Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “Happiness”

(Painting: “Happiness Costs No Money” by Gideon Fasola)

Theme: This post is for stories related to the contest theme: “Happiness”.

Story Requirements: Happiness experienced / lost / pursued / remembered / whatever. Open to wide interpretations of ‘happiness’, but the story must centre on and/or somehow evoke a feeling of happiness (i.e. rather than just saying ‘Happy Birthday’, or a simple ‘they lived happily ever after’ at the end).

Word Count: 1200

Incentive: Winner will receive choice of $5 Starbucks Gift Card or $5 Kindle Gift Card


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  • Specific critiques, comments, and feedback are encouraged. If you do not want honest professional feedback do not post a story.
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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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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 be less than 1200 words.

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

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

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Ilana Leeds per the Writing Prompt Roster.

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

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64 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Happiness”

  • Alice Nelson

    You know the deal. Good Luck!

    • Holy shyte I got a story in – what in the world is even going on….? 🙂 🙂 🙂
  • Thanks for the votes on the last story, guys and gals. I asked Alice for the vote count and found that I barely eked out a win over Andy and Phil, and I just wanted to say that I’m pretty sure that I worked twice as hard on my story as Alice did on hers, and ten times harder than everyone else. I really struggled with that stupid story. I started with a plot that couldn’t lose, and then did everything possible to turn it into a dog, but somehow salvaged it in the final draft. (I guess. Still not really sure.) So, this was one of those rare occasions where I was really pulling for my own story. Most of the time I don’t care if I win, I just want to be in the running.

    At one point, I was tempted to take a selfie with 18 sheets of crumpled paper on my desk and floor, my face smudged with printer ink, a cracked keyboard in my white-knuckled hands, and a broken pencil protruding from one of the monitors. But at the last second I realized, luckily, that I didn’t have any clothes on, (and the battery in the camera was dead.) So you can collectively breath a sigh of relief over that very close call. I think God likes you all: Especially the atheists. (True, you don’t believe in him, but you’re the only ones with any common sense.)

    Which reminds me.
    I wanted to add a disclaimer. In no way whatsoever may my story be inferred to reflect the opinions, attitudes and beliefs of the author. As founder and sole member of The Church Of The Mystic Skeptic, I refuse to be pegged as a believer in fanciful notions like time-travel, creationism, global warming, gravitons, plasma beams, toxic lizards, biodegradable stools, or the Shroud of Turin. I want to be clear on this. It was just a story.

    • You mean there are no toxic lizards out there? 🙁
    • Alice Nelson
    • Carrie Zylka

      Well Ken… the COO, CEO, CFO and sole member of The Church Of The Optimist Believer, I will now make it my church’s sole mission to convert you into kowtowing to fanciful notions including mermaids, nanobots, black holes, unicorns, Loki and of course sword wielding angels hell bent on destroying family lineages.

      You have been warned……….. 🙂

      • Ilana Leeds
        LOL and I was so looking forward to getting a peek at your bare assed butt Ken. I could build a character on it. No butterflies on the butt or metal rings?? Don’t be boring man!
        I have given up asking for my points count, but might if I win again one day. LOL
        • Ilana,
          Well I’m glad you finally expressed an interest in my butt, even if, as you say, for strictly literary purposes. I have no tattoos anywhere, (believe me, I checked thoroughly. When you drink to excess with with prankster friends, it’s always a concern.)
          As for building a character on my naked ass. I’ve already done that. It’s me.
          • Ilana Leeds
            Oh my! A carefully placed tattoo is always a plus and it makes a great talking point if you get lost for words.
          • Man walks into a clinic with a frog embedded in the top of his head.
            The doctor says, “Oh my god, how did that happen?”
            And the frog says, “Well, it all began with this boil on my bum …”

            For some reason, Ken, your line “As for building a character on my naked ass. I’ve already done that” reminded me of that story …

    • Adrienne Riggs
      You are too, too funny!! Great work!
  • Phil Town

    Miss Akery placed the chalk on the ledge below the board and turned, rubbing her hands to get rid of the chalk dust.

    “And that’s the last discussion point of the afternoon.”

    Thirty teenage faces gazed at the board, then at her. She paced slowly from one side of the room to the other, then back again, finishing at the window to peer out at the gloomy February afternoon. There was the sound of fidgeting and whispering, and one or two giggles.

    “Being famous, Miss.”

    Bethany was not the keenest of students and had a problem with concentration, so Miss Akery was quite surprised that she should be the first to pipe up. But Miss Akery was pleased that discussion had kicked off and made a point of adopting an encouraging tone.

    “Good, Bethany. Can you say why you think happiness is being famous?”

    “It’s the money, Miss. If you’re famous, you’re probably rich, too.”

    “That’s interesting. So what you’re saying really is that happiness is money?”

    Bethany thought about that for a moment, then nodded.

    “I suppose so.”

    “I agree with Bethany, Miss.”

    Jack, a smart, confident boy, sat two rows behind Bethany and had his hand up.

    “In what way, Jack?”

    “Money’s great. Like, if you’ve got money, a lot of it, you don’t have to work. You can do what you want all day and there’s no boss to tell you what to do.”

