Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “Clouds”

This post is for stories related to the Contest theme: “Clouds”.


The clouds can be storm clouds, chem trails, sunset clouds, mist clouds, rain clouds or tornado clouds. The prompt is fairly open. It can even be clouds of depression or bad mood clouds.

Required Elements:

1. A boat or a goat
2. A ring or an unusual thing
3. A wooden box or a red fox

The author can use any combination of the above, but he or she must choose one from each of the three groups.
Each of the three elements must play a part in the story. They must be connected to the clouds in some form.

Word limit: 1000.

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

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

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

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must be less than 1000 words.

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

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

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Alice Nelson per the Writing Prompt Roster.

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

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97 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Clouds”

  • Carrie Zylka



    • “Dammit Jim! I’m writing as fast as I can Captain!”

      Or not…real life intrudes so no story from me in time for voting.
      Although I may write on post voting.

      Good luck all!

      • Alice Nelson

        Oh that’s too bad Carrie. Gotta deal with life, though. 🙂

  • “1. A boat or a goat
    2. A ring or an unusual thing
    3. A wooden box or a red fox”

    These elements are brought to you by Dr Seuss … which could lead to some interesting approaches, I guess

    • Alice Nelson
      Ha ha Andy, that”s funny.
    • Ken Allen
      Jesus, Alice, what is wrong with you? That prompt is along the lines of write a story without using the word ‘the’… Will have to dig into a bag of tricks to pull those elements together…
      • Alice Nelson

        Ken, talk to Ilana she came up with this one. 🙂

        • Ken Allen
          Jesus, Ilana, what is wrong with you? That prompt is along the lines of write a story without using the word ‘the’… Will have to dig into a bag of tricks to pull those elements together…
          • Yes Ken….
          • @ Ken Allen – Hark. And forsooth. Who’s a grumpy writer today? You are, Ken. It seems as though you overcame Ilana’s challenge though.
  • Dean Hardage
    Going Home

    Dean Hardage

    It had begun years ago with an obscure notation in a little known journal of astronomy, noting a tiny anomaly in the constellation Perseus. It wasn’t even a blip on the radar of the great observatories until it became large enough to show up on more common images of that part of the sky. Finally it had become the talk of not only the Astronomy community but the entire scientific world. Some kind of spatial anomaly was approaching from a very long way off and it was approaching fast. Dr. Vin Singh had been watching its approach for six years and had finally been able to measure its speed. Despite all the science that claimed it could not, the anomaly was moving many times faster than the speed of light.

    “It can’t be natural. Nothing in nature moves that fast. Hell, nothing we are aware of moves that fast.” he’d told the panel meeting to discuss the issue.

    “What have we been able to determine about it?” asked a four-star General. “Could it be dangerous?”

    “Anything is possible. As far as we can determine it has no material existence. It appears to be some kind of coherent energy field that distorts space enough for our instruments to pick up. No idea what, or who, might be generating it. We’ve no clue how it could be generated, it’s beyond our current capabilities.”

    The conference continued and became louder and more contentious for a few hours until one of Dr. Singh’s students slipped in quietly and handed him a note. His expression grew even more concerned as he read it, then rapped the gavel. It took a moment but he finally got the attention of every member. He held up the note he’d received and said simply, “It’s accelerating.”

    The chamber was filled with stunned silence and someone broke the silence with the question in everyone’s mind.

    “How soon will it get here?”

    “It’s still difficult to get a precise location but our best estimate is about a month.”

    The chamber broke out in an uproar as delegates all began speaking and gathering up their belongings. Each was intent on returning to his or her country to share the news with the appropriate authorities. When the last one had gone Dr. Singh look out one of the high windows and caught a glimpse of a cloud seeming to whirl and eddy in a most peculiar fashion. Shaking his head he turned back to more serious matters, the gamboling cloud forgotten.

    A couple of weeks later an old fisherman sat on his boat out of sight of shore on the great lake he’d been living on all his life. He was totally unaware of the anomaly but acutely aware of the unusual behavior of the clouds. He knew how they moved on the winds, high and low and how they sometimes appeared to defy the laws he understood, but these. They almost seemed to be dancing, skipping and rolling through the sky. His sense of concern was muted by the almost joyous activity of the white, fluffy water vapor. It had begun a few weeks back and gotten more and more vigorous every day. He wondered what kind of new gyrations would happen as the days followed.

    An old man opened the wooden box he had brought from his closet, lifting a silver ring from it that he’d been keeping for memory’s sake. He slipped it on his little finger, the petite band barely fitting his heavy digit. He stood up and walked outside and took his usual seat on the patio next to an empty chair, tears and memories in his eyes. Above him fluffy white clouds whirled and danced, unnoticed amidst his lonely introspection. Eventually he looked up. The clouds directly above him had become almost still though others in the sky still swung about and, as he watched, they descended.

    Bemused, he watched the tiny fog bank settle silently about him, thin enough not to block the sun but a little cool. It swirled gently about him in a slow circle, the motion somehow soothing his injured soul. He thought he heard voices like children, asking him why he was so sad, then sounding comforting when he thought of the owner of the ring on his small finger. The voices, at first a soft babbling of many, became a chorus in perfect unison.

    “Come with us.”

    Dr. Singh wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed. The anomaly had passed in close proximity to Earth and the only result at the time had been a sudden flurry of perturbations in the orbits of several satellites that were between it and Earth at the time. The one other thing of note was that, suddenly, every weather report since that date had been perfectly correct.

    The old fisherman rowed out to one of his customary spots and put out his lines. He looked up and was almost disappointed to see the clouds once more moving along with the wind.

    The local paper published an obituary for a local citizen, an old gentlemen who’d lost his wife some years back. He’d been found sitting on the patio in his back yard where neighbors and friends remember them sitting together all the time. The death was ruled natural causes but the first responders all remembered the gentle smile they’d seen on his face when they came for him.

    An old man, no longer chained by matter or pain, soared free with his new friends and their Mother. She’d brought them to the water-rich world to let them play in its clouds while she attended more serious matters. She’d come to their playground to fetch them and graciously accepted his presence. Along with them, he was going Home.

    • Totally charming story Dean with a mixture of elements. Interesting story with little drama however. That in and of itself speaks volumes. Very peaceful story. I liked the sense of your careful crafting. The story opens and the interest of the audience is engaged and we as readers wonder what is going to happen. The build up of tension is ominous and then it is gently but carefully resolved.
      I am very interested to see what others make of this.
      • Dean Hardage
        I know that conflict is usually the driving force in a story but occasionally I like to do something that’s, as you say, peaceful. Maybe it’s because I feel the heavy hand of time and I’m expressing some of my feelings about it, kind of like my previous story ‘Rescue’. Thank you for the insightful and thoughtful review.
    • Dean – Nicely done. Carefully written. Pleasant ending.
    • Alice Nelson

      Dean, a story doesn’t have to have drama if it’s done well, and this is a nicely written story. Calming and sweet.

    • Phil Town
      Very lovely story, Dean – mysterious and grand in build-up, but ultimately intimate and poignant.

      (Perhaps the fisherman was excess to requirements? The old man on the porch could have seen what he saw? Or the old man and the fisherman could have been made to be one and the same person?)

    • Renette Steele
      @ Dean,
      Great title. Older folks who long to go home often see things we can not. It’s nice to think there will be loved ones to welcome us in the beyond.
      Tender story nicely done
  • The Ogin… keepers of the Law

    The following morning we made our way to the top of the hill. The air was cool, damp and heavy with the smell of the dahsani and fish I had eaten the night before… as many times as I washed my hands I could not rid myself of it. Then as we crested the hill the most incredible thing I had ever seen stretched out in front of us… an ocean.  

    I had heard tale of it but had always considered it an open lie told by bald faced lairs. Few if any had ever entered the out lands, fewer still lived to tell of it. Never having seen it for myself I was of the opinion that such a thing could never exist.

    Water. Water for as far as the eye could see forming a line that could be nothing short of the world’s edge… a place where creation itself had stopped. It churned endlessly as if it were trying to free itself of its own bulk. It rose and fell with massive rows that marched one by one to smash against the bottom of the hill upon which we stood. On that side the gentle slope we had climbed gave way to sharp clusters of rock outcroppings. At the very bottom the rocks we had searched the night before lay under several feet of water… disappearing under each massive row that crashed upon it only to then race away. The sound was tremendous. Again and again the waves beat upon the shore, one after the other.

    “Do you hear them brother?” Bowen asked turning a shoulder to peer over the edge.

