Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “Weathering the Storm”

Prompt: Use it any way you like, as a phrase, a theme, a title, a philosophy, a plan or an assessment.

Word Count: 1,200

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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 10:00am PDT / 1:00pm EST / 11:30pm IST / 6:00pm WET/GMT/ 5:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 5:00am AEDT (Friday).

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

To be included in the “writing prompt roster”, you must have submitted two stories in the last sixty days. The roster is alphabetical and can be found here.
See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

  • This is the thread for stories as well as general comments. Say hello and be sure to check the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email” box for email notifications.
  • To leave feedback/Comments directly relating to a particular story – click “reply” to the story comment.
  • Specific critiques, comments, and feedback are encouraged. If you do not want honest professional feedback do not post a story.
  • Keep feedback and critiques to a civil and constructive level, please. Please critique stories for construction, style, flow, grammar, punctuation, and so on. The moderator has the right to delete any comments that appear racist, inflammatory or bullying.

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

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

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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 10:00am PDT / 1:00pm EST / 11:30pm IST / 6:00pm WET/GMT/ 5:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 5:00am AEDT (Friday).

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

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

The writing prompt for March 19, 2020 will be chosen by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin.

281 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Weathering the Storm”

  • Read the stories here:

    (If you don’t see your story linked in this comment within a day or two, feel free to use the contact form to let us know we somehow missed it.

    Meanwhile, please be patient, moderators are not always online. We’ll get to it as soon as possible. Thank you.)

    • Where’s my buddy Ken Miles? Where you at man? Ken Miles, Ken Miles, Ken Miles. Do you read me? Over?

      I’m not trying to bum anybody out here. And no, this is not my story.
      I just wanted to let you guys and gals know that I intend to write a story. Even if I have to force myself. It probably won’t be that good, because with all the awful shit going on, it’s hard to concentrate and focus on something so silly and irrelevant as a fictional short story, when the world is in the grips of a pandemic of apparently epic proportions.

      This site seems like a good place for us writers to express ourselves. Perhaps we should follow Phil’s example and write non-fiction for a change. (I’ve always known Phil was crazy—why? Because he likes me.) Just kidding Phil, we all have that voice in our head. Some of us have several voices, those are the people you have to watch out for. (But they make such goooooooooooood writers.)

      Anyway, I just wanted to say, if you all wanted to just get things off your chest, I doubt that Alice or Carrie would object. (Although, you never know.) I can’t promise I won’t tease or make fun of anyone who chooses to take advantage of the opportunity. But I will tell you all this. I’m just about scared shitless. For everyone as well as myself. (But still determined to eliminate typos from my comments.) It’s not that I’m especially chicken-shitted, or brave or courageous, far from it, but there are times when, if you aren’t worried? Then you’re an idiot. (You can draw your own conclusions from that.)

      But I’m much more than worried. Kim and I have endeavored to self-isolate. (It can be difficult because people, reasonable, intelligent people, don’t believe us.) I had to use a tape-measure as a foil to keep one of my tenants from getting too close to me. He thought it was all a big joke. “Joke or not, big fella, that’s as close as you fucking get.” (SERIOUSLY. I am not making this up. I was poking him in the stomach with the end of my industrial sized tape measure, pushing him back.)

      We don’t have anything yet, (Kim or myself), that we know of, don’t want to get it if we don’t have it already, and don’t want to give it to anyone if we do have it. I haven’t seen my mother or father in two weeks and it looks like it may be a much longer interim before I do—-if ever. But it looks to me like one big, giant, global crap-shoot. Half of us will get it in the next few months. Of those, about half will have a severe case, of those about half will have a life-threatening case, of those, perhaps one-third will die. And worse yet, it’s a hard way to die, and it appears to be a virus, and for those of you who are still reading, while viruses often mutate, they tend to become more virulent, not less so. And some people are saying you can get a lessor version of it after the initial infection.

      I suspect that, because it’s a virus, eventually everyone will get it. Kim and I both had a terrible flu late last year. Just a regular but nasty flu. (We assume.) I thought I was going to die then. (Really, I did. I lost the will to move. Can you imagine? It took 15 minutes to motivate myself to put an aspirin in my mouth, WHEN IT WAS IN MY HAND.) If this is worse than that? I don’t think I’ll make it.


      The U.S. is still way behind all other countries in its ability to test for the virus. And testing is the single most useful strategy to cope with the microbial onslaught. While our brand of political stupidity unfolds like an unedited Marx Brothers movie, the churches are closed while the grocery stores stay open, (“Who are the real saints now?” I ask. The Pastor who’s hiding in his basement? No. That cashier you’ve never talked to for two years, that’s who.)

      We are watching the disintegration of the civilized world as we know it. But we were human beings long before civilizations existed. And so we’ll survive, even if it is only in the lives and genes of our offspring, (for those of us who have any,) humanity will certainly survive. Maybe even thrive. But the world has changed forever. Perhaps this is some kind of divine intervention to save the planet from a two-legged pestilence that threatens the entire eco-system. Perhaps in the future that faces us, the remnants of this civilization will be a little more accommodating to the planet that it lives on.

      I could be wrong about all this. I sure do hope so. But, I’m good at reading peoples faces, their expressions. When I look at the faces of people who know things? On T.V.? Governors, Mayors, Congressman? Doctors? Nurses? I don’t like what I’m seeing. They look as scared as I feel.

      People. Stay home as much as possible. If you go out, don’t leave your car, don’t touch anyone or any thing, keep your distance. The most susceptible people are the ones you love. Give them a chance. Give us all a chance.

      • Roy York
        Well written commentary, maybe you should have your own column.


        • Roy,

          Well, like I said, they can take it down if they like. I’m okay with that. It was well-intentioned. There are other places I could post it and replace it with a link. #snowflake; #pessimist; #youbonedusCaptain.

          Hell, I’m hoping they do delete it.

      • I certainly won’t mind if people need to vent here, tell a personal story, share your fears. We need each other at times like these.
      • I don’t see why we would take this down Ken, we are all friends here (I am literally closer to some of the writers in this group than actual face to face humans I interact with).
        We’ve always wanted this to be an open forum. I think the only time we’ve ever objected is if someone just posts bashing posts for the sake of being a prick lol. (Me included, there have been comments that I went back and deleted because I realized they served no purpose other than to rile people up.)

        It is scary stuff going on in the world. I’m hoping that when all is said and done, there will be a better sense of community and value for the things most of us have taken for granted.

        Stay safe and healthy everyone!!!!

        • Carrie,

          Those are good words, Carrie. Even the funny ones. (‘…closer to some of the writers in this group than actual face to face humans I interact with.)

          I realize I’m not one of them, but I like to think we’re all friends too. At least colleagues. But… I’ve pissed off a fair number of friends with my ‘unique’ brand of unsophisticated candor.

          No, I was just mortified at the thought of revealing my soft underbelly of vulnerability to this shark-infested tank of gnashing erstwhile authors. In other words, I lowered my shields for a moment. I don’t like to do that, unless a cat is involved.

          Also, my comments seemed a bit alarmist. But now, I don’t know. The uncertainty surrounding this virus is a source of much anxiety, which only goes away when you think about other things and forget about the goddamned thing. (Ride On Josephine, Baby Ride On.) A little music helps too. The news doesn’t always help, but no news would be worse.

          I’m a big fan of humanity, I guess. I may not live forever, but I’m really stuck on this species, and always pulling for them despite their flaws, prejudice, world-wide conflicts and cruelty to cows. Anyway, I appreciate your comments.

          p.s. Alice called my ass ornery. I feel really good about that. (I’m making real in-roads with her. You’re next.)

          • Phil Town
            “I’m a big fan of humanity, I guess.”

            Me too, in theory. Problem is, the world isn’t run by humanity but by a bunch of corrupt, self-interested, dangerous monsters (with a few exceptions), corporations, and very, very rich … I want to say ‘people’?

            The world would be much better off with us out of the way, if you ask me.

    • Signing in for comments. Don’t think I’ll get a story in this week, but I’d like to vote. Be well all!
  • Adrienne Riggs
    Signing in for comments.
  • How apropos -especially here in the Sierra… power…no phones.. ahh..hmm there’s something else… what could it be… begins with a C….
    • Stay safe Liz, hope you’re able to churn out a story.
  • Signing in for the next turn of stories. There’s not much else to do for the next fortnight, may as well write. Hmm ,,, Liz, it can’t be C for computer. C for Coors … no that’s not it, there’s probably plenty of that … Oh wait … it’s gotta be Covid-19 or it’s other generic name, Corona virus. May it never get to where you are, but don’t count on it. It’s only a millennial away returning from spring break.


  • Signing in for comments!
    I seem to have lost my writing mojo of late, but at least I can read the stories!
    • Signing in. Could not even vote too much going on. Didn’t even get to read all the stories so could not even vote. This time I’m hoping to finish writing my story.
  • Phil Town
    Sorrysorry, Alice & Carrie! Once again … 🙁

    Please delete the piece above and this message.

  • Phil Town


    “Come on! Get a grip on yourself. It’s only a party.”

    “Yeah, but all those people …”

    “Well d’uh! Party. People. They kinda go together, don’t they?”

    “Suppose so.”

    “So come on. Snap out of it. Get out of the car, walk up the path, ring the bell.”

    “Maybe I’ll just stay here a few minutes.”

    “Jesus wept! Get. Out. Of. The. Car!”

    “All right, all right. I’m going. Now where did I put that bottle? That’s strange. I could have sworn I brought a bottle of wine from the house.”

    “You put it in the boot, remember?”

    “Ah, yeah, that’s right. I forgot. My old brain cells …”

    “You didn’t forget. It’s an old trick. Sub-conscious playing-for-time.”

    “Maybe. Now, in case I get stopped on the way home, I’ll just check that I’ve got my car documents in the glove–“

    “Don’t you dare! GET OUT OF THE CAR!”

    “Okay, okay. Here goes.”

    “That’s my boy. Now lock the door. That’s right. Open the boot. Take the wine. Close the boot. And up the path. Good. One foot in front of the other. Left, right, left, right, left, right.”

    “I’m doing it! I’m doing it! Ah, this isn’t as diff– oh, but hang on. Did I lock the car door?”

    “Yes! Yes! You locked the door!”

    “I’m not so sure. Maybe I’ll just go back and check.”

    “You don’t need to … ah, all right. Go back and check if it makes you feel better.”

    “It will. I’ll be worrying about it all evening if I don’t check. So … okay, I did lock it.”

    “Told you so.”

    “But those documents …”

    “You just try it!”

    “Humour me.”

    “For God’s sake!”

    “Let’s see … yes they’re all here.”

    “Okay, now close the glove compartment. That’s it. And close the door. Right. Repeat after me: I have closed the glove compartment and the car door.”

    “I’ve closed the glove compartment and the car door.”

    “What did you say?”

    “I’ve closed the glove compartment and the car door.”

    “Will you remember?”

    “I will remember.”

    “So … shall we go up the path now?”

    “I …”

    “Just get up that path, you sorry excuse for a man!”

    “Oh, that’ll make me feel better.”

    “You ask for it sometimes.”

    “You’re supposed to support me, not insult me.”

    “It’s for your own good.”

    “Hmmm … so, here we go again. Left, right, left, right, left … hang on! Did I lock the–?”

    “What the– ?!)”

    “Just kidding. Got you that time.”

    “Very funny.”

    “Well, it sounds like the party’s in full swing.”

    “That’s good, isn’t it?”

    “Well, it means it’s probably rammed with … people.”

    “We’ve already gone there. It’s a bloody party!”

    “But you don’t understand. People means you have to speak to them, or they’re watching you, or you have to be pushed up close to them.”

    “But a LOT of people means you can get by without speaking to them – just drift through the rooms, looking like you’re heading somewhere with intent. And they’ll be watching each other, not you necessarily. And who’d want to watch you anyway?”


    “Just kidding.”


    “And you can find yourself a little corner and maybe talk to their cat, or hover round the bookshelves consulting their collection, or do what you always do – stand in the kitchen.”

    “Yeah . ‘You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties’.”

    “Good song.”

    “It was.”

    “Or, you know … you could just speak to people.”


    “So, ring the bell then.”

    “I could phone them and say something came up.”

    “You’re joking, right?”

    “They wouldn’t know any different.”

    “You’re here now. Just ring the bell!”

    “Okay! Okay! Here goes … ding dong.”

    “Avon calling!”

    “You always say that.”

    “I know. I am a creature of habit, I must admit.”

    “Someone’s coming. Wish me luck.”


    “Hi, Deirdre! How are you?”


    “Well, that wasn’t so bad.”

    “You had a great time, admit it!”

    “All right, it was better than I expected.”

    “As always.”

    “I think Deirdre likes me.”

    “There you go.”

    “She told me to ring her in the week.”

    “And if you’d stayed at home?”

    “That wouldn’t have happened.”

    “And so …?”

    “Better out than in.”

    “You’ve got it.”

    “And Tommy invited me to his house-warming next weekend.”

    “You see!”

    “I’m dreading it already.”


    • Ken Frape
      Hi Phil,

      Nice to get back into the swing of writing. The other Ken (C, that is not M) would never forgive me if I miss this prompt, so I will have to get cracking.

      An excellent piece of dialogue that conveys real people having a conversation. In fact, exactly how it should sound. Easy to say but quite hard to achieve.In the opening sequences I can actually see, in my head, as this situation unfolds.

      We learn quite a bit about both characters but actually you give us very little. Gender? Unknown. Is there a diagnosed problem here? Unknown. Everything else we have to work for and that’s great writing.

      In the kitchen at parties. If I am not mistaken it is one of just two songs written and performed by Jonah Louis who did Stop The Cavalry too. If I am wrong I’m sure someone will know.

      Great stuff, Phil.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • Ilana Leeds
        Lively dialogue there Phil. Had me intrigued. Always enjoy your tete a tete
      • Ken Frape,

        I disagree Ken. (I really miss disagreeing with the other Ken, but you’ll do for now.) (I’m a little worried about him. He came in at the bottom last week, I came in two spots above him. When you come in that far down, it feels like people are telling you to shut up. At other times, there’s no doubt. But… that story sucked, and sometimes, it’s just your turn to be on the bottom. But Ken Miles is spunky, resilient and probably working on a killer story, or laid up in bed with the flu or something. I hope it’s nothing serious.) I hate to tell you guys this,(let’s all lean in) but I’m an expert at spotting intelligence. (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually have too much of it myself, I’m more like one of those pointer dogs.) And my pointer sense points right at Ken Miles. That guy’s got genius-level intellect. I don’t know if he knows it or not. Probably not. But, I’m pretty sure about that. But I digress.

        Back to Phil’s story.

        Now I disagree.
        I suspect that this is one person talking to himself. A man with two personalities. (and one is a woman?) I wonder if Phil’s been cavorting with Una?

        I put them in my comment to Phil. Hahahaha. I read your comment BTW and, Yes, I would never forgive you if you missed this prompt, and let me remind you Ken, forever is a long stretch o’ time.
        ‘Forever, Is a Long Stretch Of Time.’
        Sounds like a title to something. (A cowboy musical, about Jesus?)
        (How did you know it was my prompt?)

        • Ken Miles
          I’m here, I’m here!!

          I see you’ve been looking for me Capitano Cartisano… : -)

          I was ill these past days (no not the big one!), and only now I’m (almost) back to my usual self… just to find out that the most popular word in the world has become “virus”. Sounds like everyone’s saying virus in just about ever sentence. Whether they are talking about buying toilet paper or going to church.

          What? Have I been holding my cellphone upside down for all this time? So that’s why nobody congratulated me for winning last week’s contest!

          You were right Ken, comedy is risky business. Maybe that had something to do with the poor showing. But I’m still fond of that story, regardless. And I think you liked it too, right?

          Btw, belated congrats to Phil – NAH-WAH-WHAT-WHY-NOT was my fave choice too and got my number one vote. So I’m pleased to see it up there where it belongs!

          Ah your intelligence spotting talent, Ken – well I won’t comment, since I’m myself the object of your analysis (so perhaps just slightly biased!)

          I’ll just say that for some reason, while I don’t underestimate intelligence, I value humor and entertainment above anything else. Not to say that intelligence and entertainment have to be at odds with each other. Not at all. We’re probably on the same page there.

          I’ll be posting a story from, now that I’ve weathered my storm and my fingers are strong enough again. So watch this spot!

          Thanks for looking out for me, mate – it feels good being sought after :-o) Same return feelings here.


          • Hey Ken,

            Glad to see you survived whatever it was you survived.

            Yup. Comedy is risky business. The poor response to your story proves, that your judgement about your stories is irrelevant. I didn’t like it. Out of all the stories of yours that I’ve read, this was clearly the worst one. (It was better than a lotter of other stories, in the contest, but it was your personal worst, in my opinion. (Don’t look at me like that.) Do yourself a favor, and don’t write anymore stories like that. Unless you have to.

            So ,,, you liked Phil’s story? ‘Wah Tah Pot A Wee Ma Wok A Wee Ma Way?’ I think. I didn’t like that one either. Too perfect. I hate perfection. It’s ; not funny. I shouldn’t say I hate perfection, I would rather say, I don’t believe in it. It’s like a unicorn, made out of nachos, with radular ring-tones. Doesn’t really exist. He who pursueth it, goeth in perpetuum futilitas. (Whatever that means.)

            So, Nah, I had his ranked waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down in second or third. That’s because , I don’t remember, I think his cousin insulted me. Said I had a head shaped like a cucumber. Which is not true, by the way. Something like that. I was like, “Really? Does my head look like a cucumber?” And he was like, “What is it with you and cucumbers? How long have you had this obsession?” So… And I don’t, I have no cucumber addiction or obsession, I don’t even like cucumbers, this whole thing is being blown out of proportion.

            Long story short? I took a point or two off for his cousins cucumber comments.

            So where was I? Oh yeah. Intelligence spotting. Yup. Well, you don’t believe it, so let’s just leave it at that. (Besides, geniuses are not all they’re cracked up to be. Even if it were true, I wouldn’t go around bragging about it. If I were you.)

            Humor and Entertainment are pretty noble pastimes. I think I knew this. So I recognized it as soon as I read it. That should help me remember it. Although, you know, maybe it won’t.

            Glad to see you back Ken.
            p.s. any word from Una?

      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Ken! You’re always so positive/encouraging … it’s very much appreciated.

        Yes, the song is that one, and you’re right – he did the ‘Cavalry’ one too.

        I did actually write this as an interior dialogue, but then also pictured an imp on the protagonist’s shoulder – urging, scolding.

        The gender of the protagonist could be any, but I wrote it as a ‘he’ (“That’s my boy.”)

        Thanks again!

        • Phil Town
          (That was to Ken F … and ended up here at the bottom …)
    • Phil, *****Spoiler A-Lert.******

      This dialogue does not sound ‘natural’ to me. (Know what I’m sayin’?)

      This doesn’t really sound like a couple. (Unless they have a very open and conversely dysfunctional relationship.) They sound intimate, but there is no evidence of affection whatsoever. In fact, there’s no physical description of the characters except that the weaker one is a man. So, we presume he has a wife. That’s when I became suspicious.

      She sounds more like a coach.

      The stronger personality constantly exhorts the weaker character to do things and never does anything ‘herself.’ She doesn’t even reach out to ring the damned doorbell. No, she makes the weaker character do everything. She oversees and comments (supposedly) on his every move. Even his steps to the door. Counting them out. That’s not natural, unless it’s in your head. Like when you have a split personality. Some might say this is a minor personality disorder? Maybe? I suppose that’s possible. Whatever, I’m no expert on that.

      I guess it’s possible this is just an ordinary dysfunctional couple, but I believe there is only one character in this story, a man with two personalities. Am I wrong? Mr. Town? (Don’t disappoint me, Phil. We’ve not been through so much together.)

      This is the kind of stuff that makes this group so interesting.

      • [continuing Ken C’s spoiler alert]

        I agree. Sort of. maybe not so much two personalities, I think, as an internal voice challenging the guy’s up-front overthinking and fearfulness. He might have been having coaching or counselling, or reading books, and trying to internalise the advice and put it inot practice.
        ‘He’, I say – but this may alternatively be a ‘she’, even with the chosen genders of Deirdre and Tommy. So maybe could be either, or somewhere in between or off to the left. A kind of everyperson weathering the storm of their social terrors.
        A bit like me when I join in a writing group … which way are the drinks?

        Good writing, Phil. I actually like this story rather more than your one last week. Less punchline, more psychological substance.More to chew on after the feast.

        Now, can an inner monologue win the ‘best dialogue’ award?
        Actually, I think you’ve done that once before ….

        • Andy,

          Oh I agree with you. It could easily be just an inner voice, something I think that many of us have to varying degrees. But the main point is: I think there is only one character in Ken’s story. That was my main point.

          • Andy, Correction to previous reply to your comment. ‘I think there is only one character in ‘Phil’s’ story.

            So far, there isn’t a Ken’s story. Not one. Despite all the Ken’s. No stories.

            What do all these Ken’s do with their time? Are they part of some international ring of professional procrastinators? Toilet tissue ‘Terminators?’
            Licensed lolly-laggards?

            I don’t have an idea yet. I may just write 1200 words and stop. See what I end up with. Start with myself as an infant. Blue walls, paint, plum door, gold letters. Icicles. Snow. Freezing. Dead people, highways. A very large nemesis. Palm trees. Aliens. Cubans. French people. Bicycles. Girls. Art. Football. Black people. School. Music. Football. That takes me up to 14 years old. This is easy, but boring. (I mentioned football twice. I know.)


            I haven’t seen Una in a while. (I’ll draw her out… watch this.)

            Una. Una (Moona) Poole. Cerebral Kotex. Funny? Or not?

          • Ken, that’s very ingenious of you to claim the ownership for Phil’s story. Every success has many fathers, as they say.
            Less openly, I was actually the author of Phil’s last story, did you know that? But my natural modesty didn’t allow me take the credit.

            Not sure who wrote my last one in the end…. anyone going to own up? Was that Una?

    • Peter Holmes
      Dialogue is tough to use constantly but you’ve cracked it, awesome story Phil
    • Ken Frape

      I can see how this could be interpreted as one person having an internal conversation. That works too.

      Ken Frape

    • Liz Fisher
      I thin Ken C is write is an inner dialogue and becomes very relatable and understandable in that context..
    • Sarig Levin
      Good one, Phil. Curious to know whether the protagonist is based on someone you know or just pure creativity and imagination. Could use some more dialogue, though 😉
    • Phil – enjoyed the all-dialogue back and forth of your story. Plus it was amusing, which counts for a lot right now!
    • Phil,

      I waited a day or two and reread this. It read the same. I’m not in the camp that it’s one person talking to themselves, but I could easily be persuaded that it is. The dialogue is crisp and I sorta guess it’s an unusual take on the prompt. Liked it though, and don’t have any quibbles. Then, going back to re-read it looking for something else, I might be persuaded it’s the subconscious talking to the conscious. Maybe. Good job. Phil.

      • Phil Town
        Thanks to everyone for your kind comments. I was going to reply to all, but the first time I did it (to Ken F) the comment finished up mid-page and lost. So … yes … thanks, and for an answer to my personal take on who the two characters are, please see my comment to Ken F.

        (Not that anyone will be reading this thread days after it closed …)

    Jack McDaniel

    It bleeds.

    It cracks and splits and coughs up a pailful of opaque life that can only surrender its fate. Through open windows and shop doors, from factory chimneys and sewer lines—from anything that remains—the city bleeds and cries out in anguish as it is swallowed whole. The cries go unheard by everyone except those who call her home. For us, the sufferers who prop up the bones of the city against the darkness, who count the seconds between bombardments, there is only the hope we can muster, however feeble it may be.

    We emerge after days into darkness that has succumbed to fire and ruin. A yellow light, possibly a generator that refuses to quit, peaks through the blackened windows in one of the few remaining buildings not far away. Quickly it is extinguished.
    “Perhaps we should go there,” says Elizabeth.

    “Or maybe we should run the other direction. Too much of an announcement to be safe.”

    “It was brief. It would look like a fire from above.” Fires burn all around. But I know what Elizabeth seeks, that others remain—aside from the two of us.

