June 2 – July 15, 2020 Writing Prompt “Chaos”
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Word Count: 1,200
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94 thoughts on “June 2 – July 15, 2020 Writing Prompt “Chaos””
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This one should be very interesting.
A Cup of Tea and Chaos Averted
(A steampunk story specially prepared and delivered, with attendant fireworks, on 4th July)
LONDON , JANUARY 1794
“Indeed, Prime Minister. The colonists do seem implacably fractious at the moment. And this latest folderol in Boston….”
“…is an outrage in need of a firm remedy. Do you not agree, General?” Lord North fixed the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America with a steely glare.
General Thomas Gage stroked his chin pensively as they walked through the underground corridors of the Department for War and Colonies in Whitehall. “Or in need of what one might call resolute concession. I note that Mr Fox – and he is not alone in this – contends that if we but provide the colonists with the means successfully to subsist, they will forever remain the loyal British subjects that they would prefer to be.”
“I hardly think you will persuade me by quoting that mountebank Fox, Mr Gage,” said Lord North sharply. “Yet I am inclined to agree that if we can but combine firmness with magnanimity, we might yet prevent things falling apart and more serious conflict may be avoided. However, that is a big ‘if’, is it not? I understand our forces are stretched somewhat thinly over there.”
“That is why I have requested you to join us here in our most secret facility, your Lordship,” said Gage, swinging open a set of double doors, somewhat theatrically.
Lord North stopped in his tracks as he cast his startled eyes over the scenes of industry before him. The long half-basement was divided into several sections, each section devoted to a different form of engineering and fabrication. Mechanics scurried to and fro between grubby work benches, while porters carried various items from one part of the basement to another, and helped carters who were delivering new supplies through hatches.
“I believe you have previously met Mr James Watt, our alchemist in all things steam,” said Gage, raising his voice above the heavy clanging of metal.
Mr Watt inclined his head politely, without breaking his concentration on the device in front of him, a collection of cogs and pulleys powered by a miniature steam engine.
“And this is Miss Eliza Browne, grand-daughter of Thomas Browne, one of the greatest names in the investigation of ‘electricity’, as he christened it. Mis Browne is pre-eminent in this field of discovery and invention.”
Eliza performed a modest curtsey, as far as was practical in her grease-smudged smock and breeches.
“Miss Browne also did a fine job in distracting Mr Benjamin Franklin while he was in London. Had him out flying kites, to divert him from our real intent. And this is James Cox, the pre-eminent wizard in the art of devising automata. You may have visited his museum of automata in Spring Gardens?”
“Indeed I have. But to what purpose all this covert enterprise?”
General Gage gently steered the Prime Minister to a central aisle running between the workbenches. “This is our testing and demonstration area. Miss Browne, if you will?”
Lord North looked anxious as Eliza fired up some outré machinery at the side of the room, connected to a species of lightweight cannon hanging from one of the arches overhead. A porter rolled a tailor’s dummy on a handcart into the centre of the space, and decamped sharply. The cannon emitted an electrical charge like a small lightning bolt, rendering the dummy and cart a smouldering wreck.
“Good Lord!” exclaimed Lord North, recoiling in alarm.
“A highly secret unit of the Royal Artillery’s Corps of Engineers are testing larger versions of this and our other toys in the west or Ireland and off the coast of America.”
The team of inventors then demonstrated small flying machines, based in part on Leonardo’s designs but supplemented with the best 18th century know-how, launchable from ships to deliver lightning bolts from the air.
“Mr Cox, would you be so kind as to show his Lordship your novel weaponry to deploy beneath the waves?”
James Cox pulled his magnifying goggles up onto his forehead, and lay his instruments down on the workbench. He escorted the Prime Minister along a series of vaulted recesses in a spur of the basement, in each of which were submersible vessels of various sizes and shapes with automated paddles to propel them underwater.
“With these our boys will be able to approach French ships undetected,” explained Cox excitedly. “They’ll be able to deliver an explosive charge with these extensible arms, perpetrate sabotage from below, or retrieve salvage.”
“I foresee a more immediate need of these vessels with regard to the colonists,” observed Lord North.
“Preparations are underway, Prime Minister. We refer to the American deployment as ‘Proiectum Manhattan’, as it is from that island we intend to deploy in earnest. On my return in two months, we’ll be ready to deliver a show of overwhelming force that we believe will nip all colonial sedition in the bud. Our foremost war artists are on their way now to be ready to record it.”
* * * *
BOSTON HARBOUR, MARCH 1774
“Well, Miss Browne, I believe the demonstration has been most successful,” said General Gage, as they watched a small fleet of captured smuggling ships burning fiercely in the harbour. “Quite spectacular. I’m very glad you’re here to witness it. I believe we have made history today.”
“Or possibly unmade it, if we’ve headed off the major rebellion that was so loudly rumoured,” added Eliza.
“Quite so. We’ve given any would-be rebels the strongest lesson to consider. Happily, I’ve heard now that Lord North has suspended the Coercive Acts, and has consented to much reduce those hated tariffs so long as we guarantee their collecting. Sending more of a lesser amount seems enough to satisfy the penny-counters at the treasury.”
The General and Eliza Browne continued to watch from the first-floor drawing-room window as the squadron of single-pilot airships circled the harbour again, directing a final lightning-cannon fusillade at the burning hulks. The airships then returned to their carrier ship just visible on the horizon, as the British forces on the waterfront shouted their hurrahs.
“The iron fist in a velvet glove, administered with the technology of the modern age,” said Eliza, returning to the fireside where afternoon tea had been carefully set out. They savoured the moment. “Tell me, how do you like the tea, General?”
“A unique blend, my dear. I understand Mr Cox’s submersibles were actually being tested in this harbour last December, and were able to salvage a number of tea chests intact with some kind of mechanical grappling hooks?”
“Yes, sir, they recovered a surprising number of them with perfectly usable contents. Some of the merchants had been testing a new vacuum-sealing technique based on the Boyle-Hooke method.”
“Whatever that is, my dear, the tea is truly splendid. I do like the name, ‘Harbour Unity Tea’, by the way. May its symbolism echo across the Empire!”
General Gage beckoned to a liveried servant, gesturing towards a decanter of port. “Now, I think we need something a little stronger. Let me propose a toast: To orderly progress and the averting of colonial chaos!”
I did have to look up up what steampunk stories are. (I know what steam punk art is, but not fiction.) I had no idea it was a subgenre of SF using 18th century technology in an advanced manner in usually an alternate universe or time line. Not only was I happy with what I read as it was so well written, I learned something from someone living in England, the very country whose tyrannical grasp we managed to escape over 240 some years ago, on the anniversary of the date we celebrate, the 4th of July. Just kidding – I love England and spent 5 weeks there in 2000 which was way, way too short.
Really liked the story, you lived up to the prompt and the definition of steampunk with a great story. I salute you.
What I truly enjoyed was the idea of flying machines, electric weapons, submarines, steam power, and so on. Once that was absorbed, I read this line: “Our foremost war artists are on their way now to be ready to record it.”
Technology so advanced, yet still using pen and ink (art and literature) to record the scenes and action. Absolutely loved the incongruity of it all.
Well done, sir. Well done.
I was trying – although this may sound absurd, given the story – in the spirit of steampunk, not to include any technology that was seriously ahead of its time So the idea was to kind of take the science and engineering of the era and hype it up a bit. Or a lot.
But photography didn’t really come onto the scene until the 1830s. So, I thought I should stick be war artists for the 1770s. I like that you like the incongruous mix, as that’s what it’s all about.
(Actually, Thomas Wedgwood (of the Wedgwood pottery family) was experimenting with fixing images permanently to various materials in the 1790s – kind of proto-photographic experimentation, and he was an associate of James Watt too – so could maybe have made a case for an accelerated 18th century photography!).
Everyone mentioned is a real character, btw. Except Eliza – I made her up, as far as I know. However, her grandfather was the real father of electricity.
So – it’s very nearly a true story. You guys had such a narrow escape!
The what-ifs of history are such a fascinating theme, and you build up some great imagery of shock-and-awe tactics here, based on rather precise historical contexts. As precise as expected from one Andy Lake, who doesn’t easily get his historical details unnecessarily tangled up!
Who knows how things would have developed if America remained British? As things stand, with Brexit behind us, Britain might now become America’s fifty-first state one day in our lifetime. That would be an interesting turn of events. Londoners paying taxes to DC! Until someone ransacks McD in protest, and throws their entire stock of unfinished burgers in the Thames…
Just who knows? But then, if we start to fidget with history, as you do here, the Nazis could have nearly been first to go to the moon, if Wernher von Braun (later NASA guru) invented the rocket just a bit sooner and they won the war. Actually, the Industrial Revolution itself could have happened in Roman times, not 18th century England. Hero of Alexandria invented the steam engine, back then, way before James Watt did. And it wasn’t even an obscure invention. There were spinning machines twirling around all over the Roman Empire, at parties especially, for all kinds of spectacular effects.