    I didn’t… not at first but as the water churned and roiled angrily below us. Each in turn lifted itself up higher and higher to become a new massive wave… one after the other raced to crash upon the rocks washing closer and closer to where we stood. Enormous amounts of water rose and fell with a deafening roar only to be replaced with another and another and another…. seven in total, each more powerful than the one that preceded it. For a brief moment, laying under the sound of the water that raced across the rocks… a voice… a deep, menacing, unintelligible voice. It growled it’s anger demanding the same thing over and over punctuating it’s displeasure with the roar of more water and then the unthinkable. It suddenly shifted becoming calm, placid, more fluid by comparison. Now the swell of water appeared to be half their size and power. Again I counted seven… each gently rushed to the rocks and in their parting a voice. This time it was clear… a woman’s voice. It pleaded softly, sorrowfully, begging in a heart wrenching tones. There were no open, discernible words just an overwhelming sense of loss that pulled at me.

    “What are they saying?” I asked feeling the tension of this place.

    “In my village Brother it is believed they cry for one who is lost to them,” Bowen volunteered.

    I don’t know why but I looked to Grake for his explanation.

    He looked to Bowen with his head bent and silently nodded his agreement.

    “My people do not come to this place. The water does not welcome the Norha,” he said in little more than a whisper, turning away.

    I stood for a moment thinking about what they said listening to the voices in the water. Out where it appeared the world ended… the line of water where the sky came to rest, a massive storm rose black and brooding. Flashes of lightening jumped from one immense cloud to another illuminating them from inside. Hundreds if not thousands of them had broken free drifting over head heading for parts unknown. Each a giant, dark purple, cheerless castle that shifted and undulated endlessly with a flat, black underside that held the threat of rain.

    “What’s on the other side?” I asked.

    “There is no other side. Many of the Kindred have tried… several times. No one who goes upon it ever comes home. There is something in the water that preys upon good men.”

    I believed it simply based upon its enormous size and the way it moved. It churned with an appalling, endless hunger. You could smell it in the air.

    “Brother,” Bowen called pointing. At the bottom of the hill heading our way was Pules and a good many of his kind numbering well over twenty, each armed with a club.

    “Why are you here Pules?” I asked, fearing I already knew the answer.

    “We have come for the spear,” he returned stiffly.

    “We’ve already talked about this. You know it will only lock itself to the ground if I release it.”

    “True… as long as you live. If I take it from your dyeing hand it will pass willingly to me and the Ogin will remain the law,” he said, signaling the others.

    “Go home Pules before you do something you’ll regret,” I warned.

    “I will only regret going home empty handed.”

    “Then come for it,” Bowen demanded, stepping in front of me, squaring his shoulders. What surprised me more was Grake as he move to stand next to Bowen.

    “Come,” Grake said menacingly waving them closer as he moved further down the hill.

    Several of Pules men suddenly thought better of it stepping back a little.

    Before I could react Grake and Bowen charged them, diving into the middle of them with no self regard. It didn’t take long before they too swung a club as well. Even with that advantage Pules men out numbered them and pushed them back up the hill.

    I pounded the spear to the ground expecting a clap of thunder but got nothing in return. Panic filled me. I repeated the effort several times before Pules and the others were on top of us. Grake and Bowen all but stood over me in an effort to protect me until we had nowhere to go. In short order we stood at the edge…. Pules and the others in front of us and the deafening waves behind us when the ground under our feet gave way and we tumbled to the water below.

    I was beaten repeatedly by the falling bodies of Grake and Bowen as we hurdled to the bottom. To my personal terror the spear got away from me, striking the water before we did.

    I was bruised, beaten and disoriented. To be honest I didn’t think of Bowen or Grake at all… just the spear. The water surged over us throwing us repeatedly into the rocks and then suddenly withdrew, pulling with surprising power in an attempt to drag us into deeper water.

    It was salty, bitter to the taste and it foamed madly. It was as if it had fingers and felt as though it were pulling at me, grabbing me in an effort to hold me under the water. I was certain, it wanted to drown me. I dove repeatedly searching the rocks for the spear when two of Pules men fell on top of me forcing the air out of me. It seemed to take forever for me to push my way to the surface… empty handed. Over the roar of the water I could hear the screams for help from Pules men as they were washed away. I was shocked at how fast they were pulled out into deeper water, screaming and floundering with every inch of it. As I turned to look at them the water rose high above them, blotting out the sky before crashing down on them with what I can only describe as malicious intent, driving them below the surface never to be seen again.

    My heart pounded wildly as the water threaten to add me to their fate. It was as if it had taken on a life of it’s own forcing me under time and time again. At the moment my foot touched the spear I heard Grake. The Norha was being pulled into deeper water. It was as if he were being held in the grip of a huge fist that repeatedly dragged him under water despite his best efforts to the contrary. His expression spoke volumes… he was going to drown and he knew it.

    I dove one last time for the spear and clutched it as if my life depended on it. As I pulled it from the water the head began to glow a bright blue and the water released me surging sluggishly around me.

    “Grab it,” I screamed stretching out as far as I could reach.

    Grake flailed wildly in an attempt to grasp the extended spear. At the moment he flung his arm in it’s direction the water pulled him under. He had disappeared from sight. I was shaken to the core… not just by his disappearance but by the sudden dread of his absence.

    For an instant Grake shot back to the surface, drawing a deep panic filled breath. His eyes instantly locked with mine.

    “Grab it,” I howled over the din of water. I tipped toed to the edge of the rocks doing everything I could to reach out to him.

    The tip glowed brighter and brighter as he went under one last time… only his hand remained visible and then it too sank beneath the water.

    I plunged the spear wildly time and time again, hoping he would see the glow and reach for it. At the moment I was ready to give up I felt a fierce tug on the other end and then another. It was him… by the third tug he threatened to drag me off my perch and into the water alongside him.

    The harder he pulled the more the spear resisted and we were in a stale-mate. To my relief, Bowen was suddenly there and grabbed the spear with me. I had forgotten about him but was now thrilled for his help. He held the spear, swimming it’s length to reach Grake. Wrapping his arm around him he pulled him closer to shore until he was able to fend for himself.

    It took far longer than I would have liked but we eventually got out of the water, crawling back on solid ground.

    Happily, Pules and the others were nowhere to be seen. Now laying on my back on solid ground I could hear the labored breathing of Grake and Bowen mix with mine. I watched the dark, massive clouds that drifted overhead and wondered where they were going… wondered if all the clouds in the world had started from here… and then I heard it again. The voices from the water called to me. I thought I heard it call my name, beckoning me, begging me, pleading for my return to come back to the water.

    “Well, that was fun. Let’s not do that again,” I quipped, trying to put it out of my mind.

    “You are wise in saying so Shalic,” Grake choked between ragged breaths.

    “I think we need to find Pules and settle this. All in favor?” I asked, weakly raising my hand.

    Without a word the others did the same.

    “Good, now give me a minute.”

    • Tegon,
      This is very good writing and a really cool story. However, it exceeds the competition word limit by 869 words. That’s quite an overshoot. I don’t think it includes any references to the story prompt that is mentioned at the top of the Flash Fiction instructions either. However, I still enjoyed the story.
      Like Dean, I think the descriptive writing is wonderful.
      • 869? I’ll count better on the next one
    • Alice Nelson

      Tegon, you’ll have to edit it down to qualify for the contest. Thank you, Management

    • Phil Town
      It’s not my favourite genre, Tegon, but this is exciting stuff. The action is really well described. As Dean says (and I’m sure it’s the case), this seems to be a chapter from a larger work, rather than a self-contained short story – we would need a lot more information to really appreciate the characters and their motivations.
  • Dean Hardage
    This feels more like an excerpt from a much longer and more involved story. The Spear is obviously something very important to all of these characters yet we don’t have a clue why, how it came to be in the possession of one of the protagonist and why his nemesis wants it. I like to let my audience fill in some back story but there’s seems to be almost a novel’s worth behind this. Your descriptive writing is wonderful. I could feel the water dragging me, like a sentient being bent on killing me. I just need more info for this story to really gel.
    • Thanks for the read Dean… much appreciated, not to mention the note!!
  • Emmanuel Malho
    Red Moon
    by Emmanuel Malho (2017)

    Midnight. Campfire. Hollie regretted listening to Josh’s invitation while she was freezing. “Why am I even here?” she kept asking herself for the past 2 hours. Josh (her boyfriend), Cale and Jess went out on a road trip to celebrate their graduation and got lost. They parked in a deserted town near a river, put up their tents and lit a fire. Besides Hollie’s teeth chattering out of sheer cold, her empty belly’s roars could be heard a mile away. She was standing so close to the campfire her boots could light up any second.