    She is more certain than I am regarding the light. I am immobile, growing roots in the rubble and detritus of Dresden. Behind is the flattened house where we hid. The cellar saved us but not the others who took shelter in its womb. I can’t look back. The effort to leave drained me of my will. Looking back only invites defeat and death.

    “Forward it is, then.”

    She grabs my hand as we pick our way through and around debris. She displays amazing intent even though her fear, as mine, has to be overriding.

    It seems no part of this beautiful city has been spared. I wonder about the Altstadt—the old town—if it is pummeled and flattened completely will Dresden’s culture be reborn? After the madness is it possible to return to anything that was before?

    Until a couple days ago, I worked in one of the factories that supported the German war effort. It wasn’t a choice but an obligation. Age—mine is advanced—becomes irrelevant when the world needs conquering. I did my part, as they say, but my heart wasn’t in it.

    There is a droning of engines overhead. I pull Elizabeth toward the old town hall and we cower down at the corner of the building. There is no other cover. She shakes, as do I. We close our eyes and huddle together. In my mind, I look upon her naked body—smooth skin, round breasts—and run a hand up her side. If I’m to die here I want my last thoughts to be filled with joy. Better to depart the world in celebration than in a whimper. I am older, as I said, the thought of death is nothing strange. But she should have many years yet to live. She is far too young for me, as I told her many times in the weeks before the bombing. But times like these create unions that seek their own balance and meaning, even though they defy social mores or logic.

    The engines grow louder overhead. A friend, lost now, once told me that the planes were already past by the time you can hear them clearly. I hope he was correct. If not, I’ll badger the old bastard on the other side.

    I put my hand on top of Elizabeth’s head and instinctively pull her closer. The smell and feel of her hair fills my senses and rekindles the daydream. For a moment I lose myself to it.

    Small bits of the building crumble and fall down on us, breaking my reverie.

    “If we weather this storm,” I say, “I want to spend as much time as possible together.”

    She presses her hand to my chest. “Not if, when,” she whispers and shakes.

    Dust falls, residue from the fires and bombs, and a light layer settles upon us. The war is trying to bury us again, I think. If it can’t put us six feet under at once it will do so slowly. Or perhaps gravity is attempting to shield us.

    A man, the first we’ve seen since emerging from the bombed out house, is coming down the street, illuminated by firelight. He is middle-aged and trots down the center of the road, dodging debris, seemingly oblivious to the aircraft above. He is light, nimble, completely at odds with the world. He laughs hysterically.

    Elizabeth raises her head and watches with me. The man almost dances now. I feel his lunacy. He is part of the city bleeding out. He is hope lost. I watch him pass by and try to wrestle reality from the absurdity. But it is a never-ending circle—the reality is absurd and the absurd our reality. Is it any wonder the world has crumbled?

    The planes, I notice suddenly, have passed overhead. The sky is getting lighter. We get up and look about. I make an effort to brush the fallen ash and dust from Elizabeth, an absurd act in itself. We walk on in thinning darkness. My legs shake—the weakness of an old man, perhaps, but more, I think, an anticipation. The bombs have dropped non-stop for days. My body and mind expect more of them. But the skies are quiet, only bricks tumble asynchronously from the few remaining edifices.

    Fires rage. There are screams and somewhere nearby a dog barks.

    I stop walking and Elizabeth turns toward me until she notices my gaze and follows it. An old woman runs from the fire that is raging only a few yards away. In her arms is a bundle. She trips and stumbles and the bundle flies toward us. I rush to the woman but she has died on the spot, either asphyxiation or the severe burns she suffered.

    Elizabeth pushes her overwhelming fear aside and picks up the bundle. It is a blanket, burned, singed and torn in places, but otherwise undamaged. She unwraps it. I swallow my foreboding, uneasy at the prospect. At last the blanket reveals to us a small baby, a boy, alive and healthy. Elizabeth wraps it up again and pulls it to her bosom as if it is her own, which now it is.

    People are everywhere now, glassy-eyed, broken people, emerging from purgatory into hell. We help where we can but mostly we walk in file westward, all of us. Away.

    Our city has bled out. I can see there are no bones left to prop up, only rubble. We, the lucky who survived, can only weep. The question of culture and whether it can be rebuilt is irrelevant, absurd. Anything that comes after will be new, different.

    Elizabeth holds the baby in one arm and grabs ahold of mine as we walk. She isn’t shaking any longer. She has purpose. I realize we are three now, a family. One day I will look back at this absurd reality and think, I am the man dancing down the road. But not for a lack of hope, quite the opposite, I think.

    • Phil Town
      This is beautiful stuff, Jack. Your choice of vocabulary paints a vivid, awful picture, and also gives us the equally awful soundscape: “It cracks and splits and coughs up a pailful of opaque life.” Given the destruction, one would expect hopelessness to be the overriding sentiment, and it’s there in … pailfuls … but you’ve also found a little spark of hope in the relationship between the couple, and then what they find; there IS the chance of a bright future. I love how, in the midst of all this horror, one of your protagonists can feel sexual desire; it’s not a reaction we would expect, and so is very memorable. A couple of things: the use of ” ‘If we weather this storm,’ I say,” to reference the theme is a little forced, I think; more natural here would be something like “If we ever get out of this…”. And the verb is ‘peek’ in this context. But that’s taking little away from a terriifc piece of writing.

      About the Dresden bombings … according to Wikipedia (pinch of salt, etc …) around 25,000 people, mainly civilians, died. The Allies (read Britain and the US) could have been more selective with their targets (factories, bridges) but blanket bombed the centre of the city. Yes, the Germans were guilty of similar aerial atrocities (e.g. the Blitz on London), but two wrongs don’t make a right; this was a shameful moment in British/American history.

    • “I saw the destruction of Dresden. I saw the city before and then came out of an air-raid shelter and saw it afterward, and certainly one response was laughter. God knows, that’s the soul seeking some relief.”
      ― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

      It’s hard to know how a person would react to the unimaginable horror of living through in such a situation. Or how they would write about it – the dilemma of which partly underpins Slaughterhouse Five. It’s quite a brave topic to tackle in fiction, and I especially like the way the story is constructed to emphasise the hope of new life coming, literally, out of the ruins.
      The language is quite poetic, and well-placed repetition of words at beginning and end gives a rounded feeling to the story. The absurdity of it all and in particular of the man dancing down the road brought the Vonnegut quote to mind. Powerful and evocative writing, capturing the humanity of the characters at the centre.

      Having said that, I struggled a bit with the opening of the story. I may be suffering from poetic-deficiency at the moment, but I found the rush of mixed metaphors and conceits a little over the top.
      And I stumbled over the use of pronouns. ‘It’ seems to morph to ‘her’ in referring to the city (?). I struggled to see who the ‘her’ referred to at first, prompting several rereads of the first sentences. And it seems there’s a couple of prepositions missed out in the early paragraphs, interrupting the flow (“surrender its fate”, “run the other direction”).

      It also seems to me there are two voices in the narration. The main character’s POV, then a more modern narrator who intrudes a couple of times to talk more abstractly about the culture of Dresden, which seems out of place for the first shock of witnessing the destruction.

      Having said that, there’s a lot to love here as overall the writing is superb – I would just be tempted to tone down the beginning (though Phil loves it) and smooth out a few wrinkles that cause the reader to stumble.

      The title: Opaqueness – Opacity?

    • Peter Holmes
      This is amazingly emotive, so well written. The last few paragraphs got to me
    • Liz Fisher
      It’s real… I don’t know how it became real for you Jack…but it is real life while reading
    • Sarig Levin
      Wow…amazing writing there, Jack. I mean, your use of language is superb and paints the most brilliant and thought-provoking images. I personally am not bogged down by an abundance of metaphors and other elaborate uses of writing tropes. On the contrary, it adds to the surrealism that must dominate the mindset of people at the first moment of having had survived, against all odds, such unimaginable atrocities.
    • Very well written story, Jack. And, very real. You do tend to write fiction a little heavier than I do, but your descriptions are vivid, and provoking. Sometimes I feel you are a little too heavy with them. It’s something I’ve been warned about in the past by well meaning author friends, who call it ‘blue prose’. However, it won’t stop me from looking forward to reading your work.

      It’s funny how you describe how you became a writer. I was ill a few years back, confined to a wheelchair for months and one of the few places I found solace was at the computer. I wrote a fictional Christmas piece about my grandchildren and put them in the story and gave it to them as a Christmas present. One they could keep and hand down forever. I was encouraged to publish it which I did, and now I enjoy writing possibly as much as anything I’ve ever done in my life.

      You took the story of Dresden, which you could not possibly have been at, having had a daughter born 23 years ago. Well, you could, I suppose, but damn, that would be some feat. Anyway, you made it a charming love story in the middle of death and destruction, with a beautiful piece of writing.

  • Ken Frape
    Hi Jack,

    I have not seen your work previously and I have missed the last couple of weeks. Are you new to this group or a returning writer?

    Anyway, whatever the answer, you are a first class writer and this is a powerful and evocative piece about the unfortunate victims of war. I suppose this story could have been set in one of many major cities in World War 2, London especially and more or less my home town or region. I was born twelve miles from the centre of London. I used to walk across a bombsite on my way to school in the early 1950s.

    I particularly like the image of the city bleeding out, as the bombs drain the life out of the buildings and the people.

    Also, the imagery is very powerful and the way the people reappear from underground, like ants, after the bombing, is great. Life ( and culture) will go on. New baby = hope.

    Finally, the city being bombed was Dresden so the victims were German civilians not British. That really made me think. If I remember correctly ( and I haven’t looked this up to fact check) wasn’t this one of the targets of the Allied leader Bomber Harris and his infamous Thousand Bomber raids. I think he came in for a lot of criticism for the scale of civilian casualties. I used to be the headteacher in a school built on the site of one of the runways used for these missions in Lincolnshire, UK. The bomber that took off from there was a two engine Manchester and it was barely airworthy. Got shot to pieces but managed to complete its mission before crashing in Belgium. The pilot got all of his crew out before crashing. He was awarded the VC and my school was named after him, Leslie Manser. He was just 20.

    Man’s inhumanity to man seems to know no bounds.

    Great writing and I look forward to reading a lot more of your work.

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape

    There are three Ken’s in the group

    • Hey, Ken
      You are correct, the Allies took a lot of heat over Dresden. Not new here, Carrie and I go back a long way now. I’ve just been busy writing novels etc. Your school name and how it came to be is a story in itself!
      • Jack,

        Very fine, exemplary writing. And, an honest, even if unflattering glimpse into the baser instincts of human nature. In spite of the most dire circumstances: Physical attraction, the need for human company, the maternal instinct to nurture and protect. This is a fine piece of writing for its psychological insight as well as the clarity of its description. It immerses you in the story. Impressive, any way you look at it.

  • Ilana Leeds
    Very evocative and descriptive writing. Struck a chord.
  • Adrienne Riggs
    Thank you to all who are able to write stories! The last batch was amazing and Phil, you ROCK! The stories are entertaining and if only for a brief moment, I can focus on something other than the C-word and the rest of storms in my life right now. This is the perfect prompt for my life right now but I’m not weathering the storms well.

    I received a call last week. The nursing home where my mother resides managed to break her leg. She is in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t move on her own, she doesn’t talk anymore, she sleeps most of the time and somehow, they managed to break the femur in her left leg. She can’t tell us what they did to her and I received 3 different stories from the nursing home. They are in full cover-up and defense mode.

    They didn’t notify the State as required (I notified them – that’s how I know) and then the Director of Nursing (DON) had the gall to brag to me how they had just completed their state survey with “NO deficiencies.” They broke Mom’s leg on the last day of the survey and still didn’t notify the State.

    Of course, the nursing home is on lock down because of the C-word. I did get in to see her the day of the incident and it was traumatic. A person’s thigh is not meant to be bent in half. Because of Mom’s advanced condition, the C-word, and her living will – we are limited in the interventions that could be done to reset the bone which was overlapping. They’ve immobilized her leg in a full-leg immobilizer and will let it heal as it is (the immobilizer has aligned the bone somewhat close to where it is supposed to be.)

    Mom is now not eating well. She is losing weight and we can’t get to her. My trust in the facility is down to 0 since I can’t get a straight story out of them and I can’t stand being lied to. My brother has an attorney on stand-by.

    Daddy, whose whole life for the past 10 years, has been to go and sit with Mom every single day, Is now stuck at home, alone, due to his age and the C-word. (He and Mom have been married for 59 years.) He fell on the last day at the nursing home when they told him he couldn’t stay. He wasn’t seriously injured, but his mobility is iffy on the best of days. Due to his forced confinement at home, he is losing his mobility rapidly. He can still get around the house but he has not been outside and is not sure he can drive now. My kids and I are taking food and things to him like we have been anyway, but he is in a deep depression and is talking about how he “isn’t sure he’s going to make it.” He calls me (no joke) 30-50 times a day. I keep trying to reassure him.

    My son, who was on disability, and has several auto-immune disorders and brittle diabetes, is forced to go out and work every single day where he is in contact with people from all over. I am covering him in prayer because his body would not be able to handle the C-word.

    I have been assigned to work from home (which is a blessing) since early March. That has now been extended until April 24th for all State employees. While I have enjoyed working from home, the walls are beginning to close in. I feel trapped and frustrated and helpless because I can’t get to Mom, can’t do what I need to do for Daddy who is alone, etc.

    I’m very close to just sit here and cry into my computer, but work calls and I must not give in. I’m so tired, I just want to sleep and make the world go away.

    Instead, I will have Alexa play some soothing music for me and the work will go on. Thank you for letting me vent! I’m the head of the household here and it is so hard for me to keep up a strong front for everyone here in the house. Thank you for allowing me this moment of weakness to express my fears.

    Please keep writing! I’m reading!

    Please be safe and stay healthy! Hugs and prayers. Adi

    • Ken Frape
      Dear Adrienne,

      This is a desperately sad story. No one should have to carry such a burden but, sadly, it is all too common in these days of inadequate social care. My mum is 96 and living unhappily in a residential care home since my dad died with vascular dementia four years ago. Mum is fed up with her life, increasingly deaf and thus cut off from fellow residents. My two brothers and I, one aged 71 , one 74 and unwell and myself, 69, visit as often as possible but I am 150 miles away and we can’t visit now anyway.

      However, you are really shouldering such a burden that far outweighs any of my concerns. You must look at ways to keep yourself healthy both physically and mentally. It might be time spent alone, or with a book, or meditating, or singing or, dare I say it, writing short stories of around 1200 words.

      I take comfort from the words I heard recently on TV. Someone said, re. the C word, “This will pass.” Hopefully we will be there to see it.

      In your case though, you are not having a moment of weakness by having a rant. Holding out your hand to ask for help is not a sign of weakness. Quite the opposite.

      My thoughts are with you,

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape.

      • Adrienne Riggs
        Thanks Ken, for your words of comfort. I appreciate them a great deal!

        Right after I posted, the nursing home called. Mom is now running a temp of 100.6 and is congested. She is barely eating. They wanted to send her to the ER. We are caught between a rock and a hard place. Mom has a living will which prohibits any interventions since she has no quality of life. Why send her out in the cold and rain to be bounced around in an ambulance with a broken leg into an environment seething with germs and infections when they can’t do anything for her anyway (no surgery, no feeding tube, no ventilator, no respirator, etc.)?

        I’m not concerned about COVID. She’s been locked down at the nursing home and they have no diagnosed cases. I am concerned about infection from the leg and aspiration because she is having to stay in bed, even when being fed. I have a strong feeling that this is not going to end well. Mom is tired, she has fought hard. Daddy is not taking things well.

        Anyway, thanks again for the thoughts and kind words!!

        • Adi, I’m so sorry to hear of everything you are facing right now. With your Mom having a broken leg, sick and tired and Dad not taking things well, and on top of that your worry for your son…I’m so sorry…I hope the many stories on this site will give you a respite, however brief, from these pressing worries…
      • Phil Town
        Força, Adi (as they say here).

        (I have a pretty calm life at the moment, so I think it’s you who “rocks”, really.)

    • Wishing you well in this difficult time on many fronts, Adi

      And I hope you find time to write as well as read. The last couple of stories of yours that I’ve read I thought were stunning.

      • Adrienne Riggs
        Thanks Andy! In my frame of mind right now, I’m sure that anything I would try to write would be depressing and a disaster. lol
  • Side note: in response to Ken’s comment regarding fiction vs non-fiction stories… (I apologize if this has been addressed, I wanted to get my thoughts out before they scattered to the wind and didn’t read through the previous comments.)

    Even though this is a fiction writers group, I personally and I know others have submitted stories that were non-fiction. My Elephant in the Room story was basically a real life experience I tweaked for better story telling. My “Can you Help a Brother Out” story about my sister grooming a Bald Eagle on the Mississippi River was 100% true.

    I feel like sometimes a story just needs to be written and isn’t necessarily always fiction. You wouldn’t know those were non-fiction stories unless I told you.

    I feel extremely confident that Alice would agree with me – we just want you to write.
    We prefer fiction but really, this group is dedicated to making ALL OF US better writers.

    If you want to submit a non-fiction story, no one will delete it or penalize you for it.

    Especially in these scary times, writing can be an emotional outlet and a way to express fears we don’t want to actually face or admit to.

    Just write.

    • Might a great prompt. Creative non-fiction can be incredible to read and rewarding to write. There is something about knowing the story is true that can connect us on deeper levels. All perspectives are unique and they wisest amongst us find value in them and learn from them.

      When my daughter was born (23 years ago) I started writing a series of personal essays about our lives together. Some of them appeared in various magazines, but most were just for me, or I would post them on my website. Last year, when she got married, she asked me to put them together in a book for her. I did. She has said it’s the best gift ever.

    • I do agree and my thoughts are fiction is almost always based on reality (Except the Twin story) personal or observation of events and other humans. I’m glad this came up because most everything I write is more “non” than fiction. I’ve wondered sometimes if I shouldn’t be in this group and felt like an interloper..knowing most everything I write is not really fiction…
      • We’ll never know if you don’t tell us it’s not fiction! 😉
    • I 100% agree with Carrie, feel free to express yourself as a writer, that’s what this group is for. Love you all and I am so glad to have this outlet for writers.
  • Peter Holmes

    “One of the Ugly Creatures” ~ Peter Holmes (first time writing in second person, let’s hope it pays off) (1145 word count)

    Unbearable pain. Never-ending. Once all is said and done, this pain will stare at the scorched face of the Earth and laugh, knowing it rules eternal. You gave up. You had no other choice. Nobody else can help you, you accept that. Your scars chuckle as you coil into a ball and let free the oceans of sorrow. They slither round your back, round your arms, hissing curses in your ears, murmuring truths of the lowest glory. They tell you it’s your fault. They tell you that you’ll never be good enough. They tell you every second of every minute of every hour that you’re the most pathetic person to ever breathe Earth’s air. They’re right.

    Your friends stroll past, then they begin to run, until they are flying forwards past the horizon, while you’re still coiled on the floor. They occasionally reappear, wearing affectionate facades, because it makes them feel better. They assume that talking to a dying child makes them a good person, it indulges their need to be loved, ignoring your need for a real conversation. They disregard your agony, instead forcing their own redemption through this poor old child that they care for. It’s all lies, but nobody acknowledges it. You know they’ll just leave you again once they realise that they shouldn’t be wasting precious time. You don’t blame them to be honest. You can’t be helped. You’re not worth it. You learnt that long ago.

    Your family acts the same. It’s always the same. They ask you how you’re doing. You say you’re good. It’s easier to hide it from your family, even though they live in the same house. Because that’s not really what it’s like. One corridor away, one wall between you, one door that’s wide open but seems to be locked when you try to escape. It’s more like living on a separate planet. A separate galaxy, even. A whole new galaxy and still, nobody loves you. They’re not like your friends though. Your friends have the wondrous ability to take off into the distance, surpassing your pitiful cries. Instead, you control your family. You cast them away yourself, choosing to display the figure in the glass case, the character who only stresses about exams, the boy who has fun. You’re something completely different.

    You often contemplate about how strangers view you. You avoid the outside world as much as possible, but it’s merely delaying the inevitable. You have the vivid memory of walking through a forest with your family. Some company owned area, offering a fee to anyone who longed to breathe fresh air and somehow feel better about themselves because they were tapped by the sun. You’ll never understand them. You were making your way through the trees, entering a shadowed area. You were alongside them, but you felt as if you were the ground below, not deemed fit to be above with them. You were glad to escape the glare of the sun though. It was burning your skin, blinding your eyes, rendering you even more useless than you already were. Another family trekked past you, and you made brief eye contact with another kid who looked your age. Neither of you spoke, you didn’t need to. You saw his drained eyes, the tears waiting to make their debut in this world of broken dreams and lost faith. You could tell his family hadn’t noticed since it began, but you could tell in the span of a second. You can always tell. There’s loss behind every pair of melancholic eyes. The lucky ones can move on. The rest of them are compelled to live with it. Some of them choose the way out. The way that allows them to stop living with it.

    The thing about people who face this excruciating torment is that you instantly recognise one another. Whether you want to or not, it’s natural. You feel closer to one another than you do to the people you know. You’re weathering this storm together. No. Together implies you help one another. You never try that. You know you can’t. You feel horrible about it, but who are you to fight the system? In the ceaseless battle between misery and society, who do you think wins? If you’re still not understanding, let me put it to you this way – what chance do you think an ant has against a boot? You can put up a fight for a while, you even start the battle with hope, expressing your feelings while your head is still above ground. But it always ends the same way – with you in the dirt, where you belong. You may have even dragged a couple others down with you, temporarily sharing the suffering. You know when they say that a problem shared is a problem halved? They’re lying to you. No surprise there, but you clearly haven’t learned yet. The problem evolves, implanting itself in any mind it can reach, until you have a problem that you started, but everyone else has to deal with. They’re stronger than you though, they can get out of it eventually. And then it’s just you again. You’re right back where you started – in a hole, with your friends standing around you. They look for something to help you out, but only for a few seconds, then they move on.

    But that’s just the tale of other people in pain. What about the people who aren’t going through this, but still see it? How do they see you? You never ask them, so you can’t say. You imagine it’s something along the lines of sympathy, then contentment because they showed sympathy, then moving on. They might even look at you like you’re animals in a zoo. Not one of the classic creatures that everyone comes to the zoo for, but one of the boring creatures. One of the ugly creatures. You’re disgusting, you shouldn’t treat yourself like that, you should stay in your hole, so the world doesn’t have to see you. You’ve heard it all before.

    If there really is a celestial being out there who looks over our world, and has somehow found their way to reading this, then I have one question for you. Why? You create this world, abundant in beautiful animals, plentiful in breath-taking scenery, yet you choose to spend your time fucking around with these heartbroken souls. You may judge me, but your own sins outnumber mine. I don’t think I’m ever getting out of this. This black hole that consumes joy and destroys promises. I’d beg for mercy, plead for your divine intervention, pray that you hear my story and everyone else’s. But like I said from the very beginning, I’ve accepted that you can’t help me. I’ve accepted that no matter how hard you try, this pain will reign forever.

    • A powerful piece of writing, Peter, bringing home with force the anger, isolation and sense of despair of a person in this position. The use of the second person narrative draws the reader into identifying with a person in such a depressive state of mind. Yet at the same time, the possibility of genuine understanding and empathy is rejected by the narrator.

      The middle paragraphs are very strong and well-written. Immediate, engaging, pacey and challenging with its directness for the reader. There are some really good, pithy lines too.

      The first part of the first paragraph, however, is for me a little over the top and gets a bit tangled in the metaphors. Does one coil into a ball or curl into one? One coils into a coil. The coiling suggests a snake, which links to the slithering and hissing that follow. But the “oceans of sorrow” kind of jump in the middle of that image, so we get as it stands oceans slithering. Meanwhile scars chuckle and for some reason the face of the earth is scorched while pain laughs – I think the imagery/metaphors need streamlining for better effect.

      In the last paragraph the point of view changes to first person, with God addressed as “you” instead of the reader. It’s well-written and powerful, but the jump in POV is an issue. I do like the line here “this black hole that consumes joy and destroys promises”.