The Romans thought of the spinning mechanical gadget not as a practical means to turn the wheels of carriages, machinery or history, but as a mere amusement device. I asked a historian why the Romans, bright in so many other fields, failed to think big in this regard. He told me that it’s probably because they simply didn’t have to. They had slave muscle-power to do their jobs. They didn’t need machines! The (slavery) abolitionist sentiment in England rising alongside the (re)invention of the steam engine was probably just as important as the Industrial Evolution itself, in ushering in the Age of the Machine. Truly fascinating…
I enjoyed your story very much, Andy. Everything flows smoothly and the quality of the writing is exceptional. Of course, one needs to be familiar with the actual historical events to delight in all the alt-history details you’ve put in there. Which I happen to be, although I’m neither British nor American. My country of origins, since we’re on this theme, left the British Empire much more recently, in 1979. Guess which country? In Europe. A stone’s throw away from Italy… I was in Primary School back then, and they gave us a bag of goodies to celebrate with (celebrate what, exactly? Things happened so peacefully, no-one noticed a thing, at least not us little kids. Many where actually against the decision. But I liked the idea of the bag of assorted sweets (very English ‘Quality Street.’ Ironically.) and just focused my attention on that. I thought it would be happening every year, that we’d leave some Empire or another, and get a bag of sweets for it. Not so, alas.
You’re Maltese? Do you still live there? (Sounds like not. If so, do you go back often?) And I hope you find other reasons to celebrate with bags of sweets every year!
And thanks for the interesting comments re ancient inventions. I think possibly the steam engines go back before Hero even? I’m a latecomer to getting to know classical antiquity, and am fascinated by everything I find out.
Possibilities for Roman steampunk? I wonder if someone’s doing that – they probably are somewhere. Must be many ideas to explore there, and a lot of fun. If they could have made a scaled-up functioning steam engine, it would probably have to be big and heavy due to metallurgy limitations at the time – but, given cultural priorities, you could imagine a siege engine being trundled up slowly to a city wall, with a steam powered battering ram repeatedly slamming against a gate …
The slave labour angle is interesting for how slavery can support an economy and a leisured, inquisitive class, but at the same time maybe act as a brake on economic innovation.
I wonder what we’re missing now, in our own time – innovations that could be much more beneficial with a bit of lateral thinking and different economic conditions?
Meanwhile, Malta is at the top of my list for visiting when it’s safe to travel. Looks beautiful. And it’s warm. I believe people drive on the left there too, a lasting and beneficial legacy of British rule. Well, beneficial to me 🙂
All the best, Andy
Sorry for the delay in writing up my thoughts. I really don’t know where the time goes but I think the bonus prompts are putting additional strain on my time. I didn’t used to do the bonus ones.
I was going to agree that in times of stress a good old tea party always helps. Certainly true if you are a Brit. And hot strong sweet tea for trauma was always the thing when I was a kid.
Your story is such a good take on the US battle for independence, with the tea taxes and the bales of tea thrown into the harbour ( Harbour Unity Tea….such a good name) .
This is a really good piece of historically based story writing Andy where you weave actual events into your own web of imagination.
I would write more but I need to read and comment upon all of the storiesso this must be a brief one.
It’s extremely well thought out.
And let me remind you… all that tea came from my beloved country.
Saying it with my little pinky up.
Pass the scones, please.
I’m mighty grateful to Gandhi though I confess I do enjoy London for the literature that comes alive while walking the streets.
And thanks for all the tea, too. I depend on it!
For anyone unfamiliar with steampunk, I have some photos (which some folk here may have seen before) of the famous Asylum Steampunk Festival, the biggest of its kind, apparently, which takes place in our town of Lincoln here. It’s a time when otherwise rational people (well, possibly …) dress up and have fun. Mostly it’s Victorian/Edwardian steampunkery, but some do carry the ambience of the late 18th century, as in my story:
Talking of literature – the BBC are about to broadcast A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth as a drama series, with an all Indian cast. IMHO it’s one of the best books of the 20th century – looking forward to that. But can it live up to the writing, I wonder?
Chaos is a friend of mine
I still remembered what Granny had taught me, even at the very end.
The Calm was in the sky, distant and untouchable, often hiding some danger that threatened to split out like seeds of a ripe fruit, unleashing lifeforce and hope to fall to the waiting and dry surface. The Calm was the sky and the sky was to be revered, respected, blessed as it blessed us.
The Horizon was the balance, just as untouchable as the sky and ever-present, a constant reminder of its importance, carefully dividing the natural domains. The divide was to be remembered and understood, teaching us an important lesson in the balance and the proportions of all things that we would do well to never overlook.
What did the Horizon divide? The sky and the sea. Calm and Chaos.
While the sky was to be revered and blessed, the mighty sea was to be feared and never ever underestimated. The sea was Chaos in it’s fierce, untamable temper and raw, unmatchable strength, with the capacity to obliterate and the power to move land. Chaos was taught as as unpredictable as the wind and just as contrary, guiding fishes to our nets and hurling our ships to the rocks.
“Take to the skies, my dear child,” she would always warn, eyes glassy and unfocused. “For while what goes up must come down, the sea follows no such order or law and those who venture there have no guarantees. All who descend into the Chaos are unlikely to return, be warned.”
Unfortunately, she is no longer among the living but her lessons stayed with me nonetheless. I had once liked to think that one day, my time would come when I too could pass on these lessons to those who would carry on after me, children and grandchildren of my own if I was half as lucky.
But as Granny was always painfully aware, I was always far too fascinated with the sea for my own good, despite her lessons and best efforts to discourage me. Granny’s lessons only ever intrigued me instead of intimidating me and once she was no longer with me to distract me, I found myself drawing closer and closer to the Chaos I had spent my life admiring.
Storms were my favourite, when the peace unleashed all it hid at once, when the balance tipped and when the sea grew powerful enough to cross domains, leaching out of it’s own and into the sky. Walls of water rose and crashed to the shore, dragging and tearing and screaming as the sea took and spat back as much as it could reach. Yet more water fell from the sky in heavy sheets, leaving nothing untouched and pelting the surface enough that land and sea were indistinguishable. Far out to sea, everything churned and rumbled, alive and unstoppable as starfish and sharks alike trembled in electric anticipation.
In moments such as those, I would find the centre of it all and let myself be torn apart and put back together newer, better, fresher, soaked to the bone yet feeling more alive than ever as I howled back at the Chaos that howled in my face. Everything washed away, and in my mind, I let everything go, all memories, thoughts, headaches and dreams, giving in to the flow as everything was cleansed.
When the storm finally abated, I was no longer the same person who had walked into that small, into that Chaos. I looked around with new eyes, drinking it all in. Nothing ever seemed to be able to beat how I felt in those moments, alone in the new world. Time would tell if my memories and worries of before would return, but in those crystal moments, I had no such cares.
It made sense then, all things considering, that I wouldn’t be able to escape the call when it came.
When I looked into the sea one day and saw a face similar to my own yet so different, eyes translucent and bright as they stared back at me in a curious, lidless gaze. Needle sharp teeth tore the flat face in a jagged red smile and clawed hands, covered in glittering scales, reached out and beckoned to me. As I had leant down unconsciously, I was able to hear the most beautiful voice singing, calling to me in enchanting liquid notes that hooked me to that sandy shore and drew me in. Somehow, the creature’s mouth never moved, maintaining it’s dagger grin in knowing certainty as if it held all the secrets I had ever seeked.
I’m afraid to say I could hardly resist. With a regretful apology to Granny on my lips, I slipped soundlessly into the water, giving in to Chaos as it welcomed me with glittering arms and a wicked grin, taking me deeper and deeper than I’d ever been before.
As I’m sure you could have guessed, I never saw the surface again just as I had been warned. But in those few remaining minutes, I can safely say I had never felt more alive. When the darkness closed in, I welcomed it with a calm smile.
The story can be taken in more than one way, as there appears to be biblical backdrop and tone to the words of wisdom at the beginning, with the separation of the waters of chaos and the calm that is heaven above. The waters in Genesis are the waters of chaos, the abyss where darkness is on the face of the deep, “the womb of nature and perhaps her grave” (where there exist “dark materials to create new worlds”, i.e. there’s a cycle of destruction and renewal). There’s a sea monster in there too (love the “dagger grin”) promising both knowledge and death.
Then there’s also the experience on the personal/psychological level, the narrator fleeing safety and embracing chaos in order to be fully alive, if only fleetingly.
I’d never thought of Roy’s point about the sea being calm under the surface – that’s pretty insightful, and challenges the mythic background I’m referring to. See – you’ve got us all thinking now!
(A couple of typos, and ‘seeked’? – sought.)
Some splendid descriptive prose here. You really know how to paint a picture with words and not everyone can do that. The way we see the elements in all their glory and frightening power is really strong too.
I think the others have made some comments that are very pertinent, such as the possibly unnecessary words, “As I’m sure you guessed” and the work seeked instead of sought but these are minor flaws and, believe me, we ALL have them.
Personally speaking, I rather enjoyed the ending and in fact, I hoped that the narrator would give herself to the waves and the peace and calm that exists beneath and I think I knew she would.
Just loved the following, “Guiding fishes to our nets and hurling our ships onto the rocks.” Lovely sentence.
Lovely writing, Amelie.
Your descriptions are fabulous. Get the picture totally. Walking into an ocean is rather poetic, but suicidal. Adding to the story of course.
‘Listen to gramaa’ should have been her last words…
It would be easier on the eye if you could space out your paragraphs. Just telling.
These typos keep appearing.. the interchange between its and it’s… as in ‘it’s dagger grin’ .