    “We should get some sleep. We’ll leave early in the morning, there has to be a gas station or something anywhere.” Josh’s enthusiasm fired up everyone but Hollie. The whole group went back to their tents. Josh put out the fire right in front of her. “You OK?” he asked. “Barely. But I’ll manage” she whispered, her teeth still chattering, and she went back to her tent.
    Warmth. Light. The first sunrays hit Hollie’s face. She opened her eyes and there was Josh. “Hey, wake up. A local found us, she offered breakfast if we’d help her out with her boat”, he smiled. “She’s hot” he grinned. Hollie didn’t need to be fully awake to throw a boot to his face.
    Ten minutes later, Hollie was faking her best smile she could and she got out of her tent. Jessica was still packing hers, and the boys were giggling with the local. Hollie’s face turned red like fire and her eyes like thunders as the local patted Josh’s shoulder. A short visual evaluation was enough for her to hate that woman without even talking to her. She was tall, red headed, green eyed and though she should be at least in her thirties, she kept a teenager’s appearance. Obviously, the boys were mesmerized by the size of her breasts and buttocks. As she approached with Jess, pack in their backs, Hollie’s belly roars caught their attention. “This is Hollie and Jess” Josh said. “Hi! I’m Karen!” the woman said, holding up her hand to Jess and then to Hollie. Her voice was hypnotic and even Hollie took a couple of seconds just to take her name in. It was only when Karen started staring at Hollie, hand up, that she flushed and shook her hand. “We were just waiting for them, so we’ll follow you. You said your place is close?” Josh asked. “Yes! It’s a 15 minute drive. I’ll get breakfast ready ASAP after I show you the boat”. “Great, breakfast” Hollie thought, holding her stomach. The group packed their things in Josh’s car and followed Karen to her place.

    Hollie couldn’t believe her eyes when a dish full of scrambled eggs, bacon, bread and a steamy mug of coffee appeared in front of her. She could watch Karen’s awe reflecting in her glasses. Everyone was devouring their breakfast. “I’m glad you are all eating so well! The boat’s going to need all that energy boys! I’ll stay here with the girls”, Karen said overjoyed, putting her hands on Josh and Cale’s shoulder. Hollie noticed a glimmering ring on her right hand – the hand on Josh’s shoulder. The weird patterned stone caught her attention but she couldn’t discern what it was. It looked like two tails of a fox. “Off you go!” The boys got up and headed outside the house. “Tools are in the dock”, she yelled as they went.

    A small motorboat was waiting for them in the dockyard. Cale jumped in. “Let’s start her up”. He tried once, nothing. Another time, nothing. A third time. The engine wouldn’t turn on. “Well, let’s see what she’s got under the hood”. Josh found the tools and they started to look for the problem.
    After what seemed an eternity, they managed to make the engine start. Karen appeared right there with two glasses of lemonade. “Oh, you did it! You guys are lifesavers!” Her face was ecstatic. They gladly grabbed the lemonades, taking a sip. “I’ll be back at the house, the girls are resting. Seems you guys don’t give them some rest if you ask me!” She winked at Cale right before she turned her back and walked back home. Cale looked fleetingly at Josh. “Go get her, tiger” Josh said. Cale went right after her. Josh wrapped the engine up and headed home too.
    “Josh! Josh! Joooooooooosh!” Hollie was screaming. Josh ran to her. “Calm down! What’s wrong?” he held her. “I can’t find Jessie! And Karen’s gone!” she was looking everywhere. “Let’s go and find her, she must be inside. Calm down!”

    They went in. “Go check the bathroom”, Josh said while he went to the other rooms. “Cale? Cale!” Silence. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!” Josh rushed back to Hollie. She was on her knees, crying. Jess was in the bathroom, her eyes red, pale as death. Marks on her throat suggested she was strangled. Josh rapidly closed the door. “Come on, let’s go find Cale”. Still lost in her tears, Hollie went with him to the upper floor. Josh was checking every room until only one was missing. He looked at Hollie and kissed her forehead. He opened the door. Cale was lying in front of them, arms and legs tied. “What are you…” – A swift slash to his jugular stopped him. Blood sprayed the walls. Cale started screaming. “Oh shut it, you pussy” Karen’s voice echoed before she shot him in the head.

    Hollie was petrified. Karen finally showed herself. “You don’t know how long I have waited for this… Sister. I’m Cloud, remember? ‘Suppose you don’t…” Hollie couldn’t believe what she just said. What the hell was she talking about? “Don’t worry, it’ll all be clear soon… Right, mom?” Hollie turned back. A red fox was standing right in front of her. It grinned its teeth, growling. “Time for your red moon, sweetheart”. The last thing she felt was a knife piercing her chest.

    • Cool horror story. However, it would be easier for the reader if you separated the voices of different characters into different paragraphs. Here is an example of what you did.
      ‘Josh put out the fire right in front of her. “You OK?” he asked. “Barely. But I’ll manage” she whispered, her teeth still chattering, and she went back to her tent.’
      It’s understandable the way it is written, but it violates a basic universal format that (I’m sorry, but) you must conform to.
      The elements were all there. The cloud, the fox and the boat, but I didn’t quite understand the significance of the ‘red moon.’
    • Alice Nelson

      Hi Emmanuel, glad to see your back this time around. I love horror stories, and this topic was ripe for one. Nice premise, some tension building for the friends early in the story. I think the main problem for me was the confusion in who was talking. Two characters speaking in the same line makes it hard to follow the dialogue.

      I really liked the story up until the very end. It seemed like this was part of a longer story. And there was no explanation of what the “blood moon.” Meant. You had all the elements though, and welcome back.

    • Phil Town
      Welcome back, Emmanuel!

      Elements of classic American slasher films here, so we have suspicions early on that something nasty’s going to happen … and it does. Very pacey, which is good for this kind of story-telling. I have to echo the other comments – there needs to be a better separation of who each character is (and with so many, you’d need more space, I think … so, fewer characters?) Also, the climax could perhaps have had a little more suspense – it feels a little rushed.

    • Renette Steele
      Not much to do with the theme, you did get a fox, and a ring in there.
      Kinda gruesome story. Not really my taste but you did a good job in telling it.
  • Dean Hardage
    Excellent story telling but, aside from the daughter’s name, I don’t see the connection to the theme. The story is very reminiscent of some Japanese mythology of demons who bear the form of foxes with more than one tail and I think there’s a lot of back story we aren’t getting here. Your use of dialog and situations was great and I hope to see a lot more of your work.
  • Ken Allen
    Terracotta Dawn


    I watch Daddy stand at the window and stare off down the range. I huddle closer to the fire. It is our first in such a long time.

    “Are you okay, Daddy? Are you gonna come sit near the fire?”

    He says he’d like to, but he has to keep an eye out.

    “Are they going to find us, Daddy? I don’t want to die.”

    He says no one will ever find us and if they do, he won’t let them hurt us.

    I watch him play with the ring on his finger. He twists it around. He slips it off and back on again.

    “I miss Mommy,” I say.

    He says he does as well. It feels like forever since Mommy died, since she walked out the door and never came back.

    My brother tells me to shut up or the monster will come.

    Daddy tells him to be quiet and concentrate on staying warm instead of antagonising his sister. I don’t know what antagonising means, but David stops talking and stares into the fire.

    There is a bleat, and Joey nestles into me. He’s my friend, my only friend. David says we will eat it one day when there is no food left. But Daddy tells him to be quiet again.


    I’m going to eat that damn goat one day. The way it always follows her around, pretending she’s its momma, it’s stupid. Besides, that damn noise it makes is gonna make them find us.

    I get up from the fire and walk to the window. I stand next to Daddy, the pump-action shotgun leaning against the wall between us. I look at him. His dull eyes, his straggly beard. He looks like one of those crazy people he used to tell me about when Momma and Penny were sleepin’.

    I look out the window, down the gravel road. “Watcha lookin’ at, Daddy?”

    He says nothin’, just keeps playin’ with that ring.

    “Sun’s startin’ to rise,” I say. “You want me to put the fire out?”

    Daddy nods.

    I get the pail and pour it on the fire, making sure I get a few drops on Penny.

    She complains as my dinner gets up and walks off, shakin’ its rear legs. I poke my tongue out at her.
    Daddy tells us both to be quiet. He’s tuggin’ on that beard of his now and the sight of it makes my tummy hurt.