    “But money’s not everything.”

    This was Olivia, in the front row. She turned round in her seat so that her voice could carry to the back. Olivia was the class representative and liked by all, including Miss Akery, who challenged her.

    “It helps though, Olivia, doesn’t it?”

    “Well, having none at all sucks, yeah. But you look at some of the famous people who have tons of money and then they go and commit suicide. They’re not happy, are they?”

    “That’s very true. So what’s happiness for you, then?”

    “I reckon it’s having a good family that support you, and then getting married, having kids that you can bring up and watch grow and … become people and that.”

    Miss Akery smiled ruefully.

    “Good point. Who agrees with Olivia?”

    A hand went up near the back. Miss Akery had been teaching for nearly thirty years, and in that time had grown to be able to analyse her pupils’ personalities with reasonable accuracy. Some of the things Thomas had said and done in class had led her to a theory about his sexuality, unproven on her part and, as far as she knew, undeclared on his. Miss Akery tried to add extra sensitivity to her voice.


    “It’s kind of the same as Olivia. Yeah, a solid family’s good, but I don’t think kids are absolutely necessary for happiness. I mean, as long as you love someone, and they love you back, then that’s what’s important.”

    “Quite. I mean … very good, Thomas. So what you–“

    She was interrupted by a shrill bell, signalling the end of school.

    “Well, that was a very interesting discussion, you lot. Now, what I want you to …”

    The pupils began putting their books and files away in their bags and chattering, already in ‘going home’ mode.


    Miss Akery’s raised voice silenced them long enough for her to continue.

    “What I want you to do is wri–“

    A deluge of groans from thirty youngsters already making plans for their evenings, plans that didn’t include what they knew was coming.

    “What I want you to do is write a short – short, Daisy, take that look off your face – composition with the title ‘Happiness is …’, like on the board. And don’t just parrot the ideas your class-mates had here. You can use those ideas if you like, yes, but then you have to say why – give your own reasons. Any questions? No? All right, then. Off you go. See you tomorrow.”

    There was a rushed exodus and Miss Akery soon found herself on her own in the room. Outside, the gloom had turned to darkness as the February evening closed in.


    The first thing Miss Akery did when she got home was make herself a cup of tea. She took two biscuits from a tin on the kitchen shelf, put them on a small plate and went through to the living room. On the way to her favourite armchair she took a pen and a pad from the drawer in the sideboard, then flopped down in the chair.

    Taking a sip of her tea and a nibble from a biscuit, she wrote on the top page of the pad:

    ‘Happiness is …’

    In time with the relentless tick-tock-tick of the clock on the mantelpiece, she tapped the end of the pen on the page, staring at the words she’d written. The seconds accumulated, became many, then minutes.

    She got up and put the pen and pad away. On the sideboard was an old radio. She switched it on and tuned it to the shipping forecast.

    ‘ –west Forties, Cromarty, Forth – South-easterly backing easterly 5 or 6. Moderate. Fair then showers, fog patches later. Good, occasionally very poor later. Tyne, Dogger…’

    Miss Akery sat down again and rested her head on the back of the armchair, closing her eyes to float on the resonant, comforting voice of the announcer.


    • Alice Nelson

      I think Miss Akery does feel her quiet time at home is happiness, she seems quite content. Maybe it isn’t the only thing that brings her joy, but one of several things, like teaching. Time to sit and relax is certainly one thing that makes me happy, to be able to let go of, for a time at least, the hectic way life can be.

      As far as the money angle, money can alleviate problems that make it hard to be content, it isn’t a panacea however, and brings with it a different set of problems.

      This is a simple and quiet story, and like Andy said, addresses the theme. Good dialogue, and a nice representation of kids figuring out what happiness means to them. Really some fine writing Phil.

      • Phil Town
        Thanks very much for the nice comments, Alice.

        Miss Akery happy? I tried (and it seems managed) to make it a little ambiguous (as Andy suggests below), and it will depend, I think, on whether the reader is a ‘glass half-full’ or ‘glass half-empty’ person. You’re obviously half-full! 😉

        • Alice Nelson
          Yes that’s me, the husband calls me Pollyanna. 😀
  • Fine story, Phil that addresses the central question. And I like the ambiguity at the end – has Miss Akery found happiness, or sufficient contentment for it not to be an issue? Or does she want more, something more like the kids are hoping for?

    Maybe happiness, like other great abstractions such as liberty, is “most profound when least remarked”?

    (Actually, at the moment with my wife away for almost a month, my end of day routine can be a bit similar to Miss Akery’s. A cup of tea, switch on Radio 4, the news, then the shipping forecast … That’s a little disturbing. I shall try to get out more!)

