes to the story too, concentrating more on Madeleine.
            I have come across a lot of obnoxious people, especially when I was in employment.
            I am pleased you like and enjoyed my story.

            I like to take on board of the critiques of my and other’s stories. This is one of the reasons we’re here for.

        • Hi Ken,
          Thanks very much for your feedback.
          I have taken your advice and corrected the errors in my copy of my story.
          I am surprised that my writing made you emotional. I was fine when I was writing it.

          Actually it is my story. Twenty nine years ago my husband passed away and I took him back home to be cremated. That was where he wanted to be, where his whole family was cremated.
          It cost me a lot of money then, but i do not regret my decision.

          • Anindita Basu
            Wow Chitra that must have been hard, but as you said you don’t regret that decision. You are a strong lady, like your story character. Did you ever think of writing a memoir on this? There is a site in NY times, True Love or something. Research…you may polish this piece and submit there. Take care, Chitra.
      • Thanks for the feedback, Andy.
        Pleased you enjoyed reading my story.
        I portrayed Sandra as believing she was of a higher breed of a human being, but who cannot afford the finer things in life and have to resort to other means to get what she wanted. Her nastiness was her way to try to get a first class seat on the plane.
        As such she would made an effort to speak very good English.
        I have corrected my copy of my story.
    • Phil Town
      I liked this story, Chitra – very clean and well paced. I like how the protagonists are introduced right in the first line (although it could maybe have been a little clearer, as Andy and Ken said). Sandra is satisfyingly grotesque. And the ‘my husband is with us’ is a nice bit of misdirection. From the moment of the reveal, it gets a little manic (air-rage!). I wonder who you wanted the story to be about? In the second half, it becomes Sandra’s story, but there’s potentially a moving angle to be explored in Madeleine’s story, which I think is a little neglected after the reveal (notwithstanding the other passenger’s concern in the last line).

      There’s a story in the news now about a ‘Sandra’ … and she’s going to have to pay!:

      And your story reminds me also of a nicely-done Portuguese anti-racism film:

      • Hi Phil,
        Thanks for the feedback, analysing my story.
        I can see your point now.

        Thinking back, I started writing with Madeleine ‘s story in mind. When I created Sandra she hijacked the whole story and I let it happen. And then the spirit of the husband wanted to be included. I should have kicked them out. It turned into two stories which collided with each other and made the ending weak and unsatisfactory. I have redrafted the story and corrected the mistakes that the others mentioned.

        Thanks for the video and the piece in the newspaper. Maidenhead is about 5 miles from my place.

    • Hi Chitra,

      Sometimes when I see news items or read the news or just go about my daily life, I despair regarding the human condition. We have advanced technology, more knowledge than ever before and yet we see acts committed by people that are utterly unacceptable, selfish and dishonest. The road hog and road rage, the queue -jumping ( admittedly partly a cultural issue) the greed and avarice, the dishonesty of (some) in public service.

      Luckily, I also see random acts of kindness on a daily basis.

      I read your story and it was so apt in its tone that I could feel my irritation with Sandra. That’s a great writing skill. Madeleine must be a saint or perhaps she was setting a good example to her children.

      Can’t disagree with other comments either. Our writers are a pretty astute bunch and I have learned a lot from my association with this site.

      Well done, Chitra.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • Hi Kenfrape,
        Thanks for your feedback
        Pleased you enjoyed reading my story. I have corrected the errors that others mentioned.

        I have lived long enough to come across many people like Sandra and Madeleine. I suppose they are fodder for our great stories.

        Yes, we are a great and helpful bunch of writers. The camaraderie is wonderful. I was here before, over two years ago. Like you l learned and am still improving a lot. Roy noticed a big improvement in my writing which is nice to know.
        Other responsibilities in life took over and I absconded from the site. I came across Alice and she pulled me in again. I’m glad I have as it forces me to write. I had stopped writing short stories although I have written two full length novels since.

        Enjoy your time wit us!

    • Ken Miles
      Hi Chitra,

      This is a realistic story anyone who travels by air can relate to. Airports, especially the big international ones, and airplanes are the places where one often sees very strange human interactions between people of all walks of life and backgrounds being brought together at very close proximity for long enough to annoy and be suspicious of each other (“…casted furtive frowns” – I liked that phrase very much: it pictures it all very well), but at the same time not for long enough to bond or invest in each other.
      Sandra may be an extreme case but most of us have had similar people near us or have been the “sandras” ourselves. Once I was seated next to a man who had flown for the first time (fear of flying) because he needed a serious heart operation in a specialized hospital abroad. He redifined the meaning of drama queen and there was the danger he may vomit anytime – vomit bag always handy and ice packs in continuous supply. Not a pleasant flight and I didn’t even behave like Sandra. At least as a writer I see such events as “material”, so no experience is truly ever a bad experience, as seen through a writer’s eye!

      I share some of the concerns others have mentioned about a clearer, crispier start to the story. The ending deserves something punchier with a good slap in the face for Sandra, so to speak. Or perhaps something that sheds light on why she’s the way she is, ie what trauma in her life carved her out that way. Maybe she simply slips on the way out of the plane and she needs to be carried very much like Madeleine’s babies and husband’s casket. Maybe she can be “rehabilitated”, and she finally appreciates human bodily contact, eg. by remarking “I was never carried that way in my life. Not even as a baby” – hinting at some early trauma of abandonment.

      I think it’s very much Sandra’s story, Madeleine being a prop. Madeleine’s story of a wife returning from holiday with her husband’s casket could be another powerful story in its own right.


      • Hi Ken Miles,
        Thanks for your feedback. Nice to meet you.

        I am pleased that you enjoyed reading my story and it got you thinking of your experiences on your travels on a plane.
        There are so many stories to tell about travelling.
        I have made one drastic change to my copy of the story. I concentrated on Madeleine’s story. I will tackle Sandra’s story some other time. You suggested some very interesting ideas.

        I have to read everybody stories for now. Need to vote tomorrow.

    • I’ve entered this discussion late, as most of the minor flaws in your story have been covered by others, and I reflect their sentiments. Since a couple of years have passed since I last saw the majority of your work, I am really pleased with how good your stories and writing has become. With few corrections, most people would not know that English is not your first language. Well done, Chitra. And, a very good story, deserving of the utmost attention in placing it in the top five, where it will be for me has yet to be determined, but good work, indeed.
      • Hi Roy,
        Thanks very much for your feedback and your very encouraging compliments.
        Thanks to you and others on the site i made a lot of noticeable progress.

        I have taken on board the mistakes I have made and have corrected them.

        Good to hear from you on the site. My good wishes go your way.

    • C N Wilder
      I enjoyed reading your story. I found it relatable having traveled with small children on airplanes many times. I did feel that Sandra’s reactions were over the top, particularly her complete lack of not only empathy but social awareness when she complained about the dead body on the plane. I think she could be toned down a little and still be hated by the reader, perhaps even more so by being more believable. I too felt the ending needed more of a punch, something that puts Sandra in her place or somehow gives her what she deserves for her selfish behavior. There were a few places I was confused about who was acting. I think maybe you got the names switched around a couple of times? Overall I really enjoyed the story, great idea and great twist.
  • (French Connection United Kingdom.) I’m missing an open quote in the third line. Right before the words ‘Yeah sure, get in.’
    • Didn’t notice the missing quote mark.

      On “French Connection United Kingdom”: FCUK do designer glasses. I’ve seen people wear them, with the FCUK brand standing out boldly on the legs of the glasses. People pay a designer premium for that? Nothing like having FCUKwit emblazoned on the side of one’s head, is there?

      • Well, it’s amazing what lengths and expenditures people will suffer in order to ‘look good.’ F.C.U.K. is definitely a fashion statement, but I don’t know what the statement says. Speaking of statements, (smooth eh?) Did I chase everyone away with my own brand of FCUKwit?

        French Connection is probably a pretty obscure reference now that I think about it. I suppose hardly anyone but the British, (and by British I obviously mean Londoners, since we Americans can name only one other English city. Liverpool.) It’s probably passe too. Which explains, (the punch line) how you know ABOUT IT. (The caps lock was accidental but apropos.) In case you’re wondering, it’s because of the Beatles. That’s how American’s know about Liverpool, and THAT’S ALL they know.

        I believe, Andy, that if I sat down and made up twenty or thirty names of British towns and villages. More than half would actually exist. Does this sound entertaining? (After this, I’ll do names of Western American Towns. Urk, Arkansas, Blech, Texas. Etc. But first, I want to do British town names.)

        British town names are so practical. Like, Chatham County Briar Patch By The Freezing Sea.
        It’s important to keep that in mind while I imaginate.
        Sussex By Sandwich, – Sandwich by Sussex – Greenwich Village – Brownwich Township – Bluewich By The Cheese – (Speaking of Sussex.) Essex on Gingham. – Latex – Fairfax Green – Bunglenadian Tuft o’ Wills.- Oxford – Nixford – Foxtrottingham – Sherwood – Notsherwood. Nottingham – Nothingham – Rottingham – Tottingham – Rotford – Rotford On Avon – Rottington – Rottington Heights – The Shallows – East Uppington – Lower Hideaway.- Bristol – Feastern Famine On The Green. – Todd.
        Well? How did I do?

