Writing Prompt “The Gift of Ancestors”
Theme: The Gift of Ancestors
Requirements: Your story must begin with the line, “It was in my great-grandfather’s time…”
The story centers around a memory and it must be a first person recount of either tragedy or celebration or both. Something was exchanged between two people.
They do not have to be married to each other, they could be siblings or close friends. The gift does not have to be a physical object.
Word Count: 1,200
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Story Submission Rules:
- One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
- Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
- 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).
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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 June 10, 2020 will be chose by Sarig Levin.
281 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “The Gift of Ancestors””
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Great minds not only think alike, but at the same time.
I have spent quite some time studying your prompt. It is a very interesting one and at one point, I was thinking that there is too much in it. I felt that it was, perhaps too prescriptive.
I do wonder if others are feeling the same, hence the shortage of stories in so far ( well done Berlinermax!) or perhaps there will be a rush towards the end of the time slot. Who knows?
Anyway, I decided to accept your challenge and hope you will enjoy my contribution entitled “Earth Ring.” Enjoy.
I kind of have something cooking like Roy, Phil and Peter … but other work is so time-consuming and also involves a lot of research and writing, and I need to escape from screen work sometimes
If people want to change, no problem. I have a collection of half-baked stories now that so one could probably be steered towards whatever new requirements 🙂
I think as some people have already stories, its been such a bizzare week and emotional on top of the covid-19 pandemic stuff, Andy is right perhaps we need more time. I have not even started mind. Brain in a spin from watching Netflix Gabriel Fernadez story and probably combined with the memory of my own bashing at four years of age by a carer, I have been in an emotional freeze. So much violence I feel frozen with grief.
The world is such a sad sad darn place that I start to cry for no reason that I am sad and afraid for my child, my friends in the USA who have had homes and businesses burnt and synogogues attached and the lootin’ shootin’ comment has thrown me.There is wrong on both sides and where has sanity gone?? I feel like we are on the brink of a war.
I have to spend time meditating to balance myself and praying for peace.
It’s been a busy, emotional, week for many of us.
I have posted a story but I am happy to go with whatever decision you decide upon, either an extension of the time or a different prompt.
So sad to hear the news in the USA. Very worrying times.
We’re not changing the prompt. If anything we’ll extend it a week.
I need to let it knoodle a bit longer. A definite top twenty finisher for sure.
Sons needs too. So weekend I will get something written. Thank you Alice and Carrie
It was in my great-grandfather’s time. I’ll tell you the story just as my father told it to me so many times. Our family lived in a small village far away from other villages and towns. It was an easy life in the village, my father said – everybody knew everyone else and often there were feasts and celebrations. These village feasts always lasted for several days, and there were so many reasons to celebrate that sometimes people did not know whether it was still Pepe’s funeral they were celebrating or if it was already Esmeralda’s wedding. Actually, it didn’t matter as long as they could be together, eat a lot, tell long stories and sing sad songs.
My great-grandfather was a very special man in our village. In other villages he might have been called chief or mayor or medicine man, but here he was simply called Urgru, which means “the old man”. He was one of the oldest men there, but also the cleverest and the most experienced by far. For he was the only one who had ever left our village and came back. When Urgru was still young, that is, an infinitely long time ago, he had set out to see the world, as he said. Where he had gone and what he had done there, no one really knew. This was not surprising, for no one else from our village had come so far, and no one could really imagine what the world outside the village looked like.
Ten years later Urgru came back to the village. He had two donkeys with him, on which he had packed all the things he had brought from the outside world. For most of the villagers there were small gifts, some precious things he just showed around, but many, many items from his luggage nobody ever got to see. That made the old man quite mysterious. My father remembered that Urgru once showed him an object, made of paper, with a hard lid and lots of leaves with mysterious signs on them. Urgru explained that it was a device for drying flowers, and the signs were of no further significance.
Since Urgru had returned to the village, he was the hero of every celebration. All the villagers waited patiently for the moment when he had eaten and drunk enough firewater and began to relate all the wonders of the world. They loved his stories, and it didn’t bother them if they’d heard some of the stories hundreds of times before. He told them about lakes that were so big that you couldn’t see the other shore and whose water tasted salty. He told of hills that reached up to the sky and whose tops glowed white in the sun. And then, when it was late, he started his most incredible story. It was about villages that were so much bigger than ours. Villages that were so big that people didn’t know each other by name, and under the ground there was a beast that took people from one place to another. My father said he had often dreamed of this animal racing through a tunnel with fiery eyes. Incredible.
Urgru had many grandchildren, no one knew exactly how many. But his favourite grandson was my father. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the villagers were celebrating my father’s third birthday when Urgru arrived with his two pack mules, so the birthday party turned into a welcome home party. It became the biggest and most beautiful welcome home party our village had ever seen, and it only ended when the old woman who knew how to make yoghurt died. Her funeral celebration took place shortly afterwards.
Wherever Urgru went, my father was close by; the two were inseparable. Urgru told my father many more stories than the others, for example about the man who rode through the sky on a sled to bring joy to children. He taught him how to dry flowers and make toys out of wood. The other villagers called my father Urgru’s grandson, and at some point the couple were nicknamed “the two”.
But as my father grew older, the girls started whispering and giggling behind his back. He was a handsome boy, and they liked it when he looked at them. But my father only had eyes for one girl, the proud Haydée with a voice like a silver bell. She was the coachbuilder’s daughter. My father told me he’d walk around the village trying to meet Haydée “by chance”. But when he succeeded, he didn’t know what to say and he would blush. Haydée, on the other hand, didn’t notice him. For her he might have been a stone by the wayside. Or so it seemed.
In his desperation, my father told his grandfather the whole sad story of Haydée and his longing for her. He knew Urgru had done some magic tricks. Finally, at the goatherd’s funeral, the old man took his grandson aside. He had a small parcel with him, wrapped in colourful paper, from a faraway land. On the package was the head of a woman and some of the signs, as in the flower dryer. My father accepted the parcel and Urgru explained to him how to use the content. He said that if my father did it right, all the women – and especially Haydée – would be at his feet. But it was important to be careful with what was inside, because Urgru only had this one pack.
My father accepted it gladly. He tried it out. And as Urgru said, Haydée was soon at his feet. They married, and Haydée became my beloved mother.
Yes, and that’s the story of how the first soap came into our village.
Another really well written story from you.
I really enjoyed the notion of a single person, Urgru, leaving “the village” and travelling away to return with wisdom, knowledge and gifts. In our current fast-paced, much-travelled existence it is an unlikely concept but a good one, nonetheless.
I certainly never guessed what the special package contained and I can imagine the effect it may have had upon another person who had never come across soap before.
Well written, as ever BMax.
Oh, so it’s soap as in soap! For a moment, I thought he gave him a small telly (or God forbids, a smartphone!) on which Haydée could watch soaps to her heart’s content. That could also have worked magic! But then, I know: the power socket issue, the charger…
It’s a cute picture, this story of the world at large as seen through the eyes of happy villagers who know little else beyond their small (but beautifully genuine) world. I liked especially their utter disbelief on hearing that there are villages so large out there that their inhabitants don’t all know one another. That’s a tragedy of ours, that we’ve got so accustomed to, we don’t often think about.
This story must have taken place in relatively recent times, since a subway system is mentioned (if I understood well). Well, it could’ve been as far back at the nineteenth century, if Urgru’s talking about the London Underground. I’m glad Urgru returned to his happy village and its true human spirit and didn’t get sucked by the superficial pleasures and bland marvels of the wider world.
One line I misread, at first, was that Urgru was the cleverest man “For he was the only one who had NEVER left our village…” I looked back and, of course you’d written “ever” not “never” and the story followed from there and only made sense that way.
However, my misreading gave me an interesting point to ponder upon: what if Urgru (or someone else in another story) was indeed the cleverest for NEVER leaving his roots and get ‘contaminated’ by the rest of the world? The opposite of Urgru.
For I myself admittedly feel “cleverest”, these days, when I expose myself less and less to the world, especially the online one, and instead rely on my own instincts and inner knowledge, spend my time reading books that I have had forever gathering dust over years instead of ever-beeping “feeds” and “walls”, and make up my own mind together with the people nearest to me, away from the fake news, misinformation and sensational stuff out there. But really, that’s for another story, another time!
Is it because you have this outlandish name, you write such interesting tales?
But what’s in a name?
The lovely soap smells captured his love forever! It’s not diamonds or fast cars… just a good smelling soap.
How offbeat is that?
The goatherd’s funeral .. slipped in as a crucial turning point in their lives.
The Underground never had it said so good before this line:
“under the ground there was a beast that took people from one place to another. My father said he had often dreamed of this animal racing through a tunnel with fiery eyes.”
And of course celebs which go on and on till the yoghurt maker dies.
I was reminded of an uncle who came with a suitcase stuffed with gifts for us from Singapore!
Excellent story writer is my verdict.
Has the (artfully) naive feel of a folk tale, and contrasts nicely the simple life in the village and the big (bad?) world out there. There’s a feeling with the round of celebrations that this is a strong, self-contained and generally contented community, feeling secure in their isolation Has that slightly unreal feeling, and you throw us a curve-ball there with a coachbuilder in a village where no one goes anywhere. Must make them for export.
I like a lot.
By Robt. Emmett
This phrase, “It was in my great-grandfather’s time…,” doesn’t fit what I have to say. So, I’ll just say my say and let the chips fall wherever.
Before I get to Grandpère’s part in this story, an explanation of him and his era is needed. At age twelve, he left St. Patrick, Quebec. He entered the United States at Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, with his older brother; Alfred was thirteen. For the next eight years, they worked the forests along the South Shore of Lake Superior cutting trees.
During his time in the forests, Grandpère learned to cut hair. Barbering became his life profession. In 1909 he married. Three years later, he purchased a block of Brownstone apartments. The rent would buy them. He was set for life. The early years of the Twentieth century was a time of wild speculation, especially on land.
In the early 20s, he latched onto the deal of a lifetime. EZ Schultz, a friend, inherited 940 acres of land with a pristine, spring-fed lake in the middle. He wanted to make the lake into a resort for the very rich, but he had no money. Another friend of Grandpère’s, John Mitchell, had the money. He fronted for the platting of the land into one-acre parcels and the infrastructure. In return, he acquired about half the lake lots. Schultz kept most of the rest. A third person, my Grandmère, owned a dozen lots on the east side of the lake. Grandpère’s commission for putting the deal together was ten acres in the southeast corner of the lake. He was the sales agent. A few of Grandmère’s lots sold immediately and at an excellent price. Shortly, large lodges were built as samples. The three men were destined to become millionaires.
Then the great stock market crash of 1929 happened.
Schultz sold out, lock stock and barrel for pennies on the dollar and dropped out of sight. Grandpère had no money in the deal; he lucked out. Grandmère broke even. Mitchell lost all. He was a broken man and swore he kill Schultz if he ever found him.
It was now my Grandpère’s payback time.
Most Saturdays, I’d ride with Dad to his floor covering business. The year was 1950 or 51. I don’t remember. I was ten or eleven at the time. This Saturday was different. (I was yet to find out how different.)
In the loft at the rear of the building, Dad had a side business. He was always starting little ventures to make money. The making of window shades turned, according to him, a ‘nice’ profit. In hindsight, it couldn’t help making a ‘nice’ profit. The few machines had been purchased second-hand. According to Dad, there was no overhead (at the time, I thought he was referring to the low ceiling of the mezzanine). When not selling floor covering materials, tile, linoleum, vinyl tile, and such, the salespeople would make the window shades. He had almost no labor cost. As a de-tangler, I was the only paid employee.
First, we’d go next door to Jim’s Blue & White Café. The worn Formica counter was never crowded on the weekend. We’d sit in the front, near the window overlooking Superior Street. I would order an Orange-Crush and a Raspberry filled Bismarck. Dad would order coffee. Jim knew what Dad ate on Saturday mornings and would start cooking the cakes-n-eggs. On his return trip, Jim’d serve the coffee and soda. Then they would talk until the food was ready.
Back in the loft, I set to work. The people making the window shades during the week always hurried. When getting the crocheted ring-shaped pull out of the box, they’d tangle them. My job was to untangle the many boxes of different colored ring pulls. For the two or three hours work, I’d earn a quarter. It was enough to go to the movie theater down the street and buy some candy on the way. The last dime was bus fare home. That Saturday, the movie was one Dad said I wouldn’t like it. Instead of going to see the film, he said we’d stop and see his parents.
Grandpère’d sold the Brownstones a few years after World War II and moved into a brick duplex. Uncle Jack and Aunt Vi lived in the upper half as the maintenance crew.
We came through the back door into the kitchen. Grandpère and another man were seated at the table, talking. The man was a little younger than Grandpère, but not as young as Dad. We didn’t say a word. Dad sat on the windowsill near the sink, and I sat on the window sill near the counter. I wanted to be close to the cookie jar just in case Grandmère wanted me to have one.
Shortly, the man stood, fished a bill out of his pocket and dropped it on the table. “That’s the last of it, Phil.”
“If you say so,” Grandpère said. “Then, that’s the last.” They shook hands, and the man left. I had no clue what was going on. By the look on Dad’s face, he didn’t either.
Dad looked at his father and asked, “What was that all about?”
“Remember back during the hard times when people were out of work and wanting to move out of the Brownstones?”
“You mean when I made the electric meter run backward?”
Shocked, “But Dad, wouldn’t that be cheating the power company?” I had never heard of running the electric meter backward.
“Yes, Rob, it would, but it was for a good cause,” Grandpère said.
Dad smiled. “So was the deal with the gas and water lines, huh dad.”
I looked from Dad to Grandpère and back. “What’s the deal with the water and gas lines?”
Grandpère looked up from pouring himself a cup of tea. “You tell him.”
Dad looked at the high ceiling in thought. Then, “It must have been early 1930.” He looked at his dad, “Pa said to take my little brother, your Uncle Will, and go to the fish markets down near the canal and pick up some dry ice.”
“Dad! You could burn your hands on that stuff.”
“Not if you wrap it in cardboard.”
Oops, I should have known Dad wasn’t stupid. “So, then what?”
“Your uncles Al and Lang went under the porch of 301 and dug up the water and gas lines. When your dad and Will got back, I packed the dry ice around the lines, froze them. Then I jumper’d around the meters.”
“So, you stole the gas and the water, too.” They both smiled. “Was that for the greater good too?”
“There was a depression going on. You know what that is, don’t you?” I nodded. “People were out of work. They had no money, so they said they were going to move out of my Brownstones. I told them to stay and pay me what they could when they could.”
Dad picked up the bill, a twenty. “So was this the last of the money he owed you?”
“That’s the last of it. Every one of my renters has paid their rent – in full.”
— Ԙ —
The city of my youth wasn’t large, 100,000 or so located at the west tip of the Inland Sea. The neighborhood was a microcosm of the country. There were one or two families of, seemingly, every nation and color. The one thing we had in common was semi-poverty. There was also the theme of the story – trust. No one locked the doors to their homes. A wonderful time! Thanks, Sarig, for the comment.
I really enjoyed the sense of history so built into your story. I have heard of people running the electricity meters backwards ( until the utility companies got wise to it and put special seals on the meters) and, as you say, it was a bad time for people so it was an act of altruism. I don’t really understand the bit about “jumper’d around the meters” and the dry ice.
The history seemed to work and you created a sense of time and of place.
I really liked the ending and the way everybody paid back what they owed.
Well done Robert.
I’ll splain. The incoming line is frozen before the meter with dry ice. [It’s the solid form of carbon dioxide and is extremely cold at -108°F] It’ll freeze both water and natural gas solid and stop their movement. The line is cut between the frozen section and the meter. A valve and bypass line are connected to cut and joined after the meter. The fluid then does not pass through the meter.
As to the running the electric meter backward. Dad did it without messing with the seals. And he refused to tell me how he did it. The meter would be run in reverse about a third of a month and forward the rest of the time. One time, the reverser was left on for more than half a month. Oops.
I enjoy writing about my early times. Imagine, taking a gun to elementary school; or having to wash the school window for some minor transgression. Life was simple.
I enjoyed the saga-like story of these generations of men making it big in the face of adversity. It’s not exactly an edge-of-your-seat tale, but a nicely told account of the economic history of the first half of the last century as experienced by an entrepeneuring family. It clearly and believingly demonstrates the ease of becoming a millionaire when the century was still young, if one put hard work and commitment to it. Then the price that was paid for those easy days, when the whole scheme collapsed in the Great Depression. In much more recent times, I personally know people who’ve done the same in Bulgaria, buying swathes of land for peanut prices, chopping them down into plots and selling the plots individually, then the buyers would mark their acquisitions up and resell them, and then again and again, until the bubble burst. But the early birds made big money and, like Grandpère, in a matter of a couple of years had their lives set.
Your story takes rather long to actually get going (and you even warn us that it was going to be so), as there was a lot of backstory to fill us in with in the first half or so. I personally prefer stories that start where the action really is, then elucidate the backstory along the way, wherever fitting. But, still, as I said, I enjoyed your piece, also because of the beautiful way you told it, in spite of the way it was laid out.
I agree with you about the first line condition of this prompt. It put me in a straightjacket too, and I only included the first couple of paragraphs of my story in order to to satisfy that condition, and not because I really wanted to start off that way.
I also like to start reading as the action begins. My story, because of the historical-factual nature, needed the prefacing paragraphs.
What men will do to save their families from poverty- even to the extent of doing sneaky things but done for the larger good and so to find justification in that.
A question of survival. Who knows what folks will be down to during this coming year?
I enjoyed this on my second reading.
Actually, apart form fiddling the utilities, there’s a message there for modern hard times, i think.
““You mean when I made the electric meter run backward?” Shocked… “
*Shocked*? Do we let you get away with that one, lol?
All you had to do was write: “It was in my great-grandfather’s time that these events happened, but before I get to that and his part in the story, an explanation of him and his era is needed. A fairly simple connection. (In essence, you’re telling us, the readers, ‘before I tell you about GGP, I have to tell you about GGP and his era.) Seems redundant. You could have started it this way: “It was in my great Yada, yada’s time that these events took place, but to understand the events, you’d have to understand my Great Grand Papa.” Something like that. As for the story, I felt it was tentatively written, a loose sketch that could have been drawn more tightly together. That’s kind of a gut feeling, so don’t sell the farm on one appraisal.
“It was in my great grandfather’s day,” Grandad told his grandchildren, “that this story began.”
The children were excited as they were being “bundled” off to their sleep-pods. For their evening meal they had all gathered beside the auto-food dispenser and swallowed their portion of the vitamins and minerals exactly matched to each person’s daily needs. After a routine auto-health check it was time for the children to begin their allotted sleep rejuvenation period, but first, it was story time.
The children knew that it was as sure as the blue moon rising at midnight that Grandad would tell them a story. It was his favourite activity on his visits.
“Right, into your sleep-pods first,” said Grandad. Aaargggi and Ruugghi readily obeyed as they slid their leg spindles into their respective recharging pods in the wall.
“Now, let me think,” said Grandad, as he plugged the auto-voice plug into his memory banks. “Would you like me to put the Immersivision on, or would you prefer the Thought Pad tonight?”
They were not fooled. Technology was all well and good but…….Grandad’s voice was better.
“No, we want Grandad, we want Grandad,” they chorused as Grandad settled back onto the Contour-o-Chair that immediately moulded itself to his shape.
“Right then, listen up, grrroglets.” Their two sets of oculars and two sets of audiolugs, five years old and seven, tuned in to the voice from the surroundsound speakers.
And as they lay there in their sleep-pods they heard the voice of their great, great-grandfather, emanating from their grandad’s voice chamber. The vocal accoustics made it sound as if he were actually there as his words echoed around the slumber chamber.
“Way back in the mists of time,” his voice began the story, “ there was a lovely planet in the third galaxy. It was called the Earth planet.
This beautiful planet was green and bountiful. It had many wonderful blue seas dotted over its surface, soaring, high snow-capped mountains and deep shady valleys. Forests of trees and billions of plants grew everywhere and every creature you can think of, as well as many, many that you could never imagine in a century of blue moons, all lived happily side by side. It was a paradise where every creature had enough food to eat and the water that ran down from the mountains and into the rivers was pure and crystal clear. When it rained, which happened frequently, the rain was so clean and fresh that the Earth creatures could drink it and the air was so pure they could breathe it.”
The children looked at each other in surprise. Air so clean and fresh that you could breathe it? Surley not. Not without eco-filters.
“And in the seas, which were very salty, other creatures lived too, beneath the waves. The colours were just amazing. In fact if you chopped a rainbow into pieces and then mixed them up with gold and silver stars and then threw them all up into the sky, that’s what it looked like in the seas and oceans of the Earth planet.
For millions of years that was life on the Earth planet.
Then things started to go wrong because one creature, called Man, started to take over the Earth planet. As they multiplied, the Man creatures killed and ate the other animals until there were hardly any left. They cut down trees and burnt them to keep warm and they dug huge holes in the ground to dig out fossil fuels that they could burn. They turned the air into a dirty, toxic mix and they polluted those beautiful seas.
Nobody really knows why they carried on behaving so stupidly but as things got worse people began to die of new diseases that they couldn’t cure and their medicines didn’t work any more. People found the air harder and harder to breathe and the sea creatures started to wash up on the beaches, dead, killed by the chemicals in the water, by plastic in their stomachs.