  • Ilana Leeds
    Interesting Phil. Is happiness akin to a feeling of contentment at the end of a day completed? Such a subjective topic and one that will bring up many interesting ideas. While money does not bring happiness, it helps with alleviating the stress of not having enough money to pay essential bills, rent and the like.
    I often think about having enough money to help those who have helped me in hard times and to assist people who are down and to give opportunities to some who might never have it other wise. That would be nice, to go around and find people who are in need and help them. An old man or lady or both, a struggling single mother or father or someone who has had great loss in their life or just a person who is worthwhile.
    • Phil Town
      I agree, Ilana. If you’re rich, why wouldn’t you help others less fortunate than yourself? I believe some millionaires/billionaires actually do good deeds, but there are others who merely pay lip service to the idea, and there’s a lot of miserliness going on, too. (Once you get past a certain number of noughts, what can an extra nought buy you that you don’t already have, other than the sterile satisfaction of collecting noughts?)
      • Ilana Leeds
        Exactly Phillip. You can actually get a lot of pleasure out of giving someone something that they need when you have everything. 🙂
  • This is a well-written story, Phil. It leaves me with a feeling of uncertainty. Is Miss Akery happy? Content? I think you were suggesting that she wasn’t sure what happiness was either when she sat down to compose an answer to her own question. But then, she realized that she was happy, and that it’s harder to describe than one would think.
    Life is full of chores, duties and obligations, and then, sometimes, when all of those things are taken care of, whatever time is left, regardless of how we spend it, that is when we’re happy. (Or content.)

    On the other hand, I suspect many would say, I’m happiest when I’m busy, or I love my work. Perhaps Miss Akery was happiest when she was teaching. Clearly, she was good at it, and it was the most important thing she did, and it impacted a fair number of people. I get the feeling that your story’s ultimate conclusion was, ‘it depends.’

    I’m just guessing at a lot of this, and I could be totally wrong.

    I remember a time once, (not too many years ago) during a fairly cold winter, in bed under a thick quilt; the bills were paid; my woman asleep beside me; a big, sweet, orange cat curled up between my feet, purring softly; a good book on the night stand; and I thought—it doesn’t get any better than this, how could it? And I meant it.

    • Phil Town
      “I could be totally wrong.” The interpretation is yours, Ken, and as good as any other.

      (Love your ‘happy’ moment – beautifully described. Had some similar in my life. Surprising, really, how such simple scenes stick …)

      • Phil,
        I ‘suppose’ one thing is indisputable. “I’m just guessing at a lot of this…” 🙂
  • Alice Nelson

    My Olive
    By Alice Nelson ©2017

    A man much wiser than myself once said, “Happiness is a caustic condition that compels us to look for things outside ourselves in order to achieve and maintain it.”

    My Olive looked for it in a friendship that had passed her by, one she was having a hard time letting go of.

    “It’s like a part of me is gone too, mom,” she said. Olive was only fifteen, and the realization that life had plenty of rough edges was just beginning to take hold.

    I could see in her the woman she might become, one on the cusp of learning that sometimes life can feed you a shit sandwich, and it’s your duty to swallow it down as best as you can, because believe it or not, there’s a good lesson to be learned.

    This, my friends, is the beginning of a happy story. I know it doesn’t exactly look that way now, but don’t you worry, it gets there in the end.


    My Olive is a sweet girl, sensitive, creative, all those wonderful things parents say about their kids, but in my case, it’s actually true. She wears a tough exterior, but inside she is as soft and tender as a kid can be, so much more than she lets on.

    Olive and Trish met in utero when Trish’s mother and I were pregnant. And for most of their early childhood, they were inseparable.

    But their friendship began to fade, and Olive was never sure why.

    Now, this is the hard part of My Olive’s story. The part where she calls Trish and Trish never calls back. Where she mails her letters and gets none in return. Where she sends several Facebook messages, only to hear back weeks later, after seeing all the fun pictures of Trish with other, more “worthy” friends.

    Now, you might say, Old Olive should just move on, and I get that. But it isn’t easy for her, not at fifteen. When you’re a teenager, every problem seems like the worst life has to offer, and it’s a mistake as adults to discount the enormity of what they’re feeling, whether we understand or not.

    My heart breaks for her, but there’s nothing I can do except be there for her when she needs me.


    Olive sat, looking forlornly at Trish’s Facebook page, lost in the fairy tale that this social networking site can be. Where everyone else’s life seems better than yours. Where you’re bombarded with endless posts of happy family portraits, vacation photos, and the news that someone’s child got the best grades, in the history of grades. It’s the one place where we can control how the rest of the world perceives us.

    “Seems like Trish is doing well,” Olive said.

    Trish, who moved away a few months before, was in town visiting friends and didn’t bother telling Olive.

    “It’s best not to have any expectations when it comes to Trish,” I said, frustrated at how My Olive was being treated.

    She nodded and went back to Trish’s picture perfect Facebook life.


    Billie Odell was sixteen, a year older than My Olive, but miles apart in every other way. They met in English class when Billie told their teacher that, “The Hobbit was a second rate kiddie book that didn’t have the depth of The Stand by Stephen King.”

    Olive stared at her in disbelief, not only because she thought the same thing, but because Billie had the nerve to say it out loud —when the teacher was just singing the praises of the Tolkien classic.

    Billie Odell had blue hair, a tattoo of a skull on the underside of her right forearm, and a rose on her left shoulder. Her nails were bitten down to the stubs, and heavily ladened with black fingernail polish. She was a cliché in a black t-shirt spray painted with, “Teenage Wasteland” across the front.