Sail on in good weather 🙂
Three things. First, you have a unique talent for descriptive phrases. Sometimes you go a little overboard, but not always. I did love the term ‘liquid notes’, but others may not think it makes sense. Second, I think you could revers the two terms and have the Sky as Chaos and the Sea as Calm because just a few feet down, everything is pretty serene. Without the storms of the sky, the sea would never be Chaos. I know that kind of screws up where you are going with the story, but you even point it out yourself with this line: When the storm finally abated, I was no longer the same person who had walked into that small, into that Chaos. (And, I’m sure there is a typo in this sentence or something missing.)
I think you have a very recognizable talent and style, you just need to tighten it up.
Finally, and thirdly, I don’t think this ending is as good as it could be:
As I’m sure you could have guessed, I never saw the surface again just as I had been warned. But in those few remaining minutes, I can safely say I had never felt more alive. When the darkness closed in, I welcomed it with a calm smile.
A simple – I never saw the surface again, as I had been warned, but, I never felt more alive. As the darkness closed in I welcomed it. – is all you needed. Let the reader decide it you live or die, or become part of the Chaos.
Says so much more, I think, than with the author intrusion telling me what to guess, and what you can safely say.
I think if you really thought about it, you could rewrite this and have a killer story on your hands. I did enjoy it very much – as I said, you are a more than competent writer.
A WALK THROUGH THE MEADOW
As she moves slowly across the meadow, she sends small clouds of seeds into the air with each step. Butterflies flutter away from the indistinct path she’s making through the long, dry grass. The chirruping of crickets in the nearby trees blends with the drone of bees and the sweet song of a lone blackbird – a sublime chorus to herald the dusk. A light breeze wafts across the top of the tall grass, bending it and producing a gentle rasping that acts as a delicate bass line to the creatures’ music. Ladybirds hang on precariously to some of the stalks like tiny drops of blood. A dragonfly whips past in a flash of brilliant turquoise, hovers momentarily, then flits away.
The young woman pauses to take in the scene and the sounds, drinking them up. She strokes the grass by her side, feeling the lightness of the stalks on her fingertips. She plucks one from its roots and inspects the pale-white, gossamer head. Her fingers run up the stalk and don’t stop, ripping the seeds away and into the air. They float to the ground and disappear among the stalks of the grass at her feet.
From the top of a nearby oak, the blackbird looks down with curiosity on this infiltrator to its world. The woman’s tanned arms and legs are bare, the brownness of her skin accentuated by the brilliant-white of her short dress. A nest of blond hair sits high on her head, with loose strands waving gently in the breeze, like the grass. In the woman’s grey eyes there is a dullness, in the set line of her lips a slight downward curve, in the tilt of her head a certain … resignation.
She moves on. The beige of the dry grass ends at the emerald-green tree-line, surrounding the meadow like a horse-shoe. At the open end of the ‘shoe’, the grass dips into a mystery, but as she approaches, the mystery is uncovered: the tinkling gurgle of water that becomes the main instrument in the evening concerto. The air is a little cooler the nearer the woman gets to the water, until she’s over the brow of the dip and there ahead is the narrow river.
Climbing down the incline of the bank, she stands at the edge of the sparkling water, staring into the shallows, where mud-coloured fish wiggle their fins and tails and dart away from this unfamiliar presence. She looks back towards the meadow but the brow of the dip blocks the view of the way she came. If the blackbird were watching her now, it would see her shoulders droop. But it isn’t, and she’s alone.
She takes a breath and steps into the shallows, the water seeping immediately through her light canvas shoes. The coolness of the water sends a shiver through her body; the sensation is a pleasurable one after the heat of the walk. But she shakes her head gently, raises it to the sky, closes her eyes …
… and opens them again.
She heaves a sigh of release and steps forward.
How to interpret the end? Maybe the river will wash all this nastiness away – could it even be a kind of (re)baptism?
And I appreciate it when people do something different with the form of writing – the running together of all the words works for me. (Kind of the opposite of lipsmackingthirstquenching, and certainly more real for the times we live in!)
You’re obviously a ‘glass-half-full’ kinda bloke, because I intended a different interpretation to the end of the story … but if it’s open to interpretation, I suppose that’s a good thing.
Yes, I tend to be a glass half-full person. (That can be a problem when I’m unreasonably pleased with myself for doing something that’s really not very special, though!)
On the ending – I was at first inclined to think of a darker ending, but I picked up the references to “narrow river” and “shallows”, which seems a bit safer and reassuring. Had it been a raging torrent, my glass might have tended to the half-empty, perhaps. Or all gone and turned upside down, even.
I thought ‘shallows’ would naturally imply there were ‘depths’ … but maybe I miscalculated that one (because I definitely intended “all gone and turned upside down”!)
The only thing I would suggest is to throw in some personal remorse inside the chaotic paragraph, not just tragedies of a global nature. Something like:
I’m not sure if readers would be able to follow, but I think the personal hurts more than the global. Especially since the character is a woman.
Maybe, like this, with dashes, or alternating bold/not bold? Though I prefer your continuous line style.
Exceptional stuff, Phil!
In fact the section you’re talking about does include some very personal references (it takes patience to find them, I know) which I wanted to show have a bearing on the woman’s actions at the end. I actually also wanted it to be as impenetrable as possible (to depict ‘chaos’) while still maintaining some coherence.
Appreciate the ideas, though.
As others have commented there is a wonderful divergence within this story. The opening paragraphs are beautifully evocative, reminding us of the beauty and magnitude of our environment and the natural world. Then, the contrast, hinted at by the look on the young woman’s face despite the beauty around her and given full rein in the explosive words, run together so effectively.
I note that Ken M, whilst enjoying the words you produced, has also suggested other possible alternatives. I can understand his thinking on this and his suggestions are very useful as just that, possible alternatives but I don’t want to change a word of yours. I see no need to do so.
This world is an incredible place and you remind us of the contrasts, peace and war, love and hate ( my words) in the opening and closing parts of the story.
What to make of the final sentence? For me, whilst the young woman suffers or is aware of the suffering of others, she accepts that there is hope as she gives a sigh of release……and steps forward. That’s a very positive ending for me. I see her as the universal spirit of defiance and optimism.
Great writing Phil and a big pat on the back for trying something different.
I really did intend the ending not to be a happy one (the ‘sigh of release’ … the usual collocation there is ‘heave a sigh of relief’ – the ‘release’ is exactly that … her final act will release her from her torment). But you and Andy have found hope in the ‘step’, and that’s really interesting.
I liked the chaotic ending summing up all the evils of the world.
The end is left for us to guess? She decides to end it all? That escapism is not up my alley, really, Phily! But for the fiction element it is again akin to a poem or painting.
The black bird and the shoulders droop… builds the dramatic element.
I think you’ve interpreted the ending as I intended (not that KenF and Andy are ‘wrong’ in their interpretations). You and I differ, though (and that’s not a bad thing! – your interpretation is valid!), in how she’s feeling as she walks through the meadow. For me, she’s ‘drinking up’ the beauty of nature one last time – a kind of ‘farewell’ to it – before the act that will end it all for her, which she’s determined to follow through with. ‘Solace’ suggests ‘healing’? (Maybe … maybe there might have been a point where she could have changed her mind during the walk … but it was not to be.)
Yes, in my mind she does decide to end it all (I kind of had Hamlet’s Ophelia in mind), but it’s interesting that you, like Ken and Andy, prefer my protagonist to live.
Glass half full!
by Ken Miles
In the beginning there was order.
And order was such a horrendous thing. Not a molecule was out of whack. Never did a bad moon rise. Nothing exciting happened.
Light was neatly separated from dark. The planets, the sun they merrily circled in circular circles. Never one misbehaved, took off on an eccentric curvy ellipse. Every day was sunny and beautiful. Terribly beautiful, day after day, never a cloud, never a change of temperature or temperament.
God saw that it was far too good.
Things ought to be a tad more interesting.
“Let there be shades-in-between!” he commanded.
So, on the First Day, he mixed up light and darkness. There wasn’t now just day and night. But also dusk and dawn. Not all days were sunny anymore. He made some cloudy, and some so wretched they didn’t seem to own tomorrows.
“Let there be rain and thunder!” he said, “sleet and hail to slice through frigid air.” And it was so.
All of this made the blue sky bluer when it finally returned, the nice days nicer. For when days are always nice, no-one takes notice anymore. It takes rain to get a rainbow. And the treasure at the end of each rainbow? The bright day that follows!
He then took a closer look at Earth, such a perfect sphere. In a fit of youthful divine rebelliousness, he flattened it at the
poles, skewed its axis, damaged it, some would say. But thus came the seasons, such a beautiful inconvenience.
He toyed with Earth, blew onto it until it thrived with a new thing called Life, plants and animals danced upon its surface.
But it was still too good. Animals only ate fruit, their five-a-day. Fruits wanted to be eaten, so that the animals spat out their seeds, and thus the plant kingdom flourished. Better still, when animals accidentally swallowed the seeds, they emerged from the other end already mixed with manure. It all worked like clockwork. Still so damn boringly good.
God decided to bring an end to this sad state of beautiful affairs. He’d long wanted to try this new thing out:
“Let there be natural selection!”
Predator now chased prey, in so doing getting stronger and cleverer. Or else either starved to death or had to think fruit again. Ew! The prey, too, ran faster now, got cunning, learned to hide and camouflage. Or perish. No-one’d lazy about anymore. A win-win for everyone, in a way, this brave new chaotic world. True, it got harder to get on with one’s day minding one’s own business, but days became more interesting than before. Some had to die, but, for those who lived, life was now more worth living.
At the end of the Sixth Day, just as God was about to rest, he had an idea.
“What about one like me?”