      • Peter Holmes
        Much appreciated Andy. The strong expression of feelings actually comes from last year, when I was going through some rough stuff, so I’m glad I could project it into a piece of writing. I understand what you mean about the metaphors, there’s a possibility I was trying to be TOO emotional. If I ever decide to edit this in the future, I’ll remember this advice. The last paragraph was a tough one for me, because I originally wrote the whole thing in first person, then realised it would be more effective in second. Upon changing the POV, I too stared at the last paragraph and noticed an issue. I liked the last paragraph, so I didn’t want to get rid of it – so I decided to keep it in first, as if the person who was narrating was like a voice in the person’s head, and they were asking God the questions (big leap, but I took the risk).
        • Sorry to hear you went through some rough times, Peter – but great you can channel it. ‘Write about what you know’, they always say. (Hence I write about China 100 years ago …)

          Sometimes less is more in effective writing, I think. But maybe not everyone will agree. I could just be a typical repressed Brit. You know, “I’ve grown rather fond of you. More tea?” is actually a passionate declaration of love in the UK. Or, “I’m going to have to take this samurai sword out of your chest, sir. Does it hurt at all?” “Just a tad. Could you pass me another scone?” So do feel free to ignore my advice …

          Re the last paragraph. It is a good piece of writing. And if you tried just to transpose it into 2nd person, and so refer to God in the third person, it would lose its edge. But I wonder if you kept the 2nd person, and included a direct address to God as direct speech in the middle. Would that work?
          Like – “You doubt there is a celestial being out there who looks over our world, yet you cry out the question that burns inside: ‘.Why? You create this world, abundant in … (etc)'”

          • Peter Holmes
            Hope you enjoyed your time in China long ago…
            I see where you’re coming from, and you’ve definitely nailed what I was trying to go for in the last paragraph.
    • Sarig Levin
      Powerful stuff indeed. There exists a dichotomy of exasperation alongside resignation that I find fascinating. The use of the second person narrative, as Andy pointed out, does draws the reader into identifying with the protagonist. However, rejecting the possibility of genuine understanding and empathy on the side of the reader puts the depth of human imagination into question. Are we capable of fully understanding something only if we experience it ourselves? And if so, what is the point of sharing experiences, particularly as prose? I myself have been using second person narration rather extensively in order to draw the reader into the mindset of the narrator. It is a double-edged sword, though, for I find that it is also quite easy to alienate the reader altogether by ‘forcing’ experiences and points of view he/she objects to.
      • Peter Holmes
        You present some interesting points Sarig I must say. Thanks for the comment (I assume it was a compliment and not just a statement about the power of second person…). And like I said, this is my first time writing in 2nd, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the “alienating the reader” mistake is made
        • Peter – I found your last paragraph terrifically emotive and intriguing. I must admit I prefer the first person narrative to the second person. Somehow the “you” statements distance me from the writing more than “I” statements.
          • Peter Holmes
            Much appreciated Trish, emotive and intriguing is what I was going for. And that’s a new opinion, certainly interesting to hear different views on the POV.
          • Agree with Trish but powerful writing all the same.
    • Peter,

      Powerful, depressing. This story made me feel bad. There are times when I see someone in a supermarket, someone truly disadvantaged, bent, crippled, strapped to their wheelchair. And I, may God forgive me, at times am momentarily stunned at their condition, and then I have nothing to offer after that but eye contact and a friendly smile, which is what I offer most souls I meet in passing. This story, tells me what I’m feeling, but I’m not certain as to why I’m feeling this way. At first, I thought the mc was a snake. But you clearly define the character as a dying child. And one that appears to be in severe pain, as well. Perhaps this story was more cathartic than anything else, but not for me it wasn’t.

      This is not a criticism so much as an observation.

      • Peter Holmes
        Fair enough Ken, intriguing observation. I wanted to portray the emotional pain that the child was going through, sorry if it made it sound like physical pain. It was definitely cathartic for me, as it was based off me, but I can understand how weird it must feel to read.
    • Peter, very emotional story, but a bit deep and I struggled to follow it without re-reading sentences. Like this one: ‘You don’t blame them to be honest.’ I had to re-read it twice and finally understood it. I think had you written it: ‘To be honest, you don’t blame them.’ – I wouldn’t have stumbled over it. That could just be me, however.

      Then, in the last paragraph you go to first person. It’s easy to do. Being one of the few people on this site over the years who has experimented in second person, let me tell you it’s not easy and a brave move. I applaud you for it, but you need to fix the last paragraph. Good story, however. You did draw me in, and that’s what you intended to do. Well done.

      • Peter Holmes
        I completely get where you’re coming from with the sentences, maybe I should’ve spent more than an hour on it (whoops). And as I was saying earlier with Andy, the last paragraph was a tricky one for me. Thanks for commending my first try with it, much appreciated.
  • Ken Frape
    From Ken C’s prompt, Weathering the storm; “Beneath our clothes, our reputations, our pretensions, beneath our religion or lack of, we are all vulnerable both to the storm without and the storm within.”

    This seemed like a more than appropriate comment to go with my story about the three steps to the gutter.

    “Just Another Step.”

    by Ken Frape 1020 words

    The first unwelcome step is losing his job. Being let go. Made redundant. Different words do nothing to soften the blow. The repurcussions start quickly as they seek to tug him insistently downwards, spiralling towards despair, a growing darkness at the end of an ever widening shaft of fading hope. The fabric of his being, his place in society, his family, are all inextricably wrapped up in his career. His self-esteem. All gone. He’s seen it coming of course, but the economic downturn cares not who he is. Economic collateral damage. All those years of loyal service count for nothing. He can do nothing to prevent the inevitable outcome. Too many proud people desperately filling their now empty days in search of dwindling employment, zero hours contracts, stigmatised as benefit claimants, mental health malingerers, enduring anger and recrimination at home, leaving the house each morning dressed for work. Living a lie.

    His long-suffering but ultimately disloyal wife leaves. She’s been slipping away from him for some time, like their savings, incrementally, he knows that, first to her mother’s house then to her lover’s bed. And still he blames himself. His wife agrees. She deserves better, she tells him as he beats himself up and spirals on downwards. Downwards. It is his job to provide for his family and he is failing in his duty as his wife turns to another man for comfort. The comfort that should be his.

    Just another step.

    Bank account empty, savings withdrawn, mortgage unpayable. The building society pushes him further down as they prise his house from his failing grasp. He’s homeless now while his house sits empty. The ultimate insult to a fallen pillar of society, a worker, a taxpayer, a caring father. Homelessness steps forward to embrace him, an unwelcome bedfellow. At first, a warm bed in a hostel beckons but then the thefts and the violence drive him to a cardboard mattress under the flyover. A dangerous abode. Fear keeps him from sleep. Alcohol keeps him warm and numbs his sense of despair.

    Just another step.

    The children, both away at university, stay with their mother when home. Can’t be expected to stay with him, can they? He doesn’t even see them at Christmas as another desperate year draws to a close. Where will they meet him anyway? No fixed abode. Word is he’s been drinking. He’s become an embarrassment, not to be spoken of. Cross the road. Pass by on the other side. Good Samaritans are very thin on the ground in these parts. Even at Christmas. What use a pound in his hat, even if he can bear to beg?

    Just another step.

    Now, on the concrete parapet of the multi story car park, for the first time he decides to take back control of his future. It’s the last day of the year and he is determined not to endure another. He has been pushed and pulled, ridiculed and abused, ignored and blamed. His toes curl over the edge.

    “ I won’t be missed,” he tells himself.
    One pace forward towards peace and silence. Freedom from despair. That’s all it will take.
    One pace back, more of the same anger, fear, depression and shame.
    His eyes fill with tears. It’s an easy decision.

    Just another step.

    As the church bells across the city ring out their New Year greetings, his daughter, home from university for Christmas, finally makes it to the top floor of the multi-storey car park, exhausted after another night’s fruitless search. It is not the Christmas holiday her mother has planned for her. The arguments have been long and bitter.

    “But he’s still my Dad!” She declares repeatedly, vehemently, as she leaves her brother, her mother and her “new man” to carve the turkey, pull the crackers and play happy families. Now, after almost a week of searching in every corner of this mean city her rucksack is almost empty. She has posted the “Missing….have you seen this man?” posters everywhere and now, suddenly, she sees him, her father, a crumpled heap on the ground as he lies there, unconscious, or is he dead?

    “Dad!” She races across the rough concrete. He has lost his footing, or perhaps his nerve but he has fallen, nonetheless, backwards, striking his head on the concrete. The intended fatal last step forward was never taken. He can’t even do that properly, will be his response.

    She cradles her father’s head to her chest. She presses a wad of tissues to the gash on his forehead. His breathing steadies with the warmth of her embrace. His eyelids flicker open, at first unfocussed, his eyes wandering in fear, until, gradually they still with recognition. Then tears start to flow until father and daughter reunited, are sobbing and hugging.

    “I never thought I would see you again,” he cries.
    “I’m not going to give up that easily,” she replies through tears. “You’re my Dad!”

    Minutes later the reunited father and daughter sit with their backs to the wall, sharing the last of the coffee from her flask, the aroma not quite powerful enough to compete with his rancid odour but she cares not one jot for any of that.

    “I don’t know exactly how we are going to do this,“ she explains, “but you have endured your last day on the streets.” Her father looks back at her and although he too doesn’t know how, he knows he is no longer alone.
    “Right,” she says, “let’s get you sorted. Luckily for us I’ve got my car here. Come on, it’s just over here.”

    She tenderly helps her father to his feet. They slowly make their way towards her car. He stumbles at one point but she holds him up.

    “Nearly there, Dad. Just another step.”

    Ken Frape

    March 27th. 2020

    • Very well-written and touching story, Ken. A kind of ‘I Daniel Blake’ inexorable spiral downwards. There are external forces out of his control. But also a fair amount of male pride alluded to as well, working at him from the inside, which prevents him from taking some of the actions that might make a difference. This guy can’t weather the storm – but there is someone there to hold out a lifeline.

      The ‘just another step’ structure is very effective, with a nice balancing turnaround at the end.

      Only one minor thing made me stumble in the reading of it, when he falls backwards and hits his head on the concrete, but ends up with a gash on his forehead. I guess there must have been a half-turn on the way down?

    • Ken, F-One.
      Before I read your story, I just want to make it clear to you, AND EVERYONE ELSE. That I did not add that blarney about the reputations and your clothes and shit. Okay? I didn’t — that was not — that had nothing to do with the prompt that I offered. However, I don’t object to it. BUT I DID NOT PUT IT IN THERE.
      I’ll read your story now.

      Hey Philip, My comment thread was out of strings so I have to address you here, but hey man, calm down. You were spitting. I’ve never seen you spit before. I agree, rich people suck. But the masses, those ugly masses. (I think Stalin said that.)

      While we’re here, Hey Alice (and Carrie) any chance you’ll delay the vote for a day or two. If we vote on April fools Day, well, let’s just say that I don’t trust any of you jokers.

      Actually, my story is having trouble ‘ramping up.’ But that’s a good thing. I’ve got some of the best people you’ve ever seen working on it, the ramp. The story too. We’re talking to some people about it right now. Once we ramp up the story, it’s gonna, you wouldn’t believe it, how beautiful this story is going to be. For all I know, it could be about a ramp. A ramp to prosperity, I don’t know. And I’m not worried. (Big intake of breath through the nose.) I’m going to write a million words tomorrow. I’ll have a million words tomorrow. So there’ll be some editing, a little, not much. Some, a little, but not too much. Some editing. It’s a lot of words about a ramp, you gotta admit. But that’s what these people do. They’re doing a great job too. You’ll have those words tomorrow. No, no. Tomorrow. In a week? Maybe 10 million words, give or take. But, you’ll get a million tomorrow.

      • Liz Fisher
        unhuh… you hit it on the sniffing nostril…. 🙂
    • Sarig Levin
      It is a powerful tale of the being caught in a whirlpool, Ken, the likes of which we can see all around us, if we just choose to look. It is well-constructed as a demonstration of the three steps, a nice twist on the word ‘step’ and an encouraging happy ending. With that being said, it feels a bit forced in parts, especially the coincidental part of the daughter driving up the car park just as her father is about to take his final step. This contrast between harsh realism and a fairy tale ending doesn’t quite sit right with me.
    • Ken – I liked the “just another step” mantra and really enjoyed your story. I think I’m alone in wishing you had written it in first person. The “he” structure of your sentences didn’t carry the same immediacy for me that they could have carried if they were “I” statements.
    • Ken Miles
      Hi Ken,

      This is a very sad tale of a man’s downfall, that’s unfortunately far from unheard of. The way he descends into utter desolation and poverty is logical and beautifully narrated. The steps (a very well utilised mechanism that neatly pushes the story forward. Then, luckily, backwards) follow one another in close succession.

      I’m angry at an economic system that throws overboard the bottom rung sailors the moment the ship hits a storm.

      But I’m even angrier at the wife, who in time of difficulty, instead of standing by her man, simply slips away into the arms of another who is momentarily passing through a better patch.

      Then comes the mortgage system that castigates the unlucky and throws them out into the streets. I don’t want to sound Communist, but I think a roof on one’s head should be a basic human right, no matter what.

      As other commentators said, the finale does come about rather coincidentally. Perhaps there could be a tighter, less fortuitous reason why father and daughter happened to be at the same place at the right time. Some backstory may have fed into that, without giving too much away of how it was all going to end, but at the same making the encounter less chancy. But it’s not make or break – it works well enough as it is too.

      While I supported this man all the way, I thought he may take that final step into infinity, a tragic end, a middle finger to a society that doesn’t care. But that needs to clean the mess afterwards. And wife and all will have to live with the anguish under their skins for the rest of their lives…

      I’ve just watched the new English release of the Spanish film The Occupant. It’s on Netflix. A man faces a similar predicament (job, house, wife), but he refuses to accept his fate and takes a very different path from the character in your story. Still not a commendable path. But I won’t say anymore, in case you wish to watch it.

      Falling Down, with Michael Douglas, from the early nineties is also another memorable take on the same issue.


    • Ken, (Frape.)
      Great writing and a warm, sentimental kind of ending. And he has weathered the storm, just barely. A reminder that ‘good times’ are not always good for everyone.
    • A great story and my favourite. Having had a particularly close relationship with my father – this story brings tears to my eyes. My mother bless her heart tried to destroy our bond, was intensely jealous of it almost to the point of mad rage up until the day he died she punished him for loving me as a daughter.
      Thank God she refused to give up on her dad. Great story
      • Ken Frape
        Hi Ilana,

        Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated. This story was originally a 300 word flash fiction that was accepted for publication in an anthology. However, I always saw that it could be extended into a short story. It was inspired by a conversation with a young homeless man on the streets of my home town. The guy explained about how easy it can be to get where he was if you are vulnerable as he was. I’m glad that it struck a chord with you.

        In your story I can see that this would not have happened as the wife is so fiercely loyal to her family that she would stay not run off when the going gets tough. The way she speaks to the other woman was brilliant and then the way she gives her husband a warning that he dare not ignore is priceless.

        I have my own scoring system for voting and the highest mark I give is 5 ticks on a grid that I draw in my pad. There was more than one top score this time around but yours was one of them. I hope the other writers agree.

        Kind regards,

        Ken Frape

  • Peter Holmes
    Strong stuff Ken, with a surprisingly heartwarming ending. I particularly like the first two paragraphs, and the repetition of “Just another step” has a foreboding tone, which kept reminding me of the metaphorical storm that he’s weathering. I’m not good at criticism (i.e. I can’t find things to criticise) when it comes to reading stranger’s stories, so that’s all I have to say 😊
    • Ken Frape
      Hi Peter,

      Thanks for your comments. There’s no need to worry about not having much to say by way of comments, not everybody does. The rest make up for it!

      I originally wrote this as a 300 word flash fiction piece but always felt that it deserved a longer outing. It was published as a short in an anthology but I prefer the longer version.

      I wanted to repeat the “just another step” to remind readers that this is what many of the homeless people I have met have said. Generally, you don’t just become a down-and-out, or simply homeless in one fell swoop. It’s a series of steps leading downwards. We have a local charity, Emmaus, that also shows and gives hope, that these same steps can also lead the other way, back into the light. They give people work and a roof over their heads and support them back into a better way of life.

      Regarding your piece, that is really powerful stuff. I have read through Andy’s comments as he is a remarkably astute writer and reader too . He picks up on things that I don’t and his analysis is great.

      I tend to go more on my gut reaction to many things and rarely dig too deeply. Intellectually shallow perhaps. Anyway, it is clear that you have been able to channel your emotions into this piece of writing brilliantly.I think the way you have written it works well and I think the notion of choosing a different POV is a good one that many of us make but without it necessarily being a conscious choice. As you say in your preamble, it was your first attempt at writing in the second person and I think it was successful. It sounded natural.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • Peter Holmes
        Your link to homelessness and your local charity has definitely paid off, seems to be great inspiration. And as for Andy, I agree – his comments (and his stories) are always top notch stuff. Thank you for the compliments about my story, it means a lot that my “channelled emotions”, which are (unsurprisingly) personal, can be appreciated through this. I’m glad I decided to use second person, as both you and Andy agree that it works well.
        • Ken Miles
          (Hi Ken, my comment you your story should have come here… I don’t know why it decided to go somewhere further up! Anyway, I suppose you’ll find it)
          • Ken Miles
            *to your story

            damn automatic spellchecker!

  • Ken Miles
    [six feet]

    (I’m answering you here Ken (Cartisano) because we exhausted the reply thread). Thanks for your concern, I am much better now, though still popping in pills like candies. See? I’m so untrendy: the whole world is talking viruses and what do I get? A bad bacterial infection! I mean if I got the virus instead, it’s not that it would’ve been cool, but at least I’d be a number, a percentage in the news, part of world history-in-the-making. With bacteria I was just miserable in bed. No one cares about bacteria anymore these days. It’s not fair.

    And I have to really but really watch it with the Big C, now, for if I were to catch it while I’m already unwell with something else, that would then be a co-morbidity, and before I know it I might find myself surrounded by angels singing hallelujah. And I’d look down from the immense skies above upon all of you suckers down there under lockdown. But, truth be told, I’d rather be down here with you, than in heavens with creatures with feathered armpits.

    So I’m being very careful. Keeping my social distance (more than usual, that is), getting all my food by Besos-express and keeping my fly swatter close by to swat coronaviruses, if I see one. But it’s hard to see’em, these crowned royal pests are too small. So I’m swatting wherever I don’t see them too, just in case they may be there, the walls, the floor, my face. It seems insane. That’s what being locked down does to you. But you gotta swat them. It’s the sane thing to do. Better safe than sorry. Swat, yes swat. Kill them before they kill you. Swat. Stay sane knowing you’re in control. Not them. Swat. It’s not insane. Swat, swat.

    Sane. Swat. Sane. Swat. Sane. Swat. Sane. Swat.

    Is this fiction or reality we’re living through right now? See, Carrie, it’s not that clear. I totally agree with you about what’s eligible as “fiction”, dear motherator. (Hold on the line a moment, Cartisano, be back with you in a bit). My dividing line between fiction and non is higher than the one between true and made up.

    For what is really true if not our illusions of who we think we are?

    And what is really made up? If not a mashup of our experiences, shortcomings, guilts and fears?

    Even the most far-fetched dragon fantasy is our own true story in its unique way. And even reality, in turn, is a mashup of our fantasies, of the lies we’ve been told, the untruths that make us, the illusions that are our lives. For, how often do we wake up in the morning and greet the trillion cells that make us, the larger number of germs that make it possible for the cells to function. (I’m not talking to you, coronavirus!) We think we’re Ken, Tom, Dick and Carrie and live by the narratives we’ve been told and the lies/stories we keep telling ourselves.

    But we’re really the neural sparks fired between our braincells. That’s the only non-fiction. What comes out of those sparks is gonna be fiction. By definition. Even out of Stephen Hawking’s sparks. And that means it’s all good for this site (it wrapped in 1.2K words).

    Even a technical instruction manual written in funny English that sounds like Chinese. Won’t probably win the contest, but would still bring on a chuckle and tell a story quite literally as wide as the breadth of this world. And someone might finally figure out how to operate that godam three-dollar electric wok, you never know. And there are so many life-manuals out there, help-yourself books and such. They keep coming, since the Maker forgot to slip one in the box when he made Adam. And books of science and philosophy. Even those, if written well, the most memorable of them tell a story, indulge in some fiction too.

    “Fiction Writers” may be somewhat of a misnomer really. The magic word is “story” and we’re really storytellers, A Place For Storytellers. So, thumbs up Carrie (and hope Alice is on board too) for officially not drawing too close to each other the lines delineating what is allowed in here. Btw this is not my story for this week, that’s still coming. This is only a comment in reply to Ken Cartisano’s reply to my reply to my reply. Don’t turn it blue!

    Back, Cartisano. Sorry, took me long, Carrie was in a talkative vein. So you didn’t like my story last week. Thanks for your honesty, it’s useful to me to know what resonates and what doesn’t. And why. You usually like (sometimes a lot) my stories here, and you let it known too when it is so. So this is a great opportunity for me to check what I’ve done so terribly differently this time. The other time, way back, when you didn’t like my story (the robot and cucumber one), it went on to win the contest, so I took that as a mixed reaction back then.

    This time it’s different: you didn’t like it AND it also came last in class. Now that could also be because the other nine were indeed masterpieces in their own right and we can’t have ten stories packed in the top five places. That’s the mathematical dilemma bit. So, contest aside, I’ve taken stock of what you said, and others too, Roy, Phil, Sarig, etc – they all brought up points to ponder upon in their comments to my story. Theirs were specific points to improve or fix, yours more of a general emotive disenchantment with the whole piece, if I’m getting it right.

    On Phil’s winner NAH-WAH, I see what you mean about it being “too perfect”, smooth all the way. But I liked it, because I like stories that take me round the whole loop, that close off where they’ve opened after justice has been served. It’s perhaps the simplest, most classic of story lines, but still perhaps the most satisfying (to me, at least). I don’t discount stories that leave me hanging on, disquieted, pissed off, slapped in the face, asking more questions than I had before I started reading them (especially questions of the wtf type). Less enjoyable, perhaps, the latter ones, but more enduring for the soul.

    Una? Yes, where’s she? Miss Poole, Cartisano’s asking after you. He may even help you out with the inspiration, if you have writer’s block or something, but do show up. You inspire him, too, you know.

    I’m at 1,092 words – they’re really going to think this is my story for this prompt, how I weathered the storm with the fly swatter. So, I’m stopping here – 1,120 words now – so… see you around Ken. Keep keeping the distance, of course. People are dangerous. Online they’re fine, in body form they’re your enemies, your undoing. Buy lots of canned food. Don’t go out jogging. Fear the fresh air – it’s not really fresh, it’s recycled exhalation of others. Sit watching the box all day. Don’t socialize. Certainly don’t embrace, don’t kiss. Don’t go to church. Everything they’ve been telling you to do for an entire lifetime is now bad for you. Overnight.

    Cheers anyhow,
    From digital safety,
    1232 words (excluding this line) ouch!

    [six feet]

    • That’s a very amusing stream of musings for me to start the day with, Ken (M). Started the day with a smile. But mostly I’m happy that you – and your trillions of bodily co-inhabitees – are well and returning to health.

      Over here in Europe we’re generally told to stay two metres apart, rather than six feet. Almost the same, but perhaps those extra 6 inches make a difference (as I’ve been told many a time).

      Intrigued by your portmanteau neologism “motherator”. It’s a combination of “mother” and “terminator”, right? That’s a challenging one for Dr Freud, I think.
      Or is it “mother” + “moderator”? Which would be relatively disappointing, psychologically, but still provides interesting insights of a will to be controlled by a mother-figure … Perhaps that’s what we all need in this time of crisis. How eager Carrie is to be cast in this role may be another matter … 🙂

      Meanwhile, if your observations that straddle the divide between truth and fiction, between sanity and insightful loopiness, turn blue and become your entry for this week – they have my vote.

      Keep well and stay safe.

      • Ken Miles
        Hi Andy – I’m glad to have amused you in these dreadful times we’re living through, fearful of the tiny beast and under virtual house arrest. 2020? Weren’t we supposed to go to Mars this decade? Instead we’re locked down at home!

        Well, these are interesting times too, we’ll be talking about this era for years, even decades, not unlike our elders talk about their WW2 experiences.

        Motherator? Mother + Moderator. There’s some overlap between the two, isn’t there? Or at least ought to be. No, not terminator!