    “Mom, this is Billie,” Olive said one day walking into the kitchen after school.

    I hope I had my game face on because Billie was not the friend I expected that day or any other for that matter.

    “Hello, Billie, nice to meet you,” I said.

    “You too Mrs. Dupree, you got a cool kid here.” She said a little nervously, shifting from one leg to the next.

    “I’d have to agree,” I said, and Billie laughed.

    “That’s funny Mrs. Dupree.”

    “Don’t encourage her,” Olive said, “She’ll end up telling you all of her corny jokes.”

    Then she and Billie made popcorn and went into the TV room to watch YouTube videos.


    The next night Billie came over for dinner. I talked to her mom on the phone, and detected a slight southern drawl as she said, “Thanks bunches for inviting My Billie to dinner, she’s just over the moon about Olive.”

    Billie was wearing a pretty little pink top, a fresh pair of jeans, and her blue hair was cut neatly into a Joan Jet styled hairdo. She was holding a cake tin, “My mom makes the best lemon cake on the planet,” Billie smiled, and it looked beautiful on her.

    Dinner was nice, and Olive, her two younger sisters, and Billie went into the TV room afterward to play scrabble and watch, of all things, My Little Pony.


    “You’re doing all the giving, and none of the getting,” Billie said when Olive sent Trish a third text after the first two were ignored.

    “Can you believe she said that, mom?” Olive asked after telling me about their conversation.

    “Well, do you think Billie’s right?” I asked, not wanting to remind her that I’d said that very same thing, at least a dozen times.

    Olive was quiet for a few moments, then said, “I think she is.”

    My Olive began to change after that, it was slow going, but there was progress nonetheless. She saw what friendship was supposed to look like with Billie, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t that way with Trish at all.

    Olive had come to accept that the closeness she once shared with Trish wasn’t there any longer, and she ceased acting so desperate. Their relationship morphed into something new, and things began to change for the better. Olive received a few birthday cards on occasion from Trish and even got a letter or two on a semi-regular basis.

    Olive and Billie became very close, they learned how to be friends the hard way, by working at it. They fought and made up, but it was an honest friendship in a way it never was with Trish.

    I could end the story here and tell you that Olive and Billie remained the best bosom friends forever –that would be nice, wouldn’t it?

    But that didn’t happen. Their friendship changed as well, but it was an amicable shift. And still, on occasion, I might come home and find Olive and Billie in the TV room, eating popcorn and watching YouTube videos –like in those early days of their relationship.

    Having waded through the waters of that caustic condition known as happiness, My Olive came out on the other end healthier, and yes, happier.

    • Alice,

      The title says so much with just those two words.

      This is like a detailed primer on enlightened parenting. Hopefully, a lot of parents would say, ‘That’s not enlightened, that’s just parenting. That’s what you go through.’

      I would not claim to know.

      I think you should eliminate these two lines: ‘This, my friends, is the beginning of a happy story. I know it doesn’t…’ Don’t telegraph the outcome. I liked your use of the commas in those two sentences, (you know how I am about commas,), but I think those two lines reveal too much. (Get rid of ‘em. Give ‘em to me. I won’t use them, but I’ll harvest the commas and re-purpose them.)

      In all other respects this is wonderful story, beautifully written, with a very subtle and nuanced treatment of some of the trickiest issues of parenting and growing up. You touch ever so lightly on so many different aspects of human nature: (self-esteem, friendship, confidence, patience, love, prejudice, kindness, trust.) It’s all in there, and the story is not only about Olive, it’s also about the narrator. (That’s my opinion.)

      This is a very fine, beautifully crafted story. Which is unfortunate, because it leaves me with no room or material to tease and make fun of you. Which, if you’re going to write as well as this, you consummately deserve. (Pretty inconsiderate of you, but I forgive you because the story’s so good.)

      • Alice Nelson

        Wow! Thank you Ken for that high praise. I think you are right, this should just be normal parenting, but we often forget that our kids are separate individuals and us parents tend to treat them with little regard for what they’re experiencing.

        It’s funny you mention those two lines, because I added and removed them like a dozen times, finally settling on keeping them, but I think you’re right, I’ll leave them out for any future publications.

        Also, I think you’re so right on that this story is also about the narrator, thanks again, and you can still give me a hard time, I expect nothing less. 🙂

        • Alice,
          ‘…those sentences. I added and removed them like a dozen times…’
          I’m so glad to hear that you agonized over those two lines.
          As talented as you are, I believe that you approach writing with an intense determination to produce a quality product: A kind of relentless devotion to refinement. (That’s a good combination.) I get this impression from comments that you make on the thread or in e-mails.
          It’s reassuring to hear someone else admit that they go through that.

          I have to re-write everything five or six times. (Even my stupid comments.) I mean, I still can’t believe how badly I write. And I often like my first couple of drafts until I set them down for a day. Just one day can turn my writing into drivel. From brilliant to drivel in 24 hours. You would think that after all the practice I’ve had, I’d be able to sit down and just write something half-way decent right out of the chute. It’s not happening.