        I don’t feel inspired to do American names now. My brain is exhausted now from the British names. Luckily, I came across a data base of American city and town names, and I couldn’t come up with anything funnier than what exists. Like: Last Ditch, Busted Gulch, Dreams End, Besmirch, Deadhorse, Dreadmore, Fatality, Gropers Mill.

        I hope…. that none of those are actually real towns.

        • Well we do have some good names, it’s true. Round here we have great names like Burton Coggles, Bitchfield and Normanby-by-Spittal. And of course the supremely optimistic Grimsby, where my mother used to live and my sister still does. One of my favourites in Lincolnshire, which as kids we used to pass through en route to see my grandparents, is St James Without. Without what, we used to wonder?
          In Essex there is a village called Ugley. In the district of Uttlesford. We used to see notices in the Essex Chronicle from the Ugley Women’s Institute. I kid you not. And occasional news items about some members wanting to change the organisation’s name. Or even the village’s.
          In Norfolk we have Great Snoring, Little Snoring, Horsey and Horsey Corner, should we tire of Potter Heigham, Catfield and Mustard Hyrn.

          And this is before we get to the West Country, which specialise in great names like Simonsbath, Queen Camel, Westward Ho! (yes, it includes the exclamation mark), Curry Mallet, Affpuddle, Crapstone, Brown Willy, North Piddle, Scratchy Bottom and Shitterton.

          Sandwich is in Kent, btw. I think my first wife was born there (not sure but I wasn’t there at the time.) There are a lot of place names with Ham in them in England, but sadly Sandwich isn’t one of them.
          Sandwich is close to Deal. It’s going to be renamed ‘No Deal’ when we leave the EU and fall off the nearby cliffs of Dover.

          So – there is plenty of scope to be creative if you have an urge to set a story in rural England, Ken. Go for it! We’ll only lambast you about cultural appropriation if it gets within touching distance of being an accurate reflection of life in the shires 🙂
          (Hmm, I have to set the next prompt, so ….)

          • Andy,
            That was some fun reading.
            I knew you folks had some crazy names, but the truth far exceeds my wildest dream. Shitterton wins going away, with Crapstone and North Piddle rounding out the top three. We don’t have names like this. You’ve got us beat in that department, hands down.
            • Further to the discussion about place names in the UK ( I apologise for this but I didn’t start it) They are all real places.

              Cockintake, Cockshutt, Cockfoster, Slackbottom, Bell End, Prickwillow, Brokenwind, Cockermouth, Pratts Bottom, Cockbush, Tinkerbush, Lickers, Piddle, Feltwell, Bitchfield, Upperthong, Cockplay.

              Seems to be something of a theme here. Does it say something about us or does it simply suggest that the Brits have always been keen on nature? There’s little that pleases an English gentleman more than finding a cock in a bush when out hunting so why not give that place a suitable name to remember the event.

              Ken Frape.

          • Ken (F) – Cockbush, didn’t Tina Turner sing about its City Limits?

            I guess as you’re into the spirit of coach tours (as I see from your comment way down below), you could organise a tour for people to take selfies by the name signs at all these places. And create suitable souvenirs to upsell to your customers, perhaps.

            When we were in north Wales a few months ago, we drove into a certain town on Anglesey to take a photo at the railway station, by the station sign for Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.
            We probably weren’t the first to do that.

    • Great story that swept me along, Ken. There’s an evolving mystery about the driver. At first it seems he could be a serial killer, sexual predator, or just insane/paranoid, and we gradually eliminate those possibilities as we go along. Believable, pacey dialogue (as always) lets the story unfold naturally. And I didn’t expect it to end like that – very dramatic on the one hand, and a dilemma to be resolved on the other.

      A nod to HP Lovecraft with the aliens emerging from the lake, perhaps? Though overall has more the feel of a Quinn Martin production like the invaders. In fact, this could be the first of the series, as Iris now has to make a decision and then is herself in mortal danger … Excellent stuff!

      • Thanks Andy,
        I’m not a fan of Lovecraft, (ask any of my ex-girlfriends) but the constant references to him by more erudite readers is extremely annoying. (Pardon my honesty.) That is not to say that you,,, are annoying, Andy, just the words, H.P. Lovecraft. (I’ll have to Google him to check for sure, but, I don’t believe I’ve ever read any of his stuff. O’Henry either. I hear that name a lot and am clueless about what references are being made.)

        As for aliens in the water, notwithstanding whatever Lovecraft did, it’s been done at least a few times, hasn’t it? Also, I have five friends who told me they saw one float overhead and then dive into the ocean right outside their oceanfront hotel room. I don’t believe them. Because if it really happened, none of them would have been sober enough to notice. They didn’t realize that I could figure that out. They all thought they were funnier than me too. Smarter? Yes. Funnier? No.

        (Actually, one of them was.) Jack Crowder. Now, if you go and ask Jack Crowder if he knows me or has ever heard of me he’ll probably deny it. He’ll say, Ken who? Ken Caught-his-pants-on-fire? No. No. Doesn’t ring a bell. Anything else? My baloney sandwich is getting cold. Or warm, whatever will make it taste worse.

        But he knows me. It’s just retaliation. That’s all it is. I wouldn’t believe in his spaceship, and now he doesn’t believe in me. So, me, him, and the aliens are all even. As far as I’m concerned.

        I’m glad you liked the story Andy. I meant to respond to your comments about the story, but I think the topics I covered were far more important. (Okay, well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree then.)

        BTW, I haven’t critiqued your story yet, because I wanted to let it sift into my brain. (Some would say fester.) I’m so eager to comment on it, that I just made a comment, and then backspaced over it. That’s right Andy. I have that much restraint. (and a backspace key, a lot of people don’t have that. I have it and I use it. Frequently. But obviously not enough.) Jesus. See? This is why I don’t need a therapist. I have you, Andy, and the other two people who might accidentally read this. Woe be unto them, poor souls.

        Okay, so, whoever had the stamina to read this comment up to this point, (it’s probably just you, Andy) this information is for you. Survivors, of my first five paragraphs. (People looking for the secret to happiness? That’s in my next comment.) Regarding my story, Andy. Actually, the original ending just had a giant claw coming out of the sky. But I read it to my mother, and she suggested the beam of light. (After she got done laughing.) And I think she was right. (Just because she’s senile doesn’t mean she can’t be right. Right?) I really wanted to shorten this story and add some background, but I couldn’t figure out what to get rid of. (It was all horrible.) I mean, I think the story has some weaknesses, but then, at some point I thought, ‘this is just a story about travelling through the night.’ (With a hooker and a lunatic) And I felt like I’d fulfilled the requirements..

        You will get your critique, Mr. Lake. All in good time.

        p.s. I really don’t truthfully understand Philip’s story. (I want that on my headstone — when I start buying up used headstones.).

        • “I’m not a fan of Lovecraft, (ask any of my ex-girlfriends)” – LOL

          Yes, there are other instances of aliens emerging from the water. If I send my mind back 50 years (in a time bubble) I remember the old Fantastic Four comics I read, with Sub-mariner and that other guy, his rival, who had an undersea empire. Not the Little Mermaid, a bit more Attila-the-Hun-like, and with followers who weren’t crustaceans. (Although that could fit with your original idea of the giant claw that was rejected by your editorial adviser.)
          Anyway, I think the Lovecraft note was because I don’t know anything about Florida, which in my mind is endless sunshine above and all swampy and dangerous critters below. And Lovecraft likes swamps. 2+2 = 17 in the reader’s mind, in truth that’s the relationship between writer and reader.

          (Actually, I have been to Florida once. To Miami airport, where I actually transited onto the wrong plane. About to head for New York rather than Nassau (Bahamas). Tight security, eh? Mad dash and a narrow escape. One day I hope to see Florida beyond the airport.)

  • Hey Andy,

    I had a similar experience. Had a layover in Seattle Washington not too long ago. I’ve wanted to see Washington for a long time. We never had a chance to leave the airport, and couldn’t see anything from the airport. Couldn’t even see Mt. Rainier.

    The thing about Florida, is that it’s really flat. And low. It has an immense amount of land that has water on it. And a lot of it is very swampy. The thing that’s disturbing Andy, is, we’re having a growth spurt in my area, growth is good, but it should be smart, and ecologically practical and responsible. I mean, even if there WASN”T a global warming crisis, I’d still be an advocate of smart growth. But what I’m seeing, is clear cutting. What was once a natural forest habitat is stripped down to the dirt. Acres and acres of land, stripped, down to the dirt. The roots and trees piled up, a few truck loads are harvested, the rest are burned. BURNED!

    I mean, am I missing something? This is incredibly poor land management. No trees are saved. None. Maybe a dozen, so they can say that they saved some. No mulch is made. They lay in the roads, build a bunch of cookie cutter houses, plop two spindly myrtle trees down on each lot. I wasn’t thrilled about the whole project, but hey, it had to be done. But the way that they’re doing it is, you know, very stupidly.

    Someone remodeled and upgraded an old supermarket here in town. (A very big, employee owned and popular chain store.) They took out all the trees in the existing parking lot. Eighty, ninety and one hundred year old oaks, at least. Sturdy as brick shit-houses. They cut them down, chopped them up, and laid a zillion cubic yards of jet-black asphalt re-laid, with no cover, no shade, no trees. No canopy. Are these people idiots? Or am I crazy? My wife said she stopped their for lunch the other day and it was like standing in a frying pan. It’s almost as if there were a malign force somewhere, pushing humanity towards a cliff with nothing but rocks below. It’s like watching your own species take an active role in its own extinction.