    Silence. I wish for silence. Things gotta whole lot quieter when the fourth bomb went off and that huge cloud of spores floated over the city. It’s amazing how quiet it can be when a quarter of the population is instantly wiped off the face of the planet. But that was a long time ago before we packed up and headed to the mountains. That’s what they said – get to high ground – so we did.

    I look back at the kids, tell them to be quiet, and look down at the gun by my leg. The day Susie turned, the day I had to take her outside, haunts me, teases me. (Do it again.)

    I look to the sky, at the sun that’s trying to break through the clouds. If any of the extermination crews sees the smoke, we’ll all be dead. But surely, this high up, this out of the way, this much cloud cover, surely, they can’t see it. (They are coming.)

    I twist the ring on my finger, asking for forgiveness, requesting we remain hidden. They needed warmth, they needed something other than blankets and cold floors of an abandoned shack.
    Movement stole my attention. And then I’m running.

    “Quick, they’re coming!”

    The kids don’t move. Their faces drop and I can hear their hearts stop. I grab them. We go to the kitchen.

    “Get in the box!”

    I lift the lid and they climb in amongst the last of our starch supplies, Penny dragging her pet with her. I close the lid and try to spread out a table cloth on top but my hands are shaking. I put down a plate, a bottle, a bible. (They will know.)

    “Be quiet!”

    My gun. Where’s my gun? I go back to the window. Three cars now. I can make out the silhouettes. Six men in total. The extermination crews. They’ve seen the smoke. They’ll kill us all. I mentally count off the shells in my meagre artillery.

    Not enough.

    Enough for two things only.

    (Do it.)

    A tear is falling.

    I go back to the box, lift the lid enough to slide the barrel into.

    Sheriff Blake

    I roll the car to a stop in front of the farmhouse. It looks deserted from where I’m sitting. The last on my run. I sure as shit hope we find someone here, or else me and the boys have wasted the last twelve hours.

    I get out of the four-wheel-drive and click off the safety. People tend to get a little touchy when we roll up at their front door, unannounced, without so much as a warning.

    The rest of my crew are standing in front of their respective cars, and I signal for three of them to head round back. They take off like hounds chasing a fox, their guns in their hands ready to take fire.
    I step up on the porch and reach the door knob.


    I back away, cowering from the noise. I edge over to the window and peek around the corner.
    There’s a man standing in the kitchen with a shotgun in his mouth. I call out.


    God damn it.

    I shoulder my way in the front door at the same time as my boys are coming in the rear. We stop dead and look at each other over the body.

    I retrieve my radio from my belt.

    “Despatch, we got another body. Just like the others.”

    And then I hear a muffled bleat coming from a box in the kitchen.

    • Ken Allen – A very cool story. Love the delivery: Told from five points of view. Dark, ominous, bleak and apocalyptic. But the goat lives, am I right? (But probably gets eaten by the sheriff.) I was curious about the name ‘terra cotta’ and how it fit the story.
      • Ken Allen
        Thanks Ken … Terra meaning land, and Cotta meaning a garment worn by Catholic priests – isn’t it obvious? 🙂
        • Hahaha…Ah-hahahahaha.
          Ahhh. Sorry. No. The obvious perpetually eludes me. But not your sense of humor.
    • Alice Nelson

      Ken, I love the way you told the story from five points of view. Tension from the very first word, building with each telling. It seems like the father might’ve been nuts, I mean this was just an ordinary sheriff. But you left the end wide open, and that works. One nit picky thing. There were only two shots, one into the box, and the other the father uses on himself. Did he get both kids with the one shot, and miss the goat. I don’t know. Still a very good story. 🙂

      • Ken Allen
        Thanks Alice … yes about the shots. Did he get both kids? Who knows? I do like to leave stories open for sequels.

        In his state, perhaps he thought one was enough, also considering he only had two left and one was for him (plus it was a shotgun = a lot of damage at short range = I’m guessing).

        Perhaps the girl survives and the goat gives her away

        Perhaps the “regular sherrif” is infact part of the squad …

        So many options.

    • Phil Town
      Excellent story, Ken. The little sections with headings work really well. The relationships are established very economically. The ending – with the tragic misunderstanding – is very nicely played out. (Have you seen the film ‘The Mist’ (2007)?). I have Alice’s doubt about the shots. You could have given the father three cartridges maybe? One false note for me was the little bit of exposition form the father. We need to know that info (about the bombs), but I don’t think it works coming from him like that.
      • Ken Allen
        Thanks Phil … I haven’t seen ‘The Mist’ but know the gist of it (and yes, was kind of playing on my mind whilst writing). See note to Alice regarding gun shots (maybe could have included a thought around how one isn’t enough but would need to do). Interesting point about the exposition – I wanted to work in some backstory (and mention clouds), and wasn’t sure how else to do it subtly.
    • Renette Steele
      @Ken Allen
      Interesting story.
      Who was after them and why?
      Suicide from fear? and the goat lives? ;~}
      • Ken Allen
        Thanks Renette … the questions should be: “Was anyone actually after them?” and “Is it just the goat that lives?”
        • Oh my god man, you’re cracking me up. (Let’s be serious now.) I think you’re asking Renette to ask you the wrong questions. ‘Was anyone actually after them?’
          Answer: Obviously. Apparently. Unless that posse of deputies was just after the goat. (Maybe the goat was on the lam?) They might have been just after the father, who sounded a little crazy. (But who wouldn’t–after being hit with four Obscurity Bombs?) But not as crazy as Penny, (who was always falling in love with her food rations.)
          ‘Is it just the goat that lives?’ Answer: The goat? What goat? Ohhhh, that goat. Who cares? Other than Ilana, none of us really cares about the goat.

          Nope, I’m sorry. I think the correct questions are: ‘What was the goat’s zodiac sign? (i.e. Was the goat a Libra?) And ‘Who can we blame for this–world/story/writer/goat/question?’

          What do you think? If you get some spare time, I would greatly enjoy your taking a very, very serious look at my story and offer only the most germane observations. (I would be grateful if you could help me locate my story’s ‘fizzle point.’ It probably requires math, that’s why I’m having trouble nailing it down.) (I already checked the first paragraph, wise guy.)

  • Dean Hardage
    Cold, hard, appalling. Great story, leaves a lot to the imagination but the picture is complete. Sorry, I’m a sucker for a happy ending and you just had to let that stupid goat bleat.
    • Ken Allen
      Thanks Dean … Well, the goat is a reflection on today’s society, and mankinds persistence to break connection to the natural environment and live on self-belief, their own brand of righteousness …. just kidding, it’s a goat and included because I had to. I think the Goat plays a similar part to the whistle at the end of the movie ‘Prisoners (2013)’ …
  • Phil Town

    Heat haze rose from the still warm meadow, in counterpoint to the mood of the couple lying there: Christopher and Jennifer, on their backs, side by side but miles apart, his right hand scant centimetres from her left.

    All around them sounds, some of summer: birdsong from the trees on the edge of the meadow; the buzzing of large bumble bees on their last sorties of the day; the chirping of the first of the evening’s crickets.

    And Jennifer’s quiet sobs, making her chest rise and fall in tiny jerks.

    Christopher looked over at her, pain and shame etched on his youthful face. He moved his hand nearer to hers, to the ring that kept them together. But he didn’t touch her. He couldn’t touch her.

    And so they lay, as the clouds above them took on a pink tinge, beckoning to the dusk.

    Jennifer’s sobbing subsided and she let out a heavy sigh.

    “Why, Chris?”

    Chris took a deep breath and exhaled long and steadily, preparing himself.

    “It was a stupid one-off thing, Jen, after drinks. And we didn’t even go all the way.”

    “I don’t want details. I don’t want to even think about it. But I want to know. Does that make sense?”

    “A whole lot. But I swear: nothing … we didn’t do anything …”

    Jennifer was lying on her side now, facing away from Chris. He could see her chest jerking slightly like before. He gave her time.

    After a while she shifted and looked him in the eyes, searching for truth and assurance.

    “You must promise me something, Chris.”


    “Never again. I don’t think my heart could take it. Never?”

    Chris smiled gently, not with happiness but gratitude.


    Jennifer tried to return the smile but her lips weren’t ready. She turned to look at the sky once more.

    The pink of the clouds was slightly deeper. The couple relaxed into the sounds of the meadow, gazing up at the blue beyond the clouds and the pale moon hanging there, almost full.

    Jennifer raised her left arm and pointed.

    “A boat.”

    Chris followed her long, elegant finger. Sure enough, one of the clouds had formed a near perfect triangle, with a separate cloud forming an indistinct hull.

    “Yes, a yacht.”

    Jennifer dropped her arm and her hand fell on Chris’s. She didn’t move it away.