          • Alice Nelson

            Oh man, I never write anything decent out of the chute. I write and re-write sometimes dozens of times. With this story I started it, deconstructed it until it didn’t resemble the story I started with, then I went back and began again. And it’s like this almost every time I write. It’s exhausting, but I do love writing, so it’s worth it. 🙂

    • Nicely observed story, Alice. Has an authentic ring to it.

      One of my own daughters went through a similar, with the two friends she’d grown up with gravitating into another group of girls who were a bit wilder, got into fashion, boyfriends, etc, while my daughter stuck with the horses and other animals. She felt it as quite a betrayal. (She’s stuck with the animals, btw – more loyal than humans, maybe.) The pain you feel as a parent in this situation is well conveyed in the story.

      From one point of view, happiness necessarily involves suffering, as it contains within itself the prospect of its loss as time passes (and often the fear of its loss, even as we enjoy the happiness). So we move on as happiness passes, having learned something. Hopefully.

      For teenagers (not only, but it seems especially) there is also the exploration of identity through friendships and group attachments. It’s a challenging time for kids and parents alike.

      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you Andy, I’m glad it has an authentic ring, because something similar happened to my 15 year old just a few short weeks ago. I asked her if she minded me writing a story about it, of course with the names changed to protect the not so innocent, and surprisingly she agreed.

        I remember the pain of those teen years, and it hurts so much more seeing your kid go through it. I just want to make it all better, and I can’t, I just have to be there as she goes through it. And you’re so right, happiness does sometimes involve suffering.

        My kid’s story didn’t end exactly this way, but it was close enough. I’m glad your daughter has her horses, animals are far simpler creatures to endure.

  • “The longer I work on my story, the faster it puts me to sleep.” Ken Cartisano
    • Alice Nelson
      Ha! You crack me up Ken.
  • T. Rex. (1163 words.)
    by Ken Cartisano © 2017

    I think it was a Saturday. A lazy afternoon, no one was home, I slept late, had a bowl of cereal, then rode my bike down to Harry’s house.

    Harry was a friend who lived at the end of the block, in a house that backed up to one of the many canals in the area designed for flood control. As canals go, it was deep and a little treacherous, with a steep drop-off just a few feet from the bank, the water was green with algae and God knows what else. A few people put boats in it, some fished in it, hardly anyone went swimming in it, at least, not intentionally. For better or worse, it made Harry’s backyard a great place to hang out.

    I should point out that I was at the approximate age, (eleven? twelve? thirteen?) when I realized how ‘interesting’ girls were. I felt a compelling urge to present myself as older and wiser than I was. Sports became a substitute for play, and actual playing took on a much more competitive aspect.

    And Harry, well, Harry was my age, a tall skinny kid with a family that none of us had ever met, despite the fact that we all congregated behind his house on a regular basis.

    As I road into his backyard, I was confronted by a large crane, actively dredging the canal a few houses away. As soon as Harry saw me, he called out and waved frantically, but I was too cool to pay him much attention. The crane was large and yellow.

    Harry ran over, grabbed me and pulled me towards the canal. When we got closer to the bank, he dropped to his knees and started making mud balls. (Or mud clay balls.) He had assembled a small group of them, aligned in rows, and excitedly explained that they were mud bombs, and he needed help trying to kill the monster.

    As a twelve year old with delusions of maturity, I was initially skeptical about the danger and the plan, but shrewd enough to survey the situation with a critical eye.

    The huge crane swung out from the opposite bank, ratcheted its 500 pound bucket up and out to the end of the boom amid the rattle of chains and gears. One end of the giant bucket dipped menacingly, revealing a lethal row of 6 inch metal teeth, and then, with the mechanical clatter of chains, cables and pulleys, the bucket dropped into the canal just a few feet from the bank. The sound it made was impressive, even at this distance. Water splashed and a wave surged well up onto the bank. Nothing happened for a second or two, and then the chains and cables began their discordant rattling as the bucket was hauled across the canal underwater, to emerge on the other side, with muck, water and weeds oozing from its iron maw.

    I dropped to the ground and furiously started making clay mud balls as fast as I could.

    The colossal jaws deposited their muddy haul on the opposite bank.

    Harry screamed. “Here it comes again.”

    I looked up and watched Harry run toward the looming crane. The bucket hung suspended in the air above him for several seconds as Harry pelted it with one, two, three mud balls. Then, amid the racket of thrashing metal chains, the bucket dropped again, landing in deeper water and making an even bigger splash. Harry was half drenched.

    “Did you see that? Did you see that?”

    He came running back along the bank and squatted beside me. Making mud balls way faster than me. “It’s a T-Rex Kenny—and we’ve got to stop it.”

    I was learning the art of mud ball construction as I spoke, this being my first time. I glanced up. “Maybe if we had bigger mud bombs…”

    “This is all we’ve got,” Harry hissed. “You’ve got to hit it in just the right spot.”

    “Ah.” I said, scooping a hunk of clay from the mud pit. “Which spot is that?”

    “Here it comes again,” Harry yelled, jumping to his feet.