    You know what I’m saying?

    • Roots. Trees have the temerity to have roots, as well as the canopy. People who make nice flat roads and car parks don’t agree with that …
  • Phil Town
    This is a terrific story, Ken. As Andy says, you can imagine a booming voice at the end saying “This was a Quinn/Martin Production”. There doesn’t appear to be an ounce of flab on it. The pace is exhilarating and is perfectly in step with the flight of the couple. If there’s one thing I’d point to it would be to spread the reveal about the ‘assault force’ coming up out of the lake over a couple more lines, just to get even more suspense out of it, like:

    “What are you talking about, Mister?”

    “Okay look, I know you’re not gonna believe me, but I saw something coming up out of Lake Ashby.”

    “What do you mean? What something?”

    He hesitated, glanced at her as if to make a final check that the information was safe with her.

    “Something that looked like a good-sized tactical assault force.”

    The ending is great. As Andy again said, it could take the story into new episodes. And it would be a great premise: A person (the ‘hooker’) eminently unsuited to heroics, called upon to be heroic.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this.

  • Ken!! I should print out your story and write on top of it with a large marker “This is how a damn good story should be written!” And then stick up the printout on the wall over my computer so I have a glimpse of inspiration each time I look at it.

    I mean there are different styles and all that in which one can write a story, but your style – dialogue-driven and the dialogue being so damn natural and realistic stands out to me as very much “way to go”!

    I so often get my stories hogged up in chunky paragraphs of backstory. Getting the reader into the picture and that sort of thing. Then, most of my writing effort turns out to be a massive clearning up operation to bring down the paragraphs to bite-size portions and whenever possible to dialogue. And then fixing the dialogue to make it believable and as natural as I can. The result may sometimes be good enough. But it’s not fun.

    Perhaps that’s what you do, as well. But I don’t think so. It feels to me that your dialogues flow out of you naturally and in first draft. Let us in on this – we’re sort of competing for a (fun-)contest in here but the real trophy is to learn from one another. And there is a lot to learn from you and your way of writing. I’m going to be taking lots of notes, if you don’t mind!

    Ok, so you won’t think I’m just BS-ing you, praising and all that, let me mention the one thing that felt bumpy to me in the story. Someone else, I think Phil, mentioned it too, when I was reading the comments:

    I starting reading the story when I really needed a coffee. “Ok, let me start, reading”, I told myself, “then stop along the way and get the coffee. And then continue reading.” But there was no stopping. The coffee had to wait. (I just had it now while writing this, for the record – so I’m fine, if you were worrying about my physical welfare!). The story is so gripping that I just couldn’t let go of it – and what better attribute of good writing is there than stories readers simply can’t let go off?. Whoever was chasing that lunatic was chasing me! T

    The intense mystery surrounding the manic rush this man was in was then, alas, cut off short, when you let us in on the alien invasion. It wasn’t just a jump-cut (to use a filmic term) in the story but a leap from one genre to another from what seemed to me like a mystery/thriller (perhaps even sexy) story into – all so suddenly – science-fiction!

    And make no mistake about it – I am a huuuuge fan of SF, I certainly have no problem with that genre. And not even with the idea of mixing genres (in spite of what the story-gurus say – and what Amazon classification-by-genre methods nearly make obligatory to novel writers – I think mixing genres is a gift not a sin).

    But in “A Mother’s Love”, I wasn’t prepared for that shift.

    So much so that I still hoped this man was a lunatic *imagining* aliens or a criminal bringing up aliens as an excuse to bait the woman, and that there was something more psychological to it than real actual aliens.

    And again, nothing wrong with aliens: they certainly can be part of a story (I witnessed myself an “alien craft” landing many years ago, and unlike your friends I was doubly sober and two other persons saw it from different positions. So, if I saw something alien in reality, be sure I won’t find it mind-bogling to see some aliens in fiction). But in your story they come in a little bit too unannounced, IMO. Just that. Otherwise terrific top-notch writing.


  • I could easily get used to having more Ken’s in this contest.
  • Wow, Ken M3, your comments made my computer blush. I’m quite pleased to receive such a glowing critique from one whose own writing is quite refined.

    In the words of my hooker character, Iris: “Thanks big fella. Do you compliment here often?”

    If you’re being serious about advice, Andy suggested that most of us could eliminate our first paragraph most of the time, and I listened to him. It was good advice. I recommend you try to follow it too. Originally the first paragraph was five lines long. And believe me, I LOVED that first paragraph with all of my heart.

    And yet, ejecting it substantially improved the story. It was like inviting people to an open house where the front doors are actually open. Encouraging potential buyers to ignore the curb appeal and just come on in.

    Your ‘first draft’ comment is hilarious. Because I re-wrote every word in this story at least once, and others at least five times. When I have a good idea, the writing goes pretty quickly, but the results are still rough. I spend three or four times as much time editing than writing my stories. Maybe more. I rewrote the dialogue several times, and rewrote it at least once even after I was happy with it, because it still didn’t sound quite like what the two people would actually say. (Given the circumstances.)

    My most useful strategy for refining a story, is to take a prolonged break from it. (A good trick with the two week deadline.) After editing a story for a couple of hours, it’s pointless to continue. I have to put it away and forget about it for awhile. Preferably a couple of days, at least one day, occasionally overnight. The longer I wait, the easier and more productive my editing is.

    The big mystery, (to me) is how marvelous my initial efforts seem to look at first, and how horrendous they appear the following day. If you can imagine the story as a hunk of molded clay. When I go to bed, I feel like I’ve created a work of art. When I unveil it the next day, the first thing I do is look around to see if someone’s playing a practical joke on me. For some reason, yesterday’s ‘David’ now looks like a deformed cypress knee.

    I’m not the only one who goes through this, am I?

    I should add that I’m ‘fortunate’ to have a girlfriend who got an ‘F’ in diplomacy. That’s not true, it was an ‘F minus.’ (She was expelled from the class, too, and suspended.) She reads a lot, has pretty good literary sense, and I listen to her 9.5 times out of 10.

    Feedback from the meek, or those who wish to appease you is utterly useless. (Sometimes I daydream about how happy I would be if she would just appease me now and then.)

    I assimilate and revise according to feedback I get from anyone who cares to give it.

    Most advice is usually on the money. For instance, your disappointment with the ending is understandable, and due in part to the word limit. (I could say it was sci-fi from the very start, you just didn’t know it, but that wouldn’t be true.) You say it’s due to the sudden change in genre.

    I think the disappointment is because by the end of story, we’re actually starting to like the guy and the last thing we want is to have him die. (But did he? Did he die? Did you see him die? Or was he simply abducted?) Just kidding. He was dead. The story is not really about him, it’s about Iris, but I agree that the ending should be changed and I can already think of a couple of alternatives.

    Phil’s advice is also worth incorporating, spreading the reveal out a little more. I’ll change the story to accommodate his suggestion too.

    Ken One. (I feel very Pharaoh – like.)

    p.s. I rewrote this comment 16 times. (I hope that makes you feel better.)

    • Hi Ken C,

      So true regarding the need to rewrite, edit, rewrite, edit ad nauseum. I haven’t tried cutting out the first paragraph but I am now going to see what happens when I do. A lot of the stuff I write is strictly word limited so this may prove very useful. One of my local award winning short story writers ( johnhollandwrites… his website) suggests seeing what happens if you cut the last sentence and then the next etc. He has this thing about weak story endings. He is also the judge of a local 1500 words short story competition so he has read lots of stories. I really value his opinion. The stories are judged blind and ten are chosen for reading in public at a special evening event. Very well-known published authors enter pieces and often are not selected in the top ten and occasionally, first-time writers are. There are now a series of anthologies Stroud Short Stories.

      I am also fortunate to have a wife who tells me if she likes or dislikes my latest story and, indeed, other things that I do. I’m not upset ( much!) if I get the thumbs down but I do fiddle around with the editing, changing a word here and there and then she has to listen to the story again ( I prefer to read it out loud) when it sounds much the same as before. We have developed a little joke, a very little joke when I say, “Can I read this to you now?” and she says, “How about tomorrow?”

      I have really enjoyed the sharing of cross-cultural views and international spellings since I joined the site last December. It started with a critical review of my use of the word “Fug” I’m sure you will shudder at the memory of the word for a hot, steamy atmosphere. Not forgetting Noddy Holder too!!!

      One ongoing and growing challenge is the time required to read everyone’s story and give honest and critical feedback. I sometimes feel that I haven’t done justice to some of the excellent writing but I guess we all do what we can.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

  • Hi Ken C,

    Trying to get back into the swing of things after an old people’s coach tour of parts of Ireland. That wasn’t what it said in the brochure but that’s what it felt like after five hours on the bus every day with frequent stops to wee, drink tea and buy crap in the never-ending so-called Craft Shops. Then repeat. Who needs that many Craft Shops where a flat cap costs 89 euros?

    Lovely people, the Irish and beautiful country where they filmed Ryan’s Daughter but next time I am going to do Air BnB and hire a car.

    Anyway, about your story, Ken C.

    You led us on a merry old dance as we tried to work out who was dangerous and who was in danger. After all, Lily did ask for a ride. A lot of the chatter regarding HP Lovecraft is wasted on me. I’ve heard the name but that’s as far as it goes. Must try harder. Anyway, it means that alien forces coming UP and OUT of water is an OK story thread for me. I was surprised by Lily’s reluctance to empty HIS wallet. It seems an unlikely thing for a hooker but then I am no expert on hookers, I have to say as my wife may read this and I don’t want her to cut my pocket money, or anything else.