He pulled down a tree a good-looking ape, blew on him, dazzled him a little and called him Man. For the first time a creature became aware of his own existence, far more than a stone or a tortoise is. But awareness also made Man sad and lonely. God needed to do something about this. He pulled out a rib from Man’s cage. Don’t ask me why he didn’t start off again with a female ape, but he must’ve had his reasons.
And God said, “Let there be fun!” And there was fun.
He made a partner for Man. Woo-man, woe-to-man, woman! She wasn’t going to be easy to handle, but was going to be exciting. Sexy, naughty, scintillating. Man and Woman never really understood one another. Neither were they meant to. No longer one for straightforward creations, God withheld their faculty to read into each other. She’d hate Man, then love him and hates him again. She’d then give herself to him. Every time like the first time. Exciting, titillating. This little game never gets old. When did a creature have it so good?
Only snag? This one fruit God said they shan’t eat. He secretly hoped they might. To see what happens next. For God is an explorer, a scientist; he wants to know more. He’d given his latest creation, the modified apes, their own legs – free will. He wished to get to know them better, curious how far they would go.
God went on creating. Why just plain man and women? He made lesbian and gay, and bisexual, transgender, intergender, queer and more. Love without limits, in every form and manner. We just don’t know how many types of love he created. We keep discovering more with each passing year.
He made everyone different in some way or another, some of us good with their hands, others with numbers, others funny, or gifted with words, some good at everything, others at nothing. Some are grumblers, some doers. He even made some good at being bad. To keep things interesting.
“Let there be intrigue!” So that no-one gets bored.
He made some of us outright nasty, so that we’d have who to blame, won’t have to beat ourselves for our own shortcomings. It’s a great jigsaw puzzle, everyone’s a unique piece, no-one wasted.
He made us practical too, some the right brown for the scorched South, some for the chilling North, so that no part of this skewed planet will have been made in vain. Some’d be happy, where the warmth is, others would be inventive where the cold dwells. But Northern man grew indignant with his southerly brother’s happiness, Southern man envious of his northerly brother’s ingenuity. They’d fall foul of one another. The wounds never healed, and never will, for that’s how this chaotic world was designed. But Man learns from his mistakes. The more mistakes he makes, the more he learns. It will never be all good, but that’s the thing, the idea is to never have a dull moment again.
“Let there be earthquakes, so the land will take new majestic forms.”
“Let there be disease! So there’ll be the joy of healing.”
“Let there be hate, so that where love is, it shall truly shine!”
Man keeps trying to put order into God’s chaos, to organize his life, make it somehow simpler. But with each attempt, he only makes it ever more complicated. So complicated, his kids now have to go to school to learn how to live. Man devises laws, to keep his order orderly. So many laws he then gets confused and all worked up by them. Sometimes men, even whole nations, fight because each thinks they understand the rules better. The ultimate chaos, war, ensues. Every war is a great lesson for Man. More mistakes, more learning.
“Let there be problems! So there’ll be satisfaction in finding solutions.”
“Let there be irony! So not all problems will be possible to solve.”
“Let there be humor and laughter and glee, so that life won’t be taking too seriously.”
God thought of everything. Still, sometimes, we question this whole chaotic mess that is our existence. Some call it The Human Condition. Our predicament.
God doesn’t quite get that one. He looks at us anew and sees that all is certainly not good at all. But, hell, is it exciting?
This is a cracking piece of writing. I loved the way God, it seems, was sitting up there, on high, during that First Week, on a rather uncomfortable stone throne, tapping His/ Her fingers with increasing boredom. What to do next, when you have the power to do anything and everything? It’s almost a surprise that it took a whole week, with one day off, to create the world and everything in it.
Andy refers to the capricious behaviour of the gods of old and this is a very good comparison. Ancient Greek gods moving their human chess pieces around for their own endless amusement then watching as the human pawns lived out the lives they were dealt.
The outcome for people is of course, the chaos as described, as humans seek to bring to some kind of order, to bear the weight of the law of unintended consequences that God has placed upon our shoulders, like that mythical, huge stone boulder to be endlessly carried uphill.
But equally it could be seen as the beauty and divergence of the human race. If all these additional features about people and their world that were added by God were not there we would have bland boredom. I think I ( and Man too, I hope) prefer the chaotic diversity that is our everyday existence.
I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of mischief you imbued into your writing.
The human condition is so apt.
A thoroughly enjoyable piece of writing Ken.
the way some things happen in life (the good and the bad), do sometimes give me the impression that there is someone a little bit bored up there amusing himself with us, like a child poking ants with a stick to see how they’ll react, wondering what they may be thinking…
I’m glad you enjoyed the story. I’ve just read yours, and you didn’t disappoint me either. But I wrote a message there, on that one.
You mentioned, in a comment, you were about to brush your teeth. I hope it all went well.
I’m thinking it’s probably too early to tell … We’ll keep an eye on the news.
Very nicely captures the prompt, with human craving for order while the deity throws in new trajectories of chaos every now and then to keep it interesting – perhaps more for him than for those down below who bear the consequences?
Here’s part of the theodicy passage from Catch 22:
“Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of creation? What in the world was running through that warped, evil, scatological mind of His when He robbed old people of the power to control their bowel movements? Why in the world did He ever create pain?’
‘Pain?’ Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife pounced upon the word victoriously. ‘Pain is a useful symptom. Pain is a warning to us of bodily dangers.’
‘And who created the dangers?’ Yossarian demanded. He laughed caustically. ‘Oh, He was really being charitable to us when He gave us pain! Why couldn’t He have used a doorbell instead to notify us, or one of His celestial choirs? Or a system of blue-and-red neon tubes right in the middle of each person’s forehead. Any jukebox manufacturer worth his salt could have done that. Why couldn’t He?’
‘People would certainly look silly walking around with red neon tubes in the middle of their foreheads.’
‘They certainly look beautiful now writhing in agony or stupefied with morphine, don’t they?’”
Thanks for commenting! I will have a look at Catch-22, one of these days – looks like my kind of reading 🙂 I’ve heard about the book, but never got a copy in my hands. I’m not sure if the neon problem-indicator light idea on my forehead would work with the likes of me. I’d probably let it glow on red, if it’s not really annoying me, as I often do with almost everything. Unless the world is really falling apart, I won’t leave my seat! So, perhaps, some pain is needed, to stir up action, sometimes. Tell that to Yossarian.
God, in my story, does create problems on pain in order to make life interesting (for himself and for us), but the very creation of almost everything else (including us), is also part of his efforts to alleviate boredom… Unlike Yossarian, I exonarate the Creator and see some reasoning behind his creative bursts (even when it’s just to engineer something as wonderful as phlegm!). I clear my throat..
“Why did God create flies?”
“- If it weren’t for flies, you wouldn’t cover your food!”
“But if there were no flies I wouldn’t HAVE TO cover my food in the first place!”
” – Then you’d be exposing your food to smaller nastier things, that you may not see, but may get blown onto your food. Thanks to flies, you cover it…”
“But then, why did He create those smaller nastier things?”
“Why did God create flies?”
(A fly answers): “- Why did God create YOU!? You nasty evil creatures, hell bent on swatting every little marvellous thing that flies!”
My story grew out of a question I remember someone asking the teacher during catechism class, when I was a kid, about what people really do in Heaven. “Just listen to Angel choirs singing all day long for eternity? Boring!”, the kid asked.
The teacher didn’t have a template answer ready for that, and just tried to patch up one there and then. “It’s a place where you’ll have no problems, no pain,” he said.
When I thought about it, I said to myself – that’s it! That’s the problem with Heaven (and why I’d rather spend eternity here on Earth), that’s indeed why Heaven would be boring. Never mind HAVING TO put up with listening to Angels singing, the main issue with Heaven is not having problems, challenges, some pain to overcome. That’s why it’s not truly appealing. The idea of eternal life, immortality is, but the idea of the (Catholic) Heaven isn’t.
The Catechist quite clearly felt that there were holes in his argument, so he then added, “Like for example, in Heaven you won’t have to brush your teeth every day.” Ah, then all right! Then I’m all for it, that kind of Heaven! It’s not the problems that are the problem (sic.). it’s the drag of certain things in daily life.
Now, I don’t know what the dentist would say to that.
Chaotic by Carrie Zylka
How do I tell a well-structured story when the world is in chaos…and it’s all my fault?
I have no idea, but I’ll give it my best shot.
John was a cool scientist. He was quirky, alternating between the use of “spell” and “experiment” when referring to what he was about to attempt.
I volunteered for this, I know, I know. I thought it would be a cool job.
I was wrong.
“I’m going to need electricity, blood, salt, six D batteries and a bottle of vodka.”
My ears perked up. “Vodka? For the experiment?”
“No, that’s just to make me feel better about ripping a hole in the universe.”
He paused. “If this goes sideways, I hope we meet again.” He looked at me and I felt a weird, uncomfortable squishiness in my stomach.
“Oh my God, I have a boyfriend.”
“I know, if this goes bad, I hope he’s the first to go and we meet again.”
“Well, you’d be the only one now get on with it!” I glanced down and saw an item laying on the floor, half in the circle, half out of it. I reached down to pick it up, the warning coming too late. “Don’t you need this as part of the spell?” I asked.
“No! Jesus NO! Don’t touch that! Oh great! What part of Don’t Touch That don’t you understand???”
I hastily put it back my cheeks flushing bright red. “Why? What’s going to happen now?”