    I was right behind him, carrying two mud balls with one arm, a third ready to launch. We ran to the bank opposite the crane, the bucket swung in the air above our heads. We flung our mud balls one after the other, all six finding their mark, and then it dropped: The chains rattling, the whir of cable, the clunk of metal as it made impact and an enormous gout of water drenched us both. Then a wave sloshed up the side of the canal and soaked our sneakers. We looked at each other in disbelief, and then ran back along the bank to make more mud balls.

    This went on for hours. Just me and Harry, and the T-Rex. The machine gradually moved parallel to the bank every so often as the operator made progress down the canal. We continued making mud balls, throwing them at the looming bucket, and getting drenched for our efforts.

    The operator of the machine sat in a glass cab. At first, because of the light, all I could see was the reflection of the sky off the angled window of the cab. As the afternoon waned, I was able to see a man with a full beard, pulling levers, pushing pedals, and occasionally laughing.

    Until then, I was happy to pretend that the machine had a mind of its own, then I realized that behind the massive machinery, there was a man doing his job, but enjoying it. Since we were just playing, somehow, that made it even better.

    I think he put in some overtime, because it was dusk when he retracted the boom and bucket, and secured the machine for the night. I think he waved.

    I was exhausted. I went home drenched with foul water and covered in mud.

    My mother was intrigued with my condition but not alarmed. “Look at you. You’re a mess. What on earth have you been doing?”

    So I told her. I told her everything. I spared no detail, even the part where I saw the man at the controls laughing at us.

    She said, “Really? He was laughing?”

    Her reaction was interesting. “Yeah mom. I saw him laughing. We were all having a great time.”

    She was folding linen and putting it in the closet. “Huh. Well—that’s a man who remembers what it was like to be a kid.”


    “That’s a man who still remembers what it’s like to be a kid.”

    I was incredulous, considering my overall state: soaking wet, filthy, and ecstatic. “I don’t understand. People forget? How could they forget something like THAT?”

    She paused what she was doing. “I don’t know son, but they do, especially men. It seems you were lucky enough to meet one today who didn’t.”

    “I hope I never forget.”

    She smiled and resumed folding the linen, “I hope you don’t either, son.”

    • Alice Nelson

      What a sweet story, one that shows the innocence of childhood, even for a kid who thinks he knows it all. Harry and Kenny come across like real characters with depth, and it was easy for me to enjoy their play time right along with them.

      Good use of dialogue, and I loved how the story begins with the Kenny’s resistance to the game, and then shows us that by the end he was all in. Fun story, I really enjoyed it.

      I noticed one little thing:
      This sentence: “He came running back along the bank and squatted beside me. Making mud balls way faster than me.”
      (I think it would flow better if you say ‘Making mud balls way faster than I was,’ for the second half of that sentence.)

      • Alice,
        Thanks for the positive feedback. And yes, ‘faster than I was,’ sounds better. I will probably change it on your advice. The thing was, I was trying to emulate the thoughts of a twelve or thirteen year old.’ ‘…way better than me,’ sounded authentic. (To make the narrative sound like a kid.) I think it was a fleeting attempt to ‘sprinkle in’ some authenticity without actually making the effort required for consistency throughout the story.
    • Ken – another nicely observed and involving story, very much from the kid’s point of view though also with keen observations on adult responses also.
      I am concerned though that you seem to have been most happy when being a hooligan. I counsel some reflection on this.

      I’m also concerned about the lack of consideration for health and safety. I know back in the day if I was in such a situation and came home with my head knocked to one side and an arm missing, my mother would have clipped me round the ear and told me I should be more careful. “That’ll larn ye!”

      But I don’t think we should romanticise those times. Please can you re-write with more hard hats, high visibility jackets, safety fencing, mud-ball training courses and plenty of warning signs – and most of all a more safeguarding approach from the ‘big kid’ crane operator. Remember, children could read this. Thanks! 🙂

      • Andy,

        Mud-ball training courses? Excellent.

        It probably comes as no surprise that I anticipated your input, and deliberately left room in my story for your suggestions. Suggestions I knew you would make.

        Upon reflection, I realized we don’t have hooligans in the U.S. We have miscreants and delinquents. But—I still take your remarks as a compliment. Thank you.

        My mom was very quick to notice bloody gashes and missing limbs, (or so she claimed) and seemed (I think she was a fine actress) to be happy if I came home in one piece.

        My stepfather, conversely, would have lectured me for two hours, complained to my mother for one hour (about the medical bills I MIGHT have incurred), and then sought to locate the crane operator and have his license suspended. That’s why we left him, dad, out of the loop as much as possible. That’s why my mom was so cool when it came to mere mud, and exotic fecal algae.

        As for safety, I rarely waste an opportunity to encourage children to play with heavy equipment. What could go wrong? Removing rubble and cleaning up muck may prove to be valuable skills in the foreseeable future. Especially in this country. I think they should practice every chance they get.

        But I appreciate your helpful feedback and am willing to concede that yes, perhaps your mother was a bit stricter than mine. (That’s probably why you’re not a hooligan, and never will be. But you’re still a pretty interesting guy, so don’t take that as an insult.)