    They stayed that way for several healing minutes. Then Jennifer raised herself on one arm, leaned over and kissed her life.

    They made love slowly, tenderly, rocking as if floating on gentle waves. Afterwards, they lay on their backs again, holding hands firmly, warmly.

    The clouds were almost red. Chris raised his arm and pointed.

    “A fox.”

    Jennifer came back almost immediately, but tentatively.

    “Is that you?”

    Chris knew what she meant.

    “No, darling.”

    The bees had gone, but the crickets now provided backing for the crystalline song of a solitary blackbird.

    Jennifer’s lips were ready and a joyful smile appeared there from somewhere deep inside her. She raised her arm again, pointing, her ring glinting golden in the light from the low sun. Chris followed her finger.


    Her smile broadened further still.

    “A baby.”


    • Dr Phil good work.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Drª Ilana!
    • Phil Town – Nice. Subtle. One thing, ‘…Jennifer…leaned over and kissed her life.’ (?) I didn’t get that. Her life? Otherwise a sterling story, old chap.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Kenneth!

        (Christopher is her life. I know it may sound a bit odd, but it’s what I meant.)

    • Alice Nelson

      Phil, loved how you saw the elements required for the story in the clouds. This is a beautiful story, of pain and forgiveness. You made the two characters empathetic, and Chris wasn’t just some jerk who cheated. Read like something that happened in real life, I really enjoyed it.

      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Alice!
    • Renette Steele
      @ Phil
      Love, forgiveness, and hope, a sweet tender love story nicely done
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Renette!
  • Chasing Clouds
    1003 words
    White sails float by. Billowing in the wind, the sails reach out to me. I lie on my back, pressing shoulders into the rocky desert sand. My tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth. Although it is June – winter in this arid region, it is still hot. The clouds hold no promises. They are scooting fast across the early morning sky. The rain has come and gone, leaving rapidly drying mud on the track that leads to Australia’s red heart.
    I want to leave the car and walk on. They tell you not to. I have done all the right things. I had told the people at the last stop, some place called Cooladdi that I was heading to Windorah, and then, on to Birdsville for the races. The Birdsville races are a legend out here. People fly in from all parts of the country. I had lived most of my early life out here as a teenager, before I went south. Never made it to the Birdsville Races. And it did not look likely that I would this time, if no one came by in the next few days. Most people took a plane out. There would be a few driving from Longreach and Mount Isa. Most of the people would be getting charter flights from Charleville which is the last civilised town of sorts in the area.
    I cursed not taking on the travellers from the Gumtree ad who wanted a lift to Mount Isa for some unlikely reason. Germans they were. They had baulked a bit at going to Isa via Birdsville. I did not sell the races hard enough. I had really not wanted to have to entertain them on the long drive. I prefer to drive in silence – feeling the country and its landscape seep into my bones and consciousness. There is an eerie sense of calm that takes over, when the road stretches out into the distance. You focus on getting to a place that is maybe two hundred or three hundred or more kilometres in the future. Your sense of time warps. The radio does not work. There is little or no reception. If you want CDs you need to stock up on a selection of your favourites well before you leave civilisation. Out here, it is for the most part, Slim Dusty or Chad Morgan or some other singer wailing about lost love or the like. Me, I prefer either the silence or the rolling notes of Bach or Mozart. Anything else is a distraction.
    Now I was here nearly alone, stuck with a broken axle and no bloody phone reception. I did have fifty litres of water on board and a 100 litres of fuel in a small drum. I also had two spare tires and a tool kit with a fan belt and other handy implements, but no bloody spare axle; even if I could fix the darn thing. The car would have to be towed back to Charleville. Then they would send to Brisbane for parts.
    My cat Mitzi was perched on the bedding on the back seat of the Nissan Patrol. She was annoyed at the lack of game, particularly rabbit kittens and some mice. She had had to subsist on dry cat food since she had last feasted on fresh kangaroo that was road kill outside the Kidman Camp Resort at Bourke in the back of NSW.
    “You should’ve taken those tourists.”
    “I seem to remember, you were not too keen. You’d had to curb your tongue for a good day or so. That might have been hard.”
    “You could’ve bought the boy. Then at least, you’d had someone to go cross at.”
    “No, he’s at camp.”
    “I’m sure he’d have enjoyed this adventure.”
    “What getting stuck on this track for God knows how long? Cat, your brains have been fried in the heat.”
    She refused to answer me which she always does when she thinks I am insulting. Picking up a foot, she licked it and began to clean her face. Our conversation was over.

    It was then I walked some metres from the car and lay down on my back to watch the clouds and think. There is something relaxing about early morning desert sunrises. This was no exception. I settled my shoulders into the dirt and let my mind wander. My fingers scrabbled over the small stones until my little finger caught on something embedded in the dirt. It was round and seemed ring like. I closed my eyes and felt its shape. Yes, it was a ring.
    I pulled at the dirt around it and felt it, rubbing it before I sat up and looked at what was in my hand. There it was – a simple gold band with the initials AB heart TB engraved on the inside rim.
    I rubbed it. It shone. Smoke arose from the ring and swirled around to drop on all fours and form a beautiful red fox with a long brush. She grinned at me. It was a she. I was quite certain of that.
    “Now, I bet you did not expect this?”
    Shock was probably written all over my face. I opened my mouth and closed it.
    “Do you want to get that axle fixed?”
    I nodded, stunned into silence. She opened her eyes wide and looked at me with a quizzical expression. “Ok. One mechanic coming up.” Then she vanished into thin air.

    In the distance there was a rumble of an approaching vehicle. It came into sight – a truck loaded with feral goats. It stopped and two young men with Akubra hats and RM William boots hopped out.
    “What’s your problem, Mate?”
    “A broken axle.”
    “Well yer’re in luck. Tim here, his dad’s a great bush mechanic. We’ll give ya a lift to town and then come back and take yer car to the workshop.”
    Quickly I grabbed my wallet and left Mitzi to make herself comfortable until my return.

    • Ilana – An imaginative story, full of surprises, like a red fox genie captured in a ring. I like the dialogue with the cat. The writing, and the ending, convenient, but not unlikely.
    • Alice Nelson

      A very imaginative tale. I liked how you wrote the character’s internal dialogue. You did a really good job of describing the desert scene so that I could imagine it in my mind. However, the story seemed a bit “stream of consciousness,” to me, which made it feel a bit choppy to me, the ring and the “genie” fox although quite imaginative, seem to come out of nowhere, with no real reason, so it was hard to believe it happening. I also think spaces between the paragraphs would make it easier to read.
      Still I always love the poetic way in which you write.

    • Phil Town
      Really like this, Ilana. You’re very strong on description, and we get a good sense of the remoteness of this spot. The narrator appears to be rambling a bit with all those (lovely) place names, then the (very funny) conversation with Mitzi, then the fox … I was disappointed when the fox appeared because it made a sudden leap into fantasy … but then I thought “Nah – the narrator’s merely got sunstroke and is imagining or fantasizing it.” I hope that was the intention (because the fox actually appearing would spoil it a little for me). Really enjoyed it.
    • Renette Steele
      I liked your build up of stranded in the desert. I smiled at your Geni in the ring. Put that poor kitty left out in the heat to fend for himself. ;~{

      Though a bit unbelievable, a charming story.

  • ‘Clouds.’ (Poe-ette-eek! Justice.) By Ken Cartisano © 2017 (998 words.)

    With his back against the steep slope, Edgar had a clear view of the clouds, an endless procession of white, fluffy, puffs. As if god, or some other carefree deity had dumped a colossal barrel of cotton balls into the sky, leaving them to scatter and drift in an endless parade of monotony. They didn’t block the sun, which warmed him through and through.

    A small bird landed almost within reach, ignoring him, hopping around in search of food. A large raven landed a few feet further away, startling the smaller bird into flight.

    His first reaction was to throw something at the shiny, blue-black bird, but then, absurdly, he spoke to it. “You know you’re desperate for company when you start talking to buzzards, don’t cha?”

    The raven seemed to take a dim view of Edgar’s insult. It kept its distance, turned its head under one wing and was content to prune itself.

    “You sprucing yourself up for a date? Or just—dinner?” Whatever else was broken or bent, Edgar’s sense of humor was still intact, and as dark as ever.

    Edgar had planned the perfect murder. He had left work early on Friday, bragging about his plans to go fishing. He had arranged an alibi by renting a room for the weekend at the Red Fox Fishing Camp, conspicuously socializing and drinking heavily the first night and day he was there. Then he left in the dead of night, early Sunday morning on a small untitled scooter he had paid cash for and had hidden in an abandoned shack. He rode the scooter to the woods near his house, and would use it to return to the fishing camp later that night. The final step was to ditch the scooter beside one of many fire roads in the woods between here and there. The unregistered gun would be dismantled, its parts scattered randomly as he drove home.