    I enjoyed the sense of panic into desperation you created and the running through treacle like in a dream feeling as Lily failed to grasp the urgency of the situation.

    It’s a good story with excellent dialogue that worked for me.

    Just loved the ending with the light. You really ought to listen to your Mother a bit more.

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape

    • Ken F,

      Yes, well, I AM an expert on hookahs. I know everything about them. Their history, their, well, which end you put the stuff into, where to put the thing you suck on. Where to light it. I even owned a couple of them back in the day. When hookah’s were cool. Although one of them was strictly ornamental.

  • Ken F2,

    When you say Lily, you mean Iris. (Both flowers, interesting error.) And her reluctance was her suspicion that he was a cop and it would be entrapment, a fear which she easily overcame. Thanks for the feedback. (Although I’m sorry to say I’ll have to look up the word ‘treacle.’)
    So you liked the light. Hmmm. The other Ken (Ken M3) had already convinced me to change the ending. It seems as though we have some ‘ken-flicting’ opinions.

  • Adrienne Riggs
    Ok, Andy,

    I had to jump in here since you mentioned Tina Turner. I haven’t been able to write a story for this prompt or read all of the stories yet but I have seen the conversations about the … creative, unique, and yes, weird names for several towns, villages, etc. over the pond.

    I live in Tennessee, USA and happen to live not far from Tina Turner’s hometown of Nutbush – the inspiration for the song I gather. You can visit a museum dedicated to her in Brownsville in her old schoolhouse which was relocated to the Welcome Center in Brownsville.

    We have our own share of unique (strange, weird, bizarre) names for towns in Tennessee. For instance:

    Frog Jump, Skullbone, Sweet Lips, Buck Snort, the aforementioned Nutbush, Nankipoo, Christmasville, Smartt (with 2 “t’s”), Stinking Creek, Difficult, Nameless, Disco, Spot, Deep Gap, Defeated, Turtletown, Flippin, Ballplay, Static, Goat City, Ducktown, Bugscuffle, Love Lady, Finger (I actually attend church in Finger – pronounced Fang-er if you have a southern accent), Guys, Bitter End, Life, Only, Bugtussle and Dismal.

    Then we have our smalls towns with an European flair – Paris and Milan (pronounced My-lan).

    Anyway, time got away from me this go around and my focus was helping my Dad when my brother announced he had to have heart surgery due to a ruptured aneurysm which created a hole in the wall between the upper 2 chambers of his heart. It was this that caused his stroke a couple of months ago. Praise God the surgery went well and they were able to repair his heart without having to do open heart surgery. (He’ll be around to torment me for several more years I’m happy to say.)

    I’m a Daddy’s girl and the firstborn of four but even I can’t compete with the grandeur and honor of being the only SON. (Yes, my father is (more than) a little sexist about gender roles.) But that’s another story. LOL.

    I hope to get to read the stories soon. The odds of me entering a story are about nil. I’m headed to Nashville (Nash-Vegas) for meetings tomorrow and Wednesday so I probably won’t be able to vote either. Good luck to all!


    • Wow, your Tennessee towns can certainly compete. Defeated, Nameless or Bitter End would be good places to end my writing career.
      After Lake Tekapo, my next stop is Tennessee and the Tina Turner Museum. Then at the end of the year, Christmasville.

      Sorry to hear about your father’s health problems (and offspring preferences), but good to hear he’s doing well.

      And hopefully you’ll be able to participate either between meetings (tell me about it!) this time or if not, next time around.

  • Moonshine Trip

    Worley slowly wakes up to a warm and bright but breezy summer morning. The wind has been playing with the dying flames of Brimstone’s campfire for a good while now. With one mighty gust, the wind finally wins. The band members lay scattered in the grass, a naked woman too, and empty whiskey bottles and little plastic trays complete the picture.

    It was another “moonshine trip”, as Drick “The Balls” O’Riley, Brimstone’s leader and drummer, called it, a night under the stars and under the influence of stardust. An important one too, this one, before their first major concert tomorrow evening down in Worley below. They’d been small-time pub-currency for long enough now all the way back since they first met and formed on the back benches of Worley High. Bigger things are finally coming their way. “Hot Reject”, their best-faring hit so far, has even broken into the national top hundred, standing at 87 this week.

    The acrid smell of the dead fire permeats the air for a while, but new air quickly replaces it. Spotify is still playing Twisted Sister on the large stereo on the trunk of the van, when the police arrive:


    This might work out guys! Jon “Pizza” Lorenzi had been writing and rewriting, and drinking and sniffing and spitting and swearing, most of the night. A high pile of crumpled paper towered up next to him, as more whiskey and more crack got more and better words to come out of his fingers. When he seemed satisfied with his riff, he blared it out to the first tune that came in his head out of nowhere, and not even a bad tune actually:

    “I didn’t know until it was too late
    That, ’fter all, it wasn’t sealed in my fate
    It would’ve only taken
    Just one more page turned
    But now that both ends are burned
    There is no turning back
    Not ’nother box to check
    It’ve been better if I never knew nothing at all…”

    The Balls, bare-chested and seated in a Buddha posture, switching between scotch and sugar, beat the palms of his hands hard on his jeans, giving tighter rhythm to Pizza’s tune.

    “C’mon, guys, give me some fuckin’ serious noise!” Pizza pleaded. Lorry “Jagger” Schmidt got hold of his guitar and lent a Drop D overdrive to Pizza’s fresh wordings.

    On hearing the happy marriage of sound and words, Lenard “Bronski” Lebroskow, vocalist and face of the band, pulled out of the girl he had been doing without much success for the past ten minutes. All four had taken turns at her. But by the time Pizza was inside her – the third one – she was already too stoned and ravished to react. Bronski would slap her face and breasts, and then again harder, while taking his turn with her, trying to bring her back, but to no avail. She’d just giggle and smile, burp and turn over the white of her eyes and pass out again. “Fuckin’ Suzy in the sky with diamonds!” Bronski let out, frustrated. “Lucy”, The Balls corrected him.

    “That shit works!” Bronski broke in, giving up on the girl and enchanted by what his band-mates were up to. “You’ve got something there, ladies! Let’s rack it up for tomorrow – we’ll fuckin’ blow the crowd. They get a bang out of fresh crap like that!” He snatched the paper with the lyrics from Pizza and had a go for himself:

    “I didn’t know until it was too late
    That, ’fter all, it wasn’t sealed in my fate
    It would’ve only taken…”

    Pizza got up, and stoned as he was lost his foothold in the whiskey-and-spit grime bed he’d created beneath him. Up again, pants and hands covered in a coat of alcoholic mud, he grabs Bronski – double his size – by his front-ripped Deep Purple t-shirt, the only item of clothing he had on, besides heavy military-grade leather shoes.

    “I’m going to do this one, bro!” he brusquely announced to Bronski. “I fuckin’ wrote it, I’ll fuckin’ do it!” he affirmed, pulling a little back, expecting a rough reaction from the giant Bronski.

    “Ain’t I the fuckin’ vocals of the band. You work your fuckin’ base. I do the tongue work. Nobody takes away from me my goddamn job!” Bronski was adamant, but at least he didn’t get physical. Spit spattered as he made his statement. It glimmered in the fire light as it flew ferociously out of his mouth.

    “Pizza has a point – let’s have the light shine on him for this one time,” The Balls got in, with the authority of band leader, “He’s right – he wrote it, so he fuckin’ sings it. That’s only fair, bro!” he belched as he said that, and then continued, “You can do some fuckin’ decent base too, Bronski. Show them what you’ve got,” he waited for a second or two to take in Bronski’s reaction, then added, “And do go put some pants on!”

    Bronski didn’t like the base idea. But The Balls, well, his word carried. The big man kicked the unconscious naked woman in despair.

    “Hey, hold it! Respect for our hard-earned fan, bro!” Jagger said in defence of the woman. He was the one who had picked her out of the rowdy fan crowd at Peppersmith’s yesterday, tossing her inside the band’s van, and then had the first go at her on the grass in the moonshine when she still had some idea of what was going on. This was one slight too many for Bronski. He threw all his weight upon Jagger, who was not a small man either. Smashed as they were, the two traded more insults than injuries with each other. The woman, on having received the heavy boot kick in her stomach does come to, if for a moment, giving herself enough time to vomit some blood and then turn around and reach for another sniff from the small plastic tray next to her head.

    “Peace, brothers. Peace!” The Balls got up for the first time in a long time from his Buddha pose. “We’ve got it good. We’re gonna be superstars, brothers! Here let’s celebrate – Daddy has some more candy for you.” With that he handed them a “happy bag” of white powder each, and put another one aside for himself. Everyone settled back to their spots in the mud.


    The officer presses on the pause button, cutting Twisted Sister short, and waits a little for his ears to get accustomed to the eerie sudden silence.

    Pizza’s crumpled paper balls have by now been blown all over the green crest of the hill, looking like large white flowers sipping eagerly at the morning dew. The gusts of wind have got steadier and expensive white powder flew unnoticed over virgin turf further afield.

    “Dead. All five,” the officer declares confidently as he peels disposable latex gloves off his hands. There is no rush to bring in the medics, more like the forensics. “Let’s call the men in white, shall we? Looks like we’ve got a mass suicide here.”