At that point there was still hope that the Earth planet and its creatures could be saved. In several parts of the Earth planet some of the Man creatures got together and they created places where they could live safely and try to clean up the environment but they faced ever increasing threats and attacks from the others, who began to realize that these people had been right all along but they had left it too late to join them. These groups could not survive the attacks by those from outside who killed them and stole their food and soon, even they too were all gone.
And during this time, before The End, I was one of the space explorers from our planet who went into space, looking to meet our cosmic neighbours. Our ships visited the Earth planet lots of times. I found that the Man creatures were frightened of creatures like me and they were still primitive and warlike. We tried to communicate with them but they fired their weapons at our spaceships and tried to kill us. We found that after all, they were not as intelligent as we had thought. Our people stayed for a while, including me, mingling amongst them, disguised as Earth creatures. We could have helped them if they had been more welcoming but it was too late.
During my last stay on the Earth planet, five of their years, my fellow travellers and I were tasked with trying to help the Earth creatures. We worked with them in their medical teams, in farming and environmental areas but they just wouldn’t change their ways. I engaged with a female Earth person, a doctor and found that she was kind and gentle and loving. When I had to leave she wept tears from her eyes and she gave me a symbol of love that Earth people used to give each other.
It is called a ring. The Earth creatures used to exchange them as a token of love for each other. A ring is a small circle of gold that they used to wear on their fingers. When the Earth female, she called herself Cassandra, gave it to me, she reminded me that not all Earth creatures were unkind and warlike. She begged me to stay but I could not. She made me promise that when I returned to my home, I would always keep the ring as a token of her love and speak well of her. She hoped that this gold ring would stay in my family and be passed down through each generation as a reminder of that love.”
Grandad seemed to reawaken as the story ended and then his own voice came out of his mouth once more. He slipped open his tunic pouch and removed a round, gold ring.
He said, “This is the ring Earth creature Cassandra gave him. He passed it on to his son. I am looking after this for now. When I am gone your mother and father will look after it and then, in time, it will be your turn to take care of it.”
An original short story by Ken Frape 4th. June 2020. 1200 words.
I started reading this story, and said to myself, “Just look at Frape, here’s a prompt that has got most of us digging into the distant past, in our most intimate home quarters, and what does he do? He takes us deep into the distant future and far out in space!” A great way to turn a prompt like this on its head, if you ask me. I myself hadn’t thought of that.
The imagery of the future lifestyle (the recharging sleeping pods, the vitamin dispensers, the Immersivision and Thought Pad – Ken, please don’t give any more ideas to Zuckerberg!) is very vividly drawn. I love the way you launched us into this future world, very graphicly done.
The rest of the story was less enchanting to me. It sounded like Greta Thunberg speaking in her old age, about things I already know, and not half as agitated as she’d speak in her younger years (which has some entertainment value!). I mean, I subscribe to all the environmental talk, but there’s nothing new to it.
Of course, being recounted by do-gooding aliens who tried in vain to help us out of our predicament, is a new way to retell the Climate Change story (and that’s a memorable part of your piece that I’ll keep with me), but nothing much happens that isn’t (alas!) already happening in our real world.
The ring bit didn’t quite excite me either. (I thought it was going to be an Earth ring like Saturn’s sort of thing, at first!). The ring is indeed the title-piece of your story and I thought something rather extraordinary (funny, ironic, unusual, surprising, annoying, exhilarating, disappointing…) might happen with this ring in the end. Ok, it’s passed on from one generation to the next. Which is nice. But there is a bit of a “so what?” element to that.
I know, this prompt was tedious. Not only did it have a first-line demand, but there had to be a gift, and a memory, and it had to be told in first person. I mean I’d have been fine if I was told that there has to be a grandpa, a rocket, a potato and a demented dragonfly called Lucy to be included in the story. But to have a fixed first-line, a thematic demand (ancestors), a structural demand (the 1st person), a content demand (a gift) and an overarching demand (a memory) was a bit too much and some of us have insterted things (like your ring, I feel) just to meet the exigencies of this capricious prompt. I had a big issue, myself, with having to ‘add’ that first-line to the story I had in mind. Robert just did away with it altogether (naughty, naughty!). So, I don’t blame you if not everything in your story got me excited. There was too much already to satisfy to just qualify!
Then there is the narration. At some points the talk of environment, etc. didn’t sound much like the way a grandpa tells a bedtime story to children. Even an extraterrestrial one, I suppose. The kids may have got a bit bored. In fact we don’t hear from them again. I think they fell asleep.
I didn’t, but wanted some of that extra punch…
I saw your comment under my story, and I’m pleased to hear that you’ve taken my critique for what it is, ie. an honest gut reaction, right upon reading your piece, giving you what worked and what didn’t with me as a sample reader.
I prefer to give immediate emotional feedback to the stories the moment I read them, rather than an intellectualised time-delayed response. The common reader out there would read what we write for his or her entertainment, emotional involvement with our stories and perhaps (for some people only) for some philosophical takeaways. I don’t think too many readers would read a piece more than once, meaning that the first (and only) read carries all the impact with it.
And it’s usually (I think) an emotional impact, rather than an intellectual one. Ie. how exhilarating was the piece? Or was it boring? Or was it cheeky? Was there a surprise at the end? Or a twist at every turn? Or was it bland and flat? How shocked or angered was the reader? Pissed off even? Or did it bring out a tear? Was that truly ironic or cliche’? And so on. The more the emotional reaction (whether positive or negative), the harder the story hits and sticks.
You know all of this, of course. I’m just bringing it up here to highlight the ruler I use to measure stories with when I write my comments. Most times, especially with writers of high calibre like you and most others in here, my immediate passionate take on the stories is a very positive one, as you know and have seen in the past. I’m simply humbled by what I read. But there may be times when I’m less flowery in my feedback, which I suppose is a precious thing too 🙂
There were times, when I’d just joined or with newly arrived contributors, when I held myself back a little, out of politeness and such. But I’d generally say what I feel, once I’ve gained some confidence with the person concerned and I know that he or she’s going to appreciate my full critique. And that’s what I appreciate in other people’s comments on my stories too, not just the mentioning of what’s good but of the shitty bits of my work too. Whenever I read a story that really was not my cup of tea, there were times when I refrained from even commenting. Although that’s more often the case because of lack of time.
On your current story, if you do rewrite it unburdened by the yoke of the technical restraints of the prompt, I’d suggest you start off with the ring itself. The children are curious about it – and so would the reader be –and then you’d work up towards an explanation of its extraordinary provenance through grandpa’s electronic mediumship of the great-grandpa [btw all these futuristic ideas of how people and humanoids of the future will communicate, and the gadgets you introduced to us are the big forte of the story and should stay in at all costs!].
Perhaps the narration takes the form of great-grandad and Cassandra trying to save a wolf, let’s say, who’s dying because there are no more seals to eat in the climate ravaged world of the future (if you want the story a bit nasty). Or (for the cuter version), a mummy and a daddy bear are cut off from their cubs on different floating ice-sheets, Great-Grandpa and Cassandra help the animals meet again, and that’s how the two get to meet too… I mean, some kind of children’s story that shows what happened without using ‘political’ arguments and words of the sort of “environment”, “climate change” and such. I mean, take that Greta Thunberg voice out of it. I love Greta, but not here.
You know my contact details if you wish to send me your second shot for another review. I’d be only pleased. Of course, watch what the others are saying too. I’m just one reader out of a potential 7+ billion (plus all the other humanoids out there in the greater Universe!), and others might like your story better the way it is.
Nice kind of William Gibson touches with the technology which explains itself rather than needing to be explained.
It’s interesting that the aliens for all their technology, lack direct access to clean air – reinforcing that we earthlings don’t appreciate what we have, just take it for granted, and the wonders of or planet are quite rare and should be treasured.
Good writing with a message, in a well-crafted story.
The names also briefly brought me in mind of a series of children’s books that my kids loved when they were young, by (supposedly) and alien called Dr Xargle in which he explains’s the strangeness of life on earth, like ‘Dr Xargle’s Book of Earth Tiggers’.
So the ring turns out to be one for the finger not a ring around the earth.. got sidetracked a bit.But never mind that.
This Contour-o-Chair that immediately moulded itself to his shape… sounds great.
You’ve covered modern high tech lifestyles along with global warming and the ruin that man brings to a perfect world with such ease.
I don’t know. The writing is superb,the technology is terrific, but the ending let me down a little. Of all the kinds of rings in the Universe, I was disappointed to find that the object was an ordinary ring with not that much significance in the grand scheme of things. (What with them being extraterrestrials, trying to save the planet from the idiots who lived on it. You know, when you throw that into the mix, as you did.)
Loosely interpreted, all they’re able to manage to save is the ring of a dead human from a doomed planet. For some reason, I’m less cheered by this message than the rest of this group. (Must be the coffee.)
I just feel like you had a really good idea going here and you pulled up short. I certainly can’t criticize the story in any technical sense. Your stories possess an artful creativity, are skillfully constructed, and are executed well beyond my level of skill. But this story needs a different ending.
In other words… It’ll probably come in first place.
Klaatu barada nikto!
One for the Ages
By: Sarig Levin
It was in my great-grandfather’s time, but the way Grandma would tell this story it could just as well have taken place anywhere and at any time. One of these timeless tales, if I may, full of sound and fury, signifying little at first, yet bestowed with the gift of a sunbaked sponge for soaking up significance as history unfolds.
My grandmother never missed an opportunity to weave this story into any conversation, just as long as there was even a half-willing recipient. I heard she told this story to her dentist, while the man was busy pulling out one of her molars. Rumor has it that, when the paramedic came for my grandpa, she made the poor man listen to the whole tale, from beginning to end, so that by the time he finally got through the door, Grandpa had already departed to the great auditorium in the sky. For, if the world is a stage, that must be where the audience sits.
And every time she told the story anew, it shaped into something a bit different, as if it had a life force of its own; as if the story itself got so sick and tired of being told and retold by this crazy old woman, over and over again, that it kept trying to wriggle itself free.
Alas, my grandmother is long gone by now; buried in the same plot as the ancestor, to the preservation of whose memory she devoted her life. When she passed away, my mom, who always nourished a deeply rooted hatred for her mother’s pathological storytelling, suddenly found herself telling this exact same tale to whomever managed, by sheer, implausible turn of fortune, to avoid hearing Grandma tell it. From that day on, it became Mom’s tale.
It’s almost as if obsessive-compulsive storytelling runs in our bloodline, leaping from mother to daughter, across generations and beyond the frontiers of reason and willpower. And now, that my own mother is caught in the tightening grip of senility, their story has landed in my lap with the febricity shared only by visionaries and madmen.
“And so…” Mom would always begin the tale the exact same way, “my mother was about six years old the first time her father put her on his boney lap and told her of the time Joseph Stalin saved his life.”
“My grandfather’s name was also Joseph,” Mom would then remark, as if implying the two men shared some kind of a connection at birth, “a scrawny man who came from Novaya Uda, an obscure little town at the heart of the Siberian wilderness; a stargazing, soft-spoken Kulak with a love of books and a twinkle in his eye.”
“I never knew my grandfather,” She’d often say. “He perished in Treblinka, after having managed to escape Russia, surviving the yoke of Communism and wrath of the proletariat. But Mom kept pictures of him on her dresser, and as a child I used to pretend Grandpa was really there, listening to all of my little secrets and loving me no matter what.”
“My mother was born in Poland and had never heard of the ruthless dictator until that day; the day Grandpa told her of his own childhood for the very first time. ‘He never spoke of Russia before,’ Mom would recount, with a touch of sadness in her eyes, ‘and rarely would do so in years to come, no matter how often I pleaded. The only story he left me with was of how he got hoodwinked by Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin.”
I then pause, for dramatic effect, my mind sliding back to the earliest recollection of a tale that was thrust upon me, like shadows cast from the depth of an ancestral crypt. ‘Do I appear to be the master of my own fate,’ I long to ask you, kind listener, ‘or was it perhaps written in the stars, that I shall one day become a ghost-teller?’
“It was the night of our Novy God celebrations, marking the birth of the year Nineteen-Oh-Four,” Grandma, who refused to forego the old-ways for Silvester and the Novy Mir, would recite to me when I was still a toddler. “It was a bitterly cold winter of ever growing discontent among the peasantry, my father said, rocking back and forth on the edge of his chair, and the young Gruzny exile who’s been sleeping in their pantry had just attempted to cut his sentence short, only to come crawling back on all four a week later, his flesh bitten by the frost and his tail between his legs.”
“Papa said he was a rather handsome, charismatic fellow, with a ready smile and true passion in his eyes. Half of the girls in town were infatuated with him (among whom was Sonya, my father’s older sister), and half the men wanted to beat him up for it, but would somehow end up buying him drinks instead.”
“’Late that night, after the new-year celebrations have died out, I was awoken from my soused slumber by a steel grip,’ Papa continued. ‘Get up, boy, and go wake up the rest of your family, for your lives are in grave danger,’ he heard Stalin’s harsh voice fill the duskiness of his bedchamber.”
“’What do you mean?’ asked I, still in the heavy grip of a slumberous cobweb. ‘The young men in town are planning to slit your throats tonight and claim your property as their own,’ said he, the candle he had just lit illuminating the earnestness in his face.”
“‘We’ve known these men all of our lives,’ contested I, rubbing my eyes in disbelief. ‘Why on earth would they want to do such a horrid thing?’”
“Stalin remained silent for a spell, a heavy shadow falling over his hunched figure. ‘Because I convinced them to,’ he finally exclaimed.”
“‘I convinced them to slaughter every last Kulak in town and return the land to the people. However, I seem to have a soft spot for you, boy, and for your sister too, for she has been, well…very forthcoming with me these past months. Now, arouse your family and have them pack only what they can carry, while I go keep watch,’ barked he, ‘and be quick about it!’”
“With haste, I did as Stalin commanded, and we all left town at the dead of night and together traveled the long and toilsome road to Krasnoyarsk. Once there, Stalin sneaked aboard a train heading for Moskva, finally succeeding in escaping his exile. ‘Don’t be afraid of misfortune, boy,’ he told me, before boarding that train. ‘For some are born misfortunate, some deserve misfortune, and some have misfortune thrust upon them.’”
“For years after that near-escape, we all held on to the suspicion that Stalin’s admonition was but an act of deception; that my namesake tricked us into making his escape from the harsh Siberian wilderness possible. However, in time I’ve come to realize that, in all probability, warning us was the very last act of compassion this hard steel tyrant ever made. Thus, as history gradually unfolded, along with my entire family, millions upon millions more perished under the knavish, devilish thumb of the man who saved my life”
A really interesting story woven into the fabric of Stalin and Russia. The notion of Stalin sparing the family as he had become quite fond of them but especially the sister and then fleeing with them and going into exile is the story and an entertaining one.
I think I would have liked if you could have got to the nub of the story much sooner. Whilst the opening does set the scene regarding the story-telling prowess within the family, I feel the story itself should be “centre stage” so to speak and many of the early words ( all before “and so” ) could have been better used in the actual story. For me, the story actually starts with the words..”and so.” I do, of course, accept that the prompt said we had to start with some specific words.
I got a little lost in the beginning. Grandmother telling her story whilst having a tooth pulled must have been a physical challenge for her with her mouth wide, wide open?
The paragraph starting, “also, my grandmother is long gone now………………and finishing…..it became Mom’s tale,” I find rather baffling in its length and intricacy. Not sure that it adds to the story.
Thus, to tie up loose ends, I like the story itself. It gives a strong flavour of the old Russia around the turn of that century and gives a possible insight into the character of a famous person from history. For me, it would have been even more effective if the last two thirds were developed more into the actual story. With a few minor alterations and starting with “and so” I think the story is strong enough to stand alone and it would have given you more opportunity to describe the Russian winter, the family’s flight and even more about Stalin himself.
I hope this comes across as helpful criticism, as it is intended. I know I have learned a lot and been made to think by the words that have been written about my stories.
I enjoyed your story very much. Twofold. For the story in and of itself and for the beautifully woven language in which you told it.
There are actually two stories in one: first the story of how this piece of family lore was passed down the generations. I nearly thought you were going to play an interesting game on me, your reader, in telling me about this story without in the end telling me the story itself! It could have been a memorable experiment, and still rewarding, for the grandmother-to-mother-to-daughter handing down of great-grandfather’s story is very well written in an engaging manner and not without a tinge of great black humor here and there.
But then, in the second part you did tell us the actual story, and it lives up to its epic introduction. Stalin’s heart (he had one) did beat, after all, I learned. I like such accounts showing the other side –the softer side, shall we say? – of history’s monsters, who were born human after all. Phil, last week, gave us a humorous take on Hitler, I myself tried to dig a little into the marathon bomber’s mind a couple of prompts ago. And now Stalin’s soft spot is exposed for all of us to witness.
I think you could have stopped there: let our Joseph Vissarionovich bathe in his brief moment of humanitarian solidarity.
Without having to remind us of all the atrocities he later did in the name of his Cause (or of whatever). We all know what happened later, anyway, and your story underscores the surprising events that happened before that.
I was surprised, at first, why Stalin wasn’t apparently on the side of the discontented peasants. But indeed he was; it’s just that Sonya and his hosts were kind to him and there was a shred of goodness deep down inside of him. (Now, as for the discontented peasants, they probably saw more than just a shred goodness in the man who promised to pull them once and for all out of their sad predicament, but that depends on which angle one looks at it, and we’re not talking historical politics here!).
By the way, I’m very pleased you’re back here with a story for us, Sarig. We get many one- to two-hit wonders in here, who then disappear, never to show up again. Some we can perhaps do without, others are just great to have around and a pity to lose on the wayside – very talented writers that get an opportunity to shine in this friendly Place. You’re one of them! Even though you later took it down, I am still impressed by the quality of your piece “Remembrance” and also your other contributions. I only hoped you’d be back with more. And here you are! I even discussed you privately with Ken Cartisano, and said the same there – that I wish we see Sarig Levin around again. Together with another brilliant writer, Dennis Wagers, who used to contribute quite regularly here, then disappeared (in case he’s reading this, well, it’s time for a homecoming, Dennis!).
I also love the several nods to the master story-teller Shakespeare – I counted three, but maybe there are more. These underpin the high literary quality of the story.
The historical basis of Stalin’s exile is real, but maybe you’re taking a bit of a liberty bringing forward the 1929 Stalin as early as 1904 with the reference to expropriating the kulaks? But hey, it’s fiction and this strongly connects the family’s experience and the oppression that came later.
It’s a very impressive and thought-provoking read.
(BTW, have you read The Mussolini Canal? It follows an Italian family that Mussolini befriended before he became Il Duce. A good read.)
So that’s Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Macbeth and Richard III. A goodly spread.
I did like the Mussolini Canal (Antonio Pennacchi). Not always an easy read, and controversial in its portrayal of Italian fascism but I thought it portrayed the attraction of early fascism to the people involved with their family, class and regional loyalties. Seemed to me a believable slice of life from the time – and some strong memorable characters.
That granma is totally relatable.
Gran’pa Joseph must sing…
‘Nothing comes from nothing,
Nothing ever could,
So somehwehre in my youth or childhood,
I must have done something good.’
I marvel at the ease with which you write.
TIME AFTER TIME
“It was in my great-grandfather’s time…” the old man began. The old man was MY great-grandfather, Wilfred.
Not so many people have great-grandparents they’ve ever met. But in my family, everyone seems to marry young and is long-lived, so there’s enough time to stack up the generations within one great-grandchild’s life.
Great-grandad Wilfred was very old – nearing his 100th this particular summer. He had the silver hair – thin but still there – rheumy eyes, parchment skin, loose false teeth, a stick, and many stories to tell.
That day, my parents had gone into town and left me to look after the old boy; it was wise to have someone with him at all times, to help him get to the bathroom, and to keep him from having a fall when he did. We were sitting on the front porch, he in his rocking chair, me by his side, wishing I could be out and about with the gang. When he started his story, I felt my eyes rolling.
“Things were hard then,” he went on. “Oh, you think things are bad today, but then?!”
I didn’t think things were so bad, apart from the incipient X11 virus, but I didn’t tell him that. I just let him speak, while I pushed my chair back a little to be out of his eye-line. Then I closed my eyes and began to drift off in the sweltering afternoon heat.
I don’t know how long he’d been rambling on but something he said entered my ear and exploded, waking me from my doze.
“… and killed hundreds of thousands around the world – millions even. Of course, my great-grandfather – Albert, that was his name – was terrified, and so were the rest of his family. They lived in the countryside and escaped the worst of it, but they had to go into town sometimes; it was always just a cough away, a sneeze away. And our government at the time didn’t help none; there was this chump in the White House – can’t remember his name now – but he was an ignorant bastard by all accounts. Kept saying how he was on top of the situation, but he wasn’t.”
The old boy stopped to take a breath. He hadn’t lived at the time of the president he was talking about – I don’t remember his name either – but you could tell he was incensed anyway by the incompetence of the man.
“This one afternoon,” Wilfred went on, “Albert was sitting there on the porch – just like this one I imagine – listening to HIS great-grandfather, Stanley, telling him a story. Of the time, just after the Great War, when another pandemic swept across the world. That one killed millions – upwards of 50, they say. It was a cruel disease – didn’t look at your age, or sex, or colour … just killed you. Stanley had survived, and he gave my great grand-daddy Albert this piece of advice, that day on the porch: ‘If this one gets as bad, just keep your distance from your fellow man’. That was it. Simple. So that’s what Albert did back in the 20s. And that’s what saved him.”