    The point of all this planning, was to assure that no one really knew where Edgar was.

    He had parked the scooter in a secluded spot far from the road, and began the long uphill climb through the woods, following paths up the steeper ridges. The sun was well above the horizon before he reached his destination: a high outcropping that afforded him a clear view of his isolated country cabin far below.

    He sat down in the grass, dried leaves crackled and crunched. He pulled off his knapsack and extracted a pair of binoculars, training them on the quaint little cabin below. He scanned the hills around him, looking for traces of other hunters, hikers, or four-wheeler fanatics. He was quite alone. He traded the binoculars for his rifle and peered through the high-powered telescopic sight. He could see the window of his cabin, moving the sight lower he could see an orange bucket, lying on the ground near his shed. The bucket was not much larger than a human head.

    He set the rifle down and scanned the terrain with the binoculars again. Something unusual caught his eye, a small shiny object that glinted in the morning light. It was a good 150 yards down the mountain, easy enough to get to, but the hike back up would be laborious. He tried to ignore it, scanning the scenery beyond and below it for a while, but his attention kept returning to the glittering mystery. It would be a setback to his plans if his wife were to step outside while he was down the ridge holding what was likely to be nothing more than a worthless piece of mica.

    Edgar’s curiosity got the best of him and he grunted as he rose to his feet. In an effort to save time, he veered off the trail. Halfway down the slope he lost his footing, slipped, fell, rolled and tumbled, catapulted over a short ledge, then finally slammed into a tree with both legs. He screamed involuntarily as little bits of dirt, twigs and small rocks cascaded down around him. He passed out.

    When he regained consciousness, his hands, like claws, had dug into the dirt. He could move his arms and head, but not much else. The pain was excruciating. He pounded the ground with his fist and regretted it. He was on his back and saw blue sky and clouds as his body pumped natural endorphins into his nerve receptors. He looked at his legs and moaned, then closed his eyes and whimpered, “Jesus Christ.” Then, “Fuck.”

    His rifle could be anywhere, probably buried in the leaves. A bag of beef jerky and his water bottle were a hundred yards up the ridge. He lost consciousness again.

    The sun had passed below a distant ridge when Edgar was awakened by the faint sound of clanking. Like a cowbell, but there were no cows at this elevation. It sounded like a canteen clanking against a belt or a backpack. He was surrounded by a smattering of bare trees. It was early Spring, still cold, and the ground was covered with leaves. Strong winds were common at this elevation, but today, the bare branches were caressed by a gentle, almost imaginary breeze. The raven was now accompanied by several vultures.

    The bell-like clanking seemed closer. “Oh thank God,” he whispered. “If you get me out of this, I swear I’ll never hunt anything but buzzards for as long as I live.” He mustered his strength and hollered for help, even though the effort made him wince with pain. He lay still, gasping for breath, after some time, he heard the tell-tale sounds of feet crunching through the leaves.

    The intermittent clanking grew louder, the leaves crunching closer and closer. Whoever it was, they were behind the large tree he was crumpled up against. Were they afraid? “I’m unarmed,” he said loudly. “And hurt—I need help.”

    The crunching grew louder, closer, and then there was silence, as a goat stuck its head out from behind the tree.

    • HA HA HA Ken Ken Ken. I think I had better go somewhere quick. Yep love it.
    • Alice Nelson

      Ha ha. Best-laid plans go awry. A very good descriptive quality to the story that hooked me right from the beginning. Liked the discussion with the raven, and the return to the raven at the end. Good use of the elements, and a funny ending. For me the story didn’t really go anywhere, felt a little incomplete like an excerpt from a longer tale. Still I always love your style.

      • Kenneth Cartisano
        Thanks Alice. I can appreciate the criticism. I feel the urge to make fun of my story. Let me just get this out of my system first. (I think my story had too many characters. It was like, all these birds on a high-wire, and when I added the goat, the whole thing just sagged to the ground. It might have been the fact that I had too many kinds of birds for such a short story. If I had used less birds, or maybe a parrot instead of a raven…)
        Seriously though, this story is like one of those movies with no hero. There is no protagonist. Maybe, I should, as per my advice to Renette, emphasize the horror, and de-emphasize the character’s ‘carefully contrived plan.’ That’s what this story should be about, the horror, not the plan. The character’s predicament is like my story’s tornado.
        • Alice Nelson

          I think you just gave yourself some awesome advice. It’s tough sometimes to see our stories objectively, that’s what I love about this group, gets me out of my own head so I can see the story clearer.

    • Phil Town
      A great read, Ken. Very good, sandwich-like structure. We don’t fid out why he wants to kill his wife, but we don’t need to. I disagree with you about the horror thing – for me it’s not horror but (very good) black humour. (btw, I think you mean ‘preen’, not ‘prune’ … 😉 )
      • Phil Town
        Note to self: (btw, I think you mean ‘find’, not ‘fid’ … 😉 )
        • I Bless you for finding that ‘prune’ you old eagle-eye. (And for mentioning it.) I think I agree with you, too. I wasn’t focused on the horror, because I was shooting for irony. (I think.) After I considered Alice’s comment, I thought, ‘Well, Ilana liked it, and that definitely counts for something.’ I was curious to hear what others thought about the story, so I appreciate your positive feedback. (Plus, it’s a lot easier to change prune to preen, than it is to re-write half the story. That was a close call.)
          As for fid. (Prepare to be bored.) We once had an orange cat, we just called him Fiddy Fat, then we dropped the Fat. After a while… Guests would say, ‘Oh what a pretty cat, what’s his name?’
          ‘Fid? Is that a shortened Fido?’
          ‘No. It’s just Fid. That’s all we have time for.’
          • Phil Town
            That’s a very good joke at the end there. 🙂
    • Renette Steele
      @Ken C,
      You petered out on us. Your story had some great tension and plot going then oops foiled by a fall and a goat? Did you lose concentration or interest in the story?
      You write so well, and this just seemed to sort of fizzle out.
  • Renette Steele

    Renewing Clouds

    Erin lay curled up watching her favorite show when a warning came across the screen. Erin took the time to prepare, going to her room. Her parents had helped her design and build a fancy bed just for such emergencies. At the first sign of movement, she and her bedding would drop within the bed. A cover would then lock over the top. She could lean up on one elbow and not hit her head. The inside contained several wooden compartments holding everything she would need for survival. Plus a few extras; paper, pencil, books, a Bible and a satellite radio. She could use her tablet, as long as there was electricity, if that went out, there was a small generator which could be utilized sparingly. Erin and her mother had spent two months painting the inside to resemble a spring garden complete with blue sky and fluffy white clouds. Built into the head of the shelter were two panels, one directly above her and one to her right. She could unlock them and see out.

    Erin had been on her bed about an hour, listening to the wind howl. The sound of a raging freight train reached her ears when she suddenly dropped inside her bed. Panic rose up in her throat as the implications of what happened began to sink in. Then she was able to relax a bit knowing this could be the very thing to save her life if only she could enclose the storms in her mind as quickly.

    Erin sent out a quick text saying she was in hiding. The satellite radio helped keep her abreast of things in the outside world. She learned that there had been a touchdown at the edge of town making a swath 2 miles wide stretching four miles long, headed north-northwest. Her country home would have been directly in its path.

    Erin reached up, unlocked the panel, slid it open, to darkness. She opened the side one, in streamed a flood of fresh air and light, bringing warmth to her soul. With the panels open Erin could hear tapping noises, thinking someone was looking for her, she called out. A scurrying accompanied by two legs appeared in the side window; light flowed in from above Erin Stilled and watched. The noises continued. The face of a goat was looking down at her. Erin tapped on the glass, and it jumped knocking the board, or whatever was on top, from the window.

    Watching the sky, hoping for signs of rescuers she noticed big white fluffy clouds. With not much else to do encapsulated in this tomb, she began to play games with the clouds. Sketching the things she could see forming in them. First, it was simple things like elephants, bears, and lions. When Erin tired of that, she reached for her Bible, letting it fall open she read; Job 35: 5 “Look up at the heavens and see; gaze at the clouds so high above you.”

    She had been looking up what was she missing?

    The sun moved on so did the warmth Erin had felt. She closed and locked the panels and reached for the flashlight, stored in the wooden box to her left, also pulling out a sleeve of crackers and another bottle of water. The painting she and her mother had done helped for a while but as the hours ticked by Erin couldn’t contain the onslaught of the storm raging at a rapid speed in her mind.