“Oh god, catastrophic events you don’t want on your conscience!”
The ripping sound echoed through the room, like some great beast tearing flesh or bone or metal or…well, all of the above. Fingernails on a chalkboard
“It’s the most beautiful, the most terrible thing I’ve ever seen.” It was my last living thought, right before I fell into the nothingness of the rift in the universe.
And now here I sit, wondering where I went wrong in my life…
The vodka requirement reminds me of the old chef’s motto, “A glass of wine in the cook is worth two in the cooking” 🙂 (I almost wrote “a bottle of wine” there, which maybe explains why my cooking is a bit hit-and-miss …)
At the end: “It was my last living thought” … “”now here I sit, wondering” Interesting one 🙂
Short and sharp, not short and sweet!
The circle suggests some kind of occult practice as in Dennis Wheatley novels. Both participants are inside the circle and the spell summons the Devil him/her self, until it is spoilt by the uninitiated person touching the wrong object. Just can’t get the staff these days,eh?
Though I didn’t quite get the connect between the protagonist’s falling into the rift in the universe with her last line.
From her last living thought to her back as a living being.
Bet there’s something there.
In just over 300 words you slit open the fabric of the universe, slid into that gap, and told us how you did it! Quite a feat… and nicely worded too, in a very evocative way. The dialogue is sharp and believable, lending itself to help making the rather outlandish goings-on credible enough.
It took me some time (till the boyf sentence) to understand that the narrator is a gal. If I knew before, I would have conjured the female image earlier on. Perhaps she says something about John being quite smashing besides being cool, as a sort of early clue? Otherwise, a male reader may as well automatically think the narrator is a guy (even he knows the writer is a woman!)
EARTH to Simon, EARTH to Simon…..
Take it easy, human, life ain’t that bad. Stop watching the news.
Let me tell you how it first started, Simon, when your great ancestor was formed from MY dust.
Simon put the paper down to listen. His forehead furrowed. Relaxing in his garden, he watched the birds eat the feed he’d scattered on the grass.
Utter chaos reigned beforrrr the beginning until THE WORD went forth. Then evolved Meh, your beautiful planet, the galaxy, the stars, the sun, moon, everything to make your lives overflow.
Including that cute dog by your feet.
I rounded up strong the second I heard that thundering, yet comforting voice. Then I heard: ‘LET THERE BE LIGHT” … balls of fire came into form.
Then the voice said… let there be….. the animals came forth.
It was all so good.
But the Don of Dark Hearts coaxed Chief Confusion, whose sole mantra was to recreate chaos. Crawling into their safe dwelling place, it snared the mind of that woman, who cast her feminine charms to mislead her man.
Your first ancestor fell real bad, Simon!
Are you hearing me?
“I AM Master of all!” was the cry of the first Adam.
Hunger, greed, unfulfilled desires overtook l’homme as he plucked, tasted that first juicy padvalangyahel, a fruit that since vanished from the face of Meh.
T’was from that moment, humans began wobbling, swaying between the left and the right. You know the rest of the story- how he hid from the Omniscient One.
That wobbling continues till today. You are part of the wobble, Simon.
A panoramic flash of movie scenes rushed fast and furious through Simon’s brain.
He saw Cain who killed his brother when jealousy muddled his brain.
There’s no dearth of jealousy going around town these days, countrywide and in work places.
It showed up today when Simon was forced to terminate some of his workers because the times were bad.
Those with renewed contracts heaved a sigh of relief, while the rest turned green, then grey.
There was no rock Simon could strike to let money flow…
Like Moses, his ancestor, who struck the rock not once, but thrice!
Yes, because he lost his cool when the silly people around him complained and grumbled endlessly. They said they much rather preferred being slaves in Egypt.
Come on give me a break, will you?
If only we had meat to eat…They had cried out. Remember all the free fish we ate in Egypt and the cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions, and garlic we had? But now we’ve lost our appetite! Everywhere we look there’s nothing but manna.
Last night, Ina complained of the quality of meat available in the market.
Organic had sold out.
His office crowd couldn’t wait to go bar hopping with friends.
Anna had fancy gym clothes but nobody was around to see.
The social distancing boats made much noise in the water. Watching that movie from the lake was NO fun at all.
First world problems.
Their complaints belonged to another cadre.
In the wilderness, they grumbled. Yet not one died, but their pursuers.
Simon warned them to be careful of what they utter in frustration.
Aren’t we accountable for every word we speak?
That’s why they rightly called him, SimonVOR.
Yet he had faulted here. He called Ina a stupid fool, which she could well be at times, and she gave him the THREE day isolation treatment.
All because of a silly argument in the bathroom- of not putting his dirty socks iNsIdE the laundry basket..
As if Covid isolation was not bad enough.
Simon missed church terribly. Pastor Jenkin zoom-preached only ‘Truth has the Truth’. (Kinda tricky line that).
Till God’s kingdom comes in all its splendour, we humans have to wait in anticipation to see the glory.
The dusty signboard on the church driveway read:
Fear now, Rejoice forever.
Rebel now, Regret forever.
I wish these people would FEARRR germs and wear their masks! But the neighbours conspired.. the masks were infected. RidiculouSSSSSS!
Simon knew his entire life was made up of choices. Who wouldn’t want quality life forever? So far he had always made satisfactory choices.
Make the wrong choice, you spend hellish years hereafter.
Tough cookie life.
A rebellious heart is not your scheme of things, Simon. Your granma taught you to dwell on the promises of God.
There were those moments he wanted to rebel. He couldn’t put his finger on the disparities that blew his mind. Those times he would raise his arms to the sky and shout, ‘GOD, WHERE ARE YOU?’
Simon thought of the extreme poor in their thatched homes- in the slums in Mumbai, in the Philippines, the backalleys of Philly, in Thailand, where thousands of the hard working, mixed with the zombies, the drugged, the conmen- all living in close proximity.
They must have felt that same sensation Jonah did.
It must have been chaotic in that whale’s belly when Jonah was hurled between the spaces, encompassed by fishy gases. He was rebellious, running away from the Master’s call. Till he was spit out to a new life of obedience.
Today Simon and Ina were in a beautiful home with the smell of freshly baked banana bread. What’s to complain about?
Simon, can you see, standing outside your home, this huge angel protecting you from danger?
The dog could see. Ina was sure there was something strange whenever he barked excitedly looking up at nothing in particular.
The angel of God always makes the faithful see the light, while enemies only see darkness.
No good will happen, say the fearmongers.
One day you’re loving your lonesome bubble, doing your workout, making meringue, the next day you are beset with worries.
But God is at work, Simon. No eye has seen what He has planned for those who love Him.
So Simon wielded his double edged sword and talked and talked.
Like Eeyore. Nobody listened.
You, Simon, are that young man who shall RUN, because he who renews his strength will mount on eagle’s wings.
Ahhhhh! These promises sound foolish to those who are unsure about God.
So they mock us. Check out the internet. It’s spewed with hate messages, to and fro.
God lifts us up when we are mocked. Don’t waste your tears on mockers. And if it’s any consolation to you, I get abused like crazy, O Simon, Simon. They tear down everything they see on Meh. They blast me, they drill, they prospect me. There is no end.
But His presence is with us, nothing will touch us. Dwell in Him, Simon.
Daily desiring Him? Yup, I can do that.
But look what’s happening in the rest of the world?
I meditate on Him in my night watches, when I wake up, the problems are humongous.
Take Him in your heart.
Have your tickets in hand.
You’re bound for the promised land.
Your ticket has been paid, by the ransom at cavalry.
SimonVoiceOfReason, our Eeyore, leant on the fence, to stop his wobbling.
What a wonderful day that will be.
Meh restored. The New Earth. Renewed human.
Lion and the Lamb.
Written by Alyssa Daxson
Word Count-1200(not including title)
Private Axel knew he was in trouble.
From the moment his troop had set out into the muggy jungle in Vietnam to the when they were ambushed, and a bullet ripped through his thigh.
After that it had been hell. Not actually hell, but as the Vietnam soldiers grabbed his arms and dragged him uncaringly through the brutal streams and thorns, Axel wished he was dead.
When they finally arrived in the Vietnam’s camp, Axel was brought into a secluded shack, and immediately strapped to a chair, his injured thigh paid no attention.
The flimsy wooden door had swung open, and Axel watched as two men stepped inside , their bulky bodies filling the room.
A glint of metal caught his attention, and Axel saw a metal tray held in one of the men’s hands, full of blowtorches, knives and other objects that he most certainly did not want to know the purpose of.
One man barked a sharp word at him, and Axel flinched sharply, his eyes squeezing shut. He didn’t know what the man had said, but he knew what he wanted.
Information. Something that Axel wouldn’t give up anytime soon.
After what felt like weeks of pain, the Vietnamese men-that Axel had grown to hate with a passion- gave up. He hadn’t said a single thing, except for the ‘go screw yourselves’ and ‘slimy bastards’.
Hauling his broken, burn and bruised covered body in the middle of the shack riddled clearing, a soldier pressed the cold metal barrel of a gun to Axel’s head.
His first reaction was to fight, but a quick kick to the ribs knocked the spirit right out of him. So Axel just resigned himself to his fate, praying that this nightmare would be over.
His eyes screwed shut, Axel heard the click of the hammer, and the finger slowly moved towards- “Wait!” The garbled English word was shouted across the clearing, and Axel’s eyes shot open, his heart rate skyrocketing.