Wilfred leaned back in his chair and started rocking. I looked out over the fields, the sense of space making me feel suddenly very safe. But Wilfred hadn’t finished. He stopped rocking and turned to me.
“So mark my words, young ‘un. If this virus that’s just started up gets any worse, follow old Stanley’s advice and keep a good distance.”
I told him I would and he seemed satisfied with that. We spent the rest of the afternoon keeping each other company, but in silence.
Great-grandad Wilfred never made it to 100, in fact. He died a week later, peacefully and in his sleep. But the conversation of that afternoon stayed with me, especially with the subsequent spread of the X11. It was living out in the countryside that saved us, I reckon; we were forced, by location, to ‘keep our distance from our fellow man’. Nearly half a billion round the world weren’t so lucky.
Today I had my great-grandchildren here: Poppy and Archie. They’re good kids, but they’re kids, so when I was trying to speak to them they’d be mucking about, throwing things at each other, wrestling, playing with the dog. And me, with my weary muscles and fragile bones – I just can’t control them. But I don’t blame them – as I say, they’re kids.
I love them so much. I was trying to speak to them seriously. About the new virus – the Mafua, they’re calling it. There are only a few thousand victims so far, in Africa. But I saw what the X11 did all those years ago. And I told Poppy and Archie: “Keep your distance. Keep your distance from you fellow man”.
I’m not sure they really understood or were even interested – I think I caught Poppy rolling her eyes at one point. But I’ll tell them again tomorrow. And the day after that. Until it sinks in.
I hope to God it sinks in.
Topical, to say the least. A virus that kills many people across the world and, despite the efforts of “so-called” medical experts, the only safe course of action is to stay away from your fellow man. Can’t help wondering about just how true this will all be when our ancestors look back in many years to come as we are doing now.
You must have covered some three hundred years of great-great-granddads there! At no point was I lost, and at each point I felt pleasantly surprised to be shuttled a century this way or that way without getting dizzy.
This virus thing keeps coming, doesn’t it? A bigger tragedy than that is how in so many generations from now people are still suffering from the same old-age ailments of nowadays (mobility issues, loss of teeth and so on). I was hoping that we’d beat some of those issues in time. Even if then still an occasional new-virus-on-the-block does, and will, pay us a visit from time to time to remind us that we’re mortals after all…
I’m not sure if people would still be talking of Trump in a century’s time. That would nearly elevate him to the fame of Lincoln or Kennedy. But, ok, people still talk of some ignorant bastard like Emperor Nero two millennia later. So it may happen to one who drinks detergent while Washington burns…
I found it gratifying that the only thing the characters could remember of this particular president was that he was incompetent, but not his name. I like to think that would annoy him (if he could see it after death).
“Fellow man” is just the kind of wording my grandfather used to use when reflecting on the human condition, for which he had little hope of improvement. And the portrayal of the children’s level of interest also rings true.
I guess the advice is a pandemic-aware version of the old saying “Love your neighbour – but don’t tear down the fences”.
Thought-provoking story, Phil and well-written as always.
It’s not sinking in.
Kim and I were in Gatlinburg, Tennessee a few weeks ago, and the streets were swarming with tourists, only three were wearing face-masks. Thousands of people without a care in the world. Me and kim drove right through town, kept the windows up, I think we took videos. Meanwhile, in small towns just 80 miles away in North Carolina, the restaurants only served take out. The hardware store wouldn’t let you come in. They took your orders at the side door (a dutch door) and discouraged cash. Preferring an easily disinfectable credit card. At rest areas on the highway everyone wore a mask, at a gas station one hundred miles away, no one wore a mask.
When one considers how many of our fathers and grandfathers crossed the Atlantic Ocean in crowded troop ships, crossed the English channel to be disgorged on a beach, running headlong into a hail of machine gun fire, advancing through foreign hedgerows playing cat and mouse with Tiger tanks. Suffering freezing cold, endless mud, an amoral foe and an overall grueling existence in the fight against fascism, it seems inconcievable that so many American’s sixty years later think that wearing a face mask and eschewing major crowds for a year or two is an insufferable burden.
I feel bad for my father who, after all he endured to keep the western world free of despots, has to sit and watch a numbskull minority eagerly falling for the same kind of authoritarian tyrant here in his own country.
I understand there’s going to be a big rally soon, and they’re going to give out masks at the door. But if the Big Chief refuses to wear one, what are the chances of his followers doing it?
I don’t think most people realize, (you excluded) that you wear the mask more for others, and to confound the virus than you do for yourself. Far more people have the virus than can possibly realize it. Meanwhile, our beloved govt. is treating its people as a resource, a raw material. Anything that succumbs to the virus is defective and not worth saving. Anything that survives gets to get up and go back to work. Nice, eh?
Personally, I especially like wearing the mask at venues where I would have previously been shot or arrested for doing so. Banks, convenience stores, pawn shops, purveyors of fireworks, (lots of cash floating around there,) ICE CREAM PARLORS.
Of course, if I was black, I could go anywhere without the mask and get shot. No problemo in that scenario.
I can see Poppy rolling her eyes. They have no patience for the wisdom that comes with age.
I wonder how you landed that Mafua name 🙂
Living in the countryside seems to be the best bet now.
Yes – oh for a house in the country!
(I didn’t inadvertently steal the ‘Mafua’ name from you, did I?)
A LITTLE TRUTH INSIDE THE BIG LIE
by Ken Miles
“It was in my great-grandfather’s time that the unspeakable happened,” I tell the incredulous Townhall clerk. “It’s the very least I can do!”
He shakes his head again and stamps my form, still not fathoming why I wanted to change my noble surname Von-und-Zu-Gutterburg to simply Wasser.
I was fifteen, in 1983, when the family airplane took my parents, siblings and household servants down with it on the way to a wedding in Monaco. I’d fought my way out of that wedding, favoring a skiing trip with my friends instead. Little did I know that on my return, I’d walk up all alone the marble grand-staircase of the castle I called home.
A year later a gift-wrapped parcel arrived by courier, addressed to me as “The next of kin of inmate 2375-1918 Maximillian Wasser.”
I’d never heard of this person. He’d just died in jail at the ripe age of 99.
The gift was a notebook. Once my eyes adjusted to the old-fashioned handwriting, what I was about to read changed who I was. My family had harbored a dark secret for almost a century: Maximillian Wasser was my true ancestor, and Baron Gustav Von-und-Zu-Gutterberg had nothing to do with me.
“I’d barely embarked on my teaching career, when the skies darkened,” I started reading. “When the conscription letter to join the Kaiser’s army came, all I could think of was how the War would separate me from Gertrud.”
Gertrud? My great-grandmother? There was a painting of her with husband Baron Gustav in our living room. I’d always wondered how that ugly old man could’ve been married to such a young beauty.
“Nobody knew – except Karl – about Gertrud and I.” I read on, “A relationship out of wedlock was, back then, punishable by law. Unless the girl’s father had you killed first. Or quickly married.
In the trenches, letters from Gertrud somehow made their way to me. Until one letter made my heart stop. Gertrud was pregnant! Powerless, I held a gun in that muddy hell, while my girl fought her battle alone. Without a quick wedding arrangement, she was doomed. An unmarried mother brought shame on her family and her community.
My childhood friend Karl was my only solace. We grew up together, became teachers together and now we were in the same trench together. He was like a brother to me, and I loved him as one.”
I skim through.
“The mist was so thick, that day I got shot, it was like we were shooting at ghosts. Next I remember I was in an enemy field-hospital.
‘Bonjour. How are you?’ The doctor switched to German for my benefit. ‘You’re lucky to be alive. Your heart must’ve stepped aside when the musket-ball pierced your chest!’
‘You speak good German,’ was all I said.
‘French father, German mother. That’s why they’d let me hold a scalpel, but not a rifle. Feel at home in my ward – there’s no French or German under my care. Listen. You see this musket-ball? I extracted it from your chest. It’s not ours!’
‘It’s not French. One of your own shot you. Wanted to kill you…’
‘Listen. I can tell an accidental wound from a deliberate one. Whoever shot you wanted you dead. Too close. The angle of entry leaves no doubt.’
I spent the rest of the war convalescing. I got on well with the good doctor. Instead of dust, I swallowed French wine. But I missed Karl and couldn’t get Gertrud’s letters anymore. Nobody on my side even knew I was still alive.
When the folly was over – we lost, but who cares? – I was desperate to find out if Gertrud was alive. Our child’d be three by now! Bundled up with hundreds others, I was trucked home, part of a prisoner-exchange. Half of the school where I’d taught was converted into a military compound, and that’s where we were thrown off, counted and let free. Kids peered out of their classroom windows to see us. I went in and asked for Karl. He was there. He’d survived!
But something was wrong. Moment he saw me, his face went pale.
‘Let’s toast,’ he mumbled, and disappeared inside the building, returning after a good while with two filled wine-glasses.
He went clinking his glass to mine, encouraging me to drink, then he’d bring his glass to his lips, eagerly expecting me to do the same. He’d lower his glass, looks at my drink again, and then at me.
‘No offence,’ I finally said, ‘I got spoiled by Bordeaux, can’t drink this piss here anymore!’
I poured my drink in the peace-lily on the window sill next to where we stood. Soon enough, the tall white flower collapsed, then the leaves shrivilled.
‘So it was you! The doctor was right!’
I grabbed his shirt demanding to know why.
‘I loved Gertrud before you even knew her! I died each time she looked at you the way she used to… I thought you were dead, Maxim… I covered for you… I faced her father’s wrath… paid the price, took your sin upon myself… took her hand, fathered your son…’ he confessed, unrepentant, in one swift breath.
‘You told her how I died!?’
‘I’m sorry, Maxim…’
‘Don’t be, Karl! You tried to kill me once and again! You took my woman. And my son. Worst of all you took away my one true friend. You killed me many times over. It’s my turn to kill you! Right here, right now!’ With that I smashed the wine-glass and jammed its sharp leg into his throat.
The trial was quick; many had witnessed my crime. The Judge did however take a long look at the dead peace-lily, proof that Karl tried to kill me first. Only thanks to that, I got life instead of death.
Gertrud, still alive, was in the courthouse and played the bereaved widow. I tried to make eye-contact, but she never looked up. A little boy sat quietly next to her, my son that I never saw again. Some weeks later I received an envelope in prison. In it was the pendant I had once given Gertrud and all the letters I’d sent her.
Wait! Some of the returned letters looked unfamiliar. I’d never written them! “I have concluded that I’m not ready to father a child. This pregnancy has wedged itself between you and I. Abort, my love! We don’t want this vermin between us!”
Karl had taken the trouble to learn fake my handwriting! He did a good job with that too – even I’d’ve been fooled! He wrote Gertrude venomous letter after venomous letter from the trenches, all signed by my name, after he thought he’d killed me, to also kill my reputation, until her flame of love for me was totally extinguished.
Next I heard of Gertrud was four years later. Her death of tuberculosis made the newspaper headlines. She’d apparently married a Baron sixty years her senior left solitary by the war, and who she’d nursed for a while.”
I closed the notebook. I’d missed the worn out handwritten title on the cover. It said simply, “A little truth inside the big lie”.
It seems a while since we have been in contact . It has been very busy with an extra story too. As we watch events unfolding across the world, I sometimes wonder what is the point in our writing? Perhaps it helps to keep us sane.
This is an excellent and well contructed tale. Very believable and a good read too.
I have given it several reads and really got into it as I was unsure about the notion of the family not actually being connected to you ( the narrator) until it was clearly explained. That was me not your writing.
There are several really great sentences / phrases here. For example, “that’s why they let me hold a scalpel not a rifle..” and “he was like a brother to me and I loved him as one..” and “thanks to that I got life instead of death..”
Well done, Ken.
There were too many conditions for this prompt! But I’m glad that quite a few stories have been posted, just the same, in spite of the challenge, and there may still be more coming… it’s still Tuesday.
Like you, I asked myself that same question, too (on our raison d’etre here in these times of pain) in the beginning of the Covid crisis: who cares about my stories when the world seems to be falling apart!? And I indeed had a couple of stories, back then, featuring the coronavirus itself, as there seemed to be nothing else to talk about…
But then I got convinced that our story writing here (and elsewhere) is not just an outlet to stay sane, but also an important act of resistance against all the bad stuff that’s going on.
Of course, anyone who can come up with an anti-Covid vaccine would be doing the greatest job that needs to be done right now. And will be more appreciated than us writing our stories. But what I say is that sooner or later some scientist or another is quite certainly going to figure out the formula for this blessed vaccine. But, on the other hand, if we here don’t write our stories, those stories certainly won’t be written by anyone else. Ever. Because each one of them is a unique piece in the whole universe.
Don’t you think so? Or as my film lecturer at University once put it. Doctors are important because they save our lives. But film-makers [as all types of artists] are even more important because they make the lives doctors save worth living!
Thanks for all your comments. I think there is a large element of agreement regarding your comments on the story I wrote.
As I commented on 4th. June before I posted my effort, I said that I was concerned that the prompt may have been over-prescriptive and I found that having to include the first line ( although we have had them before) was a bit of a restrainer, for me anyway. I know we have talked about, or rather, it has been talked about, having a random collection of objects, words or concepts to weave in and this is always possible.It’s all down to our creativity.
In my story, one needs to be aware that the story is the great grandfather’s story. They are his words being spoken robotically through the grandfather, using the current technology. Thus, the concepts mentioned such as rainbows, lakes, seas and forests, are all things that the great grandfather experienced at first hand when he lived on Earth. I think we can assume as with many family stories, the children have heard it before, although I might need to think about the way grandfather produces the ring to reinforce this notion of familiarity. I might just look at it again and make suitable changes, if only for my own copy.
Funny that you should mention that the children didn’t say anything because they had probably gone to sleep either due to boredom ( or, more likely, due to over familiarity with the story.) I very nearly put something in about this but my descriptive prose had, by then, eaten up all my word allocation.
I am always full of admiration for the degree of detail you go into when you write your critiques. Sadly, I never seem to have the time or the energy to produce more detailed comments but I do make sure that I read every story and usually more than once.
As you so rightly said, when we create a new story, or a poem, or a song or a painting, we are adding to the sum total of the human experience, “a unique piece of the whole universe.” It’s grains of sand and all that, or single steps in a long walk. Every grain matters, eh?
It wasn’t an easy one to write – especially given the many conditions of this prompt – but I somehow managed to close off the twisty bits in a way that makes sense in the end. I started off with a 2.5K monster in my first draft, that had to be slimmed down considerably, toning down the plot a little in the process (although still remaining complicated enough I suppose!).
Yes, the half-French, half-German doctor makes the War seem farcical, as you also noted. An important part of my story is that Maxim found refuge (complete with Bordeaux wine) with the enemy, while his friend betrayed him, his girlfriend lost trust in him and his son never sought him (or was never told of his existence or whereabouts). Only after his death, thanks to his notebook, his great-grandson discovers him and honours him by adopting his surname.
Good you pointed out those two mistakes to me, probably victims of the extensive slimming down process, and which only an extra pair of eyes can catch!
Thanks, Sarig, for taking the time to read and comment,
Know what? I didn’t even think of that point you made (absorbed as I was in the plot itself, while writing this story). But, true, the irony is clear: one passionate murder gets severely punished in a setting where millions died for the capricious calls to arms by the world leaders of that time. Good you brought it up. Goes to show how readers can make their own different and equally valid readings of a story, different even from what the writer thought s/he wrote!
This is a very complex plot which, I’m beginning to think is your specialty. The ending is at the beginning, the story then proceeds to explain how we got there.
I think you’re lacking a ‘close quote’ at the end of the paragraph that begins with, ‘Nobody knew…’
Also, you wrote: ‘A year later a gift-wrapped parcel arrived by courier, addressed to me as “The next of kin of inmate 2375-1918 Maximillian Wasser.” I know you’re always up against the word limit, so… you could’ve written: ‘A year later a mysterious parcel arrived, addressed to “Next Of Kin – Inmate 2375-1918 Maximillian Wasser.” (From 22 down to 16 words.) Also, a ‘gift-wrapped’ parcel. I hardly think a prison would gift wrap a parcel.
These are minor things that slipped right past me the first time I read it, and the only time I needed to read it, as the clarity and cohesiveness of the plot was one of the highlights of this story, the dialogue was brilliant too. This phrase in particular: ‘Your heart must’ve stepped aside when the musket-ball pierced your chest!.’
Your dialogue is effective at telling the story in short, economical and believable sentences.
I like the way you intersperse your exposition and dialogue which takes a moment to adjust to, but I think it makes the story more intriguing for the reader. However, if the story is read out loud to someone else, it’s not always clear when dialogue morphs into exposition.
Over all, it’s not a happy story, but it’s a very engaging one that contains a revelation in every new paragraph.
All in all Ken, it’s an engaging and entertaining story in which I can only complain about two things, one is your long and obscutemporaneous title, which is in all caps. Actually, this is becoming endearing. (Obscutemporaneous: A complex combination of letters with no meaning.) And the name of the character Gruggfelt von Perriwinklestein. (a.k.a. Baron Von Zuckerburg.) I think most rational people would want to give that up for something they could pronounce. Actually, this almost comes off as a little bit humorous, which doesn’t really fit with the rest of the story. But this opinion, (let’s remember) is coming from an American (tragically American) historically post-relevant idiot-savant who has had too much coffee to drink in the middle of the night, during a pandemic that has inexplicably run out of ice cream.
So, these last two observations cancel each other out, mathematically, leaving you with a realistic, not overly generous 8 out of 10, with 10.5 being the highest possible score.
Congratulations! You win my continued admiration. And all that that is worth. (At least as much as a windshield wiper motor. $250.)
Yes, I’m about plots, mainly. I like beautiful language too. Irony, very much. Also takeaways (some call them ‘moral’, but I just don’t like that word).
But, for me, also as reader, if a story is written in the most flowery language, is soaked in tongue-in-cheek and teaches me a great deal, but fails to have a plot that engages my curiousity, twists me around and surprises me just before the final fullstop, well, it falls flat on its face. Or we can call it an “article” or “poetry” instead of a “story” and I can then live with that.
About the missing close quote marks, I know. It was a tricky one. I left it open, because the quote continues in the next and subsequent paragraphs (the narrator is still reading verbatim from the old diary). Strictly speaking I should have used opening quotes for every paragraph (Roy will then tell me so – that’s the official punctuation rule in English). Andy did it some time ago with the Curiosity Shop story and some complained about it (too much chunky, quoted backstory). I too ended up with so many quote marks that it looked like it had rained on my page. Also, the quote marks referring to the narrator reading from the diary interfered with the quote marks of the dialogue. I know I could have used single quote marks for those. That’s what I tried to do in an earlier draft. But then again, it looked like it had rained AND hailed on my page!
About the gift-wrapped parcel, well perhaps the prison would have let our Maxim have some gift paper on his deathbed, for his 99th birthday. More likely, actually, a prisoner reaching that age, would have been released (in Europe), on humanitarian grounds, but I couldn’t let them do that for my story to work. I prefer your suggestion of a “mysterious parcel” instead of a “gift-wrapped” one, and to tell you the truth, I had inserted that word “gift” there just because of the prompt. You know, for eligibility. So that’s expendible, if I use this story elsewhere.
I’m glad you picked out as your favorite the sentence:
‘Your heart must’ve stepped aside when the musket-ball pierced your chest!’
I intended more than one meaning with that. The surgeon is amazed how the bullet missed Maxim’s heart, as if his heart had stepped aside. But the doctor’s words are also a fore-warning for Maxim: that he needs to let his heart step aside figuratively too and forget about the love of his life, Gertrud. Gertrud, not only can’t reach him anymore by letter, but was no longer going to be his woman, as a result of the same sequence of events for which he’d been shot. Maxim’s heart is misplaced both physically and emotionally, and in both cases in connection with Karl’s evil scheming, that ultimately brings tragedy to both men. So, yes, I’m fond of that sentence too!
Now on to matters of obscutemporaneousness (or is it obscutemporaneousity? Or obscutemporaneousitiness?). The title refers to the little truth (which is actually a big truth that human law and conventions don’t approve of) that we as readers may actually pardon Maxim’s killing Karl. But this truth is hidden inside a big lie, that pictures Karl as the victim and Maxim as the aggressor, further superimposed by the living lie Gertrud decided to choose for herself through her marriage of convenience to the Baron, which then gave the narrator his false ancestral identity. A false identity which was, decades later, in part corrected by the plane crash that took down with it all those who wanted to keep living the lie and in part by the narrator changing his noble surname to the original Wasser.
You’re the title man, Ken! What can you suggest to me as an alternative? Even perhaps with a reformulation of my own title, still using the words “truth” and “lie”? Do you speak Italian? I thought you might given your surname Cartisano. And once you threw in something in Italian in one of your stories too. Well if you do, the title first came to my head in Italian: “Una Verita’ Dentro Una Bugia”. Those words sit better together in Italian than they do in English. The problem is with the word “inside” which doesn’t really work as well as its Italian counterpart “dentro”. But there may be some way around that…
On the surnames issue, well, there are prestigious family names in Europe (like there are prestigious Zip Codes in the U.S.), an inheritance from the times when nobility mattered. A surname like Von und Zu Gutterberg, in Germany, does ring of wealth, power and blue blood. The original is Von und Zu Guttenberg, a real noble family that still exerts power and spews out prominent political figureheads in Germany, but I altered the name a little bit. I don’t want them behind my back. Nor do I want to implicate them in anything bad they haven’t done. Or I could have written “This is a work of fiction and any blah blah blah is purely coincidental”, at the bottom of my story. I think we can get away with having such a disclaimer not counting as part of the word-limit. Alice? Carrie? But then I’d have come across as a nerd.