        Sorry, my story this week is on a totally different theme. Completely out of sync with the talk of town of the Covidian Epoch. Call it escapist, perhaps. I’ll let the truth/fiction, sanity/virus-swatting arguments simmer quietly undisturbed; a story may come from that direction any time, but it’s got to come by itself. For another time. I hope you’ll still like the one I’ve posted for this prompt too, in the meantime…

        And a story from you, Andy? In the making?


        • “Weren’t we supposed to go to Mars this decade? Instead we’re locked down at home!”
          Actually, I think within 20 years most of us will go to Mars – while staying at home. Someone enterprising will drop regular blizzards of drones on the Red Planet, and we’ll be able to sign up to explore the landscape from the comfort (and security) of our homes.

          I guess that could be the basis of a story – weathering a Martian 200mph dust-storm during a long-distance drone race – from the living room sofa. With $millions prize money at stake. Wacky Races only with more edge and a soupçon of domestic drama thrown in. And the latest virus knocking on the door …

          But such a story would come 6th, as SF tends to do here.

          I’m afraid I have no hint of a(nother) story yet. I’m knee deep in a longer piece and reading police procedural manuals to make sure I get the background detail right. Pushing back a work project by at least a month is creating the space to be creative …

          Had a quick read of your story and like it! Comments in due course.

    • Ken Miles.
      Believe it or not. I wrote all of this before the news was released today about the possible death toll estimates in the U.S. If you’re one of the few, or many people who haven’t heard that number, you get to live on in ignorance for a while longer, because I’m not going to post it here.

      Nice to hear you’re recovering, Ken. Sorry about the delayed response. I too have been dealing with a bacterial infection. In my mouth. I have a wisdom tooth poking up through my gum and it couldn’t be doing this at a worse time. (Pretty stupid ‘wisdom’ tooth, if you ask me.) It’s unfortunate because even though I wouldn’t call myself a big fan of bacteria, I’m very understanding and usually the first one to come to their defense.

      Carrie? Talkative? Huh. She has a nice voice. I listen to her podcasts sometimes and get all woozy.

      Where do you live, Ken? (If you don’t want to tell me, then lie unconvincingly. That’s what I do.) I wonder where Philip lives. I think he lives in Portugal but not sure exactly where. It almost seems like the extent of the infected population is dependent on the density. To some degree. (This is obvious and true of anything infectious but more pronounced in this case because of its ease of transmission. It’s infectious before it’s symptomatic, during, after, and also when it presents itself asymptomatically. This is one diabolical virus.

      They’re not even sure how long you’re infected for, yet. But, they’ve isolated 8 strains of the virus, decoded its mitochondrial salmineos down to their individual sals as well as their RNA genome. (Just kidding Ken.) Seriously though, they have translated (sequenced) the virus’s code and disseminated the raw code to laboratories around the world. What they can do with this information is amazing, and quite a bit beyond my understanding. And what that proves, is that this is no ordinary virus. But these tools are new, too. The kind of shit they’re doing in one hour, used to take them days of painstaking and sometimes dangerous work. I have great faith in the biochemists and microbiologists. That’s where real science is enhanced, at comparatively modest costs, by marvelous new advances in technology.
      (That was as far as I got yesterday.)
      (Today seems like a whole new ugly, 45 inning ball game, where ‘outs’ send you to God’s dugout.

      Clearly, President Taco Viva, or, as some of us lovingly call him Presidente El Fatto Cabeso, is now beginning to take the problem serious… No, no. Check that. Sorry. I was—it was wishful thinking.

      Enough about fat. I’ve got to read all the stories now. Been putting it off all day. Due to everyone’s newly abbreviated lifespan, I may have to shorten my critiques to one or two words. Like, “Eek, spell much?’ Or, ‘I love you. Can I touch your face?’ Or ‘You. You did this to me.’ We’ll see. Depends on how I feel at the end of each story.

      p.s. It took me about 28 hours to figure out that the space in your comment was digital social distancing. I can be so dumb sometimes, it surprises me still.

      • Ken Miles
        Hi Ken,

        I’ve been torn, right from the start of this virus crisis, between the “what’s all the fuss about…we’re over-reacting” attitude and “fuck, this is a pestilence of Biblical proportions… we’re doomed… the end is nigh… the First Horseman is in our midst”.

        It’s not just the numbers that are now convincing me it’s more like the latter than the former, but the fact that the world big wigs are allowing the economy of whole nations to collapse in the name of battling this disease. I mean, money talks, usually, and they wouldn’t let the dollars evaporate, not even if the world started spinning backwards and got hiccups. So we’re up against something, for real, this time round! Not yet another swine flu scare….

        I’ve been following the dire situation in Italy for a good while now, since the early days of the crisis there, given my personal cultural and linguistic proximity to that country. I hail from Malta, btw, the former British colony just off the coast of Sicily. Though I’ve been for many years now living in the land straddling the borders of Germany with France. On Ken Frape’s beastly ground. But I live in an apartment, not a WW1 trench. Although, given the present circumstances, I’ve been thinking about it. Trenching down safely somewhere. The rats are gonna survive. They always do. Us naked apes, not sure…

        Keep safe, keep cheerful! If you happen to feel the urge to build a toothpick castle to fill your holed inside days, do make sure to include an en-suite bathroom in your medieval bedroom. Watch for any toothpicks pointing up, on the toilet seat, though. Got to think of everything these days.


  • Ken Miles

    by Ken Miles
    1,200 words (excluding titles and this line)

    Letitia thought of her visits to Leopold as some sort of dates, an emotional outlet for her unmet romantic needs. She’d imagine his heavy arm sprawled across her shoulders, fancying the two of them sitting together on a sheer cliff edge somewhere nice in the Mediterranean their eyes following the mighty sun set in the big blue. She knew she was behaving like a silly little girl, hardly like a 38-year old. She was playing a dangerous game.

    She couldn’t help it. She had shut Peter out. Nothing dramatic had wedged itself between her and her husband of seventeen years. Perhaps, that was in and of itself the problem: life together had got dull, their relationship simply ran out of gasoline.

    Sex was not a healer. She’d look blankly at the ceiling, with Peter upon her. She’d amplify a moan here and there whenever a tinge of physical pleasure gripped her; she’d fake it altogether when she just wanted Peter to finish off as soon as possible. Once done, he’d happily retreat to his side of the bed and drift off in no time. That’s while her big turquoise eyes stared for most of the night into the hollow darkness.

    Peter’s a man on a hamster wheel, juiced out most of the time. When was it last he took a moment of his precious time to tell Letitia how good she looked, praised a new outfit she wore, caressed her hair?

    That was all. There was no infidelity. No domestic violence. No drunkenness. Both had agreed to remain childless. Letitia actually *wished* something more tangibly serious was going on. That would make things easier for her to draw the line, to substantiate her anguish. So that she’d feel no remorse when she handed over to Peter the divorce papers.

    She’d Skype Peter whenever he worked late, almost hoping to catch him lying about where he really was. But he’d indeed be at the office. She’d hear Cecil, his boss, yelling in the background. Certainly not a late nighter with one of the young female assistants. She spied on his laptop many a time. There must be some secret lover’s romantic email somewhere, porn downloads maybe. Something to pin him down on. But nothing. Just spreadsheets and more spreadsheets.

    She finecombed the Ashley Madison name list, when that leak happened. She found her dad’s name in there. Thankfully he’d meanwhile passed away – she didn’t have to face him after that ugly discovery. But she didn’t spot “Peter Johnson” anywhere. Nor any aliases her husband may have used: “Peter J.”, “Johnson P.”, “John Peterson”. Nothing at all. A clean certificate of conduct.

    Her meetings with Leopold Bouchard, Esq. were timed at precisely thirty minutes each session. The divorce lawyer set a stopwatch ticking on his desk the moment his client entered. At £300 per consultation, time was on his side. He’d let Letitia talk and talk, pour out her grief and her grievances about her husband. At ten quid per minute, it’s not bad at all. For him.

    She’d put on her sexiest miniskirts for the visits. Her tightest fitting tops. She’d fantasize about his large hand smacking her butt on her way out of his office. He never did that of course, but the very idea titillated her. He had neatly trimmed moustache, just a thin line really, somewhat old-fashioned as expected from someone called Leopold. Just by looks he was the type of man she’d find rather repulsive, if this weren’t the man who paid her the attention she craved for.

    Leopold was a good, caring listener. This was a man who knew how to treat a woman. He agreed with everything she said. Or simply said nothing when he didn’t. Letitia longed for the day she’d pluck up enough courage and call him “Leopold” instead of “Mr. Bouchard”. Then whip him up, perhaps, into falling in love with her. She was still quite a head-turner after all, who invested most of her time in looking after herself.

    There was a little obstacle: his wife Rayne. Letitia knew she should be ashamed of herself for some of the thoughts she entertained about Leopold’s wife. How Rayne, an electrician, would swap neutral and live, in her line of work, electrocute herself. Free up Leopold for her. Make that spark possible. Why would a girl even think of becoming an electrician? It’s so unfeminine! She’d never met that woman, yet held her in such disdain.

    Today Letitia’s finally determined to hand over the divorce forms to Peter. She’s been putting this thing off for far too long.

    It turns out to be the most imperfect day to break the news to Peter. Glorious sunshine has illuminated the Wiltshire countryside all day. Carpets of bright green, sprinkled by yellow daffodils roll gently into the distance, right up from under Peter and Letitia’s country house terrace all the way to the distant chalk hills. It’s been a stormy few days and water droplets glisten on the youthful grass, refusing to go away, even now that the warm evening’s setting in.

    Peter’s just finished with a big client, secured a major contract for the company, and Cecil let him have today off. He’s relaxed, in his best of humor. In an engaging, affable mood too. The couple sit at each end of their terrace table, a pot of tea between them.

    Peter pours tea in Letitia’s cup, and before he turns to his own, lays the teapot down freeing his hand to add sugar to Letitia’s tea. One full but leveled teaspoon and another half-full but not just quite. Letitia’s quite finicky about these little details. Peter gently shakes the teaspoon to let the excess grains fall back in the sugar bowl, almost seems like he’s counting them. Each falling grain sparkles like a diamond in the remaining sunlight as it travels back to its receptacle.

    A smile parts Letitia’s lips. That very moment something clicks inside her: deep down Peter’s the only person in the whole wide world who really knows her. Leopold – Mr. Bouchard – asked her every time she visited him whether she had sugar with tea and how much. And while he’d slowly make her and himself their cuppas, it cost her ten pounds for each minute of his time. Tea at the Ritz comes cheaper than that!

    Letitia undoes the top two buttons of her cardigan allowing some cleavage to bathe in the pleasant evening air, lifts herself up a little and pulls her chair right next to Peter’s. She’s careful not to expose the divorce papers she’s sitting on and places her delicate arm around Peter’s shoulders. Still holding the teaspoon in one hand, he turns towards her and lets his lips meet hers, as the mighty sun finally sinks behind Long Knoll hill transforming the sky into an artwork of crimson and purple hues.

    Meeting his wife’s exact dosage exigencies, Peter at long last lets the sugar scatter in her cup and mixes the tea. A sweet gesture all the way. Letitia observes the swirling tea with great interest until calm returns to the surface.

    Peter unwittingly weathered the storm. That massive storm in a teacup.

    • Ken Frape
      Hi Ken,

      It’s Ken here. Ken F. I am speaking very quietly, hushed you could say, in case the other Ken overhears, so please try to read it quietly. I almost feel as if I am breaking into a beautiful friendship, the two Kens ( that’s 2 Kens not toucans…that would be an entirely different matter. How you seen their bills? Nearly as large as Mr. Leopold Bouchard’s.)

      I wonder if I can get my comment in before the big C, Cartisano, gets wind of this attempt. Here goes, anyway. Perhaps he is still working out on his slide rule the approximate chances of survival of the human race in these uncertain times. Glad to hear that you are recovering too. Otherwise he might turn his attention on me as he seems to have a penchant for Kens.

      As ever, you have written a beautifully engaging story with some beautiful imagery.

      In a nutshell, we see a couple, married some time and the spark has gone from their relationship. Sex takes place but without passion, mechanically, whilst Letitia pretends and fantasises.

      She turns her attention to her divorce lawyer….do they really charge £300 an hour in the UK? Her description of Mr. Bouchard is not very flattering, indicating a degree of desperation on Letitia’s part, it seems. Is he really the best she can do? Clearly not as she is still quite a head-turner by all accounts. If he had been willing he could have had an illicit affair with Letitia. We know he is married but we don’t know how romantically attached he is to his electrician wife, Rayne. Perhaps he is ready for a fling but not with a client. Especially one who wants her butt smacked. Perhaps he’s too wily to go through a divorce, knowing the cost and all that.

      Then, my dear friend, you go and spoil it for me by those last two sentences. As Ken C might say ( although let’s wait and see, shall we?) it’s real lame! Did someone else write it for you? If so, you should demand your money back. Did you leave your computer terminal unguarded for a minute when the puppy was wandering free? Have you got a pet monkey?

      I liked the idea that Letitia might just be prepared to sit on those divorce papers a little longer because her husband remembers how much sugar she takes in her tea. He is the only one who really knows her. I suppose it’s what you might call “a lighbulb moment.”

      If I was finishing this story, and I am not, I would have wanted to finish after the words..”until calm returns to the surface” by saying that she decided to sit on the divorce papers for a bit longer, suggesting that she has changed her mind. Or something along those lines..

      Everything else is great so don’t go and get big C onto me. I couldn’t stand that.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • Ken Miles
        Hi Ken,

        Yes, I struggled with those two final sentences. I fixed them, flipped them, jacked them, stripped them, re-dressed them. Then I got tired and finally let my monkey write them for me. I know, I should have just killed them.

        You see, I kinda wanted that “storm in a teacup” (“tempest in a teapot” for some) in, to end with it, since the story itself sort of took off from there. But, indeed, your suggestion to stop with “…until calm returns to the surface” is the flash of genius I needed! I should have asked you, Ken, not my monkey.

        Whoever is familiar with the expression “storm in a teacup” is probably going to deduce that much from the imagery of the actual teacup, as the swirling tea returns to calm before Letitia’s (and the reader’s) eyes. I didn’t need to spoon-feed the reader with the actual expression.

        Then there’s the “weathered the storm” bit. I think it can stay out as well. To tell the truth, I was under the impression that those words had to appear in our story (ie. a condition of the prompt). But I’ve just had another look at the conditions and it doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s there as a theme, philosophy, etc.

        So both sentences at the end should go, for the story to be more effective. We wouldn’t know if Peter weathers the storm for life (saves the marriage) or just for tonight. But the sugar thingy certainly opens a window of hope. Letitia will sit for longer on the divorce paper, as you nicely put it.

        There’s a writing motto around here which I call the “Andy Lake Principle” (so named after our eminent writer friend who came up with it). It’s about chopping off wholesomely the opening paragraph (or two) of a story, and then see what happens. I tried it out, and in numerous cases I ended up with a much better, punchier opening shot, right in the heart of the story. Some of the removed material may still need to come in, but later on, as backstory. Sometimes I found it could even stay out altogether. I’m mentioning all this because I’m thinking of another principle that may be helpful, learning from the experience of my current story and your response to it. I’d dub it the “Frape Flash Finish”, in your honour, Sir.

        I’ll add it to my personal writing checklist: is that last line/paragraph/sentence really needed? Did I keep going for longer than I ought to? Does the story really end before I ended it? (or as Cartisano once put it “am I menstruating?” lol)

        So, with those two last sentences gone, how would you rate my story? I also took note of that dilemma why should such an (ageing) head-turner like Letitia be so desperate to desire a man like Leopold. Although, I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that a beautiful but lonely woman might fall in love with the first man that listens to her (even at a price) with a certain degree of interest, I could still have perhaps left out the fact she’s physically attractive and all that, as it adds nothing to the story and raises the question why she just doesn’t quite easily find the man of her dreams without having to pay through her nose. Maybe she wasn’t such a head turner after all, and Leopold’s undivided attention for those intense thirty-minute “dates” was all she had left to live for.

        Hey, you can do quite a good Ken Cartisano. There’s that paragraph in your comment where you really sound like him. Did he write it for you, by any chance? But you’re the theatre man, here, it must be easy for you to slip under someone else’s skin! Do you do theatre in real life or “only” write theatre-themed stories? And you were a schoolteacher too. That involves a bit of stage theatre too…

        Thanks for your comment, Ken F. You see, a lot of good came out of it 🙂

        Kind regards to you too,

        • Ken Miles. Fabulous story.

          As for Ken Frape’s advice, I know he’s a very nice guy, and an excellent writer, so I’ll try to be circumspect in areas where my opinion differs from his.

          Don’t listen to him Ken. He’s over thinking everything, including the motives of the wrong character. And appears to know nothing about women.. This story is about Lettitia, not the lawyer of all people, and what he might rationally consider.

          The writing is absolutely exceptional, Ken (M.) And personally, I like the ending. It took me completely by surprise, here I was reading a real-life (albeit fictional) storm in a tea cup, without actually realizing that that’s what it was until you told me in the last sentence. Sure, I probably would’ve realized it eventually, maybe, while I was scrubbing viruses off my ass in the shower three hours later, but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as you telling me as soon as I’d finished the story.

          I’m very sorry to be so firm in this, but the English tell jokes that leave you wondering what they meant for four hours, (if you’re lucky) that’s because, with the English, the joke is always on you. Never, ever, ever take the advice (EVER) of an Englishman on how to END a story. Everything else is fine, they’re very accomplished in all other areas. Conquering the natives, resisting The Blitz, showing those Yanks a thing or two. (Well, they’re crappy cooks too, let’s not forget that.) But in writing, they’re great until the ending. Look at how they wrapped up the Magna Carta? And the Treaty of Versailles? Horrible endings. (I won’t even mention Israel.) Trust me Ken, when it comes to endings, there’s only one Ken you can trust. For now, until another one comes along. (Jesus on a sandbar. I need to calm down. I could just about strangle him right now.)

          Lettitia’s interest in her lawyer tells us that her options are either much more limited than she admits or she is much more introverted than she realizes.

          Do not delete the ending. Change it all you want, but don’t leave me hanging. It’s a good story without it. It doesn’t need it, But in a way, it’s like closing the door, locking it, and finally, with the last two sentences, hanging a ‘Do not disturb’ sign on the handle. (Now just watch, Ken’s going to tell us that you have to put the sign on the handle first, before you close the door, but we know, that the door sign is metaphorical, and therefore, can go anywhere we want to put it.

          That’s an Englishman’s greatest weakness you know. Metaphors. Keep it under your hat.

          Lovely story, I’ll likely read it again just for fun.

          • Haha!

            Note to Ken F: you said you’d have to speak in hushed tones, but seems they were not hushed enough, lol 🙂

            BTW – Definition of a storm in a teacup (Merriam-Webster)
            “British: a situation in which people are very angry or upset about something that is not important.”

            It’s up to you, dear Kens, if that’s the most appropriate summing up of the feelings and situation described.

            Overall, I feel that a big row in this forum about the last line of what everyone agrees is a well-written story would be more of a storm in a teacup than the storm in a teacup in the story …

          • Andy,

            (Since I can’t comment elsewhere, I’ll comment here.) I felt like a little good-natured ribbing from one Ken (F.) deserved a little good-natured ribbing from another. There’s no storm here, I’m pretending to be outraged, (but that doesn’t mean I don’t really care. I do care. And I think the story is great as it is.) But I mean really, Andy, ‘the way they wrapped up the Magna Carta’? (Surely my jesting is obvious, isn’t it?)

            BTW, I think your critique of Ken’s story ‘Sugar’ is spot on. You have a way of describing the essence of a story that brilliantly elucidates its sweet spot.

          • Indeed, Ken (C). My ribbing is in the same vein. If ribs can be in veins? Must be a metaphor in that, if only I could handle it 😉

            Well, Magnus Cartisanus, you’ve got the Carta well wrapped up.

            The MCs I’ve seen over here (there were several originals sent round the country) are wrapped up in glass cases. And one inside a glass case inside a gazebo inside a chapter house inside a cathedral. And that’s a wrap! (That’s the one in Salisbury, but a short drive from Letitia’s grassy Knoll, as it happens).

            And many thanks for the kind comment on my critique!
            When your story’s posted I’ll see if I can similarly put my finger on your sweet spot 🙂

          • Ken Miles
            If this isn’t a Kentroversy, then what is?

            I think I can agree with you, Ken C. that this is very much Letitia’s story. The lawyer is just an ugly prop. Peter, pretty much a minor character.

            I’m pleased you liked the story, Ken C. I was a bit out of my depth with this one. I’d usually have wives baseball-bat their husbands (sometimes eating them too), not often forgive them for what they haven’t even done. Here, I tried to penetrate the female psyche, at that age when a woman might think (often incorrectly) that she’s losing her shine, and that’s why her man is apparently losing interest in her. Which is usually not true – the meek, beta husband (the average white-collar guy in Western society) is simply too busy sucking up to the whims of a pathetic but alpha boss at the office who knows very well how to keep him on his toes. I’m not sure if I portrayed the woman’s fears well enough. Perhaps more of the ladies in here can chip in on that.

            The last line? I’m not going to remove it from the story as it appears here (also not to bother Alice/Carrie). If I use the story elsewhere, I’d seriously consider Ken F.’s suggestion to end the story earlier. But, fine, I see that there is an intercultural divide, a Cold War no less, an unfathomable international chasm on this very point. I’ll take your advice Cartisano and leave that last line for an American readership (not sure about American Samoa). But for a British audience, that line will have to go. That includes Gibraltar and the Isle of Man. Jersey and Guernsey. I’d need to check about the Falklands and the British Virgin Islands. They’re on the American side of the pond. I’ll have Catholic and Protestant editions of the story for Northern Ireland, with and without that last line, respectively. I hope they won’t break the ceasefire in Belfast on this one. They’re on a razor edge over there.

            On Andy’s second comment (I’m replying here, the thread died, down there). By the expression “a storm in a teacup” I sort of understand something like when we say “much ado about nothing”. I mean Peter didn’t break any of the cardinal rules (fidelity, violence, alcoholism, etc.), and yet Letitia is viciously plotting to divorce him and leave him out in the cold. She’s even trying to kick up some dust to justify her plans. That’s not to say that for a woman to be ignored by her husband amounts to nothing. But she must have less “stormy” options to choose from to approach this issue, than the escapist road she takes. That’s why a storm in a teacup.

            Back to you, Cartisano. Is that how you’re battling The Virus, in the shower, from the rear end? I don’t think it can cause any much havoc down there where the sun doesn’t shine. It’s a respiratory tract monster, they say. Loves oxygen. Not hydrogen sulphide. But people seem to be going overboard with this COVID madness. I’m not sure if it’s The Virus itself or the massive restrictions to contain it that are to blame. For example, someone set on fire the communal garbage bin at my apartment block. Probably a resident fearful of the colony of coronas that may have lurked in that bin. Or in his head. The fire brigade was prompt and saved the building. Otherwise they could have insisted all they want to stay at home if I didn’t have one anymore!

            Ok, enough on that!

            I’m pampered to hear that you’re planning to read my story again, just for the fun of it, Ken 🙂 How can I put it? It’s the best thing a writer can ever hear…


    • Great story Ken. I was worried that Letitia would leave Peter, who was blissfully unaware of his wife’s planning. I’m relieved that they stayed together, I would’ve been heartbroken for poor Peter if his wife upped and left
      • Ken Miles
        Thanks Alyssa,
        I’m pleased you liked it. Yes, I was also holding my breath for Peter, and, like you I’m relieved to know that Letitia’s not leaving him. But now, he should build on that and look after his wife and her emotional needs. Luck opened this window for him. He should re-discover his woman and treat her as a lady. Letitia too, should put away those divorce papers, cancel her next appointment with Leopold Bouchard, and try to appreciate what she already has: a loyal, meek husband who probably still loves her, even if he’s become distracted by his career. She can experience real beautiful and romantic sunsets from her own terrace, doesn’t need to head off to a cliff edge in the Mediterranean in her fanciful mind. I wanted this piece to be a story of rediscovery of what we already have in our lives.

        Btw did you have to put off your planned Appalachian Trail hike due to this COVID-19 curse? You’d probably be safer than anywhere else in the open spaces, surrounded by nothing but nature. But they seem to want everyone to get locked down at home right now.