    “Don’t think, so,” says the other officer, a younger one, “These Brimstone guys have only just made it big. Tonight they were to have their first big concert at Worley Arena. 25,000. Full-house. They wouldn’t have called it quits just yet. Not today.”

    “Overdose, then, you say?”

    “More that. It’s written all over their faces: one very bad night trip.”

    • Hi Ken M,

      As I read this story it did transport me to the place where it was taking place, such is the skill of your writing.
      However and there is often a however, I never felt any empathy for any of the male characters and was quite pleased to read the ending. Who could have any empathy with them?

      I felt uncomfortable with the men throughout and if I had been dropped into the scene I would have run away as soon as possible, carrying the woman on my shoulder if I could. Ok it seems that she was keen to “mingle” with the band but couldn’t have ever imagined what was in store for her. Could she? Every act committed against her by these men was another black mark against them. You see, your writing is very effective.

      If your intention was to make your readers feel uncomfortable, then you have done a great job, at least with this reader. Perhaps you have written a cautionary tale about the danger of drugs and booze and going with strangers.

      I’d be interested to hear the notes being played to go with the words of the song. They might be horrible men but they could be great musicians although one in no way cancels out the other. Their music deserves to be posthumous.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

    • This is a story that needs more words, I think … or does it? I, like Ken F. am satisfied that the future gene pool will no longer be affected by these assholes, including their groupie girlfriend. and I like the ending. Thanks for including it, as it fits, even though I know we can’t vote on it. Good job, I got no quibbles with the writing.
  • I’m posting another story “Moonshine Trip”, that I wrote for this prompt. I know it can’t take part in the vote since I already posted “Dark Night Of The Soul” above, but I’d like to share it with you anyway. Comments will be most welcome, as always.


  • Man that’s nice, and snappy. Real clever take on the prompt. Excellent dark humor. And the names are pretty funny too.
  • Fate.

    At night’s beginning, a black Mercedes enters the highway on one of the driveways in the east of the city. It is a newer model, washed and polished. At the wheel is a 43-year-old man who works as a bus driver for the urban bus company. He is single and wants a relationship. His Name is David, his friends call him Dave. He takes the highway to travel to another town, which is about two hours’ drive away.

    What he doesn’t know is that a heavy truck is coming in the opposite direction on the same highway. The truck is loaded with gravel, its driver is drunk. His name is Bill, and he is an alcoholic. Again and again he has decided to stop drinking, and again and again he has returned to the bottle. He knows he can’t drive a vehicle while drunk, but he does it anyway. He knows that driving under the influence of alcohol can end in disaster, but he feels he has no choice, because driving a truck is his job. He needs the money.

    The driver of the black Mercedes was once married and has a son whom he sees far too seldom. He knows that he has to arrange with his ex-wife to see his son more often, but he doesn’t feel up to the task. Negotiations with his ex-wife are often very nerve-racking and they end in violent rows. Dave doesn’t feel like a real man if he can’t prevail over his ex-wife. Therefore, he shuns any argument with her. But tonight will be different. Now he is on his way to her. He will prevail. As he drives through the night, he feels anger rising up his spine like a hungry serpent.

    What Dave doesn’t know is that Bill, the driver of the gravel truck, is his ex-wife‘s new lover. And he is on the same highway, coming closer and closer. Bill is attached to an old ideal of masculinity. He would like to buy a used Harley-Davidson one day. The most important thing for him is to be cool at all times. At least he wants to radiate a relaxed kind of cool in every situation. He likes to give the impression that he has everything under control. Unfortunately, he knows full well that his life is increasingly slipping through his hands. He feels the truth about his habit can’t be hidden for long, it will soon come to light. Sometimes he thinks about putting an end to his life. A very dangerous thought when sitting at the wheel of a fully-loaded gravel truck.

    Just before midnight, only a few kilometers separate the Mercedes and the gravel truck from each other. Dave, who’s usually a level-headed driver, is getting into a rage about his ex-wife and accelerates more and more. At the last moment, he realizes that he has strayed out of his lane and jerks the wheel around. Beads of sweat collect on his forehead. For a moment he thinks about taking a break, but he wants to get the talk with his ex over as soon as possible. He hopes he won’t have to see his ex‘s new partner, who he considers to be a brainless macho. He met him only once and since then he has a pretty deep aversion to him. Dave hates Bill more and more. He believes that the new partner has persuaded his ex-wife to forbid him from visiting his son. For him, Bill is the cause of the end of his marriage. Yes, Dave realizes that he could kill the new partner of his ex. With his bare hands! No problem at all! He is a bit startled by this realization. Now he’s wondering if there’s a way to kill Bill and make it look like an accident. He has to read those Patricia Highsmith novels again.

    Meanwhile, the heavy gravel truck goes in snake lines and veers into the oncoming lane several times. It’s the alcohol level. Bill needs a certain amount of alcohol in his blood to be able to steer the vehicle with a calm hand. He reaches for the whiskey bottle. This makes the truck swerve to the edge of the road and tear down two posts. Bill manages to put the bottle to his lips. The alcohol warms him and calms him down. He finds his way back to relaxation. Alcohol is his friend. Only this is a friendship that he absolutely must keep secret. That’s why he always has a toothbrush with him and some mouthwash. Every time he takes a break, he brushes his teeth and rinses his mouth. But he fears the smell of alcohol could still be noticed. He also fears that his new wife might consider him an alcoholic. Yes, he is an alcoholic, but not a typical one. Alcoholics are failures for him, not real men. Skinny losers who can’t face a man. Bill knows he is different. Just a real man. Relaxed!

    Suddenly something emerges from the darkness on the roadside. A broken-down truck. Dave sees it in the last possible tiny bit of a second. He jerks the black Mercedes into the other lane. The car skids.

    In front of him Bill sees the headlights of an oncoming car skiddding into his lane. He can’t dodge that one.

    This is the end! The thought enters Dave’s head faster than a bullet. This is how his life will end. He still had so much in mind. He sees the truck racing towards him. The headlights are only a few meters away from his windshield.

    Bill screams. Bill wants to pray. Bill wants to tell his new wife once again that he loves her. He also wants to reconcile with his ex-wife. Bill wants that and much more. He wonders how many different things he can think of. Time seems to be slower somehow.

    Sheet metal crashes into sheet metal. A sound like the cry of a tortured creature. A sound from hell!

    At the crucial moment, Dave thinks of nothing. He stares at the headlights. They seem to shine through his optic nerve right into his brain.

    As if by miracle, the Mercedes and the truck only slightly graze each other. They continue racing through the night.

    A disappointed reader remains.


    • I like this story, Jürgen , for a number of reasons.
      1) it breaks all the ‘rules’ put forward in ‘how to write’ books and websites, i.e. you commit the sins of having an omniscient narrator who bobs in and out of the thought processes of the characters, tells rather than shows (etc) and yet –
      2) you build the tension in masterly fashion, and probably dig down deeper into character and motivations (as Ken F indicates) from this outside perspective than might be possible in a story shown more from ‘inside’
      3) Stepping outside the story at the end is both a neat device, and a way of indicating that for these two, despite their situations and flaws, life goes on, destined to strike each other a glancing blow en route
      4) the little dig at our reader expectations for drama and disaster.

      Not sure about a couple of things near the end – Dave is said to be staring at the headlights after the metal crunching of the collision? At which point he would have passed the gravel lorry, presumably, as it wasn’t a head-on crash.
      Also, not sure how the crunching of metal aligns with just a scratch. Two vehicles approaching at high speed, colliding at a combined speed around maybe 200 kph at point of impact – while a gravel lorry might well be OK, any glancing blow for a Mercedes at that speed (especially causing that noise) would surely be catastrophic. Details, I know, but …

      I like the nod to Patricia Highsmith – the Ripley novels are excellent.

      • p.s. meant to say, about being transfixed by the headlights, maybe fourth-last paragraph and third-last paragraph should swap places?
        • Good advice, Andy. Jurgen should swap those two paragraphs.
          I agree with Phil, too. I have no idea who Patricia Highsmith is.(I’m not familiar with the phrase ‘meta reference. But if it means what I think it does, I don’t like them either.) And the last line is…. astonishingly inaccurate. A mere reflection of the Author’s fears, and completely unfounded.
          • @KenC – Patricia Highsmith: Author of, amongst other things, The Talented Mr Ripley. Did you see the film with Jude Law as the eponymous (anti)hero?

            Her writing is really excellent, creates believable though somewhat getting-out-of-hand situations, lots of tension, and very credible dialogue. Very accessible and page-turney, she has a knack of getting you to want the scurrilous rogue Ripley to succeed. I won’t say more.

            I like it when people mention other authors in the comments (and occasionally in stories). Like since Amy and Roy talked in glowing terms about John Connolly, I checked out some of his books in Waterstones (bookshop) yesterday. Haven’t bought one yet, as I have a stack of others to work my way through first. Perhaps someone could recommend which one of his to start with?
            Meanwhile, I strongly recommend The Talented Mr Ripley for a great read.

          • “I’m not familiar with the phrase ‘meta reference”

            … Metafiction, in the sense of the metafictional device in the last sentence, is where the author (or narrator, or a character) steps outside the narrative to interact directly with the reader, so in a sense the story has a self-consciousness about its being a story. It’s often associated with ‘post-modern’ literature or theatre but actually has a very long history – Chaucer, Cervantes, Dickens and many more all do it.
            (There are other manifestations of it too, but … another time!)