So you’ve run out of ice-cream? I’d scream! Is that why you ventured far away from home, looking for some ice-cream vendor somewhere? One in the woods, perhaps, where few people would go looking for ice-cream…
No ice-cream and you still gave me eight out of ten or ten-point-five? Wow! That’s the equivalent of nine with ice-cream. If only I could have made sure you had some stracciatella handy while reading my story!
Here are your definitely new and possibly improved, potential, suggested titles. (Or, as I like to call them, ‘tittles.’)
Una Verita Musketball Eata?
The Little Lie.
23, Not Me.
You picka you choose.
Not to be too pushy about it, but I’m not Italian, I’m half Italian. And half Irish. This makes me Irate. Now, if you’re connected with the mob, then I’m 110 percent Italiano, goomba.
As for the quotation marks. Everyone on this site knows more about them than me. As usual, I was trying to show off and it backfired. Like the time I bowed to impress a beautiful woman and my sunglasses fell out of my pocket, lacerating her big toe. She had to be taken to the hospital, the glasses were confiscated as possible evidence in an assault. (It could happen. With me? That could actually happen.)
And furthermore, as if that wasn’t enough, remember that famous raven? Quothing throughout the story by Edgar The Poe? Nobody objected to that. A raven using quotations throughout the story. And calling attention to them! Where was the outrage? Even Marien quothed. (An owl, no less.) If it doesn’t ruffle the feathers of a raven, thou shalt not let it ruffle thee.
Interesting point about the murder during war time. (That Jurgen made.) I didn’t even comprehend the irony in that until he pointed it out. (That was a pivotal point in the story that I found vexing. Such a harsh sentence for giving his ‘friend’ his just desserts.) But the story moved along so quickly I had no time to hold on to my reservations. So, good job there too.
Thanks for reading and commenting. Glad you liked the the story, too 🙂
I’m quite fond of that ‘heart stepping aside’ line, too, especially for its dual meaning. As I explain in more detail in my reply to Ken C.’s comment, Maxim’s heart must have ‘stepped aside’ to let the bullet go through without killing him, and it had then to step aside again as he gradually learnt that Gertrud’s love for him was gone. Both that and the bullet were part of Karl’s evil scheme to get Maxim out of the way.
On the other point, I put the Narrator on that aristocratic “pedestal” in order for him to have something to lose/sacrifice (the prestige) in order to become more truthful to his roots (by changing his surname after discovering the identity of his true great-grandfather). Even if it didn’t help Maxim in his lifetime, some justice is served, at long last.
On the demise of the family: The family represented a couple of generations before the Narrator that preferred to live the lie (or never knew it was a lie). The original reason I had them die, though, was to make sure that the Narrator is the only remaining next-of-kin to receive Maxim’s diary. I could have used other mechanisms though, and I would do so if I get a chance to develop this story into something longer. Perhaps Maxim’s diary arrives at the Narrator’s family as a whole (and while alive) and there is clear disagreement what to do about it. Only the Narrator wishes to endorse it, while the other family members want to destroy it and preserve the fake but prestigious ascending line. This would infuse another dimension of conflict into the story. Perhaps the Narrator’s father explains to him that if their lineage to the old Baron is put into question, their wealth and castle (not just the title) might be legally challenged by the offspring of distant cousins of the Baron, as they claim to be the true heirs. The Narrator, in a youthful spirit doesn’t care about anything of that. But I couldn’t go into all that within the 1,200 word limit. Thanks to your comment, I can now see even more clearly that the loss of the Narrator’s family is an unnecessary and distracting appendage to the story, which may set some readers on the wrong track (especially since it comes so early in the story, when the reader is still being shown the way into the story).
The poison in the plant: I take your point there. It would probably take a plant some more time to succomb, although a poison that can kill a man would probably kill a small delicate plant even quicker. But I’m not expert in the field (thankfully!). I’ll take your advice, and in a new write-up I’d have the plant take longer to react to the poison. In my first draft, Karl laughs off Maxim’s poison accusation and says the alcohol in the wine killed the plant. “Wine IS a plant!” Maxim ridicules him, as his rage builds up. All that had to go because of the word count, and because it may have sounded silly to some (a bit to me too!).
The boy in the courtroom was Maxim’s not Karl’s. This is important for the story, for that child is the Narrator’s grandfather, and it’s through him that the Wasser lineage lives on. I thought I had made that clear by giving the approximate age of the child (“a boy, four years old or so”), which would have had to be Maxim’s, given that it took Maxim (and Karl) more than three years to return from the War (plus the pregnancy). And given also that before the guys left for the War, Gertrud had been firmly in Maxim’s arm (and bed). I had another look at the story, after your observation, and I found out that I had forgotten (or removed) that critical information (the child’s approximate age)! I think it was a victim of my word trimming axe as I moved from one draft to another. That clue has to go in again, of course. Besides that, I had thought of other devices to firmly link Maxim, the little boy (his son), and the Narrator (great-grandson), for example by everyone in the story being blond, while those three males up the ascending line having black hair. Or they all had a facial spot at the same position… It may get a bit cheesy, though, I don’t know.
Also, I’d have preferred Maxim to be the Narrator’s grandfather (to keep things simpler) rather than the great-grandfather. But here we were bound by the prompt requirement. I had Maxim live till 99 and the diary delivered in 1983 in order to connect with WW1 through a living person. If it’s only a grandfather I’d have him do Vietnam and the Narrator would be a present day teen. And the interests at stake could be something more pertinent to our times rather than losing one’s noble title and family silver.
I have to make sure that it also comes out clearly that Gertrud hadn’t aborted. If I had more words at my disposal, I would have liked to get more into the letters Karl sent to her pretending to be Maxim. Like saying he (“Maxim”) now doubts if their love is true or if it’s just lust, and seems like he wants to evade the responsibilities of fatherhood. Things that enrage Gertrud, who doesn’t want to lose their baby…
I always keep a note of observations such as the ones you made with my personal copy of the story in my hard-disk, so that I can refer to them in case I rewrite the story in the future for some new project.
Just recently, for example, I submitted my story “Four Dates With Death” from our ‘Facing Your Fears’ prompt to a local writing contest, and I found your observations and suggestions very useful in upgrading that story. The word-limit was 2,000 words, so I had more words to work with. You ended up being a bit of a co-writer there! And if I win (that’s a slim chance!) I owe you a virtual beer, remember? So keep your critiques coming, mate, they’re very appreciated and can come in handy too :-)
One thing – I felt there must be some untold story there as well about the narrator’s relationship with his family. He seems somewhat inexplicably determined to throw off his birth family and identify with his wronged ancestor?
Teenage rebellion, perhaps? But, true, I may need something stronger for the Narrator to be so keen and determined to identify with his wronged ancestor and refute the Baron title and lifestyle that his father’s and grandfather’s generations embraced. Shall we call it the Princess Di thingy?
I thought quite hard about that, while writing the story, then realized I wasn’t going to have the space (words) to expand into all of that. So I just had his entire family killed, out of the way in one swoop, to simplify matters. One might question his place in the world after an event like that. And then, that parcel came in the post…
But I’m seriously thinking of developing this into something longer, a double saga happening three generations apart, in which the Narrator has a more compelling reason to identify with his true ancestral history and not his current jet-setting family. I’ve got a sort of overall idea in my mind, and a title “Undoing”… but I’ll get back to this when I have time for it. One never knows, the most difficult prompt might lead me to something bigger than a short-story. And that’s also thanks to you guys for your feedback on what can be improved.
Didn’t realize that I didn’t pen them.
I hope you’ll have time to submit here too. Just sleep a little bit less between now and Wednesday 🙂
And the Moral Is…
It was in my great-Grandfather’s time… And great-Grandpa loved to tell the story about The Stranger and The Aftermath. It goes like this:
Way back when my great-Grandpa and great-Grandma Vi had just gotten married, they lived together in a small community of fellow blood drinkers. Back then they were called “vampires” and they had to hide from regular folk as the regular folk generally tried to kill the blood drinkers on account of some severe misunderstandings. So the blood drinkers tended to congregate into small self-built towns where they could be themselves without fear of being stabbed to death by a misinformed villager. Apparently, the regular folk believed that blood drinkers would entirely drain the lifeblood of regular folk at feeding time. Yes, not only did they not understand that our blood drinking was a sport, not a food-type mandate, but they couldn’t imagine the symbiotic relationship that we have now, so there was a lot of fear. But that’s for another story. This is about the Stranger… who arrived one day, out of the blue.
He came in his car and pulled up to Vic’s Bar and asked if there was a hotel where he could stay. Now, on account of the misunderstandings, no blood drinker had ever thought to establish a hotel in town. Accordingly, they had nothing to offer him. So Vic gets a bright idea to earn some money and he cleared out the upstairs lounge, threw in a bed, and called it a single occupancy room for $69 a night. The Stranger was thrilled. And now all the blood drinkers had a target.
This was because Stranger was every blood drinker’s fantasy. He was tall, with a proud face topped by a gorgeous head of dark black hair. His neck was long and sinewy with beautiful veins that popped and bulged when he spoke. His complexion was ruddy, which led the town’s blood drinkers to believe he had a strong heart, which of course would bode well for a long, lusty drink. And he didn’t talk much, which was a quality all the blood drinkers appreciated, since regular folk who chatted incessantly were difficult to incapacitate and bite effectively.
Everyone in the town talked about the Stranger. He never even got a name. His life was fairly simple. After sleeping upstairs at Vic’s, he took his breakfast at The Happy Diner, his lunch at Chez Parnasse and his dinner back at Vic’s after which he sat at the bar for hours nursing a bourbon on the rocks. There was great debate amongst the townspeople as to whether he would taste better after lunch or after he’d had a few bourbons. The men tended to think he’d be tastier after knocking back a few at Vic’s, whereas the ladies tended to favor supping his neck after he’d dined lightly for lunch at Chez Parnasse. Great-Grandpa was among the men who started taking bets to see who’d manage to get in a bite first.
But unbeknownst to great- Grandpa, great-Grandma Vi had started her own campaign to get access to this stranger’s blood. She finagled a waitressing gig at Chez Parnasse and worked her magic to become friendly with the stranger. She gradually won over his confidence and finally, one day when he was bent over the check, she incapacitated him and leaned in to take a nip of his neck to taste his blood. She got no farther than a nip, however, because, in her excitement she didn’t sup for long. When he awoke he was none the wiser and he went on about his day.
Everyone was excited for great-Grandma Vi, and some even a bit jealous, until the Stranger died. He stayed in his room for a few days until one day Vic went to check on him and the Stranger was a goner. The backlash on great-Grandma Vi was furious. Everyone assumed she’d drunk too much. She was shunned, and then, she got sick too. She started coughing and had a high fever. She had trouble breathing and there was nothing anyone could do. She too died quickly.
It was soon thereafter that folks realized there was a sickness in the air. Anyone who had come into contact with great-Grandma Vi or the Stranger got sick and many died. Great-Grandpa got sick too, but he somehow managed to survive the sickness and remarry.
Yes, little ones, that was the beginning of the coronavirus years. You see, well before COVID 2150 we started with COVID 2019. But that’s a story for another time too. Back to the stranger, nobody ever figured out how he got the original sickness. Rumor had it he ate too much wild meat. But great-Grandpa never focused on the stranger’s fate. He was much more interested in great-Grandma Vi’s experience. And with the deaths of so many of his friends and neighbors. After many years, the pain stopped and the experience became not so touchy for great-Grandpa and the other survivors. They even developed a bit of gallows humor around the incident. After a while, for great-Grandpa and the rest of the blood drinkers in town, the experience only meant one thing: Don’t ever drink with strangers.
Damn first line thing! The story starts really flat with that intro. But it’s the obligation of the prompt, I know.
From the second paragraph on, the story grows and grows. I loved the part describing the bloodilicious qualities of the Stranger as perceived by the locals, also their curiously unusual gourmet discussions of when it’s best to bite. It’s not really too useful, but I now feel I’m quite up-to-date with the subtle technicalities of blood-drinking.
On reading the penultimate paragraph (the one starting with “It was soon thereafter folks realized there was a sickness in the air.”), I clearly made the wicked connection with our times and the pandemic that some say started with eating a bat (the closest animal to the concept of the vampire, right?). Brilliant!
And when it’s that brilliant, stop there! The last longish paragraph isn’t needed. You’d already SHOWED us what happened and what conclusions we can make, and then with that last paragraph you go on TELLING us of the connection with COVID. I felt a bit spoon fed there.
The nice bit of never drink with strangers can be salvaged and incorporated in the penultimate paragraph.
So it’s basically – what do we call them here? “The Andy Lake Principle” i.e. chop off your first paragraph. And “Frape’s Bottom Line” i.e. stop before the end, take out your bottom paragraph. Otherwise, it’s one bloody good story, Trish. In more ways than one.
PS The title is a bit overly generic. This is usually Cartisano’s department, but let me suggest one: “Bad Blood (With A) Stranger” or simply “Bad Blood”, to avoid giving away too much too soon.
A very enjoyable story and one with a moral too. Good fun too, in places.
It’s an interesting take on the prompt and on the vampire theme. Could just picture an entire community of blood drinkers who, because of severe misunderstandings, never had guests to stay, or, if they did stay, they never left.
It’s also a link to the Coronavirus, although that link was a bit of a stretch for me, no pun intended. Scarily though, you talk about the year 2050, that far ahead and still suffering from the virus, and the eating of too much wild meat which does bring the whole thing too close for comfort. Just glad my family have drastically cut back on our meat-eating these days.
Thus, Trish a successful piece of writing that can invoke these feelings in me, the reader.
Your story was a bit too bloody for me. But you did a good job connecting the terrible events.
How your imagination soars on the wings of a vampire! Scary!
I’m more comfortable with a Winny the Poo kind of moral. 🙂
And that’s a lovely turnaround – people giving the virus to bats (as it were) rather than the other way round. Darkly comic, and bloody good!
Apologies for the delay in commenting. I had to feed the cats. (Based upon your profile pic, I expect you’ll buy that explanation completely.)
Your story, though very well written, was much funnier on a second read than I thought it was at first. Your characters and setting initially struck me as macabre. (I don’t know why, as I’m not into horror, but not opposed to it either.) So I didn’t get the lighthearted humor at first. (the ‘Stranger.’ Duh. Who names a character ‘Stranger’ without intending a little mirth? Double-duh.)
I don’t think my blindness had anything to do with ice cream withdrawal but, I no longer wish to take any chances. The point is, all’s weal that ends weal.
Monster Of Human Flesh;
Written by Alyssa Daxson
Word count- 1197
It was in my great-grandfather’s time. When the bitter winds rolled down north, freezing anyone and anything that dared to cross its path. After all those wars, when civilization realized that nothing was innocent and carefree. When all those legends faded away, replaced real-life problems like war, sickness and famine.
I was just a boy then, freckled face, rosy cheeks full of life, green eyes sharp with youth.
My great-grandfather was coming down to visit, which had raised our household into a bustle of excitement. You see, my great-grandfather had just gotten released from the hospital. A couple weeks ago he’d decided to go hiking with a group, a unwise decision during the cold November months.
My family had pleaded with him, trying to move the stubborn man’s mind. But he would not be moved.
So off he went, his eyes bright with excitement, waving at me as he drove away.
I waited for him for days upon ends, expecting to see his car bumping down the road, his face split into a large grin.
But slowly those days turned into weeks, and my great-grandfather still hadn’t returned.
And then the news came.
He’d gotten lost.
Two weeks in the harsh northern woods, barely holding on. When the rescue party found him, he was thin, leathery skin hanging off a trembling frame.
I had thrown up when I heard the news. My great-grandfather, trembling with the cold, half mad. It had been almost to much to bear.
Then came other news.
The rest of the hiking group had yet to be found. It had seemed that my grandfather was the only survivor. But there had been something off, something that kept me up at night, eyes staring vacantly at the dark ceiling.
And when grandfather had finally came over, my suspicions were confirmed.
At first I hadn’t noticed. He’d walked up, a smile plastered across his face, greetings spilling out from his lips.
But then whenever he was alone, his smile would drop off, and his eyes would seem to sink in, a haunted look chasing away the joy that had been there.
I would slowly approach him, and put my hand on his, shivering at the chill I felt run through them.
“Hey sport,” he’d always say. I would smile, and then hug his thin middle, telling him how glad I was that he was back, trying to shove down the roiling feeling in my gut.
And then, one night, it happened.
Everyone had gone to bed, so it had been just me and grandfather, sitting on the couch in a peaceful silence.
And then suddenly, grandfather had let out a small whimper.
My head had whipped towards him, startled.
And then I saw him sitting there, hands wringing tightly, eyes shining with unshed tears.
“Uh, you okay?” I had asked, my eyes wide and confused. Grandfather had just stared at me for a second, the haunted look in his eyes, silent tears trailing down his tan skin.
“Grandpapy… is everything all right?” I had questioned again, using the nickname he liked.
Sure enough a smile had flickered across his face, before it disappeared, a frown replacing it.
“You can tell me,” I had slowly said, inching towards him. There was a muffled sob, before grandfather’s eyes had met mine, heartbroken. And then it was like a dam broke, and words flood from his mouth, revealing the whole story.
And damn, I wished I could just burn those words from my brain.
Grandfather told me about the hike, how he’d gotten lost, and resorted to cannibalism to survive. Sobs had shook his body as he recounted the horrific tale. And then he had gazed up at me, eyes swimming with tears, asking forgiveness, and said three words.
“I’ve changed Ravien.”
And that’s when I knew, it was serious. Never had grandfather ever used my actual name. It was always ‘sport’ or ‘kiddo’. My gut screamed warnings at me, telling me to run, to scream, to anything but listen as grandfather said how his limbs were growing longer, how his teeth were sharp, and how he was always hungry.
Hungry for human flesh.
And that’s when I had finally caught up, my instincts had took over. I had scrambled to my feet, breaths coming out in harsh gasps, eyes wide with terror.
Grandfather had continued to stare, the hunger in his gaze painfully evident.
“I’m sorry,” he’d whispered, before a guttural scream burst was ripped from his throat, and a horrible transformation took place.
I had watched, fascinated with horror as grandfather’s limbs had elongated, sharp claws sprouting from the tips, teeth growing into canines.
Grandfather— or at least what I thought was him— had turned towards me, red eyes burning into my green ones.
His large, muscled body had stumbled towards me, a disjointed limb reaching out to grab my own. I had felt something drop into the palm of my hand, and I had looked up, meeting my grandfather’s eyes. And in that gaze, I had seen regret for a split second, swimming in the red depths, before an animalistic rage took over.
My body had reacted on pure instinctive terror then, and I dashed towards the nearest open door, dodging the slashing claws and snarls, bolting out of the house and onto frost ridden grass.
I had whirled back to look at my house, and watched, detached, as the shadow of my grandfather— not a monster. My grandfather. Not a monster— slid through the house.
When the first scream rung out, and I had flinched, watching as blood had splattered the once clear panes.
After that there more screams, more blood. Then the cops had come with guns and all their fancy equipment. The guns did nothing but anger the beast— No! My grandfather! Not a monster— and more then half of the police force was taken out, before some brave soul chucked a grenade at the bea— my grandfather.
A boom had rung out, deafening my ears, and I had watched as a plume of smoke and fire exploded into the air. My hands had curled into fists, covering the small pendent that my grandfather had given to me.
After that it was silence. No words. No screams. No blood.
No grandfather. No monster.
Now, almost a lifetime later, as I’m sitting down in my old rocking chair, I replay that memory in my head, watching my limbs slowly grow, the hunger that was stabbing my abdomen strengthening.
Pulling out a small pistol that was laid down beside me, I held it up to the slowly dimming light.
Both my grandfather and I had gotten lost in the winter, both of us had tasted human flesh, had felt the transformation.
But only one of us had the courage to do what I believed was right.
Holding the gun up to my temple, I quelled the trembling in my fingers, one hand slowly stroking the pendent around my neck.
“This is for you grandfather,” I murmured, before my long finger drifted down, and slowly pulled the trigger.
A good, old fashioned ( that’s no bad thing, by the way) monster story, of a flesh-eating human, of cannibalism and transformation, werewolf style. Put me in mind of the rugby team, crash-landed in the Andes mountains and at least one of the survivors had to eat one of his team mates. It’s that unyielding human instinct to survive. We probably taste like chicken!!!
I enjoyed the way the old man’s suffering, his guilt perhaps, was portrayed. Nicely done as was the relationship between the two of them.
There are a couple of points that I feel the need to raise.
Great grandfather becomes grandfather when he finally returns having been lost. Was that intentional, or a misreading on my part?
You both got lost in the winter, you say. Was that on the same occasion? I think this needs to be tightened up, or explained.
At the very end of the story, told in the first person, but in the past tense, “slowly pulled the trigger” so who does that leave to tell the story? Slight rewording would make this work better, in my opinion.