A soldier sprinted towards one of the generals, who were lined up in front of Axel, eyes calculating and cold. Whispers were exchanged urgently, and the generals, huddled in a group, shooting furtive glances towards Axel.
A decision seemed to be made, and one of the generals strode towards Axel and dragged the boy upwards.
“We found your base,” the general growled, the English words harsh and garbled.
Axel didn’t say anything, but stared definitely back, conveying what he wanted to so desperately say with his glare.
“Anything you want to say American?” The general snarled again.
Axel smirked. “Nothing scum like you have the right to hear,” he spat back, his voice hoarse from disuse.
The general’s face hardened, and the strong backhand sent Axel crashing to the ground, a cry being torn from his lips.
Hands gripped his forearms, and Axel was dragged away, feeling himself start to sink into unconsciousness.
“We attack them in two days,” was the last thing Axel heard, before the darkness claimed him.
When Axel woke up, something was different.
His arms weren’t tied.
Usually after each “session” his arms would be bond tightly together, preventing none to almost no movement.
But this time…
Getting up slowly Axel observed the shack he was in. One door, a window, and a table in the middle. Walking hesitantly towards the door, Axel pushed it, and was startled when it actually swung open.
The clearing before him was empty, not a soul in sight.
Axel wondered for a split second if this was real, before he stepped outside, scurrying across the open space, heading towards the lush, thick woods.
When the clearing gave into heavy brush, Axel did the most reasonable thing his pain riddled mind could do.
He ran. Ran until his limbs couldn’t anymore, until his brain shut down, and his body crashed to the ground, unable to hold the beaten body up anymore.
Khan loved going into the woods. His parents didn’t share his enthusiasm. Sure they were booby trapped and filled with enemy soldiers, but Khan loved the thrill. He loved finding discarding bullets, and sometimes even a metal necklace that his parents had called a ‘dog-tag’.
So when Khan snuck out in the morning, he expected to find some bullet shells, or maybe a skull.
Not a broken boy, who looked even younger then him, lying in a muddy ditch.
Curious, Khan sidled down next to him, and touched the shoulder delicately. The boy groaned, and slowly turned over. A small gasp escaped Khan as he took the bruised and bloodied face.
At that sound, the boy’s eyes snapped open, and he surged upwards, a cry surging forth.
Khan, curiosity gone, skittered backwards, his hand instinctively dropping to the pocket knife hidden in his ragged boots.
The boy looked wildly around, until his eyes settled on Khan’s tense form.
The boy’s face softened a fraction. “Hey,” he murmured, his voice hoarse, whether from misuse or screaming Khan couldn’t tell.
His heart still pounding, Khan waved a bony hand warily.
“You a ngu American?” He asked slowly.
The boy tilted his head, confused. “Ngu?” He asked, his English language mutilating the word. Khan smiled briefly. “I think you say stupid instead,” he said.
Another head tilt, and green eyes blinked owlishly at him.
“My mother calls you that,” Khan explained, shifting nervously. “Frequently,” he added quickly.
A smile flickered across the boy’s lips, and he pushed himself up into a more comfortable position, groaning as multiple wounds flared up.
“Name’s Axel,” he said, sticking out a grimy hand.
Wondering if this was a trick, Khan slowly gripped the hand, shaking it hesitantly.
“What are you doing?” He asked, letting go.
Axel’s eyes caught his, and he seemed to come to focus.
“Oh my god…” he murmured, green eyes going wide with horror. “They’re gonna attack!” He exclaimed, struggling to sit up, trying to gain purchase on the muddy ground.
Khan darted forward and looped his arms around Axel’s chest, hoisting him up.
“What do you mean?” He questioned, confused by the out-burst.
Axel spared him a glance. “Your men, they’re gonna attack my base,” he said slowly, almost warily. Khan paused for a second, and looked at Axel’s body, where he could see blood seeping through the wet fabric.
“Did my people do this to you?” He asked, gesturing towards the various injuries.
Axel’s flinch told him enough.
Jaw hardening, Khan nodded. “Let’s go,” he decided, his hand gripping his knife tightly.
Axel looked shocked, and opened his mouth to argue, but at the glare Khan sent him, his closed it quickly.
“Okay, lets go,” he muttered, limping forward. Suppressing a smile, Khan came up beside him, and sling his arm over Axel’s shoulder, taking on some of his weight.
Axel tensed at first, but then relaxed with a sigh, and continued on, heading towards the hidden camp, praying it was still there.
It was only hours later, when the two boys stumbled to a halt, their chest heaving in sync, wiping their muddied faces.
“We made it,” Axel breathed, Khan smiling beside him.
“Yes,” he agreed.
Turning towards him, Axel gripped Khan in a big hug, burying his face into the small boy’s shoulder.
“Thank you,” he murmured, breaking away.
Khan just smiled, and pushed him away slowly.
“Go, save your men,” he murmured. Axel smiled through tears, and then turned away, limping towards the hidden camp.
Khan watched for a moment, before turning away, his lithe form slipping into the dense forest.
Maybe at the start the enemy soldiers should be referred to as Vietcong – as the Americans were there to support the South Vietnamese army. But assuming the locals here, maybe in the north, are all hostile to the Americans, this has the makings of a touching story of friendship across the divide based on a recognition of common humanity.
I do have a rather big question, though, on how Axel suddenly finds himself unattended, unbound and free to go. Especially, armed as he is with useful information to supply to his Unit. (It’s interesting how he’s tortured to give away information, only to end up receiving useful information). Maybe I missed something (but I had another look, and I’m still at a loss): I think the fact they didn’t just kill Axel or leave him behind tied up, at the mercy of the jungle, needs to be explained.
Or simply get Khan to find him there and untie him (an opportunity for some extra knife drama – is Khan going to knife Axel or cut his rope loose?). Or something is said, before the Vietnamese leave, to the effect of “The jungle will consume you, we won’t waste a precious bullet on you!” Or some clue of internal sabotage: one Vietnamese official resenting his superiors, maybe, who gets to free Axel when no-one was looking, so that the mission will fail.
That’s the only thing I still have unanswered. The rest works very well with me, and Khan’s intervention is very poignant, in the way a personal and unlikely relationship is forged between these two boys which gets bigger than international politics and warfare. I like that aspect very much. You nearly took away a story I once started working on, also in Vietnam, about two injured soldiers from opposing sides who desperately need one another to simply survive (their common enemy is now the jungle), but have to supress their suspicious instincts against one another first.
Early on in the story, I sort of pictured Axel as a fully grown up adult, even though I’m aware of the fact that the average age of soldiers in Vietnam was nineteen. Later on you refer to his very young age, and call him “boy.” You could have perhaps thrown in and indication to that in the beginning of the story too.
There are various little basic mistakes (typos) here and there. I can indicate some to you, but I’m sure you can find them quite easily if you have a quick read-through. Nothing that dampens the storyline, but would do with some quick weeding out. Especially since your language is otherwise so vivid and beautifully carved out!
You’re given us ever better stories in here, Alyssa! Keep ’em coming!
An excellent fast-paced story, emphasising not only the theme of man’s inhumanity to man but also the nature of kindness in unexpected circumstances. However, I am not sure how sympathetic a “native” would have been though to an American soldier bearing in mind the atrocities committed on both sides and by the widespread use of napalm bombing.
I note Andy’s correction re the naming of the “enemy” in this story and I too was briefly confused by the reference to boy but that became clear as I read on. You could correct that should you so wish.
The chaos of war and human relationships is captured perfectly in this story, Alyssa.
I like the evocative language you use. Very well written, I say.
I honestly had no idea where that was going. And afterwards, I’m not entirely sure where it went 🙂
The Bible does make good source material. Have you seen The reduced Shakespeare Company’s “The Bible: Abridged”. All the books of the Bible in one two-act play. They do the complete works of Shakespeare as well. Very funny and clever.
It’s supposedly a dialogue between Earth and human.
Simon is the boss of his firm- during these times of Covid job losses.
The fonts were different when I posted to save me agony of “….” everything. But everything changed with the site’s official font. 🙂
It adds to the chaos no doubt. LOL!
At the end -the man is leaning ( sitting) on the fence, trying to stop his wobble, promised of a new hope at the end of these uncertain times.
Thanks for commenting.
Best to you.
I have read this story three times now and still can’t really get my head around it. This is not to say that there aren’t good sentences and phrases peppered throughout. There are but to me, they are disjointed and make reading a real challenge. I start to follow a thread and then it stops and a new one starts but they don’t seem to have a link that I can detect.
Perhaps you have attempted to create a sense of verbal chaos and, I am not being unkind here, you have succeeded.
i can see Biblical references, Egypt and the like. By the words, “Your ticket has been paid, by the ransom at cavalry” did you mean “Calvary?”
You may or may not want to respond to my comment but I really would like to know what your thoughts are on this.
O my goodness… that was totally Calvary. Thanks for pointing out… never saw that.
Spellcheck did that on purpose. Evil Agent of the Don. How insidiously it crept in.. 🙁
The verbal chaos was deliberately planned. I brought in biblical references of OT characters in chaos by their own doing and contrasted it with the man here and now. Sitting on the fence attitude ..of the human.
The whole is a dialogue between Earth ( vandalised) and the wobbly man.
When I wrote it and pasted.. I had it all nicely distinguishable using cool fonts for the Earth to speak to the Man in another font.
But it all got blue and uniform here.
All level and equal for the day of reckoning….
Thank you for reading..That is enough for me.