            I’m sorry to differ in opinion from Phil and KenC, whom I otherwise revere and defer to, but I really DO like this at the end of Jürgen’s story – to me it fits perfectly with the voice of the storyteller and the outside-observer viewpoint.
            It seems to make the point very well about general expectations from fiction of high drama as opposed to how conflict tends to play out in real life.
            And it’s great to have stories that try something different in the format and techniques used – bonus points for originality 🙂

    • Phil Town
      Another great story from you, Jürgen. From the beginning of the second paragraph we know (or we think we know!) what’s going to happen, and you carry us along, building on the tension and building on the irony of the relationship that you reveal between the two drivers. And just when we’re expecting the sickening crunch of twisting metal … great ending! The only things I’m really not so fond of are the meta references (Patricia Highsmith, and the last line) … but that’s probably just me. A very well-executed story.
    • Jurgen,

      Disappointed? What would make you think that?

      What did we do to deserve this? Huh? Jurgen? If that’s your real name? Did we set a bad example? Did we not encourage you, support you enough? Did we not stay up late, waiting for you to finish and post your story so we could read it? Faithfully? Week after week after week? (Three in all.)

      I guess I could go and drown my sorrows in a tall glass of lukewarm tap water, or play connect the dots with my cat, Nero. I could.
      (Except I don’t have a cat named Nero.)

      Perhaps the appropriate thing to do here would be to rate my disappointment on a scale of 1 to 7010. (With one, (1) being extremely undisappointed.) But that would also require something I don’t have. A calculator and a head for numbers.

      All kidding aside, although it may not feel like it, you could have done this with any number of different combinations of vehicles. Think about that for a second. (Okay that’s enough. Don’t over think it.) Think, a red Volvo and a truck full of Lionfish. Or, how about this: The ex-husband is on the International Space Station, while ‘lover boy’ drives a freight train. Or the boyfriend is a sponge diver, while the ex-husband pilots a submarine. I don’t feel like you really challenged yourself here, Jurgen.

      Have you been hanging around with that Philip fellow?

      I’ll say this much, if you were really intending to disappoint me Jurgen, you’re going to have to do much worse than this. It was another one of your wonderfully zany stories and a great ending. A really fun read.

    • Unlike the characters in it, this story grew on me more and more as I went further in it. The pace built up with the suspense of who would die, or who would kill whom. Then that last line was so funny it took me a minute to read the last paragraph again.

      Speaking of whom… your usage is a little off. I am no expert (I don’t even know if I used it right just now), but I found this to help out:
      Whom should be used to refer to the object of a verb or preposition. When in doubt, try this simple trick: If you can replace the word with “he”’ or “’she,” use who. If you can replace it with “him” or “her,” use whom. Who should be used to refer to the subject of a sentence.

      • PS – I meant that I found the characters more and more despicable as the story went on and you learned more about them.
  • Hi Berlinermax,

    A most intriguing story. I am not a disappointed reader. I like the ending ( or no ending if you like) as I think the story is already there. It has been told by the end and the “no-ending ending” is fine by me. Why should we, as writers, always pander to our readers? I have had a story that I think is really good for some time but can’t find a way to end it. You may have helped.

    The way the story unfolds leads us to an inescapable finale which you then neatly sidestep. In the process, during the journey, we find out about both main characters. We get to understand their motivations, their feelings and their possible intentions.

    Of course, as a follow-on story you now have the possibility of a couple of murders, a car crash ( that’s bound to happen to Bill at some time) and some balls-growing by Dave if he is ever to spend any serious time with his son. Such fun ahead!

    i think you have done a great job here, as you always do.

    I will be interested to read the comments from the other gang members.

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape.

    • Well written. Are their any personal insights you are revealing, or are you that good at conveying your character’s feelings. I’ll go with the latter. Although, I would not have minded any of several endings. Bill survives, Dave doesn’t. Dave survives, Bill doesn’t, and finally neither survive, but realize who each other is, or not. Just look at the possibilities. My goodness, you could spend hours on various endings. Why don’t you do just that for the next two weeks, so I don’t have to compete with your friggin’ awesome stories? There, I said it, and I’m glad. And, now … back to your regular programming.
    • Ken F,
      Hilarious comments, Ken. My comments only made me smirk, yours made me laugh out loud.
  • A BODY ON BOARD (Revised Copy for Voting)

    Sandra came across Madeleine and her two children when she boarded the long haul night flight.
    They slid along the four seats in the front row in the cabin of the aircraft.
    Sandra sat upright, casting furtive frowns at Madeleine as she fastened the seatbelt across her toddler’s waist, then opened the cot in front of her for her other infant.

    “Excuse me.” Sandra caught the arm of the stewardess as she strode along the aisle. The stewardess bent slightly to Sandra’s eye level as she listened to her request. “Could you find me a better seat. I don’t want to spend eleven hours watching this woman nurturing her babies. I hate bodies around me, children especially. This plane is unusually full of all sorts of bodies.” Sandra pinched her nose. “The bodysmell! Oh! Make me want to puke.” She fiddled around pretending to find the sick bag.

    “Oh!” The stewardess straightened up and said. “I believe you chose this seat. ”
    “Yes, but not the company here.” Sandra motioned to Madeleine and her children. “I thought, being in the front row, I would be fairly away from everyone else. I don’t have anything against them, mind you. I just want to travel in peace and quiet. These children will soon be crying and the mother would be faffing about with them. She has started already.” Sandra swept her hand towards Madeleine and wriggled her nose.

    “I’m so sorry to hear about your anxieties but the plane is full. The only seat vacant is next to yours. There’s nothing I can do to help you.” The stewardess rushed away without waiting for an answer.
    “I’m sure there are seats in the business class. You owe me a decent trip on this plane. I paid for this. Please find me a seat in the first class.” Sandra shouted at her.

    Later on, everybody settled down when the lights went out and the shutters came down. The plane plunged in the dark and was well up in the night sky when Madeleine decided to visit the lavatory as her children had fallen asleep.

    “Excuse me.” Madeleine touched Sandra’s hand which was resting on the arm of the seat, to talk to her.
    Sandra removed her eyepatch to stare at Madeleine.
    “I want to let you know I am popping into the toilet for a few minutes. Do you mind keeping an eye on the children for me in the event of them waking and looking for me?”
    “No!” Sandra leant forward to face Madeleine. She pulled her chin up. “I’m not a childminder. You can do whatever you like but don’t ask me for this sort of help. I won’t know how to look after children. I haven’t got any.” She wrapped a blanket around her knees.
    “Sorry!” Madeleine leant back and pressed herself into the seat. She was not expecting that kind of rebuke.
    “Why are you travelling alone when it is obvious you need help to look after these mites?” Sandra asked and pointed to the children. “Where’s your husband? He should have been with you, helping you. That is what normal people usually do. You won’t have to cry or beg for help.”
    “Hum!” Sandra was hesitant to say more of her private life to a stranger. “He is with us.”
    “Really! Are you kidding me? Is he in the back, resting whilst we’re suffering here?”
    “We know he is with us.”
    “Who do you think you’re lying to? Oh! You mean he is here in spirit. If he is, then I have the Holy Spirit here with me, helping me with the discomfort you’re forcing me to bear.”
    Sandra bit her lips, put her eyepatch back on, turned her head over one side and closed her eyes.
    Madeleine raised her head above her seat to look back and around her. Everyone seemed to be sleeping. She got up and crawled to the toilets.

    She caught up with some sleep when she came back, then she woke up with her toddler asking for a drink.
    “The lady, the stewardess, will soon come around with some drinks and food. It is almost morning.” Madeleine whispered as she drew her child towards her.

    Sandra fidgetted in her seat and talked as if to herself. “I don’t understand why people have children and can’t look after them. Look at this one. I bet you her husband has abandoned them.”
    “What is she saying mum?”
    “Don’t take any notice,” Madeleine answered.
    Sandra turned to her, switched the light above her head on and peeled her blanket away from her. “She will when she grows up and asks about her father. He doesn’t seem to be here, does he?”
    “When is daddy coming back, mum?” The child cut in the conversation.
    Madeleine could no longer control her civilized manner, “You don’t know us and you are building stories about us. If you want to know I will tell you.” Sandra put the earplugs over her toddlers ears. “Their father passed away whilst we were on holiday. You cannot imagine how much we have been through in the past couple of weeks. I am taking his body back home and he is in a casket in the cargo compartment in this plane.”
    “What?” Sandra eyes popped out. “You mean we have a dead body beneath us. We’ve been travelling with a dead person on board.”
    “Oh, my God! I never go to funerals because I am scared of dead people and now you’re telling me we have a dead body in this plane. We’ve been travelling with one all this while. ”
    She grabbed a magazine and started to ventilate herself.

    The stewardess came around with two breakfast trays – one for Madeleine and the other for her toddler. She then dug into her trolley for a bag of colouring books and pencils which she handed over to the toddler.
    “What is this? Special treatment for some.” Sandra asked the stewardess.
    “We look after the children and their parents first.” The stewardess answered. Turning to Madeleine she continued. “We will escort you, your children and your cabin luggages up to Immigration when the plane lands. You need not worry. Everthing is taken care of.”
    “I won’t give the airline any points for this. You’re being discriminatory. I will make a complaint.”
    Sandra voiced her opinion.