In my story, Earth Ring, I used a gold ring as the gift and I’m not sure it worked. It had only a peripheral connection to my story but the prompt said I had to include a gift. I feel similarly about the pendant in that it has very little obvious connection to the story, as far as I can see.
An enjoyable story, regardless of my “small” criticisms which are easily remedied, should you choose to do so.
So basically the great-grandfather got lost and are human flesh, and because of that he turned into the Wendigo (that’s the actual lore about those creatures)
The boy in some point of his life got lost and resorted to cannibalism, and turned into a Wendigo too, and killed himself to protect his family.
That’s what I was going for lol. The pendent was a very last minute thought.
Thanks for you comment!!
Grandfather was actually meant to be great-grandfather. I wrote half the story before realizing it was supposed to be great-grandfather instead of grandfather, and had to go back and change that. Clearly I missed one lol.
And the pendent was a very last minute thing yeah, whoops on my part 😬
I left a comment by Trish explaining what I was going for. But yeah I probably should’ve explained it clearer in the story lol
Thanks for reading and the comment!
Hey – that’s my terrain, cannibalism! There was a time, last year, when somehow or another cannibalism of some sort was showing up in every one of my stories. Now that seems to have gone away. And caught on with you…
So is that what happens to us if we eat human flesh? So not the human version of mad cow disease. Biting one’s own nails doesn’t matter, does it? I won’t turn Wendigo, will I? Phew…
Your story builds up the tension nicely. It takes long till we get to know what happened, and I’m fine with that – actually I think it’s a strong point, as it raises the suspense. Then, the reply to our question on what’s going on comes all so suddenly, if you ask me. From the total mystery of what the hell happened to great-grandpa, we’re told clearly, briefly and simply that he had to resort to cannibalism. I would have brought in that reveal slowly rather than explicitly, if I were you, tease the reader a little bit longer. Something like the old man mumbling “I had to. I just had to. Jake was dead anyway. I didn’t do no harm to the man. He was good to me in his life. Even better in his death. Tasted good, anyway. What wouldn’t have after a week, no seven weeks, without food? I just didn’t know it would do this to me! I’m changed, Ravien…” Something of that sort, just to show you what I mean. But in your own words, of course. I’d have left out the “technical” word “cannibalism” itself and let the readers think that when you’ve filled them in with the details. Just as I told Ken Frape about his inclusion of words like “environment”, etc.
The surprise transformation of great-grandpa into a Wendigo quenches our curiosity on what on earth had happened to him. As we’re about to finally relax, you throw in another dilemma – that’s where the next meal’s gonna come from. He can’t remain hungry forever, can he? Great stuff, gal!
The panic is skilfully woven into the texture of the story, not just through the words you used, but the way you strung them together. Like the “my great-grandfather, not a monster” repetitions that go along well with the confused mental and emotional state of mind of the narrator.
Once the old man was blasted, I thought the story would end there, but instead you brought in the narrator’s similar fate (but different approach to it) which made for a great ending with a twist.
I don’t know when the narrator got lost in the winter. You should have dropped some breadcrumbs in the story leading us to believe he did get lost, so that it doesn’t come to us a surprise at the very end (sort of conveniently). Even simply something like “Now, almost a lifetime later, as I’m sitting down in my old rocking chair, frostbite still hurting…” would have put us in the picture.
Now, the typos:
– When all those legends faded away, replaced BY real-life problems like war, sickness and famine.
– almost to much to bear (TOO much)
– a unwise decision (AN)
– And when grandfather had finally came over (COME)
Also, the continuous use of the past perfect, with all those hads, got to me. Perhaps there was something you could do to shift time frames by one degree forward and use the simple past, instead, most of the time. That would have given you a boost with the word-count too. Extra words for the narrator being lost in the winter story!
It’s a good story, well told, with some of the usual Alyssa-class finesse when it comes to descriptive turns of phrase, which can do with some polishing along the lines explained above. I read Trish’s and Ken Frape’s comments, so I won’t repeat here the things they said, which I noticed too.
You have a very good point about the breadcrumbs. I likw your idea of drawing it out more. Too bad that I didn’t think of it while I was writing it☹️ (Maybe I should employ to give me ideas… a Ken think-tank? Like from the LEGO Moive!)
(My brothers made watch it….)
I tried so hard to find another way (looking up other words for had) but nothing turned up. I kept inwardly cringing whenever I wrote that cursed H.A.D word… I probably would’ve found another way this if I kept looking. Like the time-shift.
I feel this is a appropriate.
H.A.D= A monstrosity not worthy of the light of day. And a constant pain in my butt (for this story at least)
The LEGO movie… I watched it years ago, don’t remember much of it. The think-tank bit, I must have forgotten about it. But I know it had LEGO blocks in it. And a song that wouldn’t go away…
Adrienne Riggs (w- 1,195)
It was in my great-grandfather’s time that a secret was revealed that I wouldn’t really understand until I was older. Great-grandpa Mac was the one who told me how his grandfather had saved lives and showed me the remaining piece of evidence in the family home place. My ancestors had been unknown, unseen heroes, but few outside the farm would ever know it.
I was only four years old that year, but I was bright and precocious for my age. The experience filled me with awe, and I saved the moment in my forever memories. It began as the greatest adventure of my short life. Not only were we going to visit my great-grandparents in another state, we were going to get there on a train! I’d heard stories about trains and had seen pictures, but the pictures and books couldn’t prepare me for the big metal beast that roared into the station and stopped with a steamy, breathy hiss. We were going far away from home and would ride several trains. I was finally going to get to see Great-Grandma and Grandpa Mac and I couldn’t wait to see them!
My mama and Aunt Georgia bravely managed to take four small children, 4 years and younger on the trip. Mama had me, my two-year-old brother and baby sister. Aunt Georgia had my three-year-old cousin. I was fascinated with every part of the train ride. Once I got used to it moving, I pressed my nose against the window and watched as the trees, houses and cars rushed by so fast it felt like flying.
I could tell you lots of stories about the trip, like how scared I was when Mama gave me to a fat lady to hold while she got my brother and baby sister to sleep and I was afraid the lady would steal me away. I could tell you about the fit I threw when I lost my brown crayon but that stuff’s not important.
Great-grandma and Grandpa were waiting for us and were so happy to see us when we got to their house in Kentucky. This place didn’t look anything like Miami. The world looked bigger and brighter and the air smelled like grass and flowers. Mama had said she couldn’t wait to see the blue grass of Kentucky again, but the grass looked green to me. We got to see cows in the field and watch Grandpa milk them in the barn. I got to see real grapes growing behind the house. We didn’t have to go to a store to get them and they were good! There were teeny tiny frogs jumping in the grass on the hill where their house was, and I ran around catching them.
The house was a big farmhouse on a grassy hill filled with the smells of good things cooking. The rooms were big, and the wood floors made great sounds when we walked on them. Great-grandma’s handmade quilts were on every bed. They were colorful and warm and smelled like the air outside.
Mama laughed in the kitchen as she talked about riding the cows in the field with her cousin when she was young. She told us how Grandpa Mac would tell grandma they hadn’t been riding the cows when grandma scolded them because the milk was lower than it should be. Grandpa laughed too.
“I’d always say to your Grandma. Now Stella, you know I wouldn’t let them girls ride the cows.” Then Grandpa winked at us and smiled.
Grandma Mac shooed us all out of the kitchen and asked Grandpa to get some pickles from the cellar. Grandpa winked at me.
“Jodi, do you want to go with me?”
He took my hand and helped me down the stairs to the cellar. It was cool and dark down there until he pulled on a string and turned on a light. The walls were like rough like rocks. Grandpa told me how his grandpa had dug out the cellar a long, long time before. There were bunches of shelves and jars and jars of food. Grandpa told me that all the things grown in Grandma’s garden was prepared and put into the jars for them to eat later. The food in these jars looked much better than the cans of food Mama got from the grocery store.
I bumped into one shelf and it moved, making some jars rattle. I froze and Grandpa smiled.
“It’s ok, little one” he said. “Want to see something?”
I nodded and watched as he carefully pulled the wall of shelves away toward him. I blinked. There was a room behind the shelves! There was a bed and a couple of chairs. Blankets were folded on the end of the bed and a lantern sat on a wooden box.
“Is this a secret?” I whispered, wondering why someone would put a room behind some shelves.
“It used to be a long time ago” Grandpa said.
“What’s it for?”
He smiled. “It’s to keep us safe when there are storms outside. We can come down here until the storm is over.”
“Are you scared to come here? Can you hide? Can people see you in here?
“You ask so many questions Jodi-bug!” he laughed. “No, we aren’t scared to come down here. We could hide if we wanted to and no, people can’t see us if the shelf is against the wall.” He looked at me carefully.
“Did you see it before the shelf moved?”
“No” I shook my head making my curls bounce. I was thinking this would be a fun place to play. I walked to the bed but when I thought about the shelf closing, I got scared. I ran back to grandpa.
“It’s a little scary” I clung to Grandpa’s leg.
Grandpa nodded, deep in thought.
“It was scary for some folks, but this was a safe place.”
“More people came?” I didn’t understand. “Why?”
“They needed a place to hide until they could move to a safer place. My grandfather gave them this room to rest, eat and be safe. He gave them food when they left.”
“Because folks don’t always treat people who are different in nice ways. It was our way to help them.”
Grandma called down the stairs, “Did you two get lost down there?”
“No. We’re coming!” Grandpa moved the shelves back and grabbed a jar of pickles and we went back up the stairs.
I forgot about the room while we ate dinner. Each day was filled with wonders. When it came to leave, I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay in Kentucky.
Later, when we were home, I asked Mama about the room in the cellar.
She told me something about a secret “railroad”, but I didn’t understand at the time. There were no trains there. It was several years before I finally understood the meaning of the hidden room and the secret part it played in history. My great-grandfather had given me a great gift – the legacy of knowing my ancestors had bravely placed their lives at risk to save the lives of others.
I really enjoyed reading this story, Adi. The relationships are great, so natural, as is the dialogue. There’s always something wonderful about the way grandparents find time for their grandkids and the way little children look up to them/us is magical.
I love the notion of having a cellar or basement but it’s not so common in the UK although older properties might have them. Then, to add to the mystery and sense of adventure, there is the extra room, the secret room and its purpose, eventually revealed.
Whilst there is no explanation regarding the race, creed or colour of the story participants, there is this added dimension of the secret “railroad.” It raises a number of possible explanations and, in my view, when I, as a reader, finish a story with things to think about, then the writer has done a good job.
The description of the Kentucky home with home cooking smells, handmade quilts on every bed, pickles in jars, big rooms with creaking wooden floors, milking and riding the cows………all such lovely touches. Also loved the throwaway line about throwing a fit having lost a crayon.
I know this was a very challenging prompt but I think you have done a really good job.
Oh and by the way, I’m sure everyone knows that I love train stories and train journeys often appear in my stories. Your description of that part of the trip to visit the ggp’s in Kentucky was a super piece of writing, especially the looking out of the window and being passed over to a fat lady. Great stuff.
Well done, Adi.
Brilliantly told, elegant in its simplicity.
What a great legacy. Kindness to the other in society is much needed now.
Very, very enjoyable truly!
I liked the texture of this story, the sounds and sights and smells – all masterly portrayed; I can now almost say I’ve once been to rural Kentucky, thanks to reading your story!
The dramatic part of the story (what happened down there in that cellar a long long time ago) takes its time to get going, and all in all the real story is the story of how the little girl got to know about it all. You tell us that something secretive is going to be revealed at some point and that anticipation kept me going through the beautifully told account of the train journey and the first impressions of the grandparents’ house and its environs. The long wait till we get to the actual secret adds to the suspense and is fully redeemed by the lovely imagery of the quaint observations seen through the eyes of a child.
My favorite line is the following:
“No” I shook my head making my curls bounce. I was thinking this would be a fun place to play. I walked to the bed but when I thought about the shelf closing, I got scared. I ran back to grandpa.
The bouncing curls are evocative enough of a little girl, and then there is that sense of hesitancy that I think was very well portrayed.
I’m not familiar with the history of the area in question (secret underground railroads during the Civil War or perhaps connecting the civilized part of the nation with the Wild West in earlier times?). I think it’s something to do with the Civil War and black slaves being rescued, but my ignorance of the actual historical backdrop didn’t take away any of my enjoyment.
I could feel Jodi’s fascination with the rural world, as a child from the city (Miami) visiting a rural area for the first time. I sort of lived it the other way round. Brought up in a rural area where tiny frogs in rock pools, farms and endless fields (in the eyes of a child), home-grown produce and such were my childhood backdrop, and I remember my fascination with the totally opposite allure of urban areas, when I first visited fully-fledged cities. My and Jodi’s experiences were quite opposite, but I suppose the emotional response to the urban-rural contrast was similar.
There is one line that I think needs a correction (there’s an extra “like” there, right? Either of them can go.): “The walls were like rough like rocks.”
Do you have any further family stories about the underground railroad?
Was trying something from a different angle.
It’s called “Future Tension” (because Phil nabbed my first title!) and the first line goes:
“It was in my great-grandfather’s time machine that I first met my future self. And killed him.”
Where could this possibly go?
You could try this…
“It was in my great-grandfather’s time machine that I met my first future self. And killed him.”
The Solid Rock
By Marien Oommen
“It was in my great-grandfather’s time..where we first learnt to have family prayers, ending with Psalm 91 every night.”
Grandma aka Koymama gets into a garrulous mood, usually after lunch, when she’s feeling all cuddly and sweet, resting her
back, on her antique wooden bed, with us, gathered around her. We loved to do pppprrrrrr..prrrr on her expansive tummy
which was granted after many appeals. It was an honor and privilege to be fed from her round brown hands.
Today, she spoke in hushed tones about Reverend K. Korutha, a fierce man, with a fierce beard. How dire circumstances in his youth stood in the way of good schooling, forcing him to join the newly established Anglican church of the British, if he desired an elitist education.
( Lesson: Achieve great things, jump over your obstacles along the way)
But great-grandpa belonged to the group called Nazrani Christians, which started when Apostle Thomas came to Kerala. These people were given large acres of land by the Raja, the King, for being sincere hard working merchants, trading in pepper and other spices.
( Gramma was teaching us to be sincere and diligent).
Koymama was about to talk about the ‘armoury’ in the ol’ ancestral home, which held weapons used by her great uncles, who had mastered the Kerala martial art called Kalaripayattu. But she switched her intent. She didn’t want her young impressionable grandsons to follow suit. She envisioned them becoming doctors, engineers or professors whatever.
Sticking to high ideals and simple thinking was a better option.
So she said, “You know there’s a rock right at the end of the open grasslands leading to the bridge over the river Pamba?
It’s called Cheriyan Para- which means rock.”
“That’s where your Appacha, who was then the District Judge along with his friend, the Reverend, Paili ‘achen’ knelt down
to pray for a Christian College to come into existence.”
A college was badly needed in Chengannur where the young men were wasting away their lives playing marbles, going swimming or fishing. Appacha, being quite a pillar of the local church in Puthencavu village, somewhere in Central Travancore, persisted to the point of pledging his home for the cause!
Their prayers slowly bore fruition.
Praying at a ROCK!!!
Koymama, our grandma, spoke of her husband with such revered tones. In later years, when she became hard of hearing, she resorted to happy miming. Her laughter was infectious. Whenever the grand bishops stopped by to visit, Koymama would proudly take out her famous teapot along with her other very distinctive crockery.
Then all her big daughters talked in hushed tones in deference to the visitors.
Today it’s my heirloom, in my custody- that curvy brown-black teapot.
Now a curio on my kitchen counter.
Appacha had his little office room where he sat for hours to write his diary.
Those diaries are with some of his grandchildren.
I didn’t inherit even one.
In them, he went into great detail of his various children’s births, all delivered in the boudoir of the great house.
Every year there was a surprise announcement, ‘You have a baby brother.’ Or sister.
Words like ‘pregnant’ were unknown those days, my mama added.
The young siblings assumed their mother ate a lot and got huge in the middle.
Later years, Appacha wrote how his children found their mates, how their marriages were held,
in his garden after the church service, and how many were fed.
As he aged, his handwriting became shaky, he’d write about their health mostly, visits to the doctor, to the extent of describing their loo habits.
But such was their love.
Once he gave his pair of slippers, the ones he was wearing, to a man who had none.
My greatest memory of Appacha was when I accompanied him down the street for his evening walk.
He wore no sweat pants, but his usual long white jubba, with a gold lined stole around his neck.
As he walked, neighbours curtseyed to talk. Some would bring out a chair on the street to sit him down to hear him talk,
his hand curling over his walking stick.
I was the court jester standing by his side.
What he left behind was a pursuit of prayer. That life would mean everything to us if we placed God as centre. Every project was to be started with a prayer ‘down on our knees’. My grandma never cared for gold or frills, but she admired this man who people listened to in awe. He believed in human rights, in quality life for all.
Once he disagreed with some big shot chief minister and got into some degree of trouble because he wouldn’t lie.
Good Grandpas’ Lives Matter, especially the memories they leave behind.
Then I hear of other grandpas who cuss out loud when sickness gets hold of their fading, demented brain.
Of what he left behind, this came to my hands, given by my older brother, Abu.
Appacha may have been twenty when he wrote this dated: 17 Nov 1918
From the depths of faith, the world’s mire and clay,
That oppresses my body, and darkens my soul
Cleanse me and enrobe with purity
And, in a moment, I shall myself ………. ( ? watermark, smudged)
What Supreme Bliss, therein the present
A momentary heaven to taste, I groan
With all my sins – a doleful burden.
Let me yet feel a hollowness that sin scorns
And lap in lather, the vile and the gross.
Divine Sun, whose kindly ray does end the night,
Twin death to life and all our dreams, a lie. (Incomprehensible??)
Thy rigour impart that my benumbed body,
Shake itself of sloth, and remove ——– ( watermark, smudged )
To good acts, which in their turn, gives strength.
( wow, deep truth!)
Thus let me pass my manhood days
Fearless of wrong and the opposition power… ( ink smudges )
Fold me in thy arms , O Christ,
That touch, that made her whole
Who full twelve years was diseased of blood
May I hear those cheering words addressed
And my heart realises,
‘It’s The Lord,
Great King that rules all universe, from end to end.’
Thy greatness, who can scan?
Time affects thee not.
While things down here are changed from day to day. (more so now!)
Thou changest not, from everlasting, thou art God
Not old, but new, e’er new, as days go by
Science is not ashamed of thee, Great Lord,
That gave science today, ordained of old……. ( talkin’ aboutSpaceX? LOL 🙂
To proclaim thy greatness,
Thou art Great.
“Gosh this is deep! What’s the connection to the title? There’s no bearing to the wealth of the poem?” I ask Abu.
“He wrote it while in the bathroom! The watermarks bear truth to my guess.” He replied.
A poem written while bathing! Unbelievable! I love it. I held the parchment paper close to my heart.
“Looks like he had to face some opposition? Or faced some grave disease? And relied on divine healing,
that one touch of the Master?”
My grandfather had no doubts about the divinity of Christ. His grounding was solid. Praise God for a goodly legacy.
The poem is for real and was found among his things, smudged and yellow with age. The ‘water’ comments were added by someone, no idea who.
I did admire my grandpa.
I completely agree with the comment written by Trish. Reading this story just puts one into that time and space, albeit a different culture and unfamiliar pattern of speech. I needed to read it more than once to get into it, to get the sense of it as it is written in such wonderful language, obviously in English but not in my own way of speaking. It’s almost like a translation that paints pictures of things in a away that you haven’t thought of before. It was really worth spending the time reading more than once, Marien.
There are amusing little expressions such as in the” smudges ( watermarks)” on the poem, written in the bathroom and the “gosh, this is deep!” the Pppprrrr prrrrr…on her expansive tummy, “their loo habits” etc
Well done, Marien.
This lovely group of prolific writers is like getting a daily dose of good serotonin, a glass of wine, and everything nice.
The comments are so worth reading. Cross cultural, cross everything, cutting through wars, Stalins, vampires, space age and what have you.
Who needs news now? This is more than enough, quoth the owl.
This is a heart-warming tale, from time ago and a place we do not usually hear much from. There is an addiction (in a good sense!) to righteousness and spirituality, a strong belief in the works of the Lord, throughout.
Where I live we may sometimes (rarely) hear stories coming from such places (I take this place to be southern India, so guessing from your mentioning of Kerala, the names of people, Grandma’s “brown hand”, etc.). Stories from the Subcontinent, and elsewhere beyond Western culture, often come to us with a colonial taint, rarely through the eyes of the inhabitants of these places themselves, whose civilization dates well back to the times before colonization itself took place and served as a (sometimes unfortunate) bridge between these places and the West.
And, anywhere between the Middle East and the Far East, there is often a great richness of stories and such a massive story-telling culture, that makes story-telling as we know it in the West fade in comparison. (On our Site, ‘A Place for Fiction Writers’, we do get close, though! LOL).
So thanks for giving us a glimpse of this culture from within it. I’m not sure if you yourself have any connection or living experience with these people and/or this geographical location (ie. how autobiographical or otherwise your piece is), but it does sound very authentic to me.
“Words like ‘pregnant’ were unknown those days, my mama added.
The young siblings assumed their mother ate a lot and got huge in the middle.”