Do you have time to add to the fun?
Is it too late to upload my entry? I tried to last night but had a problem with the Internet connection, & looks like my attempt failed.
by Victoria Chvatal
The last flat Tamar and Ronen inspected turned out to be a two-story townhouse. It looked lovely, although Tamar eyed the steep winding staircase with apprehension.
“My brother and I built it ourselves from scratch,” explained Ido, the stocky, affable landlord. “First baby?” he asked, offering Tamar a glass of water and a chair.
“Yes,” she accepted gratefully.
“So why don’t you live here yourself, then?” asked Ronen a little suspiciously.
“The family’s growing too fast,” Ido chuckled. “You know how it is. We barely finished building – and need a bigger place already. Pity. We even put in a connection for cable TV. That’ll give you something to do when you’re stuck home with the baby.”
“I doubt I’ll have much time for it,” objected Tamar with a slight frown.
Ido only laughed. “Trust me. My wife used to go crazy in the house with the babies until we got cable TV. A lifesaver, for you and your husband both.” With that, he winked at Ronen.
“This is the best place we’ve seen so far,” said Ronen quietly when they’d gone off to the side to speak privately. “The rent is quite reasonable, too.”
“And it’s got two bathrooms!” Added Tamar, “so I won’t even have to go upstairs if it gets too hard. A bit far from everything, though.”
“It’s not that far, AND there’s a direct bus route to your work. Let’s take it!”
A week later, Ronen organised the move while Tamar was at work; by the time she came home, exhausted and sweaty from carrying around an 8-month belly in the summer heat, all the essentials were unpacked.
“You’re my hero!”, she beamed, giving him a kiss; then, catching sight of the downstairs bathroom, headed right in with all the determination of a bulldozer. At some point, Tamar thought she heard some knocking on the front door, followed by raised voices, over the sound of running water, but was too blissed out to care. When she finally walked out, she was greeted by the sight of her husband’s long face.
“Has someone come to visit?”
“The neighbour from the unit downhill,” explained Ronen unhappily. “She said we’d flooded her kitchen.”
“We WHAT? What is she talking about?”
Tamar sunk into the couch and put her feet up, while Ronen got on the phone to the landlord.
“Yeah, you can’t use the bathroom downstairs, ‘cos the water goes into your neighbour’s kitchen. Some problem with the pipes,” was Ido’s explanation. “Did I forget to mention it? Don’t worry, everything is OK.”
The next evening, Tamar was so bummed out by the climb up the staircase that she went straight to bed after her shower.
“So much for not having to go upstairs,” she groaned.
“The view is lovely, though, isn’t it?” Ronen pointed at the sun setting over Jerusalem hills beyond their balcony, “And the breeze is refreshing,” and even she had to agree.
That night, though, Tamar couldn’t make herself comfortable in bed – which wasn’t unusual in recent months, – and woke Ronen in the middle of the night because she was too hot. Groggily, he closed the windows and fumbled for the remote to the air conditioner. No sooner did the air conditioner start up that they were hit with an unbearable stench. Tamar immediately threw up. Ronen still remembered the drill, even though it hadn’t happened for a long time. Once he’d cleaned up, he picked up the phone.
“What are you talking about?” Ido didn’t sound at all happy about the call. “You are making it up. I never thought you’d be so much trouble as tenants.”
“I’ll call the police on you!!!” Tamar, who’d gone from tired to barking mad – her two default states in recent months, as Ronen well knew – in a flash, snatched away his phone and was yelling into it at top volume. “You’ve murdered someone and hid the body in the house!!!”
“You must have had a bad dream,” the landlord mumbled placatingly after a slight pause. “I’ll come around tomorrow… today? and have a look.”
“THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH!”
“It’s not like I can do anything at two in the morning,” Ido headed her off, and left them to spend an uncomfortable night without air conditioning.
The next day, Ido brought along his brother Nadav, who was lankier, walked with a slight limp, and looked rather put out at having to come over for nothing. The couple watched with a sort of vindictive pleasure as the brothers cringed and gagged when the stench wafted out of the offending air conditioner. Ido and Nadav looked flabbergasted and said nothing was wrong with it, but finally agreed to take it apart – only to find a dead pigeon in the air duct.
“No idea how it got there,” shrugged Ido. “But now everything’s OK, don’t worry.”
A few days later, Tamar finally mastered the strength to do some laundry while a frozen pizza was warming up in the oven. Ronen switched on the news… and the house went dark.
“What now?” growled Tamar.
“Look, Tami – I don’t think it’s just us,” Ronen nervously pointed out the window as he fished for his phone. Outside, there was only darkness, spookily unrelieved by familiar lights. He still called the landlord, just in case.
“You did WHAT? You can’t run too many appliances at once, or it will short out the electricity,” exclaimed Ido in response. “Never took you for wasteful sorts; you looked like sensible people.”
“What do you mean, too many appliances? It was just the oven, the washing machine and the TV… and the fridge, I guess.”
“As I said, too many appliances. Just don’t do it, and everything will be OK.”
“Look Ido, you sort this out with the power company for us. Or I’ll set my wife on you.”
The threat was enough for the landlord to not only get the power company to restore power in their and two adjacent suburbs, but even to cover the costs.
When Tamar and Ronen – now careful not to switch on any two appliances at the same time – finally got around to trying out cable TV, it, predictably, didn’t work.
“Just leave it,” sighed Tamar. “I’d rather watch Netflix, anyway.”
“What harm can it do?” Objected Ronen, and called Ido the next day.
“No worries, I’ll come around today and fix it, chik-chak,” the landlord agreed. True to his word, he came, checked the antenna, tinkered for a bit with the cables, and finally pronounced, “Everything’s OK now. Enjoy.”
That evening, the couple sat down to watch cable TV. It did work, but the programs on offer weren’t much to talk about. Tamar, bored, was about to go to bed, when there was a knock on the door. She exchanged puzzled looks with her husband, who went to open the door. Tamar caught a glimpse of military uniforms, and when Ronen came back to the lounge he looked a little pale.
“What now?” She asked resignedly.
“They’ve come from that army base just out of town,” explained Ronen shakily. “They wanted to know what we’re doing that interferes with all their communications equipment.”
The end just takes it that bit further, and left me chuckling. Great stuff.
I liked this story too. Great fun to read but no fun at all to live through it. I expect many of us have suffered from some of these mishaps but, hopefully, not all of them.
I like the way things escalate until the uniforms appear. It has a kind of upward spiral ( or should that be downward?) as things keep on happening.
Good story, Victoria. I haven’t read much of your writing but I am looking forward to reading more as soon as possible.
Good dialogue too!
by Ken Frape
Renee Gavroche, stockbroker in the City of Paris, heard the tiny click as the lid from the toothpaste hit the bathroom floor. He did not allow this to distract him from his careful morning routine, as time was short. Always was in the mornings. Even if he had looked down he would not have seen the tiny plastic cap as it had bounced under the bath, to hide behind one of the claw feet.
Renee’s wife, Angelique, celebrated barrister at law, finished her mouthful of toast as Renee swept past her, his lips briefly brushing her cheek in hurried farewell. Just a normal morning.
“Have a good one,” he muttered, his mouth now full of toast, stolen from Angelique’s plate. “Oh, you’ve got the City Bombing case today, haven’t you, darling?”
She nodded as she rose from the breakfast bar. “Once we get started, I think I’ll have to stay over in town.” Renee noted the packed case on the floor by the door. He understood the pressures of his wife’s work and its importance. He nodded and came back into the kitchen to plant a more lingering kiss on his wife’s lips.
“Hope it goes well, darling,” he said, finishing with a hug. “Sure it will, you’re bloody brilliant!” With that he left the house , miming the words, “Call me.”
Angelique smiled and was still smiling as she went up the stairs to clean her teeth, a lifelong ritual after eating. Seeing the uncapped toothpaste she looked around the hand basin for the cap and, unable to spot it, she knelt on the floor. There it was under the back left foot of the bath, the one they saw in Provence and spent a fortune having brought back to the house. She leaned in and, with a stretch, she managed to reach the cap. As she straightened up with an audible sigh, she caught her forehead on the rough underlip of the bath. “Ow” she exclaimed in pain, then dismay as she saw the blood dripping onto the floor. A swift look in the mirror showed the extent of the injury, a two inch gash that was bleeding profusely and had already run onto her white blouse, especially laundered for today’s court hearing. The gash would need stitches, she could tell. She tried to stem the flow but the gash was too deep and she knew that head injuries always bleed heavily.
“Oh fuck, fuck, fuck! I can’t be late for court. Not today of all days.” Chief Justice Eisenholme was reknowned for his lack of tolerance of poor timekeeping in his court. Whatever the reason.
“The wheels of justice turn slowly,” he droned, “and we must not impede them.”
Holding a large pad of tissues to her wound Angelique speed dialled her junior assistant, Mirabelle Thomas, due to sit beside her throughout this case, an important one in her career development.
“Listen, Mirry, we have a problem,” she explained. Mirry was a good listener, a most valuable skill in a junior barrister. “So you’re going to have to go into court and deliver our opening arguments, opposing bail. We wrote it together so you won’t have any problems. OK?”
Mirry nodded down the line as she felt her stomach shrink into a tight knot. Her worst fears were about to be realised. Pre-trial nerves.