        Bye for now,

        • Hey Ken, yeah unfortunately we had to postpone our trip. They closed done the national parks, and the stores that supply hikers have closed down too.
          We will probably attempt it next year. We could try to hike it after the virus epidemic slows down, but nobody knows when that will be, and my siblings and I have soccer.

          Hopefully next year will be considerably better (unless another virus decides to ruin our plans..)

          • Ken Miles
            Pity the virus ruined your plans for that great adventure of a lifetime. But, yes, next year will come and it just GOTTA be better than this one! The bright side is that we’ll have you here with us instead for this year 🙂

            So you play soccer?

          • Yep I do. This is my second year of doing it, and my siblings are joining me this time too. Which, should be very interesting, cause there’s so many of us lol
    • Your Sugar is a sweet story, dare I say, Ken? Well, it is in the end. Poor Letitia is going through turmoil unknown to her partner. And to the dreadful but unwitting object of her desire. It’s a kind of midlife crisis story.

      I like the tone. The storyteller is a little like someone opening the front wall of a doll’s house and letting us view the domestic drama. This narrator has a quite friendly and intimate style (noting all those contractions that give a chatty tone), as if letting us in on an otherwise unknown secret. This is all very nicely done.

      And a rural Wiltshire home. Very nice down there – the location is not many miles from where I’ve been working the past few months, until the urgency for self-protection came into play. And this all adds up to Letitia having a very nice life. But it’s not enough. Apparently. Nice description in that paragraph, btw.

      The last lines? For a moment I thought it was going to turn out that Peter knew all along, and had laced the sugar with something … so maybe as it is it’s a little anti-climactic. But that can be the story of life. And I think there’s something of ‘character is destiny’ here. There are many hints that Letitia is actually a bit cowardly. She’s a cat who likes to laze on the sofa, dreaming of being a cougar. But she won’t pounce. She even hopes her husband will offer an easy way out by being a love cheat. Settling down on her comfy sofa with a nice cup of tea, tended to by a gentle but not very perceptive man – it’s her destiny.

      • Ken Miles
        Thanks Andy!

        Yes, she must be somewhat undecided between doing the cougar or still hope she may be her husband’s house cat!

    • unamoona
      Jesus, Mr. Miles… that’s some beautiful writing. Perfect ending.
    • Sarig Levin
      It’s a sweet story, Ken, well-written and most rewarding. I kinda liked the play on a storm in a teacup right there at the end, which might have given you the inspiration for the entire story. Whether it is somewhat forced is difficult to say. Maybe a bit, I guess. The point of the story was that, although Letitia was not only contemplating but taking concrete steps toward leaving Peter because “life together had got dull, their relationship simply ran out of gasoline”, she changed her mind (at least temporarily) once realizing how well he knew her, right? However, wasn’t that familiarity among the reasons their life together had gotten dull to begin with? Furthermore, if he knew her so well, why was he not aware of her needs, as well as completely oblivious as to her intent to leave him?
      • Ken. I liked it. Great story with a wistful feel to it. I tend to agree with others who said you could’ve ended a bit earlier without the teacup hammer, but still, great story!
        • Ken Miles
          Thanks Trish, I’m glad you liked it! Yes, I should have finished it sooner…


      • Ken Miles
        Hi Sarig,

        I suppose she was in some emotional turmoil, a midlife crises of sorts. So, it may be difficult to draw logical conclusions in such a state, I suppose. She’s one who’d act on a whim or an intuitive emotion apparently.

        I may have forced the storm in a teacup bit (maybe because I was too fond of it!). Like others said, perhaps the final line is unnecessary.

        Thanks for reading and commenting, much appreciated!


    • Ken Miles
      On reflecting on some of the comments I received, I thought of perhaps refitting the ending as follows (in future retellings of this story), in a way that preserves the storm metaphor without making it seem too obvious. Any opinions?

      AS IS: “Letitia observes the swirling tea with great interest until calm returns to the surface.
      Peter unwittingly weathered the storm. That massive storm in a teacup.”

      NEW ENDING: “Letitia observes the swirling tea with great interest till the storm abates and calm returns to the surface.”


      • Ken (M.)
        Mmmm. I’ll concede the point to Ken (F.) The last three sentences are not that great. (To avert a Kentroversy

        You could go with something like this:

        The tea in the cup swirls and roils as Peter vigorously stirs. The crystals dissolve, the storm abates, and calm returns to Lettitia.

        I love your take on the idea of a different version for all different nationalities and commonwealths and territorial possessions. That takes this issue to an international level of misunderstanding and intolerance. World War Sweet.

        Okay I’ve really got to stop and read these goddamned stories already.

    • Ken Miles.

      ‘Each falling grain sparkles like a diamond in the remaining sunlight as it travels back to its receptacle.’

      That’s really exceptional. One of many literary gems in this story.

      You use the phrase, ‘mighty sun’ twice. At the beginning and at the end. (I didn’t like it even once.) Lettitia is 38 and childless. I’m sure she’s hotter than a branding iron on a Montana ranch. (What with me being 67 and all.)

      Peter Johnson? Great name. For a porn star.

      Loved the story Ken. It really (for me, can’t speak for others) highlights your ability to set a scene, a mood and a backstory all at once.

      I think you could improve the ending, but I don’t think truncating it would be an improvement, and I think that is the root of my intense objection to the suggestions to do so. (And I’ll leave it at that.) Okay I tried and I can’t leave it at that. The fact that Peter is unaware of the storm that he has weathered is the reveal, I think. That he has no idea. I don’t think you need clever phrasing or reference to a storm, as long as you divulge that fact, somehow.

      It’s a fabulous story though, either way. Should finish in the top ten, at least.

  • ^

  • 144 Days;
    Written by Alyssa Daxson

    Author of this diary

    First name: Jensen
    Last Name: Single 😉

    Day 1;

    The world spilt today. I saw the ground crack, and lava spew out, destroying everything in its path. I saw people burning alive, their faces contorted in endless agony.
    I barely escaped. Jeremie, my younger brother also escaped. For that I’m thankful. I don’t think I would be able to live without him. Everyone else I knew is dead.

    Day 8;

    I don’t how it happened, or when, but a virus was released. It’s turning people into zombies. Or at least that’s what I call them. Jeremie wants to name them Hellrazers, or Hymen’s. I told him to get his nose out of whatever D&D game it’s stuck in.

    Day 16;

    I found a car today. An Impala. Beautiful car. I packed up all our things, and Jeremie and I are hitting the road. Jeremie doesn’t want to. He says to wait for rescue. I told him that there isn’t any rescue. The world has ended. It’s dog eat dog world. Rescue ain’t coming anytime soon.

    Day 24;

    Eight days of the road. Our supplies are dwindling. This Impala has a cassette disk, so there’s music. One good thing I guess…
    Jeremie is getting more tense. We both know how to shoot guns, survive, but nothing could’ve prepared us for this. Our family dead, living in a world where there are zombies, and then there’s humans, some even worse then the zombies my brother and I kill.

    Day 32;

    Things look uplifting today. Jeremie’s in a better mood. We stopped at a store today. It was abandoned and ransacked, but there was water, and some canned food left behind. Those should last us a couple more days.
    Jeremie is fitting into his role better too. More comfortable with his gun, not hesitating anymore. I still get queasy when I see a body on the ground, but at least I don’t throw up. Maybe things will get better…

    Day 40;

    I played ‘Wayward Son by Kansas’ today. Good music. Jeremie, who doesn’t share my taste of music, even agreed that it was pretty good. The Impala broke down today, but I fixed it. This thing is like a child to me. It saved us, gave me a purpose. I would be heartbroken if it was lost.
    When I told Jeremie that, he laughed, told me it was just a car. I told him that shut it, and that Knight Rider wasn’t just a car either. He’s just jealous.

    Day 48;

    Today we saved some people. It feels good, since for the past month all we’ve been doing is killing.
    There was this apartment building, and Jeremie saw a family inside, trapped by some zombies (or Hellrazers. Still can’t convince my brother that it’s a dumb name)
    Anyways, we went inside and killed those zombies. Saved the family. They were grateful, tried to give us food. Jeremie told them no, to keep it. Stupid, but he’s a saint.

    Day 56;

    We’ve decided to do some good in this broken world. Jeremie and I are driving around, saving people. We look for buildings and stores, and search them, looking for anyone in need. So far we’ve saved at least half a dozen people. It’s refreshing, seeing their happy, hopeful faces. Of course they’ll die sooner or later, but who am I to tell them that?

    Day 64;

    The job’s getting more dangerous. I almost got bit today. Thankfully I didn’t ingest any of the zombies blood. If so, Jeremie would have to gank me like Old Yella. I don’t think the kid would survive through that. I don’t think I would survive if I had to do the same thing.

    Day 72;

    It’s been about two months since the world ended. Time flies when you’re having fun, haha. Jeremie and I have changed so much. I look at my brother, and I see a totally different person. It’s like this disaster washed him clean. It’s washed us both clean. It’s showed us how precious life is, and how short it can be.
    Ugh. That’s sounds like something out of a Jane Austen novel. Hopefully Jeremie doesn’t see this…

    Day 80;

    Our food is gone. Things aren’t looking good. Jeremie is weak. His eyes are shadowed with dread, and I can see the spark inside him flickering. I tried to give him some of my food, but he pushed it away, telling me that I have to eat. I know he’s right, but every time I look at him, my heart drops, and a lump forms in my throat. What if he dies? I couldn’t live without him. I have to find food. For my brothers sake, and for my sanity.

    Day 88;

    Day 88? Hm, interesting. Twin digits. I didn’t think I would live this long.
    I found more food, it isn’t a lot, but Jeremie is looking better. His eyes are brighter, and I can see the life returning to him. My heart is weak relief. These past days have been wracked with fear and pain. I’m ready for a change.

    Day 92;

    Today we saved a teenager. He was being held hostage by a group of survivors. I shudder to think of what would’ve happened to that poor kid if we hadn’t come. Those group of survivors sickened me. They were cannibals. Jeremie seemed shook, and I can’t blame him. I’ve battled zombies, seen things that would drive people mad, but never have I ever witnessed such evil.
    It makes me think about rescue. About what happened to the world. How everything become a desolate wasteland. People said, and are still saying that we will be saved. But my question is, do we deserved to be saved?

    Day 98;

    Jeremie was talking about the future. He asked what we’ll do once everything is over. He wants to go to beaches, hang out with woman. Party. I told him that there is no future. No happy ending. The only ending we have is bloody and bad.

    Day 106;

    We raided another store today. It was a close call. Jeremie almost got bit. I saw a zombie grab onto his shoulder, but Jeremie said he’s fine, so I believe he’s fine. I hope…

    Day 114;

    Jeremie is acting weird today. He is very jumpy, and his eyes are bright with a fever. I think something’s wrong.
    I pray that I’m over-reacting.

    Day 122;

    Jeremie is infected. That stupid boy. He didn’t tell me. I knew that zombie bit him. He hoped it was just a flesh would, but I know better. I can see that madness in his eyes. My brother is going to die.

    Day 130;

    Jeremie is worse, he’s turning. I can feel it. In a matter of weeks, I’ll have to kill my brother.

    Day 38;

    I can’t. I can’t kill him. Every time I look into his fever ravaged, mad eyes, I see my brother. My own flesh and blood.
    Dear god please have mercy, don’t make me do this.

    Day 144;

    It’s done. Jeremie is dead. I can still hear the gunshot, ringing through the air. I can’t live anymore. All hope is gone. I was right, the ending for us is bloody and bad.

    • Sarig Levin
      A most entertaining story there, Alyssa. I wonder where you might have gotten this apocalyptic inspiration from 😉 I particularly enjoyed the diary format, which strengthen the sense of the progression of time. The only nit I’d pick is the phrase “Things look uplifting”, which doesn’t quite sit right with me.
      • Haha, thanks Sarig. It would seem the virus is affecting me in more ways then one😉

        Thanks for reading the story too!

    • Alyssa – really enjoyed your story. You added creepy details like the cannibals attacking the teenager and dropped hints about the dread of killing a newly turned zombie relative. Very well done. I initially thought that Jeremie would kill/bite Jensen and the two zombies would end up heading off into the sunset, but your ending was…more hopeful? Well done.
      • Thanks Trish! The two zombie brothers Is actually a pretty good idea, too bad I didn’t think of it. Ah well, story for another prompt I guess
    • unamoona
      This is a powerful story Alyssa. It may seem standard Zombie fare on its surface, but it’s not about Zombies and violence, like most Zombie tales, this one is about humanity, and what being human is like. There was no miraculous salvation or over-arching moral to be learned. It was just two kids at the end of the world.

      I think this is the first Zombie story I’ve ever encountered that impressed me. And that’s quite an achievement..

      • Thanks Una for reading my story! (If this is a second comment, saying the same thing, sorry, phone is glitching)
    • Pacey zombie tale, Alyssa. I’m guessing home-working and hand sanitiser aren’t going to save us in this scenario? But at least these parasites are visible and you can shoot ’em.

      I like the contrast between the brothers and the degradation of another group of survivors who have apparently embarked on cannibalism. Sad ending, but in this world it would be hard to imagine a long-term happily-ever-after, so wise to avoid that. An enjoyable read.

      • Alas Andy, you are right, hand sanitizer can only do so much lol. Thank for reading my story though! I was thinking about doing an ending where Jensen and Jeremie find a safe haven, but like you said, couldn’t find a place for the happily ever after. I’m glad someone else agrees with that, cause I was nervous lol.

        I’m looking forward to reading your story!

    • Ken Miles
      Hi Alyssa,

      I found this to be an intriguing, pacey story that works very well in diary form. I’m not usually taken in by zombie stories, as I find them far-fetched and all that.

      But here it’s different, for your story’s quite clearly to me a metaphor of life and especially of what can happen to human beings when a horrific force majeur skins off them that thin veneer called civility and it’s suddenly everyone for themselves. Like shopping at the January sales.

      Or, I gotta say it, what’s going on the world over, right now, to us, day by day as in your story. It all fits very well in what we’re going through as we speak, almost an Anne Frank for our times of war (although I hope, for your sake, and mine, it’s not that accurate! Like yourJensen says, “I pray we’re over-reacting”!).

      Our real war, like Jensen Single’s, is not only against an invisible or unusual enemy (The Virus Lord for us or the infected zombie bite in Mr. Single’s diary) but, even more tragically, against one another too. Over the last toilet paper roll at the supermarket. And over desk space at the only computer terminal in the family. For now.

      I think your zombies are men and women turning feral, back to their (our) natural beastly states. And with The Virus, these zombies (us) don’t even have to bite! Enough to cough – or just breath? – near your victim. It’s like biting by WiFi, from a distance, wireless, by remote control. Worse than zombies!

      A man got arrested somewhere in New Jersey, the other day, for deliberately coughing at a shop assistant after she rudely told him to back off. Social distancing is in and of itself such a horrible evil in the sad human history of necessary evils. But, still, he should have held back his revenge-cough. Charge: terrorism.

      Another nice guy, this one in Munich, Germany, was caught licking escalator hand rails and subway ticket machines. Charge: grievous bodily harm.

      Zombies are mild, really, don’t you think so?

      The idea of the two loving and mutually depending brothers, who in the end have to inevitably turn on each other, plays out extremely well to me as an allegory to what the forced stay-at-home policy is doing to many families. I hear people cringing, on social media (where else, right now!) as they turn on loved ones they never had to spent that much time huddled with before.

      Day after day under house arrest, and the characters of the people we thought we knew so well (but didn’t really) start to show. Then the bites will come. We had got so used to living independent, separate lives.

      That’s the sad side, of course. In other cases a new sense of warmth may be found in these dire but cosy times (like your two brothers before things turned really sour for them). Again, as a representation of our times, your story is a piece of literature.

      The ending is satisfying as it is. It leaves our narrator in even greater distress. Besides the general aweful and hopeless situation that has engulfed the whole human race, he’s now got to deal with his great remorse and loneliness.

      I thought there’d be some way out for him, like “damn, that scratch on my finger, it’s starting to bother me. Why does it have to itch so much! I think my brother’s teeth scraped my skin when I was trying to force-feed him, before I shot him, before I even knew he… I’m feeling kinda strange, I don’t recognize these urges that are gripping me. Damn! It’s really it, I think! My undoing has come. But thank you brother, it’s the best thing you could have done to me. How could I have lived in a human skin for much longer all alone without you?” It’s just an alternative ending. A final if weird expression of brotherly love. I’m sorry if I’m making this a habit! Suggesting alt-endings. But it’s the way I felt the story was going, so I thought I’d let you in on that just in case you might like it. But your open ending is just as good or better.

      As always, your writing style and use of language are tops, very enjoyable and aesthetically pleasant. There are a couple of grammatical and technical errors I spotted along the way (brothers / brother’s, ‘Wayward Son’ by Kansas, hang out with woman > women, Day 38 should read Day 138), but nothing under the red pen that can’t be fixed with a quick read-through.

      Well done, Alyssa, another good one!


      • Thanks Ken C, as always your advice is very helpful!
        And yeah, the things people are doing during this epidemic is crazy.
        I heard a story about a woman who went to this store, and coughed on all the vegetables and fruit! The store was forced to throw out all the food, because the woman may have been infected by the virus. It shocking to see just how self absorbed some people are, ruining food (and coughing on other people) purely just to take their anger out.

        As for the ending. I was actually leading up to that direction somewhat. My plan was for Jensen to kill Jeremie, then die himself. Because, as he said before, “I couldn’t live without my brother.” I left some room for people to guess what happened (I think I gave a little more room then what was intended) but my plan for Jensen was that’d he’d die after he killed his brother, either by grief, or his own hand.

        Thanks for reading the story!

        • Ken Miles
          Very welcome, Alyssa. Your story was a pleasure to read!

          But it’s Ken M. here, not Ken C. 🙂 I’m sure he’ll be round here later. He makes a lot of noise, you’ll get to notice him!

          Don’t blame you, too much Kenfusion in here, three of us, no less. And all three pretty nice guys!

          • Ken Miles
            (and that ugly blue thing is not my avatar either! My identity is under attack!)
          • Oops! I meant Ken M! But you are right, it is kenfusion! And haha, save your avatar Ken, he must not die!
        • Hi Alyssa,

          The previous comment is from Ken Miles. This is why I tried to get him to change his name. People are getting us confused, thinking I’m nice, generous in my comments and altogether way too warm and fuzzy. This can’t be happening.

          Anyway, I decided to go with a similar calendar like structure to my story, and cringed when I first saw that you had done the same thing. What can I say but, great minds think alike. I like the fatalistic spin on this tale, there’s no deus ex machina, no magic bullet. It’s pretty grim, but entertaining.

          Ken C.

          • Thanks Ken C! I rarely get you and Ken M confused, mainly because of your avatars. Ken M’s avatar is smiling, and over all happy. Your avatar always stares at me with a vengeance, as if I’d something wrong. Which I “totally” haven’t. (Darn… he found out about the bank…)

            Spellcheck corrected it to C instead of M, so maybe spellcheck got confused between the two of you. Wouldn’t be the first time lol.

            And great minds think alike indeed. I once had a friend who’s name was Geoffrey. He said great minds think like ‘Geoffrey’ see what he did there? He is always cracking those sort of jokes. Maybe great minds think alike, are changed to great minds think like Ken C? You never know lol

  • Depresser
    by Roy York
    1194 words

    Gerald Dillingham strode purposefully toward the meeting room. As he approached the door and raised his hand to signal it to open, sensors recognized his presence and a red light flashed intermittently, along with a frenzied beep – beep – beep. Annoyed, he looked up at the lights flashing, then realized he had broken protocol.

    He sighed and turned to his left. Using his elbow he activated the water faucet control switch. As his hands slid underneath, a squirt of soap was deposited in his hands and warm water began pouring from the faucet. Music was activated, and he started washing his hands making sure to keep his hands in the motion zone. When the music stopped, the water shut off and he rinsed his hands, then reached for a disposable cloth to dry them.

    Holding the cloth as he finished, the door activated with a green flashing light and he tossed the now used cloth into the receptacle provided. He walked through the door, his attention focused directly on the bar, making sure he did not cross the clearly marked center line in the room. “No sense in setting off that alarm, too,” he muttered out loud.

    “Hi, Grandpa,” Dillingham turned to face the voice he just heard and saw it was his grandson, Noah, sitting in a comfortable chair across the center-line.

    Dillingham busied himself making a drink, talking as he prepared it. “Noah, I didn’t expect you to be here this early. I thought we weren’t supposed to meet until 5:00.”

    “Like you have preached to me since I was a little boy,” Noah said, doing his best to imitate his grandfather’s voice, “there’s regular time, and there’s Dillingham time. Five minutes early means, you’re already ten minutes late.”

    His grandfather chuckled. “I thought Toby was going to be here, too.”

    “She was doing something online. Probably ordering another annoying music hologram.”

    Dillingham settled into his chair and set the drink on the side table after taking a healthy sip. “This is good Irish Whiskey, boy. I wish you could join me.”

    “I wish I could, too. When Mom lets me, I will.”

    Toby entered the room and waved. “Hi Grandpa,” she said excitedly. “Mom said I should tell you she’s making dinner so you can’t keep us long.”

    “That’s OK, honey, just as long as I get to see you.”

    “Grandpa, What’s a umm … ‘depresser’?” she asked.

    “A what?”

    “You know, a ‘depresser’, that’s what Daddy called it.”

    “She means, ‘depression’,” said Noah. “Dad was explaining to her last night about the Great Depression and the Great Recession. He was telling her what it was like to be alive when you were just a little bit older than she is now.”

    “Yeah, he said that you had to stay home all the time, and couldn’t go anywhere. And that lots of people died,” said Toby.

    “He was telling you about the Great Recession. That’s different. That I can tell you about, but it’s not very interesting.”

    “That’s OK, some of your stories aren’t interesting, anyway.”

    Noah laughed. “You’re not supposed to say things like that, Toby. It’s impolite.”

    “That’s what Mom says. That Grandpa’s stories are mostly made up as he goes along.”

    Grandpa laughed good-naturedly. “Well, let’s see if I can get through with this story without making anything up. Do you want to hear about it?”


    “So do I,” said Noah.

    “It was in 2020, almost 60 years ago. I turned 15 right in the middle of it. It was caused by a virus they called lots of names, but the one that stuck was C-19. The virus started in China, but no one knows how. There were lots of theories, but it really isn’t important.

    “What was important was nobody could go to work except certain people. Like doctors and nurses, fire fighters, police, and people who worked in important jobs like grocery stores so people could buy food and things they needed.

    “When nobody could go to work, there were no paychecks. Without paychecks people couldn’t buy things they needed, so the government gave some of the people money. Even the ones who didn’t need it, because they didn’t know who needed it and who didn’t.”

    “Did you need money?” asked Noah.

    “No, but we got it anyway.”

    Why couldn’t people go to work?” asked Toby.

    “Because of the virus. Everyone was told to stay home; if you had the virus you couldn’t give it to anyone else; if you didn’t have it, you wouldn’t get it. It was very serious. It made people sick, especially older people and they died. Thousands of people.”

    “Did you get the virus? Is that what happened to your dad?” asked Toby.

    “No, honey, He died when they couldn’t put him in intensive care because the hospital was too crowded.”

    “I’ll bet that made you sad,” said Toby.

    “It made me sad then, but now it just makes me mad.” Dillingham paused as that image filled his mind … “The president of The United States didn’t do a very good job. He kept lying to the American people telling them it wasn’t as bad as they thought. And then, he did the worst thing of all. He told people they should go back to work, to help the economy. Why so many people – almost half the country – believed him, no one knows.

    “That’s when the virus hit again, only this time it was worse. It had mutated and made even the ones who had it before sick. They became carriers and it spread all over again. Even if you were immune, you could still carry the virus. A lot of laws were changed because of that. A hundred thousand more people died around the world. We could no longer weather the storm.” Grandpa paused and looked at his granddaughter. Do you understand all this, Toby?”

    “Sorta, a lot of people got sick and died and there was no work. And even today, you can still get it if you’re not careful, and don’t wash your hands and don’t stay away from people.”

    Grandpa nodded his head. “You understand enough.”

    Noah looked down at his apple watch. “I have a message from Mom saying dinner is ready and we should set the table. I’ll check with you later if you want to tell me more about it.”