– ha, that’s what I used to think, too, as a child. That moms-to-be must eat something very special to obtain babies. But then I got around that all by myself. How have all the kids I know, I thought, taken after their fathers too, apart from their mothers? It wasn’t just a culinary thing…
I liked this line from the poem Appacha wrote in his younger years: “Science is not ashamed of thee, Great Lord.” It says a lot, doesn’t it? A bridge between religion and science, over the chasm between the little known and the great unknown.
I was a bit confused by the word “watermark” as I initially took it to be that faint mark made by the paper makers and visible when the sheet is held to light. I couldn’t quite understand why the presence of watermarks didn’t allow you to read the text. Then I realized you probably mean a water mark in the sense of a water smudge. By the way, I liked very much the inclusion of those smudged parts of the poem, the effect of time and the fact Appacha wrote his poem in the bath: it all adds to the authenticity.
It’s interesting to me to hear of the Nazrani Christians. Do you belong to that Church too? I had never heard of this particular Church, but it’s interesting because in the country where I was born, the word “Nisrani”, which sounds quite like “Nazrani”, means “Christian” – every type of Christian. I suppose it’s coming from the name of Jesus’s own hometown of Nazareth.
I must say I’m very proud to be from Kerala, the beautiful little state at the southern tip of India- which has come up on top recently because of the way its govt. has handled the Covid situation. The communal harmony is also worth bragging about. The traders sailed to this state for its pepper and other spices in ye olde days!
I now reside in the UAE- a dream country with many different nationalities living in perfect harmony.
Regarding the poem- those water smudges are actually there.. and the words are undecipherable.
I don’t know much about Nazrani Christians- but recently a book was brought out about my ancestors(!).. so extracted the details from it. But that’s what they were called those days.. may have leaned towards orthodoxy.
Wise man Google says: 🙂
“According to tradition, the Syrian church was established in 52 AD by St Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. It is one of the oldest churches in India.The Cochin Jews are known to have existed in Kerala in the 1st century AD, and it was possible for an Aramaic-speaking Jew, such as St. Thomas from Galilee, to make a trip to Kerala then”
You know, reading this after reading Adi’s, I could envisage a book of Family Memories from Distant Continents, alternating between America and India … very different experiences and styles, but grounded in similar values …
The two big democracies have such dissimilar folks co-existing, and within the country as well, there are such vast differences- from north to south, east to west. Makes it all the more interesting.
Take care 🙂
by ken cartisano
“It was in my great-grandfather’s time,” I began, “and not that long ago if you stop and think about it, that children even younger than you were crammed into a room no bigger than this, thirty at a time.”
The campfire crackled and cast a flickering light on their smooth young faces. It was past dusk, crickets chirped nearby. An endless sea of rich, green grassland stretched away in all directions, ending at the foot of a dark and featureless mountain range.
“Children were forced to sit at tiny individual desks, all facing in one direction while a teacher, like me, would use a piece of chalk to convey complex concepts on the surface of a piece of simulated slate. Can you imagine that?”
While their faces betrayed their disbelief, I picked up a bundle of sticks I’d requisitioned in advance, and passed them to the child on my left. “Take one and pass the rest along,” I said, and waited as each child received a stick.
“What are we supposed to do with these?” Joshua asked, even as he examined the peculiar object he held in his hands.
I produced a bag of marshmallows from behind the log I was sitting on and reverently removed a single, fat, fluffy white marshmallow and held it up for all to see. A half-dozen pairs of eyes gleamed in anticipation, except for those of Natalie, which were glued to the bag in my other hand.
The distant howl of some prehistoric cat, probably a tiger, caught us all by surprise and a couple of the younger kids looked uneasy. Natalie, the oldest, told them in hushed tones that the fire keeps the cats at bay. “Isn’t that right, Mr. Crane?”
“It does.” I said, and passed the bag of marshmallows to Bobby, the child on my right. I had to tap him with the bag to get his attention. “Take one and pass the rest, Bobby.”
No sooner had he accepted the bag when we all heard the haunting call of two strange unidentifiable creatures, followed shortly thereafter by the unnerving sound of a pack of hyena’s, most likely in pursuit. Neither sound prepared them for the appearance of the dragonfly, which darted back and forth well above our heads. It’s half-meter primeval proportions made it easily discernable in the firelight. The buzzing sound of its wings was low and melodic, going up and down the scale as it swooped and swerved in its unique manner of dining.
The two newest children were typical siblings. One was terrified while the other was fascinated by the immense insect. “A dragonfly is a good omen,” I told them. “It doesn’t bite or sting, and will keep us free of other bugs as long as it chooses to linger at our campsite.”
That put all of the kids more at ease, and as we all skewered our marshmallows with our sticks and held them over the fire, the rhythmic hum of the dragonfly’s wings was intermittent as he seemed to be darting off on various forays, before returning to the airspace above our heads.
As the first marshmallows turned a golden brown, ready for consumption, I said, “So, in my great grandfather’s day, an immense evil descended on the plain: In the form of a large and hairy beast possessing monstrous white teeth, legs the girth of pine trees, and a snake for a proboscis. They traveled in great numbers, sometimes charging across the grasslands, trampling everything in their path which, oftentimes was the sleeping members of our ancestors tribes.”
Several kids winced at the mental image of squished people.
“So our ancestors,” I continued with some haste, “devised a plan to kill the beasts, one at a time, if necessary.”
The children were agreeable with this course of action.
“They designed a kind of trap, that required them to scout out a good location, a kind of natural funnel beyond which they dug a deep hole and covered it with dead grass and shrubs.”
“So the beast would fall in the hole and drown,” one of the children surmised.
“Well, generally speaking, that’s correct, Misha. It would fall in the hole, but not necessarily drown.”
“It would drown if there was water in the hole, wouldn’t it?”
“Well sure,” I said, as the bag of marshmallows came back around. “But the point is that our ancestors discovered that the beasts great legs were its weakest point, and they would often break in the sudden fall. This realization led to the construction of smaller and simpler traps that allowed ever more beasts to be killed until it became a kind of sport, or ritual.”
“Is that bad?” Natalie wondered out loud, as a series of growls by several large predatory cats in the distance caused all but Bobby to lean a little closer to the fire.
“It would seem so,” I said, directly to Natalie. “But according to the tale, a great fire and celebration would follow the killing of these beasts, and on one such occasion the meat of one of the beasts found its way into the fire, was removed, and eaten, and proved to be delicious.”
To a group of children eating marshmallows, roasted monster meat didn’t sound too enticing.
“Soon, all of our ancestors were eating the delicious meat. But one can’t eat the meat of an evil beast without assuming at least some of its deviant nature. And so it turned out that our great grandfathers became like the great evil they’d overcome, trampling everything in their path and eating anything that moved.”
“So… that would explain the reason why we live the way we do right now?” Natalie guessed.
“Possibly,” I said. Me and Bobby looked up at the same time and noticed the absence of the dragonfly. We exchanged a look of mutual recognition that no one else seemed to have noticed.
“So,” I said, “clapping my hands together once, shall we move on, or do we want to discuss this further?”
The ever silent Bobby spoke. “No. I think it’s worth talking about.”
“Does everyone else agree?” I inquired. All seven students nodded enthusiastically. “Okay fine,” I said. “Let’s give the subject time to percolate into your minds and we’ll discuss the topic, and whatever else pops up in tomorrow’s class. Alright?”
All heads were nodding in agreement, and the A.I. interface was functioning in perfect harmony with the VR projectors as it produced at that precise moment, the sounds and image of a charging mammoth breaking into the clearing, raising its immense head and tusks high into the air above us, and releasing a deafening blast of prehistoric trumpeting, before shaking its great hairy head and dashing off across the open plain. Leaving us all stunned and shocked but relieved to be alive after the encounter.
The kids had all shrieked in terror and surprise. (I have to admit, I almost peed in my pants myself—I must have a talk with that A.I. unit.) But all in all, I’d say the new approach to History 101 was going to be a smashing success.
Welcome back. There was a serious danger of the rest of us falling into the giant chasm you had left during The Curious Incident of the Missing Wiper Blade.
You are right in that the prompt does seem to have made us struggle. I made some comments to this effect on 4th. June when I was scratching my head and seeking inspiration. All I got was splinters.
Now, to business or, more accurately, your story. It’s a strange mixture of a Boy Scouts’ camping trip ( do you have Boy Scouts in the US? Our have woggles, don’t ask. Yours probably have guns seeing as how they are a kind of para-military organisation but they will be guns that pop out a flag that says BANG when the trigger is pulled) and a 7th. grade natural history lesson taught outdoors. It sits well with me as a former physical education teacher as I did some of my best stuff outdoors. Track and field, shot, javelin and discus.
Knowing you, Ken, the dragon fly and the marshmallows and the sticks, and the fire and the wild animals and the kids ( especially Bobby) are all metaphors for something or other but I don’t have the intelligence ( artificial or otherwise) to understand exactly what. Doh!
On the other hand, you might be just pulling our legs and they may have no metaphorical content at all.
Hang on a minute whilst I go and read this story again……………………
……Ok I’m back. You know what? I feel like I have just woken up from a half-remembered dream or a slightly disturbing “trip.”
That’s all folks.
This is an interesting tale, neatly packaged with the description of a real camp ambiance, crickets, grasslands et al. That’s the only reality for the kids- the rest is computer generated. Wonder how such a time of learning would be in the future.
This sentence….We exchanged a look of mutual recognition that no one else seemed to have noticed…. does this hold anything more than meets the eye?
Your story reminded me of a lesson I taught in class long ago… Isaac Asimov’s The Fun They Had… in a reverse kinda way.
Nothing nefarious, but yes. The teacher and silent student Bob were the only two who noticed the absence of the VR dragonfly. This coincidental event, and the teacher’s acknowledgement, was the non-material gift given to young Bob, which is the first step in bringing him out of his shell. Which is demonstrated by his willingness to volunteer his opinion shortly thereafter.
I didn’t expect anyone to even notice that, much less fully get it. (But that’s what good teachers do. And it’s the little things that people do that can really make a difference.)
I heard a story on the radio the other day, told by a young woman, about a man who fell into a deep depression following the death of his wife (and other things I suppose.) And he was so depressed, that this young girl in a nearby apartment left for school (I think) at the same time that he went to work every day. At some point, a couple of years later? Given the opportunity to speak to her, he confessed to her that for a year-and-a-half, the cheerful, if automatic smile she gave him every morning when they passed in the every day, was his only reason for living, until his depression passed.. Supposed to be a true story.
Your last comment reveals that you were a teacher and a fan of Asimov. I’m not familiar with ‘The Fun They Had.’ Perhaps I don’t remember it. I’ll have to look it up now and read it.
Thanks for your comments Marien
So, here I am… I now truly and officially got to your story, Ken. I already had a go at it the other time, of course, when I gave you a mark of 6/10, then upgraded it to 6.4 for something Mr. Crane and Bob noticed but nobody else; an insider’s secret between Marien and you and nobody else. I’ve just read your story again, and as often happens with most well-written pieces, a second reading unravels other gems in the writing that one might not notice the first time round when the reader is chasing after the plot more than anything else, not necessarily soaking in every literary pleasure along the way. So, I now afford you another upgrade to 7.9. Out of 10 (or 10.5 at the very most). Which is a very good mark. Bo Derek was once given 11 out 10, but that was truly exceptional.
Your story’s atmospherics are its greatest gift. You did a great job with the descriptive mood setting. The prehistoric world is minutely painted and when we get to know it is “just” an A.I. projection, we can only say that they, the A.I. people, did a really good job too. Technically speaking, that is. For the story is also about educating our kids, and I’m not sure at all if this immersive technology is truly a step forward. We learned about prehistory from colourful books and those of us who wanted to learn, learned very well just the same – or better. The science lesson was a science lesson, history was history, campling was camping, fairytales were fairytales, playtime was playtime. In your story they are all mixed up together. The teacher calls ancient animals monsters. Is this truly a history class or a fairytale reading session?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m critizising the way education is going, not your story or your writing. It’s a very good job what you’ve done there, for it pictures very well what is really going on. Because that’s what has and is becoming of education. Good old books are being cast aside and it’s all about fancy learnplay and playlearn all the time. Educators teach in the fear of God that the kids might, horror of horros, get bored. Math is taught through video games. Science is a YouTube channel. Essays have become Powerpoint presentations. P.E. stands for Playstation Entertainment on a standing desk (it gives you muscular fingers). History is a virtual reality immersion. I don’t know if all this aids the kids to learn or simply takes away their imagination, which can be stronger, and certainly more personalized than any VR projection. If for nothing else, what comes without some hard work (in ancient times it was known as “studying”), is easily forgotten; easy come easy go. I don’t know if you had any of this in mind when you wrote your piece, but it emerged to me, nonetheless whilst I read it.
Mr. Crane wants to talk to the A.I. Unit for overdoing with the mammoth (and ostensibly because he nearly wet himself – great stuff there!). What about telling them to switch off everything sometimes, get into a classroom, like in great-grandpas time and get the kids to hold a good old book in their hands instead? I don’t know why, but the more electronic gadgets they throw at me, the more I appreciate and treasure good old paper books. And I’m not that old, my great-grandmother was still alive to witness the landing on the moon. But I was born before 2006 (that’s when YouTube came, right?). Well, it does happen to me sometimes, though, that I press on a word in a paper book in order to look it up, but nothing happens… I’m being taken in for the ride too.
Then, in your story, there is a philosphy lesson too, summed up in the sentence: “And so it turned out that our great grandfathers became like the great evil they’d overcome, trampling everything in their path and eating anything that moved.” That’s a strong and true comment about us naked apes, and what we’ve done to our fellow animals. You talk of the woolly bully, but the true protagonist – and monster – is the naked bully.
The marshmallows are cooked by ultra-infrared radiation bulbs and a chemical in the marshmallows that changes colors when exposed to the unique signature of the heat-lamp. No probs. Easy as pie, while sticks appear to be hard to come by.
Nice to see you around here again, Ken. It felt like someone was missing. Looks like you finally found that wiper part.
I’m not familiar with Adi’s ‘Poppy’ story, (off the top of ,my head.)
Have been busy and out of range of network access for the past two weeks. I’m sure you all had thought you were finally rid of me for good, or I had two many Covidians living in my nasal.schnozzola. No. So…you skipped over my story but read my comment, and now you feel OBLIGATED to read my story to decipher the mysterious meaning in my comment. I should be insulted. but my being insulted would probably hurt your feelings, and I don’t want to do that. (Not on purpose>). What a predicament. It’s good to know that, whatever you do now will be wrong. Doing nothing is still wrong.
Tough prompt. I had to get drunk to write the story. But I always edit sober.
I went to the local diner a couple of times last week to downloaded the stories and read them back at the cabin, as a cure for my insomnia. The good news is–it didn’t work.
I should be back in my hometown in time to give brief, bur scathingly dismissive critiques on most of these pathetic stories. But, who wants that, Right? Nobody. Maybe I’ll take a Xanax and tell everyone how beautiful their story looks. How clean a fresh they smell. I fear that this strange prompt failied to inspire anyone too much, and the stories reflect that
Do I see my name in there? Yes, true, I went for you comment before I read you story… hoping for any news you may have about that missing wiper piece. I often read the comments each time I have a quick minute or two to spare with cellphone in hand, but then I take my time to read the stories in depth, at planned times, and wouldn’t rush through them. I’m very well aware of what goes into writing them!
The same goes for my comments on the stories, I’d usually let the stories simmer inside of me, before I comment, so it’s not just a quick immediate reaction but also a reflection on the lasting effects of the story on me, the reader, too.
I read your “Woolly Bully” (great title, you gave the ending there without giving a hint at all!) and you’ll be getting my comment in a while. I’m, this time round, commenting on the stories in entry order, having started from the top and having so far got till Trish’s piece. Sometimes I start by commenting on the stories that seem to entice me most first, and then move on to the others. But this time, since we have ample chance to comment and I think I’ll manage to comment on all (thanks to the deadline extension), I’m working down linearly…
Right off, I can just say you get a six out of ten from me. Not bad, but it’s one of those stories that are simply awestruck by new technology. A bit like The Wind in the Willows back in its day. Or a certain story on a robot shop-delivery system you and I both heard about. But it’s interesting how you took the great-grandpa theme back and forth into past and future history to bring out the story you told. But more on it when it’s your turn for my comment! Alyssa has been waiting longer, she’s next in line…
True, this prompt has been a difficult one. You’ve already made it known that you found the stories you’ve read so far pathetic. I had to rework my story over and over several times until (I hope) it got to the point of making some sense. That first line obligation, especially, had me going round in circles! It’s the one story that took me longest to finalize since I joined this group. And from what I’m reading, others have also faced some tough problems to get around this one. You, for one, had to get yourself drunk to put pen to paper. I want to see your first draft now!
What are you doing in some log cabin so remote you don’t have any internet access? And wishfully thinking of AI-VR campfires? Wasn’t social distancing bad enough? Or have I missed the news that the virus has mutated to such extent that it can backgoogle its way through to any internet user? Following an alliance between the coronavirus and the pacman eater? Once you’re back to the connected world (well, you have to be already, if you’re reading this), check out your email inbox. I’ve written you a long one there too…
You crack me up, as usual.
Shit, did I call everyone’s stories pathetic? That’s harsh. I’m sure I was merely exaggerating. (Ha ha.) I think a better way to put it would be, ‘Prompt-challenged.’ Mine as well. (No you may not see the first draft. I threw the computer in the creek. Luckily it was dry, and I went out and got it the next day. Still works, but has a few pebbles lodged in the keyboard.)
BTW, since you seem obsessed with the broken windshield wiper motor, the only truly factual claim I’ve typed in the last 21 days, (other than being isolated, secluded and de-networked) the motor is constructed in such a way that, even though both wipers share the motor, each blade uses its own miniature transmission, which should be replaceable, but since the ‘transmission’ is itself inside the motor housing, the whole housing, and motor had to be replaced. Cost? $250.00 for the part, $200.00 labor.
I swear to God, my next car? No windshield. I’ll fix those bastards. But I digress.
A six out of ten, eh? Well, I appreciate your honesty. And I concede the point. (I just thought all the other stories were fives. Except yours Ken, definetly a six and a half or a seven. I rather liked Adi’s story, yours, Robt.’s, one or two others. Trish’s was good too. (She has tremendous skill, or talent, or both for all I know.) So far though, my favorite is Jurgen’s.
No. It’s just that the prompt is confusing: we’re trying to tell a story about a story of a person telling someone else’s story, in first person. (I had to have a drink. The prompt made me drink. To be sure, I did not drink to excess, just enough to get me drunk.) I can’t believe no one else got drunk. What kind of people am I dealing with here? Toe-teetalers?
The good news is, except for Andy’s, I’ve already read all of the stories. And what I had to go through to download and read those stories, is a story in itself. A story that I’ll be happy to dream up and re-tell with all the details and accuracy I can invent. (As if it really happened, to someone else.)
I look forward to your ‘scathing’ email, Ken. Now quit screwing around and… no, no. I take that back. Take your time.
Thanks for updating me on the windshield wiper saga. An expensive errand it was. Almost irrelevant to all of this, but still about car wipers, I’ve just remembered of “Flash of Genius”, the movie about the inventor of the automatic car wiper… Quite a good film, in my opinion, watch it if you can and if you haven’t yet. I know, I know, you’re still suffering from the disimbursement of $450 of your money on a wiper motor, and might not want to watch a film on that theme right now. But you’ll get to see what went into inventing the modern wiper. Still, your wiper guys seem to be a greedy lot.
I failed to observe the sublte hint you dropped in your story (the mutual recognition bit that Marien spotted). Now, just that raises your mark to 6.4 (probably by more than that, but since I’m myself at the 6.5 mark, I have a vested interested in not being overly generous…).
“It’s the little things that people do that can really make a difference”, you then said – I’m going to print t-shirts with that. “by Ken Cartisano” written below it. I have other by Gandhi and Martin Luther King. You’re going to be in good company.
So I will take my pathetic self and bow out of the story contest this time. Truly sorry you thought it such a strange prompt and I will sincerely hope my stupid pathetic self will think of something better next time, that really tickles your fancy. Know what they say, you can’t please all the family and friends all of the time, only some of the time I guess. I am truly sorry I guess as I am struggling to keep a roof over my head and my child’s head too and try to get him an education that will outfit him for this truly dog eat dog world and I am so darn tired for the past seventeen years dealing with all the crap and I did not choose to be a single parent, the choice was made for me by my other half who bowed out just over seventeen years ago.
I know I have very little patience left but will try to read all the stories before the deadline and vote, if not I hope there is better luck next time for it will be holidays and my child is being packed off to army boot camp to learn how one’s selfishness can impact on others. I know that I am trying my best and will attempt to do my best as always and as always it may never be good enough but darn I have tried and that is more than I can say for some. I try to do the right thing and the best I can. That is all I can do. I guess that is the most frustrating thing in life when you are never good enough and no matter how hard you bust your gut in work and what have you, parenting, and you are never ever going to be good enough. I long to die in my sleep sometimes, often more often. I think my brother who died at 63 and 10 days last year is one of the lucky ones. I long to die, but know I must get up in the mornings to create a future for my son and to ensure he is looked after after I am gone.
And the prompt can be a shyte prompt but a good writer can make something of the shittiest prompt of them all. You can take lemons and make lemonade. Your prompt is only as good as the writer who uses it.