        I wrote a parody of each of the remaining writers in the group. Just for fun. Myself included. It was easy because there are so few of us left. But I’m afraid to post it as I’m really beginning to wonder if I’m driving people away from this group with my idiotic ‘sense of humor.’

        I’ll just send it to you, Andy. See what you think of it. I trust your judgment.
        I think it’s funny but…

  • Happy

    On Hrystyl there are ten thousand ways to be happy, they say. I am sure there are more.

    Take the Kjroan family. Their house is a palace, delightfully furnished with the finest furniture, and artworks of the highest quality replicated from collections around the galaxy. They rejoice in their exquisite taste and their love of fine things. The children too are a blessing. Chnoa is pursuing his dream at the Higher Robotics Academy, and Shnoko is embarked on the Grand Tour of Dance in the Old Sector. They are on their way to fulfilling their family destiny, ever in the pursuit of artistic excellence.

    Or the Kedapols. Their family structures are unusual to the outsider, but their immense wealth supports the classical treble harem structure of the ancient kings and queens of Dorcxial. The lavishness of their banquets is legendary, and their happiness in society evident for all to see.

    The Taskalon’s is of course a Demelian household. These complex beings that combine four forms of consciousness are capable of experiencing four kinds of happiness simultaneously. As they tell me they frequently do. They can experience happiness from many of the physical processes that in other species go unnoticed, as well as experiencing extreme pleasure in both the high intellectual and erotic spheres.

    Chebrelia Morton is the most brilliant musician of the age, imparting pleasure to us all with her recitals. It is an agonistic happiness as she struggles to perfect the trajectories of her compositions, and as she creates new methods to align her physical and virtual minds with all the discoveries of exomusicology. But the end result, she has told me, when all is complete, lifts her to the heavens in rapture. And her partner exults in her happiness, dedicating his life to her inspiration.

    So it is for all the households here. Some may have their foibles of happiness, like the Srongnedrids. Their preference for living servants rather than droids is eccentric, but it plays to their domestic drama, a series of tableaux vivants that keep them all entertained. And Vorxnoi’s pleasures are of a darker kind. We do not enquire too much within, but we know that his depravity is focused externally, a fact that contributes to the happiness and safety of the community.

    The happiness of this typical Hrystyl community stands in contrast to the unhappiness that is the norm for all on Jatchuk Island. There the remaining indigenous Hrostylii spend their days in regret at their savage resistance to modernity, progress and happiness. They are but one generation into their Eight Generation Punishment for the unhappiness and discord they caused.

    Now their miseries are of the simple kind – a combination of regret for their missed opportunity, the pangs of daily hunger, and fear of abduction by the likes of Vorxnoi. There is little I can write about such wretched people. For all unhappy families are alike. While, as I have shown, all happy families are happy in their own way.

    • Very imaginative Andy. Funny and far-out, in a good way. Although, I wouldn’t mind if you embellished on the story of each family. Or as, in one case, a particular individual of each family. Believe me, I like where you went with this story, I just thought you could have taken it deeper. You got this really wild tableau going, I would suggest you take some mushrooms, (small ones at first) and then add more to each family’s story and chosen characters. (If you think I’m nuts or you don’t feel like it, that’s fine. If you were paying me for advice, that’s what I would suggest.) The story is good, but it could be better. I know I repeat myself but your writing has a smooth and polished sound, week after week.

      Okay, enough of that jazz, now for some useful feedback.
      First, I would change the name of this story to Aphpy. Or Phyap. (To let the reader know what they’re in for.)

      You give us an interesting, but hardly in-depth look at Hrystyl and its inhabitants. You could have used a few more words to tell us what they have against vowels. (Is it cultural? Or physical. Do they have lips? Tongues? More than one tongue? Is a lisp punishable by death?)

      I was relieved that you didn’t throw any dialogue into this story. (But now I’m disappointed.)

      The head Vorxsnoi called me on the shfnap today and said, “Vlix ipshitz ilphadellium. And make it snappy.”

      See what I’m saying? That’s a real missed opportunity, that is.

      I got some strong impressions as I read the story. For instance:

      ‘…she creates new methods to align her physical and virtual minds with all the discoveries of exomusicology.’ (I wish her luck with that.)

      ‘…classical treble harem structure…’ (That can’t possibly work. I just, I really don’t think so. I don’t care what species they are..)

      ‘four forms of consciousness…’ ‘…capable of experiencing four kinds of happiness simultaneously.’ (Oh, that’s not so hard. Don’t tell me you’ve never farted, chewed gum and sneezed at the same time.)(While lighting a cigarette, all right? That’s four.)

      Well, I hope my comments have been helpful, Andy. Not that you need any help. Your writing is superb, the subject matter wildly imaginative. A fun story until you get to the indigenous Hrystylii. But one has to assume that they’re happy in their misery. (No, wait a minute. No I don’t. What are you trying to pull here, Andy?)

      • Thanks for the comments, Ken.
        Haha. Aha. Mushrooms? Maybe!

        Expanding about each family? Not sure about that. It’s kind of reflecting on happiness: in particular writing about happiness ….