    • Chitra – my two cents is that a twist ending would be the stewardess giving Madeleine and her kids seats in first class for having to deal with Sandra, but that’s just my two cents. And I hate Sandra and think she deserves that sort of snub. So you obviously wrote a character that was real enough for me to want to be mean to to so you’ve already won lol.
      • Hi Wendy,
        If you watch the video Phil posted here, you’ll see that in an almost similar incident the stewardess moved the victim to first class. I did not fancy stealing the same idea, therefore came up with the idea of Madeleine and her children got treated like V I P where they were served food first, the staff helped them disembark and jump the queue at immigration.
        Sandra did not get what she wished for.

        Thanks for the feedback and suggestion and for reading my story.

  • I don’t know Chitra, if the ending is any better than the first story, so I’ll stick with the first. Although I think both need a better ending. Something with a little more snap. Such as:

    The stewardess came to Madeline and said, “Sorry, but you’ll need to wake the children. We are moving you.”

    Sandra woke up, smiled a nasty smile and said, “About time. Maybe by the back lavatories so you can watch the little brats while she goes potty.”

    The stewardess smiled at Sandra and said, “Oh no, we’re moving them to First Class, which gives you all these seats by yourself. It’s the least we could do for you, and I do mean the least.” Then, she led Madeline and the children down the aisle to First Class. Sandra’s final comments were drowned out by the clapping and cheers from the surrounding passengers.

    In any event, I did like your story. Very much.

  • Hi Roy,
    Thanks for the suggestion.
    Phil posted a video on racism above which takes the same line you’re suggesting. I wanted the end to be different and came up with the idea of Madeleine and her children get treated like VIP
    • Chitra,

      Yes, but you give Sandra-gon the last word. She doesn’t deserve the last word.

  • C N Wilder
    Ken, I loved it. You kept my interest all the way through and when I got near the end I didn’t see how it could possibly have a satisfying ending in the number of words left, but it did. The only thing I don’t quite get is the title. I understand that she has a son somewhere, and even if she doesn’t care whether anyone else survives, she cares about him, and therefore has a reason to act (deliver the thumb drive). So I guess I do get it, in retrospect, but it still seems almost a stretch to me. Still, I really enjoyed reading your story.
    • C N Wilder
      My comment seems to have gone in the wrong place… my apologies. It was meant for, I think, Ken C’s story, which I’m not having trouble finding!
      • C N Wilder
        I mean *now* having trouble finding.
  • C N Wilder
    So many great stories. I’ve read most but haven’t had the time to comment on all. I thought the prompt required the first line to be “Traveling Through the Night,” so that’s what I did. Looks like I was wrong about that. Anyway, I’ll post mine below. This one was tough for me. I started one that was very different from my normal writing, very real world, struggled with it, then started over with this one. I guess I need some sort of fantasy or paranormal element to really get into writing a story.
  • C N Wilder
    Shadow Wood

    by C.N. Wider
    (1097 words)

    “Traveling through the night is dangerous ‘round these parts,” the old man said.

    Emmy huddled into her cloak. She’d heard rumors of shadowy beasts haunting these woods, praying on the fears of travelers. Even if she didn’t believe them (and she wasn’t sure she did) she didn’t relish traveling through these woods in daylight, let alone night. “I know, but I’ve got to get home to my children.” The breeze caught a stray wisp of hair and she tucked it back in her hood. “What brings you out here this night if it’s so dangerous?”

    He looked to the setting sun, and then nodded over his shoulder. “My cabin ain’t five minutes. Believe me, I’ll be safe shut in before the sun fully sets. You can stay the night for some coin, if you like. I’ve boarded many a traveler stranded ‘bout here come night.”

    Emmy felt her purse at her hip. She didn’t have much, and what she had she needed for the market tomorrow. Anyway, she didn’t know this man, and Poppy and Lily needed her at home. No, she had to get home tonight. “I’ll be fine,” she said, pulling her cloak tighter.

    The old man shook his head, worry lines in his forehead deepening.

    Fear tugged at her, but she nodded farewell and headed down the road.

    The man called after her, “Only thing more dangerous than traveling through the night ‘round here is stopping. Don’t stop for nothin’. No matter what you think you see.”

    She didn’t plan on stopping. Her feet moved quick as they’d go without running. Trees on either side cast long shadows across the road, alternating with the golden light of sunset. As she progressed, orange light dissolved to dusk, which gave way to night until only moon and starlight lit her way. Shadows kept creeping into her thoughts, as if the shadows lingering between the trees had wormed their way into her mind. Her footsteps carried on, scrip-scrap, scrip-scrap, and she willed her eyes forward, still keenly aware of the shadows’ rhythmic passing. Scrip-scrap, scrip-scrap.

    A figure huddled at the side of the road. Emmy stared, trying to make out a face in the low light. The figure swayed, emitting a soft, whining cry. It was a child. A little girl.

    Emmy approached her and spoke softly. “Child, are you lost?”

    The girl kept crying.

    Emmy crouched beside her. “Come now. I’ll take you to my house where it’s safe and warm and in the morning we’ll find your parents.” She put a hand out and the girl lifted her hooded head to reveal her face.

    Emmy’s own daughter’s face looked back at her. Poppy.

    The ground dropped out from under Emmy, or so it felt. What was Poppy doing out here alone, and where was Lily? Before she could ask questions, the girl’s gaze shifted to something behind Emmy. Her expression turned rigid, her eyes wide, and she spun and ran into the woods.

    Emmy turned and saw a swirl of sinew and teeth and leathery wings.

    Fright tore through her, her breath caught in her throat, and she ran after Poppy into the dark.

    The smell of rot filled her nostrils. Branches lay on the ground, overgrown with moss and vines, making running near impossible. Flashes of Poppy’s red cloak, made murky gray by the dark, kept Emmy going, but she couldn’t close the distance between them. Several heartbeats later she could no longer see or hear Poppy at all. She stopped, listening, Poppy was gone and so was the monster.

    Panic gripped her at the thought of Poppy alone in these woods, and with that creature nearby. She screamed her daughter’s name; a ragged, primal sound that cut through the wood and hung in the air moments after her breath ran out. Her eyes darted in vain, but she’d never find Poppy this way. She needed light.The old man’s cabin was closer than home. Perhaps he would help.

    She walked back the way she’d come, thinking. He’d warned her not to travel the woods at night, not to stop for any reason, no matter what she thought she saw. But she had stopped, to help the girl who turned out to be Poppy. But had it really been Poppy? The rumors spoke of shadowy monsters that lured their victims in with illusions. Poppy had looked so real. But Emmy was certain now, the figure she’d seen hadn’t been, couldn’t have been, Poppy.

    She wiped sweat and forest mist from her face and took a steadying breath. Everything was going to be alright. Both her girls were safe at home, perhaps worried, but safe all the same. She stood on shaky legs, determined to get back to her children. This time she wouldn’t stop, no matter what — or who — she thought she saw. Sweat cooled her skin and she shivered, then started, once again, down the road.

    Before long the illusion appeared as before. Again, it looked like Poppy, her too-small cloak, the curve of her face. The image wailed, “It hurts, Mama.”

    The urge to soothe Poppy’s pain returned, but Emmy fought it back and kept walking. It’s not Poppy. It’s not Poppy. It’s an illusion. Emmy looked straight ahead. It’s not Poppy. The rhythm of her feet on the road helped her ignore the illusory cries. It’s not Poppy.

    Emmy pressed on, past the illusion.

    “Mama, why are you leaving? Mama!”

    Still she walked on, not looking back when Poppy’s scream pierced the night. It was the same primal sound Emmy had made herself only moments before. An image of white teeth descending on Poppy played in Emmy’s mind, but she held firm. “It’s not Poppy,” she said to the night, and carried on, scrip-scrap, until she reached the forest’s edge.

    Though she was out of the woods, Emmy’s skin still prickled. Dread clung to her like spider silk after stepping through a web. An urgency to get inside and see her baby girls overwhelmed her, and Emmy broke into a run. Her feet fell heavy on the packed earth, propelling her forward.

    A bend in the road, and her house came into view. Light illuminated a single window. The girls’ room.

    Terror moved her feet faster still, and her cloak fell open, flapping in the wind. Finally at her front door, Emmy paused, heart pounding. How many of her children would she find inside? She walked in and turned on a light.

    All was silent but for Lily’s frightened voice. “Mama?”

    • Wow is all I am going to say. Great writing and love the imagery that you invoke with the last few paragraphs. It’s a yes from me.
      • C N Wilder
        Thank you, Ilana! I’m pleased you enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing it…eventually.
    • Wilder,

      You want the good news first? Or the bad news? Okay, I’ll give you the bad news first. You misspelled your name at the top of the story. Wilder, w-i-l-d-e-r. Wilder. (You writers crack me up. You misspell you own name, and then write a perfect story.)

      The story is wonderful, tense, foreboding, horrific.Constructed to evoke maximum dread. Which it does, beautifully. Your writing is so skillful that I can offer you nothing but praise.

      As far as the spelling of your last name, I suggest you simply practice spelling it, over and over until you can do it automatically. almost LOL

      Seriously, it’s a great story.