The prompt could be “Shit or Crap” and you can make it “Holy Shit Happened” “Holy Crap Happens” and have an engaging story. There are no crap prompts, or crap story tellers but only crap stories because sometimes the turd is not as well formed and as you would like it to be. It could be diarrhea or it could be stony turd that rips up the hemorrhoids as it passes back into the environment to form manure and fertile the soil for the next cycle. Story writing can be like taking a dump. Sometimes it is a satisfying evacuation of the bodily waste materials that leaves one with a feeling of great relief. Other times, you go rushing to the thunderbox to explode and that too is a relief although the byproduct is excurciating pain and distress on learning you have stage II bowel cancer and you might need a little bag attached to a hole in your belly which makes for the question, “Do you want to go down that path?” or “do you want to let the disease take it’s course and when the pain gets too bad?” you go to the doctor or two of them and say, “Yes, guys, I want my passport out of here.” I am lucky to live in a state where that is allowed in this country. Both Canberra and Victoria allow two doctors to prescribe the terminally ill that cocktail of lethal medicine to go down that route.
It is a thought. We can be dealt so many lemons and shit bags of situations in life which we have no control over and to know that that option is a going concern is comforting. For now, we keep writing and snatch minutes of time and a place to write knowing that after death we may never ever get read again and maybe that is a good thing. Maybe what we have to say is just for the moment – a flash in the pan of eternal thought and it evaporates like a rain drop in the desert – then we see endless sand dunes and we are just a grain among the many. Have a crap night Ken C and maybe you will feel better once all the crap has dribbled out of your system.
I am depressed with the hate being expressed in the world. In Victoria a few months back a little sudanese girl niece of one of my students at the Warragul Community house was stabbed to death. Now another girl white girl was beaten up by a gang of eight sudanese girls. I feel teary at both. I don’t give a shit for colour or culture. I see the human being and once I start mouthing off about blacks, chinese or christians or muslims, yellows or whatever, I have failed as a human being because I have started to see stereotypes and failed to see the person. People are people and human beings, and we all deserve respect. Except for those who have committed crimes so horrendous that they need to be locked away from the rest of us for our safety, and even they deserve some measure of respect, because not to treat the worst criminal with some measure means we are as bad as they are. The thing is to know when they are manipulating you and don’t play into the game they are playing, but respect that they are human beings abeit flawed as we all are to a greater or lesser degree.
I have a sister in law who tells all my relatives and those who used to know me, that I am a monster and have threatened to kill her and her family and my brother. I might add I don’t own a gun nor am I into guns, nor do I like knives or any other sort of killing device or thing that would harm others. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, they want to believe the paranoid delusional rantings of a woman whose video library consisted of zombie movies Return of the Living Dead and Texas Chain Saw Massacre and also has redneck racism as her social creed that is their choice and I will not argue with it but walk away extremely hurt but know that toxicity like that is best left alone and separated from, no matter how hurt and painful it is to cut off family, sometimes it is the only way to preserve sanity. You can cry and cry and pray for peace, but peace like Moishiach may only come with your demise and maybe that should be a comfort to us, that death will bring peace at last. At least, for me, I hope it does. I jist try to live peacefully and allow others to do the same.
Sorry Alice and sorry Carrie but it’s been a rough few weeks sorry soo sorry.
If you ever need someone to vent to I’m more than happy to have a virtual cup of coffee, we can have a pity party date and vent!!
Love ya girlfriend – hang in there – it’ll get better. I promise!!!!!
Keep on keepin’ on, as Carrie says, and know that you’re both adding a lot of value to a lot of people, including us out here. xx
Your post made me cry. I am so sorry you are going through so much. These are trying times for everyone. Feel free to message me and vent anytime you like! We can cry on each other’s shoulders virtually.
I know I’m in the minority here, but I loved the prompt! I had a story in mind immediately and I had an advantage over others possibly because I chose to write a true story about my great-grandparents and my trip to Kentucky and my ancestors’ role in the underground railroad. (And yes, I did pitch a royal fit and cried over losing that silly brown crayon on the train.)
My only struggle was trying to stay focused enough to finish writing. I have been in an emotional and mental fog since my Mom passed. I was suddenly left without a major role I had played in her life and keeping her safe for over the past 11 years. I still have Daddy to take care of and he worries me constantly. Mama’s urn is sitting in his living room and he keeps telling me that he wishes he was in the urn with her. I understand the emotion rationally but emotionally it is tearing me up because I can’t bear to lose him anytime soon.
Hang in there Ilana! We all love you and are here for you. The best prompts are sometimes those that are the most challenging. And you can see that nearly everyone rose to that challenge so KUDOS to you! You gave us all something else to think about and focus on rather the distressing world events taking place around us. I can’t even watch the news without getting upset, so I don’t watch it. I keep track of the highlights through Facebook and talking with others.
I’m like you. I never think twice about the color of a person’s skin, their nationality, or anything else. My focus is on the person always and their heart, their soul and the people that they are inside. I grew up in Florida and from infancy was exposed to an extremely diverse culture – African Americans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Canadians, and more. I’ve never once thought about any perceived differences based on skin color or culture. I was ridiculed and bullied as a child for having close friends of other ethnic backgrounds but it never stopped me. Our friendship was more important than the biases that others tried to impose on us.
Keep on writing! Sending you hugs and love!! Adi
I have issues at work that overwhelm me and dealing with some people especially liars – I wonder why I am having to deal with these people in my life. All I want is a peaceful life – doesn’t anyone. And the issues have impacted my son who is having constant nose bleeds. His whole high school has been stuffed and I believe more and more it’s this sort of covert racism
At play. No body cares what happens to him except me and he is falling into their trap, not studying but playing video games and they the other teachers are assisting him to self sabotage. I feel like I’m on the edge of a whirlpool sucking him down. I am throwing him
Multiple multiple life rafts and he is refusing them all and others around are just watching like it is some kind of show they are enjoying. I cry at nights and wake up crying and keep trying to find solutions. And I feel the hatred or antipathy of the watchers like they are physical blows.
I hope you ate ok … one day we will talk at the moment it is 5.17 am and I’m must get one half hour of sleep before I get up
I didn’t say I hated the prompt. I said it was confusing. It wasn’t the POV, or the first line, or the gift, or even the ancestry. (that I don’t have.) But the guy in the picture they used, he looked like me, or the way I’ll look in five fucking years if I don’t stay out of the sun. (Okay three years.)
But I was impressed with how easily most of us handled all of the prompts requirements. And the truth is, good prompts are harder than people think, until it comes around to their time to pick one. (I always act like I’m dying to pick the prompt, and never get a chance, but in fact, it terrifies me.)
However, that having been said,
I’m duly impressed with the skill it must take to weave the words ‘Ken’, ‘turd’, and ‘bile’ into one seamless and coherent sentence. (My strategy to help you improve your writing skills is working really, truly good.)
In another sentence you managed to squeeze, diarrhea (which I don’t even know how to spell), stony turd, hemorrhoids, (another word I could never spell), and manure into one (should I say, turd boggling?) sentence? The previous sentence, in your comment, has the word ‘crap’ three times, and one, singular ‘turd.’ I must say, your creativity here is surpassed by your spelling prowess. But still… I’m extremely fucking impressed. And not at all, I want you to know, upset or bothered. That’s because, deep down, you know your prompt still sucked.
And that’s okay. We forgive you. (When I say ‘we’, let me emphasize here, that I speak only for the Kens, and our respective tapeworms. And whatever bizarre alter-ego my mind fractures into any moment from now.)
Because nobody’s pissed off about the prompt. Some of us are just crabby. (Or crabbier than usual.) Hell, I had a meltdown two weeks ago. Where were you? Did you miss that? Andy threw a bucket of water in my face, while Phil talked me down from the top of the spice cabinet. I’m sure they’ll confirm it. These are trying times, Ilana.
So, you know. You can vent. I really am impressed with your writing skills, I just hope that you’re planning to redirect your focus to the upcoming prompt, eh?
“It was in my great-grandfather’s time machine that I first met my future self. And killed him.”
“This is a dream, yes?” said Dr Talbot. She seemed distracted, maybe with problems of her own. And probably she’d heard crazier things. She took a deep breath. “OK. Tell me about meeting both your great-grandfather and your future self.”
I studied her for a moment. Though somewhat older than me, I could have been attracted to her, but for those spectacle cords.
“It was early last Tuesday. There was this tremendous clattering in my front garden, and out of the morning mist walked a mature-looking gentleman in an Edwardian frock coat. Big beard, goggles raised up on his forehead …”
– – – – – – – – –
“Goodness me, Eliot, I’ve had the devil of a job tracking you down,” said Great-Grandpops, taking a large swig of coffee at the breakfast table. “Wasn’t so hard finding your future self y’know.”
“My future self?”
“Indeed. In 22 years’ time, you’ll be one of the wealthiest people alive.”
“Sounds pretty awesome.”
“No, it’s not ‘awesome’, my boy! You’ll also be the most hated person in the world. Deservedly so, in my book.”
“Really?” I felt the disapproval of the generations upon me.
“We have to stop you. Come on. Fill my wondrous Thermos with your excellent coffee, and I’ll tell you everything on the way!”
We climbed into his ‘time-carriage’, a 1910 Napier delivery truck. “Splendid beast, eh? I needed something inconspicuous to house my temporal engines,” he explained. I wasn’t sure about the inconspicuous.
On the journey, Great-Grandpops detailed my future life. How, in 2035, I’d be working on a vaccine for the very intractable SARS-7 virus. When my team’s novel approach was rejected by the company, we’d set up on our own and eventually cracked it.
“Sounds fantastic,” I said. “So what’s wrong with that?”
Before Great-Grandpops could answer, we’d ‘de-etherized’ (as he called it) in the grounds of a French chateau. As the pop-popping of the engine died away, I saw an older version of me striding towards us.
“You again,” he said to Great-Grandpops, with a sardonic smile. Then he inspected me closely, “Good Lord! So the old windbag can really do it. Not some smoke-and-mirrors stunt after all! You know, they try all kinds of tricks to get to me. Well, come on in. This could be enlightening for both of us.”
Older-Me seemed in a better mood now, pleased to show me around his estate. A servant brought us champagne on the high terrace overlooking the River Loire.
“So Great-Grandpa’s brought my idealistic younger self to persuade me of the error of my ways, eh?”
I must have looked somewhat blank.
“After his brilliant breakthrough,” said GGP, addressing me, “your older self refuses to make the SARS-7 vaccine freely available. He prospers while others needlessly suffer.”
“Really?” I said. “Is that true?”
“All I’m asking is a fair price,” said Older-Me “Do you know we’ve government agencies trying to steal our IP? And if we hand over our data to other companies they’ll just make a fortune out of the years of hard work we put into this. We were close to bankruptcy so many times!”
“Yes, but we’re talking about people’s lives!”
“Who was interested in our lives when I laid off fine people during the SARS-5 pandemic? No one helped us! I lost my home, my marriage …”
Another failed marriage?
“Besides,” he continued, “I’ve other projects to fund, like my biotech pharmaceuticals to extend life indefinitely. History will be my judge!”
I’d never noticed the megalomaniac streak in myself before. Perhaps the struggles over the next couple of decades would unhinge me. I knew, though, I couldn’t allow myself to become like this.
“Great-Grandpops, let’s go,” I said putting my glass down half-finished. “This is a future I don’t want. Take me back, and I swear to God I’ll never become this person!”
“Not so fast,” said Older-Me, grabbing GGP by his coat. He thrust his hand into GGP’s coat pocket and snatched the keys to the time-carriage. “Time-travel technology! Just think, we can be partners in the most revolutionary …”
It was then that I lunged at him to retrieve the keys. We struggled for a few seconds, and the next thing I knew Older-Me went over the parapet and fell some 20 feet to the lower terrace.
– – – – – – – – –
Dr Talbot looked up from her notes. “So … you couldn’t just travel back to an hour before and undo what had happened?”
“Well, I wanted to. But Great-Grandpops said he should get me home so I could think things through. Meanwhile he needed to go visit the further-future to see what the impact of Older-Me’s death would be.”
“I see …” She didn’t sound convinced.
“And I haven’t slept in days. You may think taking a life is easy to undo, but it’s here, in my head, forever. That’s why I came to you. I took a life!”
Just at that moment we heard a pop-pop-puttering outside. GGP stood by the side of his truck, waving energetically at us as we looked out the window at him. I felt the warmth of Dr Talbot’s face close to mine. Her eyes shone in surprise as she looked at me.
“You mean, this story isn’t a whole crock of … delusions?”
“Come and meet him!” I said enthusiastically, grabbing her hand without thinking.
Great-Grandpops embraced me warmly, and I introduced Dr Talbot.
“I’ve travelled the time-channels and your future untimely death makes matters worse, not better. My calculations indicate the best time for us to reset the situation would be about a year before my first visit.”
“You think persuading him at that time would make a difference?”
“That’s Plan A. Plan B would be to kill him and you take his place.”
“What?” exclaimed Dr Talbot.
“Let’s talk about this on the way,” said GGP, pulling me by the arm.
“Not without me!” said Dr Talbot, jumping in beside me.
“My dear,” said GGP, “I fear your presence will muddy the temporal waters somewhat – too many variables in my calculations already.”
“I’m not just coming for the ride,” she replied as the time-carriage etherised. “Eliot’s described his future self. He sounds lonely, under-appreciated, ill-used and resentful. I’m sure underneath, the real Eliot just needs some gentle coaxing to resurface.”
What can I say? Catherine – Dr Talbot – and future-me got on like a house on fire, maybe kindled from that unrequited spark we felt in her office that day. She’s helping him through those challenging times when the responsibility for the world’s wellbeing lies heavy on his (my) embittered shoulders. And a few cents in royalties per vaccination still makes a pretty penny to keep them living in style.
“So I’ll have a good woman waiting for me in twenty years’ time. Is that how it works?” I asked Great-Grandpops as we returned home.
“Lord knows,” he sighed. “In the meantime, you should focus on finding a good story to explain why you were the last person to see your missing counsellor …”
A couple of strides ahead of the pack, I’d say, right up front with Jurgens interesting offering, imo. A funny lighthearted story with a happy ending. Shortening Great-grandfather to GGP was a stroke of genius, sounding it out each time would have been tedious. It would never have occured to me, I’m sure, and all in all, I’d say the plot is pleasing and intriguing and could easily stand a part II. Part I being from this side of the twenty year divide, Part II from the other side of the twenty year divide. But even as it is, the prospect of a man knowing who his mate will be twenty years hence is, as far as I know, unique. Excellent writing too, by the way.
p.s. I’ll be sending you an email on you ‘Shades of Green’ book.
i look forward to your email re Shades of Green. Albeit with a little trepidation. Be kind to me ! 🙂
You needn’t worry. I saw some few things that were emminently easy to fix. I have a couple of suggestions about structure. Your writing is excellent, the story and the book is quite good, interesting and fast-paced. I’ll send along my observations and a lot more praise in an email in a few days.
I look forward to your comments.
I had 3 children by then and was mentally moving on with some writing as my first marriage ended in ’92. And I quit my job to focus on looking after the kids – it was quite a year. Then I pretty put fiction writing on the back-burner when I started working again.
So in truth I’m more a well-seasoned chicken than a spring one.
1. Travel to the future is not possible; it hasn’t happened yet.
2. Paradoxes do not exist; nature does not allow contradictions.
3. Changing the Past will not change the future; the future takes into account the change.
4. Time travelers do not age; in now time, they return only few seconds after leaving.
* Developed by Prof. Henry Winters Jr.** on July 1, 1994
**Henry Winters Jr. A creation the mind and proses of Robt. Emmett who has a terminal case of Chronohodophonia.
Actually, in this relativity(plus) and quantum age, I think all Prof Winters’ 4 laws are contestable 🙂
However, the story is fiction (as far as I know) and just a bit of fun. As real as hobbits, Hogwarts, ghosts, demons and faster-than-light travel. And a “what if” with regard to character and moral choices.
2. Paradoxes are only ‘apparent’ to the observer on the paradoxical plane. (The plane where the paradox appeared to occur.)
3. Changing the past already happened, which is why the future never changes, since it already happened. (See rule 1.)
4. Time travelers do not age, while they’re ‘traveling’. Once ensconced in a time stream, they suffer the same aging process as everyone else.
Chronohodophobia. – The symtoms of which, are the creation of insupportable postulates for the impossibility of time-travel.
At first it appeared to be too scientific, and then it made sense.
Would it be wrong to bring up an ancient Wordsworthian line here… that child is the father of man?
Just to sound totally incongruous to the setting?
GGP works well as a good abbrev
Yes, would have been good to weave in some Wordsworth there! Could use the line in its context of the hope to restore some youthful innocence to the older self. I like it!
I’m a sucker for time-travel pieces. Some convince me. Some confound me. This one works neatly, and – allowing for the obvious suspension of belief needed for this sub-genre – it makes perfect sense.
I like, also, the way the story flows, at all instance on the verge of turning humorous without actually doing so too explicitly, but still bringing out a smile. The ending follows on that and I just, just love it! I can see GGP scratching his head (not just merely sighing) as he announces the Narrator his new problem.
Most time-travel stories go from the present sometime else. It’s interesting here to see the past coming to us and then go further. It’s not the first time I see this formula, of course, but it’s still quite a refreshing take.
The dilemma of the future Narrator’s self to give away the vaccine and save lives now, or pocket the profits and re-invest them in the immortality programme (if we’re to believe him that he’s really doing that and not just save up for his superyacht), is a believable one, pitting short-term kindness against long-term gain. Kindness against scheming intelligence, perhaps.
The way the younger self kills his older self does come across as a little too accidental, maybe smacks of slapstick tragedy too. I think the younger idealistic self might have killed his future self with more volition, only afterwards realizing that this action in and of itself exposes his darker side and proves what he’s capable of.
I like the old-fashioned terminology, like the use of “temporal engines” for time-machine, giving a period feel to what we usually perceive as a futuristic (or 1970ish) field.
Well done, Andy!
I’m a great fan of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras (my kids say its because my formative years were then!) and the optimism about “the great engine of progress”. They loved engines, and also loved a good engine metaphor, just as we love a good computing metaphor these days. So I was indeed trying to ensure that GGP’s voice was as Edwardian as I could make it.
About the older-self’s plans – there’s an old Woody Allen line, “I don’t want to be immortal through my work – I want to be immortal by not dying.”
It seems these days many Silicon Valley gurus and tycoons alike want both kinds of immortality, from Ray Kurzweil to Elon Musk. An optimistic belief in the indispensability of themselves and their genius, perhaps. And it will be a boon for all mankind. So I was throwing in a reference to that kind of megalomania-plus-world-saviour complex.
(I once wrote a light-hearted longer short story around the various options for life extension. It was called “Resurrection Shuffle”.)
In one of the six versions or half-versions I drafted, I took out the killing altogether, as it didn’t seem to chime with the narrator’s character. But it seemed essential for a punchy opening to the story. Without space for the heated argument that would precede an intentional killing, though, it ended up accidental …
Thanks again, Andy
Kids. Don’t you just want to hate them? That’s why we protect them, so they’ll grow old and look and feel as crappy as we do now. (Don’t deny it. Don’t bother.)
To an American – he’s in the US air force. An increasingly international family.
I say eldest daughter – given that my formative years were in the Victorian/Edwardian eras, she’s getting on a bit herself …. 🙂
Indeed, the second half of the Nineteenth Century and the dawn of the Twentieth, must have been an awesome time to live in for future-oriented people. As it happens, my first draft of the current story originally started with a nod to that:
“It was in my great-grandfather’s time that the Great Century started, the Twentieth. It was a time of hope, a time to turn eyes to the future. The nights got lit, pictures moved, voices crossed oceans, sidewalks walked, man at long last took to the air. But by the time Maximillian Wasser was 21, the skies had darkened, the Great War had came along.”
Then I opted for a different start, with the present day Narrator instead. I should have kept my original opening shot, perhaps…
So you and I are quite on the same page in our admiration to the achievements of the Victorian-Edwardian era…
On the immortality megalomania thingy, along with Kurzweil and Musk, I suffer a little bit from it too. I mean death is such a dead end. (Yes, duh!). We are programmed to die one day, yet inspired to live forever. If that doesn’t sum up the human condition, then what does?
I think immortality will come one day. Not in animal form. That won’t be possible. But in electronic form. Already a lot of our lives and consciousness is uploaded on RF (radio-frequencies/the Internet) and, once beamed, RF keep going forever into the depths of the universe (as far as we know). They are as immortal and eternal as we can tell. And they travel at the much coveted speed of light (well, light is one of them) and need no physical medium hitch a ride on, unlike other forms of vibrations.
I also once wrote a story draft (not yet fully developed with all the commas and fullstops!), in which “people” are fully uploaded on the Webplusplus and they live their lives totally and fully there. Only for quaint holidays do they return to prefab cloned bodies to have a physical experience of life on the ground. I wrote it as fiction, but not totally convinced it won’t happen for real one day. Thinking about it, I could have easily adapted some of it for this week’s prompt: “In my great-grandfather’s time, people used to have bodies. Just like apes and bears…” But then Maximillian Wasser and his tale would have never seen the day of light…
Woody Allen… yes, this immortality theme haunts him too. I once heard him say what you quoted, but in slightly different words: “Do I want to live forever in my movies? No, I want to live forever in my apartment!”