“…….and look out for that slimeball Hugo Fox- Urding,” Angelique went on. “ He’ll try to distract you so don’t fall for his little tricks, OK? Right, I’m off to A and E for a couple of stitches and I’ll join you as soon as I can. Call me if there’s a problem. “ She hung up as a taxi pulled up outside the house.
“The hospital. A and E department, please“ she told the cabbie as she got in, trailing her suitcase in one hand and a trail of red drops from the other as she held the soggy wad of tissues to the wound. He gave a disdainful glance over his shoulder s he noticed the blood.
Mirabelle Thomas’s potential career as a barrister came to an abrupt end a little later that day. Not that it matters much given what followed. “That slimeball Hugo Fox -Urding” did indeed distract her, repeatedly and very skilfully. Mirabelle’s undoubted inexperience was her downfall and with it went the bail hearing. City Bombing Suspect A, as he was always referred to, was released on bail. He had no previous convictions, just a few known associates who were under police surveillance. Chief Justice Eisenholme ruled that, in the absence of any compelling evidence, the man must go free, pending further enquiries. The suspect would be compelled to report to his local police station daily.
Within hours Suspect A disappeared from the security forces radar. Three days later, now short-haired and clean shaven, carrying a fake passport and identity, he was sitting uneasily in the departure lounge at Orly airport. He carried only a small shoulder bag, having checked his suitcase into the hold.
At 20.58, UK time, almost three hours after take-off, flight US478 exploded in midair over a major city. All 365 passengers and crew on board were killed. The wreckage of the Jumbo jet was scattered over a huge area and an additional 21 people were killed on the ground by debris, burning wreckage and fires started by the airplane. Once the passenger manifest was scrutinised, City Bombing Suspect A was indentified as a suicide bomber.
Two hundred and thirty of those passengers were US citizens. The President vowed to find out who had caused the explosion and threatened to carry out reprisals. After several weeks Suspect A’s home allegiance was verified . There followed increasingly belligerent discussions with the rogue state deemed responsible. Finally, US military forces carried out ground strikes, destroying a number of fighters and several military buildings. An unspecified number of “civilians” who were most likely planted as a human shield also died.
Following these air strikes, the Russian President gave a stark warning that the US must not strike at any of Russia’s military “friends”. Further military action on the part of the USA would be deemed as “an act of war.”
—————— —————– —————— ——————– —————-
Today, at 07.00 GMT, the Russians gave a final warning to the USA. The USA has not responded but in both countries, military forces are being prepared for immediate action. All across the world, prayers are being spoken and families are gathered together for what may be one last embrace.
This is Markus Welman reporting for the BBC from Paris, France. This may very well be the last broadcast from this building, or, indeed, from any other building.
God bless you all.
—————————– ———————————- ——————————–
As Angelique listened to the broadcast with horror, she reached into her pocket for her phone to call her husband. She heard a tiny click as something fell from her pocket. It was the lid from the toothpaste tube.
Now Imma gonna back, right after I make sure to glue all the toothpaste covers to the bottle. Can’t be too careful now can we….?
From tiny caps, great oaks grow.
The cap did it.
If Renee were on that flight…woulda been a whole new turn.
She should ne’er have stooped to conquer( discover) that lid.
And I really like the Ken Frape trademark seamless incorporation of detail that brings a scenario to life, e.g. about the claw foot of the bath they’d bought in Provence, the white blouse especially ironed, etc.
Then that everyday domestic drama contrasted with the high politics and world-changing events …
BTW, did you know that as an emerging football star, in 1964 Alan Mullery had to miss his England debut and tour of South America because he ricked his back when brushing his teeth? Then missed inclusion in the England World Cup-winning squad. Maybe if he’d been fit, Bobby Moore wouldn’t have been captain, as he excelled on that tour, or they’d have left out Martin Peters … Brushing one’s teeth is certainly a risky business with potentially world-changing impacts.
Thanks for your comments. i decided to be a bit more “arty farty” , or should that be, avante guarde than usual and set the story in France, with French characters and a French title. I agree that little details, seemingly unimportant, do give stories a sense of being rooted in reality.
I certainly did not know about Alan Mullery and his is a name that i have not heard for many years. An interesting chain of events.
Just off to brush my teeth…..carefully.
1) If my dentist goes on and on about the importance of brushing teeth, as if not doing would bring about the end of the world, I’m going to have this story handy in my pocket to show to him.
2) All toothpaste manufacturers are with immediate effect to produce only attached flip-type open-close caps. Like the world depended on it.
3) If you drop something, pick it up, right away. And wear a helmet.
4) If Putin calls, answer the damn phone. It’s probably nothing. But it may be important.
5) [This is for Placers only] While you’re thinking about who to vote for, consider Frape, K. for President. I mean for the number one spot this week.
You guessed it, Ken, I loved this story. The way things escalate from a toothpaste cap falling on the floor to the final demise of humanity, and possibly of all life Earth is as staggering as it is realistic. Possibly all in one day, or just a few. Especially with the hotheads in hotseats we’ve got in our times. Really well-written and convincing.
One little thing (just to be nitpicky), Renee with two final “e”’s, isn’t that a woman’s name? With an accent on the penultimate “e” if we’re in Paris (now I’m really being an Andy Lake! He’ll tell you how to write it in Pinyin too, if you like!). I was surprised to read “he/his” soon after I first heard of this person, and had to remind myself he’s a guy, each time I saw his name. But it’s ok. My mum was going to call me Barbara. But then settled for Ken. You’d be first to say she had good tastes.
I’m a bit concerned about Ken, too. Florida is sinking, I hear… El Virus on the march. Anyone knows anything?
You’re all wonderful people and writers, of course, but without Cartisano around it feels a bit cheerless in here…
9 stories now, but only 34 comments. I think that’s a record low on the comments side?
Still a little time for Ken to bring his own inimitable brand of chaos. And others – Ilana, Trish, Wendy, Alice, Roy, Peter, Sarig, Adi, Amy, Jurgen, Liz, Robert and more – too, of course 😉
I wonder if any of these have something cooking but need a little more time?
My work life is very chaotic right now so haven’t had time to think, much less write anything. COVID has increased here and we’ve lost 3 people in the past 2 weeks. We work with a vulnerable population and it is hitting them hard. Two of them were gone just 2-3 days after diagnosis. I’m hoping to get a story in with the bonus prompt.
Stay safe and well!
Keep safe and strong everyone.
I love our writing group. It’s become a happy place.
I’ll be posting the voting page soon, I had it ready to go and then realized I had missed a story or two!
I just need a little time to get back home and update the voting page and then I will post it!
You know the drill… It’s time to vote!
Remember you MUST vote for your story to count, you can only vote once, and you may NOT vote for yourself.
You officially have 24 HOURS from the timestamp of this comment to read through the stories vote.
I didn’t think I had a chance against Phil’s story, with all that extensive implied dialogue. No seriously, a story with no dialogue was picked for best dialogue? Hmm. Someone’s not doing due diligence. Well, I’m just glad Jurgen didn’t win with his ‘blank page conceptual piece.
I’ve been without Internet service since Thursday, hence no time to berate everyone, much as I’d like to. (Take my advice, never book a cruise on a submarine.) I don’t think I have enough time to do Chaos, unless the deadline is extended. As it is I’ll take a crack at the next prompt. ‘Never get in the car with a strange sperm whale? Anemone who trusts urchins is likely to get what they deserve.
Something like that. Sounds easy. A great opportunity for dialogue.
Just downloaded everyone’s chaos stories. With luck, I’ll be able to get back to this little diner and vote by tomorrow. No story though
Haha, Juergen’s ‘Blank page conceptual piece’. You started me off with a good laugh today. After Phil’s no-dialogue dialogue win of last week, I now duly expect to win the character vote this week for a story without a character…
Reminds me of an art exhibition at a Pompidou Art Centre (= $$) close to where I live, of an artist who put NOTHING at all in it. So there were just empty rooms, nothing hung up on the walls, not even an I’m sorry note (he wasn’t sorry), and lots of visitors asking where the artworks were. “Your unusual experience is the artwork,” was the answer. The non-exhibition won prizes, lots of them…
So these things do happen! Go Juergen go…
(I’d also like to see the sheet music for that.)
Just a quick message as I didn’t find time to congratulate you on your recent victory in the last round. Good stuff.
You probably wouldn’t have seen a comment if I had written one earlier so that’s ok then, I guess.
“L’effet Papillon” by Ken Frape!!
2nd place: A Cup of Tea and Chaos Averted by Andy Lake
3rd Place: A Walk Through the Meadow by Phil Town
4th Place: Chaos is a friend of mine by Amelie
5th Place: The Dream Home by Victoria Chvatal
6th Place: Creation Chaos by Ken Miles
7th Place: Resilience by Alyssa Daxson
8th Place: Out of Chaos by by Marien Oommen
9th Place: Chaotic by Carrie Zylka
Favorite character: Tamar from Victoria’s “The Dream Home”
Story with the favorite dialogue: The Dream Home by Victoria Chvatal
Congrats to all! Great round of stories!
And congratulations to Ken F and Phil – a UK 1-2-3 there, bodes well for the Tokyo Olympics next year (or whenever!) Varied and enjoyable stories with very different styles and techniques.
Ken should have a special prize of a touchless toothpaste dispenser (I haven’t made that up, btw), to keep himself and the world safe.
And a special shout-out to Vicki for scooping both the special category prizes, well done indeed 🙂
After all that chaos… some order is seriously called-for now!
And thanks everyone – I’m really honoured to win in the special categories.
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