        Character development? Nah! Dialogue? Bah! For this one, anyway.
        But it’s a short short (<500 words), with an atmosphere (I hope), an undercurrent, and a twist …

        • @Ken C:”You could have used a few more words to tell us what they have against vowels. (Is it cultural? Or physical. Do they have lips? Tongues? More than one tongue? Is a lisp punishable by death?)”

          Apologies, it’s the limitations of the medium, and all a bit compressed – not enough keys on the keyboard to represent adequately the tonal variations, glottal stops, throaty clicks, nasal trills, uvulal warblings, expelling of air through scent glands, clapping of prehensile earlobes against cheeks, etc, etc. You know, the kinds of things they do out there.

          • Andy,
            No apologies necessary. ‘…expelling of air through scent glands…’ (Eew.) I can see the difficulty in conveying that with a mere keyboard. (unless it’s a Yamaha. And even then–the scents!) Prehensile earlobes! Great stuff. I know this will shatter the notion held by many (who don’t already know me) of my towering intellect, but I had to look up the definition of uvula. I’m going to work this word into a conversation as soon as possible and see what happens.
    • Alice Nelson

      Andy, I loved the way you showed the different types of happiness, and the how different families expressed that joy. It was very effective the way you showed just snippets from each family, it gave me a good idea about them even in that short span of time.

      Although your story took place in a fantasy world, it could easily be set in our world. I loved the flow, the insertion of humor, and its weirdness. Nice job, my man.

      • Thanks, Alice 🙂
    • Conflict is at the centre of literature. It creates the drama, the challenges characters have to overcome. Would there be a Hamlet if the family were all nice to each other? Or a Harry Potter if they just all went to school and passed exams, and no one tried to get in the way?

      So happiness is harder to write about, at least to sustain that for a whole novel or play. As the opening line of Anna Karenina says, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
      Gives Tolstoy more to write about.
      Unless he visited Hrystyl, perhaps. 🙂

  • Ilana Leeds
    Hi Alice and Carrie
    Do we have more time, please? I will try and get my story in tonight. Too much happening at the moment.
    I have about 400 words to finish off. 🙂 At the moment, I am the opposite of happy.
    • Alice Nelson
      Hi Ilana, Carrie and I have decided to extend the deadline one more day, Dean was also working on some last minute changes. Good luck my friend. 😀
    • Ilana,
      As my mom used to say: ‘Cheer up,’ the man said. ‘Things could be worse.’
      So we cheered up. And sure enough, things got worse.
      I hope the universe throws some good luck your way. I’m sure you’ve earned some.
  • Alice Nelson
  • Well I’m glad you got this story in, Carrie, because I love it. You have a career beckoning as a romantic novelist, I can’t help but feel.

    I like the way the story builds, and as a reader I got involved in the tension around whether feelings are reciprocated, and whether that would be expressed to each other and understood – plenty of room for mis-steps in this situation. And actually near the start, where the guy is drumming his fingers impatiently, there is room to wonder at that stage whether he is a nice guy and deserving of her hopes.

    I half-expected a sword-wielding demon to burst in at some point 🙂 – but the only demon was a touching and very human nervousness which you conveyed really well. By three quarters of the way through, my eyes were indeed becoming moist as I was caught up their happiness. (I know, I know … but I’m like that!)

    At the end, I wondered if Amy could have made do with two words instead of six. Like, “Why wait?”, as she launched herself across the table at him.
    But, your ending is far better and maintains exactly the right mood and tone.

    In terms of style – I liked the way you played with the POV of the two characters and gave insights into their feelings, and the way you played a bit with sentence structure too to reflect that.

    Your story has made me happy.

    • Carrie Zylka

      Awwwwwwwww thank you Andy!!
      I tend to stay away from the mushy gushy stuff but this story just felt right.

      I tried to get the last line down to less than 6 words. But I literally thought “if it were me would I use a shorter sentence? Hell no I’m a writer and would totally be super wordy in my nervousness” lol!

  • Carrie with only 5 stories I think we can’t vote 1-5 unless we vote for ourselves …
    • Carrie Zylka

      Ok – I deleted the 5th place option! Oops!

  • Carrie Zylka

    Ok, Just waiting on Ken’s votes!

  • Phil Town
    And mine! Hold on! 🙂
    • Carrie Zylka

      Oh yeah! And yours!!!

    • Phil Town
      • Carrie Zylka

        ok now we really are only waiting on Ken!

  • Carrie,

    Not bad for mush. (I swear, I did not gag even once.) Your writing is fluid and easily read, yet crisp and straightforward. Without unnecessary embellishment.

    Like Andy says, I like the strategies you employed and the techniques you used. (Don’t be modest, it doesn’t matter if you thought about them, the point is, you used them.)

    In fact, I kept waiting for some surprise twist at the end. The story, (again, as Andy pointed out) offered some tantalizing hints that something might be amiss, or awry. (The tapping of the fingers, the fact that they seemed to meet only once a week.) But in the end, it was just a simple bit of early onset romance syndrome. I’m sure they’ll get over it in a year or two.

    I think I was hoping that a drop of sweat would run down his nose and fall into her wine glass, she wouldn’t notice, and he wouldn’t tell her. But, I was quite satisfied with your ending.

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