If you want a reader for “Resurrection Shuffle”, I’d be very interested in reading it. My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
As ever, a classy, cleverly thought-out piece of writing. I think this will challenge for top place.
i love the way you made that first line work for YOU rather than allowing it to restrain the creative process, as it did for me. It’s a great couple of opening lines.
Time travel is an absolutely fascinating concept and you dealt with the complications really well, such as the his/ my words.
There is, of course, an element of reality in your story in terms of trying to do good things if we could time travel. Sadly, without someone like Great Grandpops to act as a guide, we can never be sure what results our meddling might have upon the / our future. Nice nod to the current viral crisis too.
Well done. Nice work.
I found the challenge of the prompt took me away from previous half-cooked things I’d written, hoping to salvage one day, and forced me to come up with something completely new, so that can only be a good thing.
But I left so much story on the cutting room floor, I wasn’t sure if it would work at all. HG Wells was in there originally making GGP’s life difficult, and more steampunky elements (a bit Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but no songs), and a whole lot more banter. But I guess flash fiction is meant to be more streamlined, and the word-count made it so.
Thanks again for your comment, much appreciated.
Trash and Treasure (370 words)
It was in my great-grandfather’s time that Silvertongue Jackson came to town. Silvertongue is still something of a legend in these parts, for all he was just a small-time travelling salesman back then. The man had quite a gift of the gab, let me tell you. Old-timers say Jackson could sell you stuff you never knew you needed before he gave you his pitch – and still didn’t know you needed it the moment you brought it home. But for that magical time in-between, you were sure you couldn’t live another moment without whatever it was.
Great-Grandpa Bert and his whole family bought a whole lot of stuff from Silvertongue Jackson. Some of it still remained in the attic when I was a kid, and nobody knew what many of those things were or what they did. One purchase that didn’t survive was some fancy eau-de-cologne that Bert – a young lad back then – bought, that was supposed to make him irresistible to girls. The story goes that it stank so bad even the whores wouldn’t go near him. Bert got banned from the town brothel for a month or so, until he swore never to use it again.
Many years later, Jackson’s silver tongue got him all the way to Parliament. Some even say he almost made Prime Minister – but that’s another story.
And you know what’s funny? When I was six or so, Mum cleaned out the attic and was about to take the remaining Silvertongue Jackson merchandise to a bric-a-brac store in the hope to get a few bob. But then her sister Pat – the first girl from our town to go to a university in the city – stepped in. All the old gossips said it was a waste of money, but what did they know? Auntie Pat took the lot to some fancy antiques dealer in the city and made a mint on it, which she then shared with Mum fair and square. Dunno if that dealer or his buyers ever figured out what any of the doodads were; but they were all genuine, verified antiques from over a hundred years ago, one previous owner and in mint condition.
As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. (Or vice versa.) Nice story. Clean, short, sweet and neat.
It was a fifty-fifty chance. I guessed wrong.
Thanks! I’m actually rejoining it after 2 or so years – last time I contributed anything was some time before my son was born.
It’s a shame you couldn’t finish the story. 🙁 Looking forward to reading your work next time.
I believe ‘bric-a-brac’ is an Australianism :).
Welcome to the group. This is a great start. It’s almost as if you are dipping your toes into the water, hence the many extra words that were available to you ( 830 to be precise.) This means that your story presented to us could be the first third of something even more special than it already is.
As other comments mention, you have a nice, flowing style and the words such as doodads give it a nice, quirky touch.
I’d like to know where this took place. It sounded like North America but then I wasn’t so sure. Can you help me out here?
Silvertongue Jackson is a great name and I think this will get my vote for the most interesting character.
Really excellent opening paragraph suggests that you have a real talent and I, for one, am looking forward to more.
Thanks for your comment!
The story actually came out much shorter than I thought it would be before I wrote it down. I guess I shouldn’t leave it to the last minute next time, so that I have more time to rework the story as needed. 🙂
As for the location, I didn’t make it specific on purpose, but in my mind I see a small town in Australia (since I’m an ex-Aussie). My wording probably rules out the US as they don’t have a ‘Parliament’.
Btw ‘bric-a-brac’ is a Victorian term, from French. Apparently Edith Wharton in The Decoration of Houses (1897), distinguished three gradations of quality in household ornaments: bric-à-brac, bibelots (trinkets) and objets d’art. Who knew knick-knacks could be so interesting?
I think I’ll pull my story from the voting this week. I’ve given too many explanations after the story which isn’t fair to the other writers. It’s like boosting your word count when you add further explanations in the comment thread.
You don’t have to take the story down, just don’t put it on the voting list. It’s not that good a story anyway.
I intend to vote though.
Only got as far as Phil’s story for a proper read atm, and haven’t read the comments after – did you augment the story that much? Comments and responses usually do that anyway to some extent, don’t they?
I think Andy sums it up neatly. The period of time where comments come in does allow each and every one of us to further refine our thinking and explain things. It’s not unfair as we all have that same opportunity.
In my view there is no need to pull your story.
– If I get what a story is saying just by reading it and nothing else, then it gets my full marks (minus what I was going to minus anyway for whatever it contains I didn’t delight in).
– If I get an augmented understanding of the story through the comments of others, I’ll put that down to my ignorance, and my appreciation (and marking) of the story does get a boost. The reader is also part of the story-writing process, as I often insisted here. It cuts both ways, of course: other readers’ scathing reviews might influence me too and make me understand that my original positive take was also due to other aspects of my ignorance…
– If I get an augmented understanding of the story through additional ex-post information or explanations by the writer himself/herself, I thank him or her it, but it won’t affect my vote. I myself add a lot of explanation afterwards, as a reaction to the comments I receive, so that on my return to the story later on (if I get to use it again), I’ll have more material to work with. And also for my commentators’ benefit, of course. I don’t pretend I garner any more votes for that. Actually, I expect that voters only vote for my story as it stands alone. So that I have a clear idea of where I stand with my writing. And not how well I can explain my story afterwards. Or how cute my avatar is.
In short, we cannot de-emphasize our first-and-foremost reason of existence here as a writers’s workshop for the sake of the contest.
So, think again, Ken – I’d put your horse back in the race if I were you. Your mammoth too.
Don’t think that I (and others too, I hope) will be giving you an extra fraction of a vote for having kindly explained to us the nature of your electronic marshmallows afterwards.
Please, put it back! Put it back! Put it back! This might lead to some international uproar, if you don’t act quickly. Things may turn nasty with some protesters too. Some might not even know what we’re protesting for. But like throwing stones. You know how these things can quite easily go out of hand. Like your mammoth.
In response to your joint request to restore my story to the contest.
I don’t care.
In that order.
The deed is done. A fait accompli. (Italian for ‘dead body’ I think.)
I got a lot of laughs out of your spirited arguments Mr. Miles. I was glad to have created a coherent story this time around. It seems that my strategy, (if one could call it that) was to write something, anything, no matter how awful, and use that as a foundation to build on. Because man, the original draft was so bad that when I read it to Kim she said, ‘I can’t help you with that.’
And I said, ‘That bad?’
She said, ‘It’s junk.’
Of course, being drunk, I thought she was talking about the laptop. That’s when I threw it in the dry creek bed, and passed out in the Poison Oak. But I digress. (I had my palm read the other day, by a palm reader, and it turns out I like to digress. I should have made a career out of it. But there was no time, what with all the other bullshit people make me do. ((like bringing in the cat litter.))
‘Why am I bringing this in?’ I said.
‘Because it’s clean.’ She said.
‘Oh, I thought it was dirty.’ I said.
‘What made you think that?’ She said.
‘The cat. One of the cat’s acted a bit, I don’t know, put off?’
‘Don’t try to interpret the cat’s feelings about their litterbox. Okay?’
‘Yeah, I promise.’ She left the room. It was just me and the cat. ‘Fuck you, Fluffy. You did that on purpose.’
‘Meow?’ (Quoth the cat.)
The Greenwood Thing
by Roy York
“It was in my great grandfather’s time, a secret in our family that has been buried far too long … almost one hundred years. It’s time it gets told and you hear it,” said my grandfather.” I was all ears.
I had just snapped off the TV in disgust while watching the news. “Why, “ I asked, “are the black people so upset over the death of one guy? This doesn’t make sense to me. All lives matter, not just black lives.”
I looked around the room; it was just the two of us – me and my grandfather. He said, “They’re not.”
“They’re not what?” I asked.
“Upset over the death of one guy. They are upset over the unfair and unnecessary deaths of hundreds of black men by police officers, most of them white.”
“Then, why are they burning down their own buildings? Why are they looting?”
“Because they are angry and angry people can lose sight of reason when they are persuaded by others and can turn into ugly, uncontrollable mobs.”
He paused, looked into the kitchen to see if Grandma was close, because he whispered, “If you’ll go down into the basement and grab that bottle of Knob Creek whiskey I’ve got stashed next to the furnace filters, I’ll share with you and I’ll tell you a story that’s been a long time coming for you.”
I couldn’t get to the basement fast enough. I brought up some ice and two glasses.
After pouring a generous helping for my grandfather, I fixed a glass for myself, then settled into my chair.
Grandpa started his tale. “This is the story my grandpa told me, almost word for word. ‘It was Memorial Day, 1921, “ he said. “We lived just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. My son Everett, was expected to be born any day,’
Grandpa took a healthy sip of his whiskey. It usually loosened his tongue more than he would have liked, but, I knew the story would be more interesting the further he got into his glass. I took a sip of my own. He went on with Nick’s story …
“My dad came over bringing Mom, so they could help with the baby when it came along.
After Mama went into the house with her suitcase, I saw my father signaling for me to come over,so I walked over to the car. Dad said, “I’m going over to Tulsa. There’s some trouble brewing I just heard about. If I don’t come back tonight, make up some story for June. I don’t want her to worry.”
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Seems the colored folk have stirred up some trouble in Greenwood. I’m going over to make sure there isn’t any thing bad happen to Lavinia.”
I said, “Why should something bad happen to Lavinia? She don’t live in Greenwood.”
“It’s time you found out. The father of her baby works there.”
My jaw dropped. “Lavinia is married? To a colored man? A negro? Are you serious?”
“She’s not married, but she did have a baby and does live in Greenwood. Your mother is beside herself. Me, I don’t care none about her boyfriend, but I do care about Lavinia and her child. I’m going to get her out if I can.”
“Just then, the Cartwright boys showed up and my dad climbed into the back of the pickup. One of them, Lonnie, handed him a shotgun.” ‘This is not going to turn out well’, I thought. I was right.”
“Dad didn’t come back that night and I told Mom he was probably celebrating the birth of his first grandchild a little early with his no account friends. “That sounds about right’, she said.”
“The next afternoon, Everett was right in the middle of being born when the Cartwright’s rolled up in their pickup. Dad lay in the back of the pickup bleeding pretty good, but nothing that was gong to kill him.
“We unloaded him out of the car. He was conscious and we took him into the house and laid him on the sofa. “Get me some whiskey,” he said.
Just then June came into the living room. “What happened?” she asked.
One of the Cartwrights told her he’d been shot in the leg. “He can tell you the rest,” he said. Mom just harrumphed. “Don’t you be giving that old fool no whiskey. You two Cartwrights have done enough. Get yourselves out of here before I find my own gun and shoot the two of you.’
“What’s happened, Lunsford?” she said.
“Just like they told ya. I got shot in the leg. From an airplane.”
“From an airplane?”
“That’s not the worst of it.”
“Well, what could be worse than you getting shot, unless you died?”
“Lavinia’s dead. So’s her husband. I was trying to get Lavinia out of the house when the mob came before I could carry her out, and they burned it down. She died in the fire. They’s maybe three, four hundred people dead. Most of ‘em colored folk.”
Grandma June’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, Lavinia,” was all she could say. She found her words then … “and the baby?”
“Genivieve is fine. I got her out first and nobody was going to stop a white man with a baby in his arms. I took her over to Willard’s. Him and Wilma Jean are going to watch her until we pick her up. I came by to get you. Worst thing I ever seen. White people was burning down everything. I don’t even know why it started. And, if you ask them, none of them knew how it started, either. It was just like there was built up hatred and jealousy of them colored folk doing so well in Greenwood. Frank Livingstone told me, ‘We had to stop ‘em. They was getting too uppity for their own good.’
“Frank Livingstone is the worst of them. He thinks he’s so high and mighty, but he hides behind a white sheet. He ain’t worth talking about,” said June.
“He said he heard Dick Rowland raped a white girl.”
“You’ve known Dick Roland all your life. The boy isn’t capable of doing something like that.”
“Well, three hundred or so people went to lynch him, and then the shit hit the fan.”
“What’s going to happen to Genivieve?” June asked.
“That’s up to you. If you want, we’ll raise her. If not, we can give her up for adoption.”
“A mixed child won’t last 15 minutes in Tulsa, especially after this. We’ll keep her.”
My Grandpa took another sip of his whiskey. Looked at it and then, took another. I hesitated for a minute and asked, “Why is this such a secret?”
“Nobody thought you should know.”
“Because, we didn’t want you to have any problems in your life?”
“Why would what happened in Tulsa cause me a problem?”
His eyes met mine. “We’ve never told you this, but we adopted you. You were in an orphanage and we found out. Genivieve is your great grandmother.”
I thought about what my ‘’grandfather’ just told me. “Makes a lot more sense now, that Black Lives Matter,” I said.
Grandpa smiled. “They always have.”
I think the story is touching and well-written. But I did get confused on a couple of points. First, the grandfather is talking about “my great-grandfather’s time”. If he’d said “your great-grandfather’s time” that would fit the timescale. Otherwise we’re back in the 19th century, I’d think?
Secondly, the narrator being descended from Genevieve (“we’ll keep her”) was presumably already part of the family – so how did he end up in an orphanage? There’s another story in there. Or have I missed something?
The adopted thing was a clumsy change which made sense at the time, and while not wrong, I didn’t show the development. The story was originally longer and I had to trim an important element: the fact Lavinia was Lunsford’s daughter, so to be the narrator’s great grandmother, he had to be adopted to prevent incest.
In short, I tried to cram a 3000 word story into a 1200 word box. The clumsiness of my efforts show, but, in the end, I decided very last minute to post what I felt was a timely and very plausible story.if for nothing more than to make people realize that when black lives matter, then ALL lives will matter, not just the ones we think should matter.
There is only one race, the human race, and the biggest anthropological mistake of all time, was dividing the human race by color. Look at the division it had caused in the world.
I had a Civic’s teacher who divided our all white class into brown eyes and blue/green eyes. The b/g people got good grades, compliments, hall passes and so on, while the brown eyed people were ignored, failed tests, were not called on and so on. By the end of the week the animosity between the two ‘tribes’ was evident and getting dicey with sparks of anger, shunning, shoving and so on. The teacher called it off to prevent mayhem. Taught me a big lesson, however, to see how easy it is to foment a them and us scenario. I’ve never forgotten that lesson.
We have met the enemy, and as Walt Kelly says, he is us.
This song I learnt at school comes to mind…..
If we could consider each other
A neighbor, a friend, or a brother
It could be a wonderful, wonderful world
It could be a wonderful world, oh-ho
It could be a wonderful world
If each little kid could have fresh milk each day
If each working man had enough time to play
If each homeless soul had a good place to stay
It could be a wonderful world, oh-ho
It could be a wonderful world
If there were no poor and the rich were content
If strangers were welcome wherever they went
If each of us knew what true brotherhood meant
It could be a wonderful world, oh-ho
It could be a wonderful world
I also could not work out how the baby girl could be the narrator’s great grand mother. I would have not picked it if this is his grandfather telling the story of his grandfather and intriguing about how the narrator ended up in an orphanage if his great grandmother had been adopted. I am so afraid of the mindless hatred by some people and it’s not just the USA. It’s South Africa, it’s Australia and it’s Europe and it’s many countries. We all have to stop and be at peace with each other and love each other as we should love ourselves. If a person doesn’t love him or herself then it’s very hard for them to love others. I think it’s the discomfort with their own skin colour that makes them hate others who are different. I get a headache just thinking about hatred and resentments that others hold for others. Never understood it and some people in life you have to keep right away from. To even ponder why etches you out and makes you feel like a fine line drawing strung out in a pseudo realty.
I can’t fathom some people’s hatreds but you have to pray for their peace one day and try not to let their actions affect you. I’m so tired of all the violence and blame games. We just need to learn to respect and love one another.
Your deft handling of the prompt reminds me of the time I was trying to learn how to do a backwards somersault off the high-dive at the community pool. I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. Then the lifeguard goes up the ladder, steps to the end of the board, and does a double reverse axel somersault with a dive so perfect, he makes no splash at all. So I climb back up on that board, prepare myself physically, and focusing all of my mental faculties and willing my body to facilitate with complete obedience my every mental command.
I leapt off the board with amazing power, launched into an acrobatic somersault so concise that even the lifeguard paused to watch. But unfortunately, I missed the pool.
In other words, you made the prompt look easy. Fortunately for me, I’m used to looking stupid. Not sure how widespread that particular quality is among the general population though. But that, as they say, is not my problem.
Be sure to read all the stories – we just added one last minute on to the list.
Remember you MUST vote for your story to count, you can only vote once, and you may NOT vote for yourself.
You officially have 24 HOURS from the timestamp of this comment to read through the stories vote.
Also sorry for not commenting, busy week! Great stories tho! For such a hard prompt too!
Ummmm …does this mean you liked the story, or the writing? There is a difference. I don’t think I used the double narrative as well as I could have, but by then the Knob Creek had clouded my thinking a little, I think. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Of those I read, I really liked Andy’s and Roy’s story and Vicki I hope you keep on writing in this little space for writers.
I have to withdraw into self for a bit of healing and just try and be ing peace into my small sphere of influence.
And that’s quite a feat.
I like that Aunt Pat made a mint,
And she did share, fair and square.
I have multiple unexpected appointments today and I wasn’t able to finish reading all of the stories. I am not at my computer so I won’t be able to vote this time. I guess you will have to take my story out of the running for this one. I’m so sorry. Work has been CRAZY and it’s taking me along with it.
We are more than happy to wait for you, I mean it’s not like there’s a check for $1,000 on the line or anything. I can tally the votes later this evening if need be.
I’d really like to keep your story in the lineup!
Hahaha you had but to ask!!
Yes. By “deleted it” I meant moved it to trash folder.
I got it and tally’d your votes.
1st Place: Future Tension by Andy Lake
2nd Place: Legacy by Adrienne Riggs
3rd Place: Urgru by berlinermax
4th Place: A Little Truth Inside The Big Lie by Ken Miles
5th Place: One for the Ages by Sarig Levin
6th Place: Trust by Robt. Emmett
7th Place: And the Moral Is… by Trish
8th Place: The Greenwood Thing by Roy York
9th Place: Monster Of Human Flesh by Alyssa Daxson
10th Place: Time After Time by Phil Town
11th Place: Earth Ring by Ken Frape
12th Place: The Solid Rock by Marien Oommen
13th Place: Trash and Treasure by Vicki Chvatal
Favorite character: Grandpere in “Trust” by Robt. Emmett
Favorite Dialogue: Future Tension by Andy Lake
This was a foretold victory! Your story was clearly a cut above the rest… If you didn’t win, I’d’ve protested. Even if I won instead!
[By the way, Andy, if you go back to your story, I answered your comment, there, the one in reply to mine (Woody Allen, immortality, Victorian-Edwardian era, ‘Resurrection Shuffle’, my contact email, etc. – so do have a look, before we archive this feed and move on to the next prompt!).]
Well done to Adi and Juergen for two memorable stories, as well, smooth and well-written. And fitting for the other podium spots. And a thumbs up to Robert’s grandpere for the character prize.
Congrats also to the rest of the contestants (including Ken C. who decided to bow out at the eleventh hour, like some mammoth chased him out of here) for having somehow crafted a tale out of a prompt that really gave most of us a hard time.
Thanks for voting to my story and commenting on it, too, guys. This fourth place really encourages me to take this story further, in a longer format. Thanks also to Ilana for having thought up this challenging prompt. I didn’t appreciate all those requirements while drafting, but then again, it’s the limitations that carve out unique stories.
And one other thanks to Carrie for still looking after us here, in spite of passing through tough times in your private life. Much appreciated, Carrie!
Well done! Could see that your story would end up near, or at the top of the tree. I had Adi in top place and you, close behind. Either would have deserved the plaudits.
A slow start to this prompt but in the end, the group responded brilliantly. Certainly left me behind this time so I am going to have to up my game.
And congratulations to Robert and his Grandpere, and to all the other placees!
Very pleased, so thanks everyone who voted my story up there.
A tad disappointed about what Carrie said about there being no $1000 cheque – but no worries, bitcoin will do! 🙂
I was not enamored of Sarig’s story, but after Trish’s comments, I took another look at it and could see her point of view very clearly.
Again, (not to beat a dead horse) but I don’t think the prompt was so difficult as we all supposed. Since it was handled so easily by so many of us, I think it was just worded oddly which caused confusion about it. But hey, I once chose ‘a train’ for my prompt, and everyone complained about THAT. Your story must have a train. What the hell was so hard about that?
I believe it was before Ken Frape joined us, because I know he would have loved it.
Anyway, nice going Andy, and congrats to all the writers for competing. (And for those who didn’t? I’m watching you. I’m watching you.)
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