    The depressing thoughts came tumbling like boulders rolling down a river gaining speed and size as they went. Would she die here? Would it matter to anyone? Surely her parents would come looking. Could she do anything right? Why did it seem she messed everything up? She was a prisoner in her home due to health issues, but she enjoyed living in the country and getting outdoors. Her friends slowly vanished one by one. She wondered if anybody even remembered her anymore.

    She couldn’t seem to control the negative thoughts, muddled like some crazy quilt. She wrestled for several hours before trying to settle down to get a little rest.

    Erin opened the panels for the second time to blue sky and fluffy clouds, which brought relief to her soul and mind. The Bible verse came to her again. She studied the clouds a little more intently. Rather than the simple things, Erin saw foxes chasing little creatures, followed by mansions and balconies with people standing on them. She wondered who the people were. She began to recognize her grandparents and cousins who had passed. The more she studied the clouds, the more she could see in them. A cloudy pillar stood at the door of a tabernacle, the people turned and worshiped the cloud. It spoke face to face with them as a friend to a friend. It was as if someone was telling her she wasn’t forgotten.

    Erin began to twist the ring on her finger back and forth, a nervous habit she had when she was uncertain of things. As she lay there, the negative thoughts
    tried to come, but a steel door came to trap them. Leaving only the
    truthful, positive words. She heard a whispered voice tell her to
    let them drop. Look to the heavens. Erin tried her best to
    concentrate on the clouds, to understand their meanings. In
    Deuteronomy, she read: “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
    who rides on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your
    refuge … He will drive out your enemy.”

    On the third morning, Erin gazed out, to see shadows moving around. Voices, were those voice of people or more from her soul? The activity began to increase as her family and rescue workers moved debris. Once they released her from her crept, she felt like she’d been freed from so much more, saving not only her life but her soul.

    • Renette – Niiice. Only two suggestions. When you’ve got something like a tornado in a story, take advantage of it. ‘listening to the wind howl.’ And ‘the sound of a raging freight train’ seem a bit passive. (To me.) This would be a chance to throw the reader into the middle of a tornado. Roaring, (you mentioned), buffeting, ripping, tearing, like a dinosaur rampaging through the house above, large objects thumping against her bedlike cocoon. The change in air pressure hurt her ears. (I hope you don’t think I’m picking on you. I think this is solid advice for all of us, myself included. When you come up with a good idea, like a tornado, make the most of it, that’s all.)
      In the last sentence, should be, ‘…released from her crypt.

      Good story, exciting, good ending. The writing is quite good.

      • Renette Steele
        “Thank you, Ken, for reading my story.

        I do see what you mean about using some stronger phrases and words for the tornado.
        I did have to cut this story by 100 words and wanted to get on to the part about the clouds so did not spend enough time in the beginning.
        I think I need to start sooner and slow down even more.
        Thanks again for your great suggestions.

        • Kenneth Cartisano
          Renette, Oh, my pleasure. I know what you mean about the word limit. I had to cut over 150 from mine, and, well, there was one phrase that got cut out that could leave a lot of readers puzzled. And I knew I was leaving the story thin in that one spot but, I just couldn’t cut any more from anywhere else. There’s a french expression for this, but, thankfully, I can’t remember what it is.
      • Alice Nelson

        Rennette, fine story. You already got some great advice from Ken. I think you did a good job of making the character’s crypt feel very claustrophobic, also a great job of letting us inside the character’s head and showing us her thoughts. I agree with Ken that more description of the tornado would really add to your story.

    • Phil Town
      Good story, Renette (I didn’t realise it was a tornado until I read Ken’s comment – I thought ‘the touchdown’ was aliens! We don’t have tornados in Europe …). The solution for an emergency – being closed inside a box – is nicely strange, and you describe it well. I found it a little coincidental that the Bible falls open twice at sections mentioning clouds … perhaps Erin (I’d avoid starting too many sentences with her name – first four paragraphs …) could simply know those quotes? Also, the last line “freed from so much more … saving her soul” … I’m not sure where this comes from. How has her soul been saved?
      • Renette Steele
        Thank you, Alice, for reading my story and your kind words.

        @Phil, Thankyou Phil for reading my story.
        I see what you mean about the bible just falling open more than once. Thanks for pointing that out.
        I never know how often to state the characters name when doing it from the narrator’s point of view.

        Erin was having lots of negative thoughts that allowed her soul to be in danger. The clouds and bible verses reassured her of her faith and Gods goodness thus saving her life and her soul. Hope that helps explain it.

  • Alice Nelson
    The Two Mrs. Minskys
    By Alice Nelson ©2017

    There have been two defining days in my life; the day I married Teddy Minsky, and the day Teddy died. On both days a dark, ominous cloud loomed overhead —that cloud came in the form of his mother, Ida.

    Ida Minsky was a bulldozer, in attitude and appearance. A short stout woman with square shoulders like a linebacker, but she was much nastier. On our wedding day, the storm cloud bullied the caterers into changing the menu, the band into playing the songs she liked, and Teddy into realizing that no matter who he married, she was still in charge.

    She was so skillful in fact, that she relegated her husband, Pauley to near invisibility in her presence, and he finally just vanished altogether, choosing death over life with Ida.

    But Pauley’s liberation meant my captivity because after he died, Teddy brought Ida Minsky to live with us.

    “She doesn’t have anywhere to go, and we can’t leave her alone in that house without dad, it’d kill her.”

    Now there’s a thought.

    Teddy did his best to be the buffer between us, but it was a difficult and thankless job.

    Then Teddy died. Maybe he wanted out too, like his dad. Maybe that’s why he got drunk on that fishing boat, maybe it wasn’t an accident at all. Maybe he threw himself off on purpose, and floated down the Payette River with a big smile plastered on his fat face, relieved that he wouldn’t have to referee another fight between Ida and myself ever again.


    The sheriff tried explaining to us what happened to Teddy. Ida wouldn’t listen and ordered him to take her to the morgue, “That ain’t my Teddy!” she screamed on her way out.

    Her next course of action was to blame me, “He wouldn’t have been out drinking if you were any kind of wife.”

    It would’ve been easy to yell back at her, to tell her what an obnoxious and hateful woman she was. But I didn’t have it in me, Teddy was gone, so I just left the room with Ida screaming, “Go ahead and run, this is all your fault.” Followed by a vase smashing just above my head.


    Lots of people came to say their goodbyes to Teddy, including the morons, George and Pinkus, who were drinking with him that night on the boat, too inebriated to realize that a man had gone overboard.

    “I’m so sorry Karen and Mrs. Minsky, we loved Teddy like a brother,” they said. And all I could think was, ‘I’m Mrs. Minsky too.’ But I smiled and hugged them, they were dopes, but they weren’t malicious.

    Ida sat next to me, stoic, chin up, no sign of tears or sadness. “He was an idiot,” she said to his casket on her way out, but her hand lingered on his before she left.

    I sat with Teddy after everyone was gone. I wanted to give him a proper goodbye.

    “I wasn’t a great wife to you Teddy, but I loved you as best as I could. For the first time in my life, someone showed me what love really was. Thank you.”

    I took his wedding band out of my pocket, Teddy, hadn’t worn it since he broke his ring finger in a bar fight two years ago. I placed it on his finger and touched his cold face. “I’ll miss you, ya big fool.” And I kissed him one last time.


    For reasons I could not fathom, Ida stayed in the house after Teddy’s death. I would never kick her out, I couldn’t do that to Teddy, and she knew it.

    I came home late one evening to the sound of soft music coming from Ida’s room. Her door was open, and I crept up quietly and saw her sitting on the bed. Ida’s back was to me, but I could see she was looking at something in her lap.

    Ida turned so quickly, I couldn’t retreat before being seen. “What do you want?” She appeared to be drunk, then I realized…Ida Minsky was crying.

    I had never seen her cry in the entire time I’d known her. I froze, not sure what to do.

    “This was Evelyn’s,” she said quietly.

    I walked a bit further into the room and saw what she meant. There in her lap was a beautiful wooden music box with a tiny ballerina twirling to Mozart’s ‘Little Serenade.’

    “Pauley’s mother gave it to her on her sixth birthday. Who woulda thought that would be her last.”

    “Who’s Evelyn?” I asked cautiously.

    There was a long pause before she said, “My daughter.”

    I was stunned, Teddy told me he was an only child.

    And as if reading my mind Ida said, “Don’t blame Teddy, I told him to never talk about her. ‘We just need to forget,’ that’s what I told him.