    Grandpa said, “Go ahead and set the table. I’m done talking about the virus … and … ‘the depresser’.” Grandpa laughed again. “It’s too depressing.”

    Noah waved, “Bye Grandpa,” he said, “maybe one of these days they’ll change the laws.” He pressed a button on his chair. and the HoloVision snapped off. Dillingham looked at the empty space in the room where the 3D hologram of his grandson and granddaughter had been moments before. The grandchildren that were living less than ten miles away – that he had never seen in person.

    He sighed, and took a drink from his glass. ‘That was the trouble with the Great Recession,’ he thought. ‘It wasn’t just how many people died. It was how it changed the world. I’d give anything to hug those kids – just one time.”

    • Ken Frape
      Hi Roy,

      Looks like you’ve done it again. This is such an excellent story and so very apt for these difficult times.

      You have absolutely hit the nail on the head regarding the grandchildren. It’s exactly where we are now ( obviously) and I enjoyed reading about the future as you have described it, although I wouldn’t want to live in that era.

      The notion of grandad’s stories being made up or added to with each telling really rings true.

      No criticism of this story from me.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • Ken F., I actually came in to start reading and commenting on all the other stories, but saw your email’s opening line and couldn’t resist reading the rest of your very appreciated comments. This story is laying all over my writing room floor in various stages of starts and stops, each different from the other until I finally settled on this last theme. I had the ending from about three stories back, but the beginning and the middle only showed up in the last two or three. I am satisfied, although I could probably tweak it more, I feel that in this case, less is more.

        Thanks again, and I am looking forward to reading your work.

        I absolutely love this site, and I may need it to keep me sane in the coming months if our government does not get a handle on this virus.

        Instead of seeing what successful countries are doing, such as Germany and Singapore by testing everyone and keeping the affected from the unaffected, we seem to be simply confirming doctor’s already well established diagnoses and ratcheting up the body count faster than anyone else.

        Sweden is trying something different than any country I’ve heard. They are apparently isolating (quarantine?) the elderly from the rest of the population and letting the rest mingle, work, play and so on, using the tactic, save those most likely to die from getting it, and then letting everyone else take their chances. That will only work if the virus dies out, and if they find either a cure or a vaccine. Otherwise, they play right into my story and Grandma and Grandpa will be isolated forever from those they love. Dicey, but who knows. I don’t think I would risk that knowing that young people here are dying only a little less quicker than the old folks.

    • Loved this story Roy. I was not expecting the grandchildren to be a hologram, and like Ken F said, I would definitely not want to live in that era
      • Thanks, Alyssa. I appreciated the comments.

        I think home holograms are entirely possible in 60 years. Actually, I think far less, like in twenty, but then, I thought we’d have flying cars right now, and we haven’t even got to having safe ones, yet. We will though.

        I had a similar story without grandchildren, but I haven’t been able to see the grandchildren who live close and it was bothering me that I could talk to them on the phone, but couldn’t actually, physically hug them when they drop off our groceries. Then, I realized I had a story, I just had to put it in the future a bit.

        Thanks again, Alyssa looking forward to reading your story. I purposely don’t read stories until I have one at least well written so I don’t unintentionally copy or imitate someone else’s take on the prompt.


        • Yeah, I much prefer talking in person then on phone.

          And haha, I find myself writing up these “awesome” plots for books, and then realizing that the plot is an exact match of a recent book or movie I’ve watched/read. Those plots had to be thrown down the trash unfortunately

          • Ken Miles
            Don’t throw them away, Alyssa – just mix them, rearrange them, take bits from one and sow them in another. You’ll make them yours! Nothing is new under the sun. I think they say there are only some fourteen (not sure about this number) plots in all, and writers across millennia have been juggling them around to create their own original(ish) stuff.

            I have a book by Austin Kleon, called “Steal Like An Artist”, which talks precisely about how to get ideas, inspiration and creativity boosts for our writing from the works of others (books, films, anything), in the same way we draw inspiration from our personal experiences. For what we read and watch is also (an integral) part of our personal experience.

            But it’s frustrating, I know the feeling, when I watch a movie again after some years and realize that that flash of genius in this or that story of mine is actually something I had watched, forgotten and fished out again from my unconscious. It worries me about my memory too! But I think it happens to everyone. I once took a “memory tricks” course and the teacher said that if we were to remembered every detail of our lives, our brains would have to produce and utilize so many neural chemicals that we’d end up poisoning ourselves! And I don’t want that either…

    • Sarig Levin
      An excellent and most relevant dystopian scenario, well-written and thought-provoking. I too am troubled by the potential, long-lasting social consequences of these (semi? pseudo?) apocalyptic times. I remain calm and optimistic, though, hoping that this agitating of the status quo might also lead to reflection and become a base for positive social change. As for the story, the only thing that bugged me were the three long paragraphs it took to the protagonist to wash his hands. All and all, though, a very well-paced, well-woven tale with a clever punch at the end.
      • Roy York
        Sarig, Thank you for your comments and critique.

        I was worried about the tediousness of the hand washing episode and thought about dropping it entirely, but I felt it points out the need for reminders of why we are washing our hands, and how important it is. Grandpa really wanted to spend virtual time with his grandchildren and even in his own home, had to be reminded to follow the rules before the door would open. But, I see your point. My beta reader, my lovely wife and only companion in these isolated times made me shorten it, which I did. Apparently, not enough.

        Thanks again, Sarig, I will be reading yours today with great anticipation.


        • Roy – a cautionary tale for our future? Your story was filled with tiny details that made it all ring true – the music while Grandpa washed his hands, the whiskey, the granddaughter calling Depressions “Depressers”. Well done.
          • Trish, I appreciate the comments. I try to recall dialogue I’ve had with people over the years, and I try to make the story ‘ring true’ as you so aptly described it. Thanks for noticing. Hope you get a story in, but I’m glad your reading and voting if you can’t. Thanks for that.
    • Great story, Roy. Captures the everyday human side of where we might be going.

      Is Grandpa in a retirement home? I’m guessing so from the meeting space. Holoconferencing suites in retirement homes – I’m sure they’re on their way. This current crisis will do a lot to boost the normality of virtual interaction for people of all ages, in most walks of life.
      If the visitors are holograms, though, I’m not entirely sure why it needs the line on the floor you don’t cross? Some mischievous misdirection, I suspect.

      There’s also an interesting subtext in your story about the control of the elderly through technology. ‘It’s for your own good’, they’ll say. There was a great article in the FT last week by Yuval Noah Harari (author of Sapiens, Homo Deus, etc) about how technologies brought in now for checking health and for social surveillance will become the norm, and the different impacts that could have in varying democratic and authoritarian contexts. Stuff to set one thinking. For me it’s a believable speculative near-future you’ve woven in here.

      • Andy, Nope, Grandpa was in his own home, but he didn’t have to be as to the setting. It could go either way, but I was playing it that all senior citizens, for their own protection of course, are quarantined basically forever, even in your own home. And they set up fail-safes, such as the washing hands when going from room to room, just like they put alarms on seat belts, and actually had cars that wouldn’t start until they were fastened. Young people may not know about that sort of thing.

        And, yes, the center line was misdirection, but it caused some grumpiness in several of my critiques, including my beta reader wife.

        I do think society will change greatly after this, at least until herd immunity or a vaccine shows up. I read this morning that studies and trials in France suggest that the use of hydroxychloroquine as a cure for Covid 19 is not effective. That’s the bad news. The good news is that those who took it or are taking it don’t have to worry about malaria anytime soon.

        Thanks for your comments, Andy, I will be commenting later today on everyone’s stories because I haven’t read them all yet. I want to vote and I only have a little over two hours to vote.


    • Marien Oommen
      O my goodness, dear Roy, what a marvellous story!

      Google has a game for kids (adults too) where you can zoom in tigers and elephants into your living room in 3D. During these home bound days, I’ve had a horse and tiger in my family room. And we were saying this is how we may be communicating with my older girl who is away from home in the future.

      And today, I read your fantastic story! Hope it never happens.

      Truly enjoyable.


      • Marien, thank you for your comments. And thank you for the 3D info, I will have to check that out. I will be reading your story in short order. Looking forward to it. I promise I will be less forceful in my critique, unless, of course, you have screwed it up royally, then, I may have to throw caution to the wind and go off on a tangent. I don’t think so, however. I learned my lesson last time around.


    • Depressor. – Roy York

      Great story, unfortunately, I accidentally glanced at a comment while scrolling to the bottom of the page and saw the word ‘hologram’ before I ever read the story. So I knew the reveal. The line on the floor was a clever bit of misdirection. Believable though, because it would be something like a stage for the holo-set. Nothing odd about that at all.

      The hand washing bit was important to set the stage, both for what it says about how things changed, and also for the advances in technology it foreshadows. However, if you’d been doing it for over 50 years, it’d be pretty hard to forget, but then there’s old age, a convenient excuse for Grandpa’s brief memory lapse.

      It’s a clever, topical, unfortunately relevant story.

      As for the political aspects of your post-story comments, well, I could go on at venomous length, but I’ll save it for an email that you can delete at your leisure. I’ll simply state that I don’t understand the cultish adoration of this guy despite his obvious lack of good sense. The unflagging loyalty he receives is more troubling than the man himself.

      There’s nothing really political about that observation, it’s more psychological, religious or social science oriented.

      Good story though. Makes you think. Once again, it presents itself as optimistic, but in the end, you realize it’s very depressing. Hence the title.

      • Ken C., I always enjoy a review from you, whether critical or not, because you tend to praise faintly and damn intelligently. Always good stuff. so, it’s appreciated. I also look forward to your email, which I will gladly read and respond to. We are on the same wavelength. Can’t wait for Corona Journal, which will be in a little while. Got a few stories to read and then vote. Damn this is tough duty this time. Well, just about everytime, there are so many good writers on this site.


  • Invisible Foe by Liz Fisher 1009 words

    The blinking red light on the phone answering machine had me wondering when I missed the call as I had been home for days. Pushing the button my grandson’s voice said,” hi Gramma, just calling to say hi and see how you’re doing”, sounds like a wonderful young man..right?

    Not to me, it sounded like a young man possibly depressed and worried. quickly calling him, he answered and I told him I was sorry for missing his call. He replied, “it’s okay, I just wanted to ask you as an elder…do you think this is the end of times?”

    It took my breath away and I had chills… that this young man who should be experiencing some of the best years of his life would have this thought.

    Over the years, since 1940, there have been events that struck fear in my heart. I was born during WWII, a small town in western Massachusetts, I vaguely recall food rationing and restrictions on some necessities but never understood the issues involved.

    The Polio epidemic in the 1950’s was meaningful to me because in Connecticut we couldn’t swim, pools or swimming holes and beaches were closed. It was most likely part of a larger avoid crowds message.

    I remember when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. I was working at Pacific Telephone and the announcement came over the intercom and most of the women in the office including me burst into tears.

    I remember in April 1968 when Martin Luther King was assassinated people on the streets were crying with me.

    I remember in June 1968 rising in the morning, parking my sons in front of the TV Captain Kangaroo Show while I made breakfast, and suddenly hearing instead the voice of Walter Cronkite talking about the Kennedy Assassination and wondering why they were talking about JFK, I walked to the TV heard Robert Kennedy I still thought they were making a mistake…this couldn’t be…why were they were saying this…I ran to the phone and called my sons father I knew he had been at the event… he told me, “no, there’s no mistake…they killed Jack and now they’ve killed Bobby”…

    While writing this I remembered my oldest son was age 8 then, so I called him to see if and what he remembered of that morning. He said, “yes I remember.” I asked him what he remembered, his reply, “I remember you crying and explaining what happened and then I told you I never want to be a Democrat they all get killed.” I had to end the phone conversation as I began to cry and couldn’t quite get it together.

    In 1974 Richard Milhous Nixon resigned the Presidency, the most moral act of his term. I did not cry.

    In 1985, driving my car at lunch time, the NASA Challenger Spaceship had a disastrous launch killing 7 brave Astronauts and I had to pull over, catch my breath and stop crying.

    In 2001 the horrible evil attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killed 2,977 innocent humans, and 19 terrorists.

    In 2009 Barack Hussein Obama was elected as President and served two full terms a milestone in America’s history, a reason to be proud.

    There are many incidents over the years that brought us to tears, wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, global weather events, drought, wildfires, immigration. Many earth shaking events over the years and we’ve managed to weather the storms.

    Then President Trump was elected.

    In June 2019 Gretchen Goldman in Nature Research Journal – – said this “Cuts to science advisory panels for federal agencies will haunt the United States long after the current administration finishes,”

    And now COVID-19 has changed everything and my oldest grandson wants to know if this is the end.

    I desperately wanted to reassure him, to tell him everything will be all right and eventually things would be back to normal and we won’r worry about running out of toilet paper or food, but what are our priorities I wondered. My grandson’s income is at risk. Public events in his field have been cancelled. His coaching ski teams has ended, ski resorts and other public venues have closed. My grandsons and family are fortunate, we have homes and we are always there for each other, it is a little more difficult to navigate the minor details of life right now but this too shall pass, stay calm and carry on… or my two go too expressions – 1) get a grip and get on with it – 2) It either will or it won’t.

    So surviving the storm of Trump’s desperate need to be a “Wartime President” and his finally having an “the invisible enemy” to fight has made his day. Unfortunately he still believes it’s just a game, and the Art of His Deal will rule if he just fires the right people. The right people being the ones who just might be smarter than him.”

    But this isn’t really about the President other than the damage done to the federal governments preparedness for the Pandemic by dismantling the safeguard agencies before COVID-19 arrived. It’s what to say to my grandson.

    What to do now is the question. We all hear the medical and scientific recommendations and we should heed them. What us humans do, will tell the tale. Panicking and everyone for themselves is not a good idea whether it be about Ventilators or the last package of toilet paper on the shelf.

    But I have to focus on my grandsons, I have three and they look at the future and wonder and look to the “elders” for answer and maybe solutions.

    The answer…I don’t know… this is an unprecedented situation, the whole world is affected and suffering. Even the World War’s I and II was confined to just a few countries, I know every continent has been invaded with this silent, invisible enemy if not every country.

    Do you ever wonder if this is nature’s way of getting even with us. Humans have actively exterminated many species, especially since developing the internal combustion machine in 1876 and the natural arc of survival has been skewed ever since.

    So what did I finally say to my grandson, some tepid reassurance that everything will be all right but the big message I want him to understand, he comes from a family of survivors and finally – “You are a survivor.”

    • Liz, I take it this was a real phone call….I think everyone has been having similar conversations with young ones… I particularly liked your comment wondering if this was nature’s way of getting even with us – very well put.
      • Liz Fisher
        Thank you Trish, real for sure. Liz
    • Sarig Levin
      Straight from the heart, Liz. I like it 🙂
      • Liz Fisher
        Thank you and of course you are right…. another conversation with my grandson took place in my car many years ago.. his mother’s birthday was in a few days, he was 5 and he asked how old she was going to be and I answered 35, he said, “that’s really old” and I replied, “well, in another month I’m going to be 55” and he said, “you are? you’re almost dead!”. Needless to say I’ve never forgotten that conversation either…but I’m always laughing on that one….
    • A thoughtful and thought-provoking story, Liz. I know many younger folk are pretty pessimistic about our future prospects – both for humanity and the earth itself. And a feeling that previous generations haven’t done a great job in protecting their future. On the other hand, I came across these stats the other day – the average person alive today earns between ten and twenty times as much in real terms as someone living in 1800. People are being lifted out of poverty on an unprecedented scale, with levels of healthcare, education and social security unthinkable even in 1900. So present and past generations have done their bit. But it comes at a cost – to the environment and, for many, to their happiness. All this progress has been punctuated by disasters, of course. It does make one wonder if we will ever return to the sunny uplands.

      The grandson in the story helps to humanise the narrator’s reflections and give them contemporary relevance. Nice touch.

      Thanks for the ref to the Nature article. I followed that up. Interesting times, when some governments prefer to listen to their own echo chamber rather than to people expert in their fields … As I said, a thought-provoking piece, Liz!

    • Marien Oommen
      Just read your account, Liz. It’s worrying how things are going to turn out. But hope is a good thing to cling on, and faith is confidence in what we hope for about what we do not see. ‘You are a survivor’ sums this up pretty well. So good going, granma!
      This too will pass.
    • Liz,

      Chain of thought writing and honest recall, leaving your true feelings on the table. Sounds like I could have written it myself, as you reflected my thoughts exactly; the trouble being, you did it much better than I could have. Well done, Liz. The only thing, and it’s really nothing, is I might have ended it, “You will be a survivor.” Then, again, I’ve already told you that you did it better than I could have, so what is that critique worth? Nice job. I’m jealous.


  • This is a clever story, Sarig. Structured in such a way that we see the virus adapting to its host reflected in the structure of the language – it adapts the mode of expression, with difficulty, from its host. So the language gets clearer as we go through.

    But sadly (?!) this individual viral entity is doomed to be alone, as ‘Thoughts symbolized are thoughts alone’. Which is a very interesting philosophical concept altogether. But the virus does have some shared non-symbolic awareness with its fellows. Feels a kind of Borg-like connection, albeit in a non-sentient way ….

    Taking the capacity for symbolic language from its host and some knowledge of the host’s external environment, it identifies with Wuhan, and styles itself as being from the House of the Sun (taiyang), which I guess is a reference to the corona? (I think they call it new crown virus, or similar, over there). I was unconvinced at first by it’s adopting a human geographical designation – but I guess it absorbs that from its host.

    The story certainly takes the prize for originality. And more, it has the impact of creating a kind of sympathy for the virus … It’s anthropomorphic, but the mechanism for how it comes by this borrowed quasi-human sentience is explained. Good stuff!

    • Sarig Levin
      Thank you, Andy. That is one clever analysis of this piece of writing. Some of the points you’ve made eluded even me while writing it. I’ve chosen to use Wuhan as a point of reference for the reader, but have elected to avoid Corona as a too direct a reference. I never thought of how the virus might come by these names, can understand why it was unconvincing at first, but am glad it sort of worked out in the end. I am fascinated by the concept of consciousness in the most unlikely of places and empathy (if not sympathy) for the most unlikable of creatures.
  • unamoona

    Amber, Waves, & Brains.
    WC 1200 By Una Poole.

    You’re welcome.

    It wasn’t like I hated him more than anyone else did, it was just my turn to protest.

    He exited the building, stopped, scanned the protest line, pointed his finger at me and said. “I need you to come work for me.” I was struck dumb. He’s a big guy, much bigger than me, and larger than life when you meet him in person, and he’s a billionaire. All I could do was shake my head.

    “I won’t take no for an answer,” he sneered, gave a thumbs up to the jeering crowd and headed for his limo. Before he got in, I watched him lean toward one of his bodyguards, point in my direction and make a sign with his hands as if writing a check.

    Two minutes later a light touch on my arm led me to turn and follow a woman toward the back of the crowd, into a building, down a corridor, and a flight of stairs, to an underground concourse, where I boarded a monorail, that zipped past stations named only with letters. We stopped at Q, went up a series of elevators, through some doors and onto an airport tarmac. Next thing I know I’m boarding Air Force One. Its engines are whining.

    I’m ushered into a small suite, in comes a guy with a measuring tape and starts measuring me. Never says a word, and leaves.

    I bathed and shaved; and was fed; and presented with clean, well-fitting clothes. The plane was in the air before I was summoned to a suite set up like a billionaire’s flying living room, (what else?) and introduced to the great man himself. He was gracious and condescending at the same time. We did the no handshake ritual and then he stepped back and looked me over. “Weren’t you holding a sign? I thought you were holding a sign.” He tilted his head in that famous tic of his, as if a man of two minds, two strong (but not very intelligent) minds, were wrestling for control of one ordinary brain. He asked one of his agents, “Wasn’t she holding a sign?”

    The agent said, “If she was, we would’ve confiscated it, sir.”

    To say I was nervous is like saying ‘ducklings are vulnerable.’ “Excuse me,” I said. They both stopped and looked at me. “I didn’t have a sign. The guy next to me was holding one, in front of me.”

    “See? That proves it’s her,” he said. “She appears holding a sign.’ ‘To be’, is implied, nobody just ‘appears.”

    Although in a way, I had.

    There was silence all around. I said, “So. What happens now? You throw me out of the plane when we hit 30,000 feet?” Much to my relief, they all laughed. Everyone in the room. Potus, his assistant, and four other people I hadn’t even known were present.

    When we all got done laughing, his manner changed. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”


    “That’s a very nice name. I actually knew that. You want a drink? Coffee? Something to eat?”

    I shook my head. “I’m fine.”

    “You happy with the check I gave you?”

    I said, “I hope you don’t mind if I consider it a retainer.”

    “Because you don’t know what the job is? That’s fair.”

    I nodded.

    “I know a great many things about you, you know,” he said. “You have an amazing record. Am I right?”

    I’d been a sportscaster back in the days before the plague hit (and decimated the planet, BTW) he remembered me, and had been watching a documentary that mentioned me the night before he saw me. He insisted that fate had brought us together.

    That’s what he told me. In reality, as a sportscaster, I’d earned a reputation for picking winners. I think he considered me a lucky charm because sometimes, even when the numbers added up wrong, I’d pick the sure loser and they would win anyway.

    He offered me a hefty salary to speak truth to power.

    “About what?” I asked.

    He ignored me and said, “You know what I value more than anything else?”


    “I don’t give a shit about money. You wouldn’t understand. Living out there with the scavengers and all that—dirt.” He was referring to the post-plague countryside, where a lot of people lived, farmed and worked for a living.

    “Loyalty. That’s what I value most.” His contempt was like armor: A palpable shield. “Can you give me that? Will you?”

    I mulled it over. Could I? Was there more money involved and would that even make a difference?

    He had no appreciation for my reticence and turned to one of his aides, “See? I told you. She can’t do it. She can’t lie, it’s impossible. She’s some kind of freak of nature, or, I don’t know what. Keep her away from the press.”

    It was honest work. While it lasted.

    Even though I had no duties and was free to roam wherever I wanted, I was always watched. One rare Christmas Eve, one of his guards explained the mystery of my position. The President believed in a prophecy that foretold of a woman who would bring him low and end his reign in a bloodless coup. He believed that I was that woman. I thought he was joking of course, but the guard was serious. “Why doesn’t he just kill me then?” I asked.

    “No. Can’t do it. If the prophecy is true, all other means of ‘dethronement’ would be quite detrimental to the boss.” He dragged a thumb across his throat for emphasis. “We can’t figure, for love or money, what you could possibly do to end his reign of self-promotion. But whatever it is, we’re all hoping you do it soon. Can you imagine what would happen if he became President of the planet?”

    But that was his plan. As he was convening the world’s constitutional convention, all the leaders from the most influential countries were sitting on either side of two long opulent tables, splendidly set for a feast of culinary delicacies from around the world.

    I was late. I stopped at the room’s entrance, then saw one of his body guards wave me down to the opposite side of the table. I quickly walked along the nearest wall, behind the President, who, laying the groundwork for his global ‘initiative’, was standing at his place setting with his chin jutting out, waiting for all the guests to be seated, even me. He made a few remarks, got some polite laughter, appeared to grandly assume the throne of his own making, but fell right on his big fat ass, because I’d pulled his chair aside as I went by. The room went silent, only one or two people looked my way. The silence ended as a young woman started giggling, then two, and then three, then one of his closest advisors spewed his wine all over the table and in a matter of moments, the entire crowd erupted with unrestrained laughter. It was infectious. Two ushers clumsily helped him to his feet to a smattering of sardonic applause.

    He remained healthy, but the incident ended his bid for world domination, thank God.