      • C N Wilder
        Ha! Thanks for pointing that misspelling out, not that I can fix it. Now its going to bother me forever, so never mind, I take back my “thank you.” But seriously, thanks for your kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed my story.
    • Pacey, vivid and effective writing for sure, and not a little mysterious. My heart was in my mouth by the end. Was it Poppy, or not? Reaches deep into parental fears.

      However, while Emmy counts the number of children she has left after leaving them home alone, I’m just going to put in a call to social services …

      • C N Wilder

        I tried to reply to your comment on my story but my comment went to the bottom of all the comments. Not sure where this one will end up. In case it’s in the correct place here’s my comment again below. If it’s down at the bottom again, then oh well.

        “I’ll let the reader decide if it was really Poppy or not. I’m the kind of person who hates reading/watching endings like I’ve written here. I want closure and I want happy endings! But as a writer, I love leaving endings a little bit in the air. Probably because my gut tells me the ending should be a tragedy but I’m just not willing to commit to it :p . Oh, and unfortunately social services doesn’t exist in that universe, plus, a single mom’s got to make a living and the oldest (Poppy) is of babysitting age, so give me a break 🙂 Thanks for the compliments. You all have made my day 🙂”

    • Strong story, and very well done. My compliments on your writing. Loved the ending, but I was forced to make the assumption was Poppy is OK, because there has been enough bloodlust on this site, and I want to sleep tonight.
  • The Night Too Long…
    1198 words
    Cassie waited. Hidden by the unkempt shrubs that surrounded the big house, she crouched under one of the ornamental cherry trees, braving the sleet and cold of the night. Snow had banked up around the trees. It provided some shelter and stopped the inhabitants of the house searching for her. The wind was a bitter cold draught that puckered the skin and made her suck her breath in slowly because to do otherwise hurt her chest.

    Earlier in the afternoon.

    Her mother had sent her to the supermarket with her two younger sisters.

    “Cassie, make sure you follow the list. No extra items please.”

    “Yes Mum. But if something’s on special?”

    “Cassie darling, what did I say? What do you think the answer that that is?” Her mother was moving briskly about the house, preparing the family dinner, as she balanced Cassie’s baby brother on one hip as she chopped vegetables for the stir fry meat and onions sizzling away in the electric wok. She would stop intermittently to wipe benches and perform other tasks in the big kitchen.
    “Ok, Mum, NOOooo specials.” Cassie rolled her eyes as she accepted the credit card and the list in a plastic sleeve that her mom handed her along with a canvas shopping bag stuffed with more bags. The purpose of the two younger girls was plain.
    They made good time, just catching the bus into town eight kilometers away.

    It was coming home when the trouble started. They got to the bus stop just as the last bus pulled out. Cassie dropped her bag and ran to stop the driver. The usual driver knew them and would watch in his rear vision mirror for late comers and never pulled out right on the dot. This was country and everyone knew everyone else. However the new driver appeared not to know the rules. He pulled out and kept going. Cassie tripped and grazed her knees on the gravel. The presence of her two younger sisters kept her from cursing the driver as she would have liked. Julie, the serious one began to cry.

    “Oh, NO now we are gunna hata walk ‘ome!” Young Annie grumbled and had a far more stoic response.

    “Cassie, Mum’s gunna be mad we late for dinner. Ain’t she?” She heaved her two bags onto her shoulders. “We better get goin’ if we wants to be ‘ome before it dark.”

    She started to trudge down the road her chubby six year old legs moving determinedly. Cassie picked herself up from the road and picked up her three bags and followed her. She thought Annie always had the oldest head on her shoulders. Despite Cassie being twice her age, Annie would often make commonsense decisions that displayed wisdom far beyond her years. Julie was just soppy and a tear bucket. She did not cope well with change or a challenge. Life should be an orderly process and if not, you cried and cried so people felt sorry for you and made allowances. Cassie thought she was just bloody minded and more stubborn than any of them.

    It was half way down the road about an hour later, the old utility pulled up.

    “Hey girlies, where you going?” A young man of twenty something years poked his head out of the driver window. There was another person in the car with him who Cassie couldn’t quite see. She wasn’t sure whether it was a girl with very short hair or a very feminine boy. The person was extremely thin and fox like. Red hair and bony.

    “Mind y’beeswax!” That was Annie in her best “we don’t talk to strangers!” mode. Julie started to cry again.

    “Ye want a lift, girlies! How far yer got to your home. Those bags look heavy.” The ute stopped and before Cassie could say anything, she found her bags being taken from her and dumped in the back of the ute. Julie had given up her two bags with scarcely a murmur. She wanted to get out of the cold wind and into the utility. Annie was furious.

    “We don’t knows ya. Cassie we can’t.” She turned to her older sister, furious.

    “Annie, it’s getting dark and it’s going to start snowing soon. Put yer bags in and shut up.”

    There was only room for the two younger girls in the front between the driver and his passenger. Cassie as the oldest elected to sit in the back of the utility and that was what saved her. The ute picked up speed and instead of taking Brown’s Road turn off which their road ran off, the driver continued straight along the highway several kilometers further despite Cassie banging on the glass window. The driver looked behind and laughed. He waved his hands at her. Something was seriously amiss.
    The ute veered off the road up a forest track. Its wheels spun in the dirt as it roared down the track and took another turn off into unfamiliar territory. They went deeper into the forest. Tree branches whipped over the back of the ute. Cassie clung to a piece of rope tied onto the side of the vehicle. At first she had contemplated throwing herself out of the car and going for help. The thought of a broken neck stopped her. She also did not want to leave her sisters to the mercy of their abductors. Her mother would never forgive her. So she clung to the rope. Darkness had swept down rapidly so Cassie could not see into the cabin of the utility any more. Her sisters had been slumped together at odd angles as if they were unconscious or asleep.
    They travelled for hours, through the darkness along winding forest tracks, down ravines and a valley floor until they reached a high fence. As the gates swung open into the enclosure, Cassie launched herself from the back of the utility. She landed catlike on her feet and fled into the darkness.

    She heard the driver yell.

    “The girl in the back. She’s jumped out.”

    “Don’t worry. We’’ll find her in the daylight.” She heard his partner reply before she disappeared into the bushes.

    Panting with fear, exhausted by the journey she finally collapsed under an ornamental cherry tree denuded of leaves, but dripping with ice and snow. The wind picked up and snow flurried a blanket of white over the landscape. She listened for the car, a footfall or any noise but it was silent except for the wind and falling snow and sleet.

    Finally she decided to follow the road. It led to a two story mansion of grey stone set back in wild gardens overgrown. The utility was parked in a circular driveway, before wide stone steps. There was no one in the car. The shopping she had done for her mother was still in the back. She was afraid to get food despite her hunger. Maybe it was a trap. No light was visible from the mansion. The doors were closed.

    She crept back to the garden. It was then she remembered her phone. No bars. Only SOS. With a silent prayer, she pressed 000.

    • Great story Ilana,

      Very nifty bit of writing. The accents and dialogue are excellent. I am amazed at your ability to describe each of the girls so thoroughly, despite the utmost brevity. That really impresses me. Comparing them to each other was part of it, but the rest was just good writing. Very impressive story, Ilana.

      • Thanks Ken. What happened to your story? I can see so many places where I made some errors in mine, it is cringeworthy – a few typos but I did not get time to edit and rewrite. Thanks for the praise which has bucked me up some what.
      • Ilana, I agree with Ken (it can happen). As a reader I get good sense of place and of the girls, and of the danger.
        It seems there re a number of directions the story can go: an escape, a rescue? But this is Ilana writing, so there is no guarantee of safety even for nice people or the innocent!
        The line “Cassie as the oldest elected to sit in the back of the utility and that was what saved her” – maybe this implies only Cassie got away. Or does it? Or maybe saved her from something terrible happening that happens to the others.
        • Yep Andy the story kinda wrote itself. I’ve learnt in my life that bad things can and do happen to good people. Also people you thought were safe turn out to be not safe, but freaky weird. So I have become a bit of a hermit in my later years. It is kind of safer. I need to go back and tidy this up in another draft though. I did not even get to read Ken C’s story.
          What is happening with the Kens though? It looks like they are undergoing a mitosis type of multiplication except they go in different directions – creating unique Kens…. I wrote miosis and it did not look right so I looked that one up… not quite what I intended to mean so I had to research – long time since my biology 101 classes. LOL quite funny really.
          I don’t know what will happen to Cassie until the rest of the story is written. Funny that.
          I have been getting my EAL class to write an ending for the Lady or the Tiger a Frank Stockton (?) story. I had to write it with the idea that the King knew what his sweet stubborn princess would do, so he told the attendants to lie to her and put two tigers one behind each door and then the daughter was to be married off to the idiot son of a neighbouring country to cement an alliance. That is how they do things. My romantic class was very disappointed that I would get the lover of the princess ripped to bits.
          One of my promising students wrote how the Princess directed him to the lady, allowed him to marry her but then framed the woman and had her put on trial and put a tiger behind each door and finally killed off her rival and somehow convinced Daddy King that she should marry the commoner. She’s Japanese and the Japanese do horror stories with incomparable mastery. They love their demonic demons.
          Anyway I’d better read and comment on some stories.
  • Sorry folks, no time to comment! I hope next time I’ll be able to do my duty. But I’ll read the stories and vote. Promise!
  • Carrie Zylka

    Ok all – I’ve updated the stories comment at the top, marked all comments in blue for easier identifying. Please let me know if I’ve missed any stories before I create the voting page. 🙂