    “I’m so sorry Ida.”

    “I hated everyone and everything after that. Was like my heart went cold and died.” She turned to look at me, her eyes red from crying. “Teddy paid the biggest price of all. But I loved him.”

    I went and sat next to her, “Teddy knew you loved him.”

    Ida looked at me, and I thought she would go into her usual rage. Instead, she said, “I want to stay, because of Teddy. He’d want us to try and mend fences.”

    It would’ve felt good to say no, tell her she wasn’t wanted here. But I thought about Teddy’s kindness, and how he was able to love the bitter, and broken woman I used to be, without giving up on me.

    “Of course you can stay.”

    Ida nodded and went back to her music box. “Thank you, Karen.”

    Before leaving I said, “I picked up some take-out, you hungry?”

    “I could eat.” She smiled.

    Ida stood, and we walked out together. The two Mrs. Minskys arm in arm, our bitter feud finally over.

    • Wow! What a splendid story–with a very important moral message. Grief changes people, kindness is a healing power. (Well, that’s what I got out of it.) Your story is so well written and told with much grace and humor. I especially liked this line: ‘A short stout woman with square shoulders like a linebacker, but she was much nastier.’
      Your story was missing one comma, and one word. If you want to know which and where, just let me know. (And you should, because this story is worth money. This story IS money.)
      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you so much Ken, wow, you saying my story is money, made my day. Yes, please tell me what word is missing and the comma. I used Grammerly but it obviously missed that comma.

        • Kenneth Cartisano
          Okay, So—Since I fancy myself a genius, and much smarter than this guy Grammerly, (if that’s his real name,) I’ll post what I think are corrections here, so that everyone in the group can have fun arguing and contradicting my geniusness. (And let’s face it, we all suspect that I’m a flaud genius. (As most geniusese are. ‘genius’s? geniusi?)

          (I’ll admit that this first one is debatable.)
          She was so skillful in fact, that she relegated her husband Pauley, to near invisibility in her presence,

          Teddy hadn’t worn it since he broke his ring finger in bar fight two years ago.

          I froze, not sure what to do.

          • Kenneth Cartisano
            Teddy, (he typed carefully and forcefully) hadn’t worn it since he broke his ring finger in A bar fight two years ago.
          • Kenneth Cartisano
            @ Alice – I should clarify that ‘genius’ does not equal talent. I would gladly trade half of my ‘geniusness’ for one-fourth of your talent.
          • Alice Nelson

            Ken C., I think you’re on to something. The comma after “fact” and before “that,” Grammerly said was incorrect, but natural inclination was to put it there. Same thing with “froze.” I think your genius is correct. Thanks 🙂

          • Alice Nelson

            I fixed those commas, I think you were right about them.

    • Phil Town
      This is a terrific story, Alice – really fine. The way the (excellent) humour early on transforms into poignancy is masterful. All the characters are vivid, the relationships between them too. One (for me BIG) false note: the final five words – totally superfluous. But I don’t wish to seem churlish – it only takes a little bit of the shine off a brilliant story. Bravo!
      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you so much Phil, and I understand what you’re saying about the end. I tried like six different endings, this one was the least superfluous one. 🙂

    • Renette Steele
      We never really know a person. Each of us deals with things others don’t know about. You told a nice story about forgiveness, peace, and love.

      One little nit:
      In this portion, you seem to switch midway through who is talking. Teddy’s mom starts out.
      Teddy’s wife thinks in her mind it’d be nice to say no but it is Teddy’s mom who says he loved a bitter and broken woman.

      Ida looked at me, and I thought she would go into her usual rage. Instead, she said, “I want to stay, because of Teddy. He’d want us to try and mend fences.”

      It would’ve felt good to say no, tell her she wasn’t wanted here. But I thought about Teddy’s kindness, and how he was able to love the bitter, and broken woman I used to be, without giving up on me.

      • Alice Nelson

        Thanks Renette, sorry for the confusion but Karen is saying she was a bitter and broken woman, and Teddy never gave up on her. Hope that clears things up. Thanks for the nice words 🙂

  • Kenneth Cartisano
    Hey gang,
    I just read some of your comments from the last contest. ‘Night Photography.’ And I wanted to acknowledge the kind and generous feedback you all gave me. I have to admit that I thought all of the other stories were better though. Kind of like that time in high school when the gym teacher made us all run the 500 meter. We were sent around in groups. I cleverly waited until all the fast runners had gone round the track and figured I’d beat the last few laggards easily. Unfortunately, there were five really fast runners who had the same idea as me. So there I was, solidly in sixth place. Ah well, as the French say, ‘C’est la shee-tah.’ (My French is, how you say, not so good. Yes?)

    Andy – I go to this vacation spot where our phones don’t work, no service, and while there is such a thing as wi-fi, alas, we don’t have it. And though there are times when I’d like to have it, most of the time, I’m glad we don’t. It would feel too much like a leash. When I ‘get away,’ I like to really, be, away. (We do have electricity though. I mean god, we’re not barbarians.)

  • Alice Nelson

    Still time to vote. I need Dean Hardage and Emmanuel Malho. I’ll extend the time you all need to get your votes in.

    • Emmanuel Malho
      Sorry for the delay!
      Clocked in!
      • Alice Nelson

        No worries Emmanuel, it was a busy day for me, I don’t know if I would’ve been any earlier even if you had gotten your votes in.

  • Have all results come in yet??
    • Alice Nelson

      Not yet Ilana. Sorry, I’ve been gone all day, but will have results shortly. 🙂

  • (Yes I know it’s past the date but I wrote it so i’m posting it!)

    Among the Clouds by Carrie Zylka

    “Come on, quick!” He grabbed her hand and they went racing down the hallway. The cold sterile walls laughing at them even as they ran. The double doors clanking as they pushed through.

    A man rounded the corner and they slid to a stop in their slippered feet, he was paying more attention to his clipboard than them so they skittered down an adjoining hall, giggling and laughing as they went.

    They pushed through the door with the exit sign and ran, chests heaving until they reached the parking lot.

    They danced between the parked cars, ducking to avoid the cameras, until they reached the visitors garden area.

    The two children flopped down onto the grass. The green blades cooling their feverish bodies.

    “We’re going to get in trouble again.” Jackie said.

    Sam giggled. “I know.” His little chest heaved with exertion and sweat poured down his pale face. “I don’t care. It’s worth it.”

    She smiled a wan smile and stared up into the clouds. “Ooooooo look a butterfly!” Here shiny eyes widened in excitement.

    Sam laughed with her. “And an owl!” He pointed.

    Jackie looked over and saw his hand shaking as he pointed. Her smile slipped and she looked back up into the sky. “You’re my best friend.” She said reaching out to take his hand in hers.

    “I know. You’re mine too.” He sighed. A heavy, weight of the world sigh no eight year old should ever sigh. “I wish I could be your donor.”

    Jackie laughed. “I wish I could be yours too Sammy. I’m a year older so I’m probably stronger than you and could handle it better. Plus girls are stringer anyhow.”

    “They are not!”

    She laughed and looked over at him. She noted how pale he was today. More pale than normal. She reached up and adjusted his scarf. She didn’t even think he noticed.

    “Yeah. They are Sammy, my mom says so.” She leaned back again. “Ahhhhhhh I think that one looks like a cat!”

    Sam laughed, but his laugh turned into a violent coughing fit. By the time he was done, he was breathing hard again, eyes half closed.

    “We should go in.” Jackie said in a small voice.

    Sam shook his head. “No. I want to be here. Right here. This is my favorite place you know.”

    “Mine too.”

    “I wish we could live in the clouds.”

    “Me too. I bet no one up there gets sick.”

    “I bet they don’t either. I’m sorry you’re sick Jacki, but I’m glad you’re here with me today.” Sam’s voice had an odd quality to it.

    Jackie’s lip trembled as she tried to be strong for her friend. “Me too.” She squeezed his hand and was comforted when he squeezed back.

    They watched the big, bouncy clouds float across the pretty blue sky.

    “I think that one looks like a truck.” He whispered.

    She squeezed his hand and he squeezed back. “I think so too.”

    The wind picked up and Jackie began to feel chilled, she could feel Sam’s hand getting cold too. She smiled a nine year old smile when the clouds shifted. “A horse!”

    She squeezed Sam’s hand…but this time he did not squeeze back.

    She didn’t want to look at her best friend.

    So she didn’t.

    Her parents found them like that.

    A tiny, sick, little girl holding her best friend’s hand as she watched the clouds above, keeping an eye out for his face among the clouds.

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