    • Liz Fisher
      I like this very much and chuckled out loud in my solitary space.
      • unamoona
        Glad you got a chuckle out of it. You live way up in the sierra’s don’t you? Pretty isolated to begin with, even when you’re outside. No?
        • Liz Fisher
          Sierra (northwest of Lake Tahoe) is the second smallest county by population in California with less than 3,000 people occupying 967 sq miles of space, mostly National Forest and BLM land, our communities are isolated and tight knit, we live in a bubble but it only takes one prick tp pop the bubble. Normally we spend lots of time with friends and neighbors, we are all being good and observing the 6′ rule and churches, senior lunch and county meetings are cancelled or Zoomed..
    • Liz Fisher
      if only it were so easy…
    • Una – Maybe I was reading into it, but I so wanted the President in your story to experience a lot more bad luck than merely being mis-seated. 🙂 I liked your story and thought your ending was very fresh and surprising. Very fun story.
      • Oh – and your title was fantastic.
      • unamoona
        Trish – Me too. But you know what they say, ‘A prophecy’s a prophecy.’
    • This story is awesome, I laughed out loud at the ending, wasn’t expecting that lol
    • Amusing story, Una. There’s something about slapstick that has universal appeal, and it often involves around pricking the self-regard of the pompous. And in this case well received as the idea of such a person in such a role doesn’t bear thinking about. (Though we’ve all thunk it now after reading your story!).

      Amber’s job seems a tad mysterious, but if it pays well to waft around trying to find things to do, can I be next in line?

    • Sarig Levin
      Lovely story, Liz. Highly entertaining yet presents a settle critique that is especially significant nowadays.
      • Una, Jeez, I can’t stop laughing and wishing your story was prescient. Well done, no flaws for me to even comment on, even if I saw them. Nicely done.


  • Interesting story Sarig. The writing isn’t exactly flowery, but it weaves together, is what I would call it. At least me that is.

    I was a little confused at what the concept was at first, but then I realized after a re-read. I must that is daring thing to pull of, describing the life of the virus.
    Great story, I enjoyed it

    • Sarig Levin
      Thanks, Alyssa 🙂
      • Sarig – very ambitious and successful. Really appreciated your ingenuity.
        • Sarig Levin
          Thanks, Trish 🙂
    • Lever story
  • Marien Oommen

    Saving Grace

    Tara hurried to keep pace with her dog.
    “Stop, hey, you’re too fast.”

    Dolce stopped, turning around. He loved Tara with all his puppy heart.

    “I’ll wait. Lemme sniffy up this salty air a bit.” He listened to the sounds.

    Tara gazed at the sky, “O Lord, send help. Clear this virus from our land. I’ve just about started my life.”

    “OMG, did I say that? A prayer escaped MY lips? I’m sounding like mama.”
    Embarrassed to the core.

    Tara loved walking on the deserted beach area, she called the plateauuuu. She liked the sound of the word, besides it seemed the world had now plateaued. There was an eerie stillness everywhere.

    It’s like the beginning of end times.

    She spotted the gazelles in the distance. Just ahead, the sea was azure blue and calm.

    One perked up his head.
    “O hello there, are you on your own?” Rather a gruff voice for one so tender looking, Tara thought.

    “Yes, Guz, I’m loving it. How ‘bout you?”

    “My family’s here. Nobody’s thrilled today. Not a soul on the golf course.
    We get wild spotting humans on the green, dodging their balls. Where IS everyone? Any idea?
    Is the earth shutting down, hey?
    And nobody told us NOTHANGGG?
    Nobody talks to desert gazelles, no more???”

    Tara pursed her lips. Was she actually having this conversation with this beautiful spotted creature? She cracked her knuckles. Wanting to make sure she was still on solid mother earth.

    Or is this heaven?

    Yesterday mama was talking weird. With this new contamination taking over the world, she was all gungho about Revelation, the Seventh Seal, the Trumpets….

    Then Tara heard her talk to the lemon tree.

    “LemonT, I love that you are full now. We need all the C we can get.”

    Desperate to talk to somebody, this isolation was getting her.

    “Ma, have you gone bonkers? Did you just declare love for that tree? Shall I tell Pa?”

    Mama couldn’t hear Tara.Strong winds and heavy breeze from the sea drowned her voice.

    The lemon tree shivered passionately.

    “I thrive for you, lovely lady. Just reach up, pluck some off.. Ya, those yellow ones at the top.”

    “You’re fantastic,” Mama said, as she reached out to pluck.

    “No, not the green.. Let them be.”

    “Bless you for your selfless giving.”

    LemonT winked at her. Pome-Granate tree hunkered down, a wee bit shameful. Its offering of a single red fruit was good for the birds.

    Together, just like humans, they picked on the fig tree. For nothing ever grew on it.

    “That’s because you were cursed long ago…shame…”

    “The curse is gone,” Mom replied sagely. “We are a new creation now.”

    Mama listened to their playful banter and walked back to the kitchen.

    Jeremy was reading all the dreadful hype in the newspaper, splattered with news of C.
    She hated even saying that wretched word. That Covid idiot made no difference between a prince in London, Hanks in Aussie land, or a pauper in Mumbai.

    “Can you put that away? Reading the news is injurious to health. Here, read this- Merchant of Venice instead.”

    “Boringggg. Why on earth?” He looked at her quizzingly.

    “There’s nothing to do here. Do I flatten the curve looking at your face for the next three weeks?”

    “You must agree, it’s rather a nice face.” Mama stroked her chin.

    “We can kich kich.” She said, folding her palms, facing each other. “You kich, then I becbec.
    Then we both kich bec, kich bek. When shall I serve lunch, turkey?”

    “I don’t know…you’re the boss now.” Jeremy sighed.

    “Really? Boss of the hearth.” She tickled his ears.

    “Wait. I’m off to Waitrose. Get some meat. I’ll cook beef bourguignon tonight.

    “O no, it’s just your first day off work, and already infiltrating my territory,”

    Never had Jeremy vamoosed so quick all these years.. off like the breeze.. Didn’t shave. Never mind the lockdown.

    “What if the cops stop you?”


    Their beach home was far from the din of the crowded city. Everybody was naturally 10 feet away anyway.

    Mama decided to take an inventory of the strategic supplies needed in the larder.
    She found mouldy biscuits hidden in a tin way inside. Trashed.

    Papa returned, looking mighty pleased, with stuff. A food rationing plan was brewing in his head. Then he headed back to his man cave.

    It was his first day working at home. His laptop was misbehaving.

    “Everything is slowing down anyway.”
    Half an hour passed. He banged it shut.

    Then he snuck his golf stick to the garden. He placed the white ball tenderly on the grass.

    “Gonna hit you, but it won’t hurt.”

    He spoke to Number 7 Wood. “So sorry I can’t swing with you this entire month.
    They closed the Club. Whatever for? Is everyone nuts?”

    7 whispered into his ears, “It’s for your good. Those buggies get fingered, you shouldn’t be sharing your space.”

    Pa never imagined 7 would talk back. He did a yogic stretch of his neck, then pressed his head with his forefingers on the temples. He wasn’t going crazy.

    This is just the first day of Lock down.

    Becca was blasting out real loud in the bedroom. Her favorite song during crises.
    ‘Jesus what a beautiful name.’ Jeremy could never get her. From another planet altogether. Quite often she drove him nuts.

    “Hey, your diamonds are glistening. Look how they catch the sun.”
    They were sitting in their garden.
    “Is that a new purchase?”

    “Naaaa. That’s ‘coz I’m washing them so often. Soap does that. Anyways, I don’t need no more rings.”

    “Was checking out my wardrobe. I’ve got twenty shades of lipsticks, fifteen matching bags and shoes. Suddenly they look meaningless. I should have given them all away.” Mama heaved wistfully.

    “Just think about it…we need so little, really now.”

    The front door bell rang. Lara went to the door.

    “The maintenance guys are here, Ma. Men in masks.”

    ‘O yes, let them in. They’ve come to clean the air vents.”

    “Ma, please use sanitizers after they leave. That’s an order.”

    Now Lara was giving orders to her over 60s parents.

    “Don’t be paranoid, Lara.”.

    “Ma, don’t you know this virus thing is the boomer remover. You be careful, ma. I love you too much.”

    Dolce was listening. Everybody’s been acting weird. A week’s since anybody left home. His dwweam come true.

    He knew Green Monster had gotten all the wicked cats under its spell, spreading unnatural fear around. And disease.

    Some were dying who had never died before. Dogs sense such things, FYI.

    It was time for action.
    Dolce stood with his paws facing the setting sun, the blue sea eerily still, dolphins leaping near the shore, he turned his button nose upwards and howled into the crystal skies,

    “Awwoooooooo! Get lost, you evil creature. I don’t want my humans to be sad, scared or lonesome. Wanndemm happy. Out with your evil machinations. Back to your hell hole from whence you came. Awwoooooooo.”

    The sky split for a nano second. A flash of lightning, and then it thundered.

    Dolce ran for cover to Mama. It was going to be alright.

    • Sarig Levin
      Nice one, Marien. Must admit it was somewhat confusing in parts and slightly difficult to follow, but that’s the whole idea, ain’t it? We are experiencing confusing times, and the surreal, somewhat carnivalesque even, style of your story definitely brings that sense home.
      • Marien Oommen
        Thank you for reading, Sarig. The confusion, I guess, is because of the ‘talking’. :))
        That was the idea..
        With forced social distancing, nobody’s talking to anybody. So you talk to your favorite inanimates.
        Nature is playing its part.
        Thanks again…
    • Well this is an intriguing one, kind of a puzzler, and very much of its own genre. Seen in part from a dog’s-eye point of view, we have talking gazelles, trees and golf clubs. It seems everything is going to be alright, there’s a kind of new creation breaking out (or in), and the monsters are dispelled through a dog’s howl. I’m not sure what you’re smoking, Marien, but the government should be sending it out to everyone 🙂 A nice trip through isolation.
      • Marien Oommen
        I’m laughing now. Smokinnnn’ nothanggg!

        I did want to get that ‘different genre’ thingy.. the Aesop’s Fables/ Roald Dahl kind.

        Reason is I have an adorable dog- a havanese- and ever so often I have real conversations with him.
        Those become many tales.
        Besides, I’ve seen men talk to their golf balls. Abuse them mostly. 🙂
        The gazelles around where I walk, perk up when they see humans, as if they want to talk… so there you go!
        It’s the truth.
        Thanks for reading.


    • Not bad. Clever
    • Saving Grace. – Marien Oomen

      Kind of a whimsical fantasy type story of a global transformation, or, a virus that makes you nuts. Couldn’t be that though, it was just the first day of lock-down, so, it must be the former.

    • Marien, clever girl.

      “Ma, don’t you know this virus thing is the boomer remover. You be careful, ma. I love you too much.”

      This may be the best line I’ve read all week, and I ask your permission to use a portion of it.

      Your imagination is great, loved the craziness of it, and seldom like stories like this. Good job.


  • Corona Journal:
    By Ken Cartisano (With ideas from Kim Long.)
    3-30-2020 (wc 1199.)

    Day 1:
    I’ve stocked up on food, canned goods, and puzzles; everything else I need I can order online. I’m an avowed introvert, and avoiding people is second nature to me.

    Day 2:
    One of my online ‘friends’ said he’s building a fallout shelter in his backyard. Not sure what for, I told him that for what we’re dealing with, I hope the walls are made out of soap. He didn’t think that was funny.

    Day 3:
    The Internet went down today. I told a few online buddies about my journal and was scolded for using an actual book. I can’t tell them ‘I told you so.’ But I feel smug about my original decision.

    Day 5:
    Sorry dear journal. I skipped a day. Don’t know where the time goes. The Internet comes and goes. I have no friends, and no neighbors within walking distance. I don’t know any of them anyway, and this is no time to try and make friends.

    Day 6:
    Spent the entire day putting together a 900-piece puzzle, only to find that it apparently is an 898-piece puzzle. It’ll make excellent kindling if the power goes out.

    Day 7:
    One of my online buddies confessed that he stocked up before the quarantine order on glue, and crafting supplies, and assembled a medieval castle out of toothpicks and Popsicle sticks in his living room. But now he can’t get to his bathroom and has to shit outdoors. I hope he has enough toilet paper. Ha, ha.

    Day 9:
    I skipped a day. So what? All of this isolation is getting a bit dreary. I miss the cashier at the drug-store, and a brief conversation with a bank teller would be so therapeutic right now, I wonder if I’m already losing my marbles.

    A castle made of toothpicks? Who does shit like that? Maybe all the glue fumes in his house made him a little, I don’t know, goofy? How could he barricade himself from his bathroom with a toothpick castle? I need more information, but again, the Internet service is getting worse. TV works fine, but it’s a lot of old programming. Not much news, really, and none of it good.

    Day 12:
    It’s true that—I haven’t made any entries in a few days, but not much has happened either. I can count on the power being out for at least a couple of hours every day. Food still good. I make extra ice when I can.

    Day 13:
    Fortunately, I’m not superstitious. But the world got some pretty bad news today. Of course, the world doesn’t know it’s day 13. It’s only day 13 for me. All transportation has been halted, I guess it’s to stop the spread. But no traffic means no goods, no food, shortages are imminent. This could get ugly.

    Day 16 or 17:
    I should’ve bought a calendar. No problem, I’m making one. On the wall of my garage. I was poking around out there this morning, decided to go up in the attic. Started rooting around, and found some really interesting old file folders. Can’t imagine what on earth my mother was up to, but I found a death certificate for a one-week old child. Thing is, the name on the certificate is my name. Unfortunately, mom’s not around anymore for me to ask her about this, not that she would’ve told me anyway. She was so tight-lipped about everything. I plan to do more digging in the days ahead.

    Day 23:
    Well, as you can see, tomorrow will be an even two weeks of isolation. If my calculations are correct. I forgot to keep track of the days a couple of times and, I never noted the actual date of my first day of isolation. (Stupidly. So, I’m just guessing as to what day this really is.)

    Day 28:
    Yes, well, scold me if you want about skipping a few days, but I’ve got bigger issues on my mind. Like, how will I survive another month of this madness, and who the hell am I, anyway? Delving into my mother’s old papers has been tantalizing but frustrating. It may just be that there was a profoundly troubling reason behind all of her odd habits, like home-schooling me, and her rule about not having any friends spend the night. (Or any friends at all, it seems.) It’s hard to believe there isn’t some ‘Resident Evil’ virus lurking in all of that dust and rat shit up there too.

    Day 31:
    Well, I made it to the end of the month. Nearly out of toilet paper. Fortunately, I have this journal, and all of mom’s papers which, when balled up tight a few times and opened up, may provide the much-needed element, ‘to wipe the slate clean’ as it were.

    Day mmm 34?
    Man, I wish I’d bought more toilet tissue, my bum is as raw as a – I don’t know, something raw. There was quite a bit of excitement today. The Imperial Empire Of Majorca opened it’s doors to the public yesterday, by royal decree of his Majesty, Baron Von Hippodrome. Could be fake news. I should ‘snapes’ it as soon as I get some Internet service back.

    I think I’ve solved the riddle of my mother’s secretive life. I was abducted as an infant from the maternity ward. I found this out a few days ago and allowed the info to seep into my addled brain before sharing it with you, dear stranger. Dear imaginary stranger. Reader of sloppy journals, hopefully, the shit will have dried long before you read this. It certainly will have hit the fan. My real mother was a Ukrainian maid with no relatives. My mother took her in. (My stepmother, I suppose I should say.) Took her in in the final months of her pregnancy. Somehow won over my real mother’s trust. Still delving into the files up there. I spend hours in the attic some days, pouring over old notepads, journals, receipts and what-not. My mother was a (my stepmother) was an ardent reader and a frustrated writer too, I suppose. But I’ve still not identified the final jigsaw pieces that tie everything together into a coherent picture.

    Day 37 or 38:
    My step-mother was a sinister scoundrel. I suspect she murdered my real mother when she figured out who stole her baby and confronted the crazy bitch. All those years she lied to me. Made shit up about our family origins, and why we were so alone. So many things that never made sense all seem to fit together now. Like my outlandish height, gray eyes and dark skin. No wonder all the kids made fun of me. I’m not Irish, I’m Lithuanian. She was so comprehensive in her coverup, she even intercepted my Ancestry results and squirreled them away in a cigar box at the very far end of the attic. Another mystery solved.

    Day 40:
    Ten more days.

    Day 41:

    Day 42:
    Eight. Days. I found an old Ruger in the attic. And a desiccated body. I assume it belongs to my mother.
    They say things will be back to normal soon. Not so sure about that.

    • Wow- another terrific masterpiece from Ken C. I loved every bit of the rambling, edging to paranoia narrator and his kooky family. What a terrific read. Absolutely took my mind off everything.
    • Wow, that escalated quickly…. yikes.
      Now what my question is, everything the man found, was that actually true? Or was he slowly spiraling into insanity, and made up a whole bunch of fake conspiracies to keep his mind occupied? And if it’s all real, man, that guy will have some serious beef with his mother’s ghost (if she was a ghost of course)

      I was very entertained tho!

      • Fun story, K&K. A man’s descent into madness when he goes up into the attic too often. The first half is just a lot of fun setting the scene, with a couple of hints of an otherwise self-possessed man starting to lose his grip. He mocks his neighbour, but he’s going to have his own issues soon …

        The plot unfolds in the second half. And it doesn’t make a lot of sense because it’s not meant to. Half the story at least is in the narrator’s head. Hence the shifting nationality of the maid, the unlikely physical descriptions of someone Lithuanian. And then the countdown begins …
        I have my own theory. And that is the desiccated body in the attic IS HIS OWN!

        What’s happens next? By day 49 he’s looking at his reflection in the cracked mirror from the Philippino maid’s dressing table, his green eyes staring out from his haunted, yellowish face as he runs his finger through his uncombed red hair. He turns to see the desiccated body now rising up from the chest where it kept itself. It’s coming towards him and he cries “Tell me the truth, Mother?” “The truth? The truth is … You are me!” He pulls the trigger, and makes it true.

    • Ken Miles
      Brilliant! Well done, Ken (and Kim) – this was a most entertaining read, nicely tuned to what is going on right now. But then the gruesome digging into the past sort of makes the current events fade away into the background, as shocking findings emerge from the attic. Now that he’s got the time to dig.

      The final diary entry (things getting back to normal soon? Ever?) is so good. Simple, yet so shockingly earth-shattering for this guy. I like the way the private tragedy overlaps the overarching human calamity, and then becomes greater than it.

      It’s like you get out of your collapsing house in an earthquake. You just make it and you’re glad you still count among the living. Your beloved wife too, unscathed. Phew! Two seconds later and it would’ve been very different for both of you. It’s night-time when the tremor struck – few have sensed it, most died in their sleep. But who’s that other bloodied guy in boxers and nothing else on from the waist up coming from under your house rubble? Why is there fluff from under your bed stuck all over his bloodied wounds? Why is your wife so agitated at his sight?Shouldn’t she be just glad you both survived? Should you pick up your phone and dial an ambulance for that poor soul in fluff and boxers? Or your Ruger and finish him off while no else is looking? Never mind – cellphone and gun are now under fifty tones of crumpled concrete. “Was it an earthquake?” she asks you. Like it’s not obvious enough. “What’s that fluff on your hair, h.o.n.e.y.?” is your reply, “wasn’t our mattress more comfortable to sleep on than the floor boards under the bed?” You’re almost pleased your house has fallen. It was a house of cards, you’ve just found out.

      My! I know no restraint, I ended up writing my own mini story inside this comment. Inspiration acknowledgements to Ken Cartisano (and Kim Long).

      To make a short story long, my point is that your piece, Ken and Kim Inc., works very well with me in the way life out there is pictured as a neat metaphor of life in there. And/or the other way round too. Good stuff, guys – you’ve hit a chord with this reader.

      I’m a bit confused as to who was whose mother exactly. Were the Ukrainian maid or the other woman (“step mother”) both pregnant and which first, who did what to who? Both had to be pregnant, right, since there is a dead baby’s certificate and a living narrator still alive and kicking (and having the great fortune of meeting the coronavirus). Or was it one and the same person, somehow? I read over and over again (five times) the diary entry with the Ukrainian maid, and maybe I figured it out by now. I didn’t dare go over it a sixth time. I could have unravelled it all again. And then would have had to read it five more times again. I think, things could be clearer, in that part of the story, if you mentioned each woman specifically every time instead of using the pronoun “she”. She, who? Or have one of them be a “he” to avoid the confusion lol? And how does a he get pregnant, then? That’s a bigger one to resolve. Just take out the third-person pronouns, that’s an easier way out…

      And another thing: how do Ukrainian women give birth to Lithuanians? Or was the other woman Lithuanian? Or the unmentioned father? And how did that make him dark-skinned? I have troops of Lithuanians at my workplace. Really can’t give you a total tally – too many of them, beyond my counting capabilities. All strikingly top model-size tall – you’re right there. Some model looking too. But also fair skinned and blonde, no exceptions. But I know, there are gypsies too, in Lithuania (but not at my office). Maybe that, then..

      I like the jigsaw (last pieces not found) allegory running through the story. It’s these little big things, too, that make your writing shine.

      And this: “All transportation has been halted, I guess it’s to stop the spread. But no traffic means no goods, no food, shortages are imminent. This could get ugly.”

      I’d told you. Delivery bots are the solution. Them brainy metal boxes on wheels can’t catch the virus. Have no lungs, to start with. Had we been on time with this technology, home staycations could’ve been a breeze! Tesco has them Delbots running in the UK, but only in selected areas. Still a pilot project. Could have been handy in these days of corona madness. Just don’t order cucumbers. I have a bad feeling about that. You wouldn’t want to be alone at home with a robot with a cucumber frantically ringing at your doorbell. Not everyone will get this, but you know what I mean.


      Ken M. (Ken C. that’s you. Just to be clear, we’re all doing lots of self-searching these strange crazy days. Some might lose their balance. Especially with similar sounding monikers).

    • Well some of the comments are as long as the stories. I have given up reading the comments and stick to the stories. Brevity being my middle name now, I pronounce your story BFF and in places it made me LMAO. Thanks Ken you are pure gold in shitty times. Good enough eh!
    • Marien Oommen
      What a build up to an unexpected gory end. ( the end was a bit too much + the unmentionables)
      Being a pure puritanical prude. :))

      Well written otherwise, I say.

      But with this line, did you mean ‘snopes’? …..’I should ‘snapes’ it as soon’.

      Also didn’t get that Ruger… so ‘googled’ and ahhhaaaa, now I know!

      The “she …she… her baby”…top line in Day 38 was a bit confusing. But got cleared on my third read.

      The ancestry results being squirreled away in a cigar box is brilliant.

      Genius writing.


      • Ken M., Marien, Ilana, Alyssa, Andy and Trish,

        Yes, Marien, ‘snapes’ should’ve been ‘snopes.’ It was a deliberate typo. Probably shouldn’t do that except under the most clarifying circumstances.

        I appreciate the feedback guys. Clearly, the story could’ve used a few more edits. But I hate to post a story twenty minutes before the deadline. I’ll wait a few days, and read it with fresh eyes and try to understand the confusion I created in my haste with the identity of the mother. My intent, as Ken M. guessed, (or surmised, knowing him,) was simply a personal horror that piggy-backed onto the global horror that is no longer imaginary.

        So, it follows that the only crazy person in the story was the author. (Me.)

        Kim had the ideas, I did the writing, (after she went to bed. Otherwise she just keeps coming up with stuff and I have to distract her with food.) However, I was a bit rushed, and forgot what brainiacs we have as members of this esteemed (yes, es – steamed) writing group. The Ukrainian mother started as a typo, but then I thought, ‘it’s a journal, he’s in the process of doing the research, he was simply mistaken at first.’ But I should’ve known better. One must adjust reality a little sometimes for the sake of clarity for the reader. So, I consider it a mistake.

        Once I’d decided she was Lithuanian, I checked. ‘Tall, light colored eyes, Mediterranean, maybe Italian complexion.’ That was the description. (I spent 20 minutes at least, browsing the web for photos of Lithuanian people, mostly females. They were all so good-looking, I forgot why I was doing the research. Well, that’s not true, they weren’t all good-looking.) But then,,, I thought, hell, compared to the Irish, everyone looks dark. Eh? (That was my ace in the hole, you saltined scurvies.)

        The idea was to have fun with it and incite a few laughs. I told Kim what I wanted. ‘A guy, stuck at home, he must be alone. For way too long. He keeps a journal. What happens?’ The rest, my friends, is literary histamines.

        ‘He could realize he’s not who he thinks he is.’ She said. ‘He could make a castle out of toothpicks. He could run out of toilet tissue.’

        ‘Woah, wait, what?’ She fired these ideas at me so fast, I said, ‘You should be the writer. If only you could write, spell, type and give a shit.’

        She said, ‘We done here then?’

        What could I say but, ‘Goodnight Sweety, see you in the morning. And thanks.’

    • Ahhh, just a tiny quibble, but it’s with myself, not you. These lines: And a desiccated body. I assume it belongs to my mother. I thought, why would it belong to his mother? Then, I realized you had completely switched the mother and step mother thing. My bad. But it took me a minute. And I don’t think it should have. A well placed ‘real’ in front of mother would have done it. I know. I had a mother I cannot remember, she died when I was 14 months old. I was raised by a step-mother, but was told she was my mother until I was around 8. Even now I confuse my self unless I separate them in conversations and writing as real mother and step mother. Otherwise, Ken C., another well told tale from the mind of Ken C., or, should I say, from the mind of Kim L., now that the truth is out about where you get your ideas? Loved it. and I liked the journal style. Even though you copied Alyssa. And, you are currently in my top five. Well done.


  • OK I need advice. Do I read the remaining stories and comment on them, or write one in the short time remaining?
    If the latter, I need some help. I’ve got 3 half-ideas in my mind for different stories, but they don’t inspire me enough to put pen to paper. Besides, there are too many good stories, it would be hard to write something more engaging than what we already have… I think I need something improbable as an extra requirement to supplement the storm-weathering, something to shake me out of the grooves I’m stuck in.
    Any suggestions? Or just stick to the commentary?
    • For me, I’d write a story. When I can’t figure what to write, I’ll put my headphones in, blast music and stare at my black screen. Maybe that will work for you lol. Good luck on whatever you decide!
      • Thanks, Alyssa. I was trying that earlier with the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter and Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm, thinking maybe that would create the mood and I could borrow some ideas or beat or something. But it just distracted me in several nostalgic directions on YouTube and Wikipedia – I’ll try again with something that gives me background, not foreground!
    • Liz Fisher
      This is a good story why you can’t write a story…
      • Hm, yes … something metafictional, even …
    • Ken Frape
      Hi Andy,

      If I was facing the situation you have outlined I would pass on this round and just read the stories. I say this as I would want to be completely satisfied with the story I was thinking of writing and hurrying it to meet the deadline might not be a good idea.

      Just my view anyway.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

    • Sarig Levin
      You should definitely write something, Andy. As for what exactly, I don’t think anyone can come up with an idea for you. I certainly can’t, but if you tell us what your 3 half-baked-ideas are, maybe we’ll be able to find an improbable angle together.
      • Thanks for the encouragement, Sarig. I’ve written.

        I was trying to think of all kinds of improbable requirements to unleash some new thoughts. I went through antelopes, snow shoes, Samuel Pepys, quilting, the Boer War, pinking shears … nothing quite did the job.
        Then Liz’s suggestion about having difficulty writing merged with my half-formed idea of truth going viral, and that coming-together shaped the context for the story.

  • marien oommen
    Better a commentary than a hurried story, Andy. It’s all good. Any writing is cathartic. So do what pleases you.
    I enjoy reading everything here.
    Amazed at the depth of all the geniuses at work. Commentaries are sometimes better stories.
  • Thanks Ken F and Marien. I had decided to do as you are advising, commentary only.

    Then one of the story ideas turned into a little bit more, and here it comes…

  • The Truth Will Out

    We were on Day 93 of lockdown, and people were generally getting a bit antsy. All kinds of stuff was kicking off on social media. And hey, it was summer now. Not that we could get outside and enjoy it. But something else was brewing too, apart from the thunderstorms.

    We still don’t know exactly who ‘Patient Zero’ was in this new outbreak, though we have a few claimants. This new viral contagion had been growing for a few days. It gave us bored hacks festering away at home something different to write about. Or amplify, you might say.

    People started to tell the truth, just for fun. Being rigorously honest.

    And it snowballed.

    Admissions of copying homework gave way to admissions of theft, drug-smuggling and murder: a tsunami of mea culpas. Heartfelt declarations of love abounded. Celebrity musicians admitted they had no great commitment to changing the world, and were mostly interested in the money. A president tweeted, ‘Sorry guys, got to admit we fucked this one up. Big time.”

    Chinese officials released the real coronavirus statistics, the Kremlin owned up to the novichok poisonings, parents specified which children they loved the best, children told parents what they’d done and with whom when their parents were out.

    Obama said that in truth, and all things considered, he feels almost as white as he does black, and isn’t sure what these terms mean anyway – after which came waves of people shedding the identities they’d worked so hard to weave around themselves. Advertisers praised the quality of rival products. Harvey Weinstein said … [sorry, I won’t go into details]. The Pope and the Ayatollahs agreed they didn’t believe every word in their holy books. That guy building the ark looked at the evidence and gave up on the project. And every now and then a persistent voice cried, ‘Her emails! Now that’s the truth, man!’

    Frankly, it was exhausting. Liberating at first, but soon pretty annoying. We hacks writing about it coined phrases like ‘competitive honesty’ and ‘troast’. That’s a truth which is also kind of a boast.

    For some there was a problem in not having anything noteworthy to be truthful about. Confession-envy became a hot topic. It probably always has been in religious circles.

    So anyway, all this is going on while we’re still locked down thanks to Covid-19. And I was going for my authorised one-walk-a-day when I met my neighbour, Ben, a fellow dog walker. Whenever we bumped into each other, we’d have a socially-distanced chat between scooping the poop. It was nice to see someone other than on Skype.

    “I see your better half isn’t with you today,” observed Ben. “Is she OK?”

    “She’s fine,” I replied. “We just had a bit of a falling out.”

    “Oh. I hear it’s happening a lot.”

    “She was clearing out her wardrobe, trying on clothes and asked me, ‘Does my butt look big in this?’”

    “Oh …”

    “And I said, ‘Not to worry, you’re butt looks big in everything.’”

    “That’s the problem with telling the truth, Mike.”

    “What, you think she’s got a big butt too?”

    “No, no! I mean, she’s an attractive woman …”

    “You’re attracted to my wife?”

    “You prefer to be married to someone unattractive?”

    We laughed. “You know the thing is, Ben, Marie and I used to joke around all the time, often competing to hurl the most outrageous insult. But now she thinks I’m saying what I honestly think.’

    “In families, honesty can never be the best policy, Mike. Anyway, how’s you’re writing going? Your short stories. Your sweeping epic novel.”

    “I’ve given up. One upside of this truth virus is that I can admit that I’m a talentless fraud. Sure, I can string words together to a deadline. But I don’t have the originality or talent to write the kind of thing I want to write. Fiction, but with deep underlying truths.”

    “Sure you can do it. You can’t start off being defeatist. You need to have the dream first before it can come true.”

    “You been at the self-help books again, Ben?” I said, bending down to bag some dogshit.

    “Don’t deflect. It’s true.”

    “Come on, it’s just deluded having dreams based on what you’re not capable of. Most peoples’ dreams are just lies to help them avoid the reality of their limitations.”

    “Phew! I’d say dreams are truths you just haven’t made real, yet. What do you think, officer?”

    I turned suddenly to see who Ben was smiling at behind me. There was a policewoman, around two meters behind me.

    “I’d say, it’s time you two were moving along. Are you, like together?”

    “Together? Oh lord, no!” said Ben.

    “So, time to be off in your different directions,” said the officer.

    “Before we go, officer,” I said, “I was wondering how this ‘truth virus’ affects your line of work. Are people coming forward and confessing left, right and centre? When you arrest people, do they cough up straight away? Are even lawyers telling the truth?”

    She smiled. “You know, we’ve had to triple the size of the cold case team. So many old crimes coming out of the woodwork. You wouldn’t believe the numbers of confessions in prisons, too. But in our line of work, the truth is a complex and slippery thing. Do you think all the truths people are proclaiming online are 100% true? No. Same in real life.’

    “Are you having to sort out more domestic disputes, by any chance?” Ben glanced at me.

    “I daresay for some, truth clears the air. For others it’s the last straw,” said the officer. “And it’s a good job we’re in lockdown, as there’ll be many people itching to get their hands on someone who’s divulged an unwelcome truth.”

    “When all this dies down,” said Ben, “we’re all going to have to learn tact and diplomacy again, aren’t we? And how to lie honestly.”

    “The little white lies we tell ourselves and those close to us are the glue that holds society together. Maybe we’ll come out of all this a little wiser, what do you think? Now please, on your way gentlemen.”

    I thought about the officer’s words on the way home. Ben’s too.

    It seems like for the past thirty years or so we’ve been faking it in just about every area of life. We’re told to market ourselves to get ahead, to present the best version of ourselves. That my handbag is better than your handbag because it’s got these letters on the side. That rushing around the world taking photos of myself makes me an interesting person. Image is all, substance irrelevant. There was bound to be a backlash, which we’re going through till it runs its course.

    I’m thinking now my recent defeatist version of myself is no more true than the deluded aspirational one. I think I’ll return to embracing falsehood a little more. And there’s a big wide territory of not knowing which is which to explore between the real and the fake.

    That’s where I can create the believable falsehoods which, after all, are what we crave most both in life and fiction. Who knows, maybe I’ve started already.

    • Andy- If I we’re hit by your truth virus I’d be forced to admit that I loved your story. Putting everything in first person created a wonderful sense of immediacy and your choice of a virus related lockdown added a sense of veracity. Glad you decided to submit it. I laughed out loud several times, and boy I needed that!
      • Thanks, Trish – glad you like it and that it made you laugh!
        Your feedback is much appreciated 🙂
    • Wow, truth virus… that’s scary. Great story! It’s cool to see how telling the truth can effect the world.
      • Thanks for your feedback Alyssa – glad you liked it. Now – you are telling the truth about that, aren’t you, lol?
    • Andy I am not disappointed again. Great story that held my
      Interest. Took me away from the XFiles and that says something.
      • Thanks, Ilana – glad you liked it.

        Apologies for taking you away from the XFIles. But I had to let you know that the truth really is out here! 🙂

    • The Truth Will Out. – Andy Lake.

      Very funny story, great idea. Very funny dialogue, too. You get a little philosophical there at the end, accusing all of us of faking it for thirty years. A blatant exaggeration. No more than twenty, I swear. There’s a few lines of dialogue that probably should be exposition. ‘The little white lies we tell ourselves…’ The female cop states. Doesn’t really flow naturally. Maybe just a shortened version of that line. (Like, ‘Little white lies are no crime in my book, I think we’d all be the better for it. What do you think? Etc.)

      Still, it’s a very funny story, Andy. Very enjoyable. Most of the dialogue was perfect, and a lot of it was hilarious.

      Enjoyed it very much, Andy. Great video too. How about a second verse:

      Stay the fuck at home, indeed.
      Put a muzzle on your greed.

      Stay the fuck at home, I say,
      Or thee and I and we will pay.

      Etc. Etc. Etc.

      • Glad you enjoyed the story, Ken, and found it funny.

        I shifted a line from one character to another as I edited down the dialogue, and you spotted where!

        I almost didn’t write this story, but I had to do something while I stayed the fuck at home!

    • Ken Miles
      Hi Andy,

      Truth be told, I loved it! It’s good you decided to put pen to paper; I remember you earlier saying you don’t have much inspiration coming your way for this prompt. And that’s when a great piece like this comes along. When you’re least thinking about it!

      The dialogue is fun, the story entertaining all the way, while still laced with philosophical takeaway after another about one of the greatest things that make us human: the ability – inescapability – to lie, pretend and bullshit.

      Of all the stories on the effects the COVID lockdown might be gonna have on us that I’ve read so far – and there are already some very good ones out there – this is the most profound I came across. Now, what about the exact opposite? What if our distancing from society, but living at such chokingly close proximity to the ones nearest to us, prime us to become even more expert liars and diplomats? Can go either way, can’t it?

      There are a couple of instances where “you’re” had to be “your”, spellchecker intrusions no doubt, in a very well and clearly written piece.

      Truthfully yours,

      • Thank you for your comments, Ken. Very glad you liked it!

        I nearly didn’t write anything – but the advice both to write and also save it until I could write something I was happy, with plus a particular idea (from Liz), encouraged me to try to pull something worth writing together. Then I became an obsessive for about a day until I had it in some shape. Should have been polished a bit more, I feel … but was a relief when something came together at last!

        As for your comment about the experience making us more expert liars … when I venture onto the wider interweb, I think some people are at it already.

    • Marien Oommen
      Andy, I truly love how this story takes off. And concludes.
      But your pre story dilemma- to write or not to write- was not an untruth though, right or wrong?

      Do we have really to fake it to make it? That’s such a sad commentary on life.:(
      So this truth virus is an earth cleanser in more ways than hundred.

      Thank you for this story. Takes me back to my teacher days of reading thought provoking essays by high schoolers and discussing their vision each time.
      You’re the outlier.

      This is a God sent group of writers. I’m grateful.

      • Thanks for your kind comments, Marien! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

        You asked, “But your pre story dilemma- to write or not to write- was not an untruth though, right or wrong?”

        It was a genuine dilemma, and I’d say I was getting towards 70% to 30% not to write. But there was something in that 30% that was niggling away …
        I’d got completely into reading other people’s stories, and was very much enjoying the reading.

    • Andy,

      The thing that scares me about your story is the possibility it may have already happened and that’s why so many people believe the man behind the curtain, ummm … podium … as he discusses the current daily situation.

      He’s a victim of your plague and it has mutated, and he actually believes the falsehoods he spreads with such impunity. Please tell me this is all a figment of your abundant imagination. Fortunately, I have the original truth virus you started with and it hasn’t mutated yet … and yes, I liked your story. No gaffs to report.

      Loved this paragraph: “I’ve given up. One upside of this truth virus is that I can admit that I’m a talentless fraud. Sure, I can string words together to a deadline. But I don’t have the originality or talent to write the kind of thing I want to write. Fiction, but with deep underlying truths.” I hate to admit this, but I had to reflect about my own ability after reading this. Damn, I’ve caught the truth virus.


  • Resume by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin [168 words]

    Helen Smith
    123 New Street
    Black Mountain, PA 18xxx
    (123) 456-7890


    Inventory maintenance, employee supervision, customer service with a smile, experience with small arms and semi-automatic rifles, can run a mile in under 10 min, great with a needle and thread


    Black Mountain Militia, Black Mountain, PA — New Street Team Leader
    August 20XX – Pesent
    Night patrol captain, Coordinate barricade repair, arrange security for New Street armory and food stores, Helped facilitate the Hundings Cross Co-op raid, trains new recruits

    George’s Food Store, Black Mountain, PA — Cashier
    April 20XX – June 20XX
    Rang up customers at the register, bagged customer’s groceries, helped out in restocking shelves as necessary, helped security keep the peace as stock ran out

    Jo Bob’s Western Wear, Black Mountain, PA — Stockroom Manager
    April 19xx – March 20xx
    Coordinated incoming shipments, supervised store room and merchandise employees, planned visual store layouts, facilitated store clearance and recovery projects


    Black Mountain Area Community College, Location — Business Administration Certificate June 19xx

    • Very clever, Wendy- a resume for a dystopian world- you should flesh it out further. I’m glad you submitted something- you got farther than I did!
      • Ilana & Trish – I know it could have used a bit more, but I was trying to stick with the Last three jobs that the business world recommends 😉 Or I was pressed for time lol
    • Liz Fisher
      I really need to know the date this Resume was written to determine what “Pesent” ( I think you meant “Present”) is to determine at Black Mountain Militia how many weeks, months, years on that job.
    • Thank you for your CV, Ms Smith. The post I was advertising was actually for a technician to digitise the entire contents of the University Library, so this vital knowledge isn’t lost forever when society breaks down.

      Thinking about it now, I may have overlooked some skills we need in terms of protecting our minimal workforce for the duration of the project, then coordinating the logistics of getting us the hell out of here. Could you attend for interview, like, now?

    • Sarig Levin
    • Resume. – Wendy Edsell-Kerwin,

      Clever, wicked, scary.

    • Short and sweet., Well, not sweet exactly, but interesting. I could have used more. Much more. Very cleverly done. And, like Andy, I would have called you in for an interview. I would have liked to have seen your last three target shooting results. It would have come in handy during the toilet paper crisis. You sitting there with a rifle, and a sign saying, one package per customer – this means you.

      When we first saw pictures on the news of the people hoarding toilet paper and had carts loaded up with bundles of it, my wife asked, “Why do they need so much toilet paper?” And I said, “They have a lot of assholes in their family.” I don’t often make her laugh, but that did.


      • Liz Fisher
        Great answer!
        • Thanks Liz. Now that I’m done voting, (You Liz, did well) I need to go exercise and get ready for a beautiful sunny day with highs in the 50’s almost 60.


  • I couldn’t focus down on a single idea, so I thought, “What would Ken C do?” Then I decided to write a resume instead. No but seriously, it’s been hard to concentrate on writing, but I need to do something to keep at it. Why not do something different?
    • Ok not bad. Itching for more though.
  • I love the structure and the poetry you weave through this story, Sarig. At first I was a bit dubious, but then the repetition created a cadence that lured me into the flow of the story. I agree with Andy’s Borg reference and I love the empathy that you kind of develop for the Wuhan. I’ve had philosophical musings about viruses vs people (before the covid craziness) and this story is an interesting reflection of my thoughts.
    • Sarig Levin
      Thank you, Wendy. Aye, this story is hardly an easy-read, I know, and doesn’t quite flow the same way as most stories do. Writing it was a struggle to contain this highly imaginative, somewhat philosophical, content within a readable form, and I’m glad that your and Andy’s comments suggest that I’ve managed to achieve this goal.
  • Ilana L

    Stormy Weather Calm

    Sally sat on the couch nursing the baby.

    Thomas, the toddler, was busy throwing his big Lego blocks around in a random fashion. He didn’t build much with them yet. He distributed them. Around the house. In the dishwasher. In the kitchen pantry. On stairs. On the patio and in the garden. You know the big plastic ones they have for under threes. The ones that really hurt when you are stepping out half asleep in the morning and inadvertently step on one that is positioned to ambush any unwary adult on the way to the bathroom. Keith had even stepped on one in the shower recess one morning. His screech of pain (it must have hit a sensitive pressure point on his heel) could be heard downstairs in the kitchen where Sally had been preparing breakfast. She had maneuvered the minefield of Lego blocks to reach the bench top. On opening the fridge to get out the milk, she found a bright red and yellow Lego squares stuck randomly in the green jelly they had made last night. He had pulled the glad wrap off and left it sticking to the bottle of milk.

    She looked at Samantha or Sammy happily attached and thanked God for giving her an easy child this time. Sweet dear Sammy with her angelic blue eyed smile and funny tuffs of a reddish bum fluff crown that encircled a red gold crown on her head. The red hair came from Keith’s family. Bog Irish on his father’s side. Red hair was a recessive gene, so somehow a long forgotten Scottish ancestor’s genes on Sally’s maternal side must have imploded through the DNA sequence and made its presence known in their second child.
    Keith was in the next room talking with his secretary about the day’s schedule. They had been in lockdown for 65 days now and looking like it would be even longer than the anticipated 100 day lockdown.
    Yes. I heard you.
    No I know.
    Yes. It’s all fixed.
    Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry. It’ll all be ok. You’ll email me. We’ll skype or zoom later on in the day. I am meeting with the board at three this afternoon.
    Right. Talk to you then.
    The call ended and she prepared to broach the subject of shopping. They had been shopping online. However three quarters of her last Woolworths order was “unavailable”. She needed to get down to the store this morning.
    The mobile buzzed again. She saw a look of annoyance cross Keith’s face. He answered the call as he went outside to the patio, closing the doors to the sitting room behind him. Just before the doors blocked out the conversation she heard.
    “Why are you ringing me now? I’m at home.”
    She watched him pacing back and forth on the patio. He looked furious. The double glazed glass doors blocked out sound. She took Sammy off the breast. Wiped her mouth. Checked her nappy. She was nearly asleep, so she took her to the cot and laid her gently down.
    “Precious darling child.” She whispered. “Sleep.” Then to herself, “Two hours perhaps to get things in order.”
    “Keith!” She called. “Keith, can we talk please?”
    Keith had come back inside. His hair disheveled and rough looking. Unusual for him.
    “Yeah, sweetheart?”
    “Have you got some time to spare? We’re running low on a few essentials.”
    “Ok. You want me to go to the supermarket?”
    “Sure. If you could. I’ll make you a list. I’ve got a few things to do around the house.”
    “Yeah. Just let me clean up, then I’ll go.”
    He placed his phone on the coffee table before going upstairs to shower.
    Quickly she grabbed his phone, tapped in his code and checked recent calls.
    She committed the last number to memory and put it in her phone.
    “Here darling is your list.” She smiled warmly at him and pecked his cheek. “Also some bags. I’ve given you ten. Hope it’s enough.”
    Once she saw him drive off, she rang the number.
    “Hello, Lizzie Lamont at your service.”
    “Hi Lizzie Lamont. Mind telling me what you do for a living?” Sally’s tone was bright and crisp.
    “Just curious? Do you know who I am?”
    “No. Not really. Should I?”
    “Does the name Keith Ridgeway ring any bells?”
    There was an audible gasp. “And who are you?”
    “Surprise we have the same last name. I’m Sally Ridgeway.”
    The silence was deafening. Then a quiet “Oh” was dropped like crystal breaking and sending shock waves.
    “Have you been bothering my husband?”

    No answer.

    “If you are fucking him, you are fucking with me. Understand.” Sally paused. “And I am not a person you want to fuck with.” Another long pause. “It will turn out badly for you and … for him. He is the father of two children. He has responsibilities. He may have temporarily lost his moral compass… but I am going to help him regain it.”
    There was a sharp intake of breath on the other end. “I, I…”

    “I don’t give a shit about you. Or him. Except that I’ve two children who deserve better of their father. For them, I will kill. For them I will ensure our marriage lasts. Now FUCK OFF and don’t you ever dare ring him again.”

    Sally closed the mobile. She tidied the house and gathered up the blocks. Then she had a rather wonderful idea. She set Thomas up with a snack and watching his favourite TV show. Then she carefully placed Lego blocks at random intervals around the hallway.

    Keith came in with bags of shopping. Unfortunately, he did not see the blocks scattered on the floor and slipped on one of them falling heavily. Breaking an arm and one hip as he skidded over the floor laden with bags, he ended up spending overnight in hospital.

    He came home from hospital to a very solicitous wife who saw to his every need. As he had to scale back on his work load he had more time for Thomas and enjoyed their reading sessions on the couch. Thomas learnt to count by keeping record of his father’s physio exercises, and assisting the hospital physiotherapist who was doing remote sessions with all her patients due to the covid-19 pandemic. He enjoyed a healthy diet, gave up the odd cigarette sneaked on the patio when he thought Sally was sleeping and lowered his stress levels. He appeared happy.

    “Well,” thought Sally one morning several weeks later, “we have weathered that storm well.” She thought long and hard about what she should do to prevent further reoccurrences. Next morning she sat on the couch next to Keith.

    “Darling, you got a moment?”
    “Sure sweetheart. What’s up?”
    Sally placed a hand on his upper thigh.

    “I know about Lizzie whatshername. The thing you shagged while I was pregnant.” She smiled kindly. Keith’s face became refined flour white. She rubbed his thigh.

    “However I have forgiven you.” She paused. “But if there’s a repeat… I WILL rip your testicles out in all ways. Metaphorically speaking, of course.” She patted his thigh and smiled again encouragingly.

    (1197 words)

    • Haha, Sally is one scary mother… great story though! Very entertained, and maybe just a tad frightened 😉
    • Very well-written and enjoyable slice of life, Ilana. And strong characterisation of Sally. Not someone to mess with. And the dispersed Duplo bricks which at first seem an incidental domestic detail, come to play a pivotal part in the narrative.

      I’m also interested in Keith. Harassed guy, bit of a love rat, but in the end I have some sympathy for him. There’s maybe a hint in the build-up that he’s a little dominated by his wife, in the alacrity with which he agrees to go out shopping when he has something urgent to prepare for his work. Or maybe he just wants to get out of the house and escape her domineering domesticity. Now I’m thinking, you could write a sequel from Keith’s perspective – Escape From Legoland 🙂

      • Great suggestion Andy. 🤣😅😊
    • Stormy Weather Calm.


      Great dialogue. Very cool, self-possessed character. Good take on the prompt. The lego blocks are so realistic and bring the story to life. This is an intense, fearsome woman,