Writing Prompt “Something Strange”
Theme: Something Strange
The story must start with: (I)(He)(She)(They)(We)(It)(A Name)(The) … knew there was something strange…”
Requirement: NO spaceships in the story
Word Count: 1,200
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***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Robert Emmett per the Writing Prompt Roster.
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128 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Something Strange””
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And the frog says, “Well, it all started with this boil on my butt …”
(I hope that eases your feeling of being weirded out, Ilana!)
I don’t know where Carrie and Alice get the pictures offered up with the prompt on this site, but they’re usually pretty funny. Like this one.
I’m not signing in for comments.
I never get any comments.
Doesn’t matter which buttons I click, forms I fill out, likes I avow, threats I make, or promises I break. I DO NOT GET ANY COMMENT NOTIFICATIONS.
Thank you. Okay, I’ll go sit down now.
Hahahaha Andy, love it. Hope we see a story from you this week 🙂
I was going to write one about a dead brothel-owner being elected into office. Would be strange indeed, but I thought in the end too unbelievable even as fiction … 🙂
I would’ve loved to have read that story Andy. Maybe next time, I didn’t get one in either 🙂
I knew there was something strange happening as holding my glasses I wiped them and looked at the Winners’ List again. And without any further ado..by Alice. And then the rest ….you all are familiar with those ageless words by now, right?
WINNER November 30 – December 13 Flash Fiction Contest “The Murky Petticoat” etc. etc.
1st Place- The Change for Life by R.N.Bhattacharjee
2nd Place – The Shocker of a Stalker by Nam Raj Khati
3rd Place – On A Comeback Trail by Andy….
I couldn’t go any further down. Is it true or are my eyes playing tricks again? I took off my glasses and rubbed my eyes to make sure. The ever so familiar words stared tauntingly from Alice’s post again: And without further ado..God! Who coined these incorrigiible, age-old phrase? It’s time someone thought of bringing some changes, changes like you can’t have a place in the Writers’ Roaster and stay forever there just by writing two snail y, smelly scribbled stories in two months.!Like the prompt-maker will have the highest points to be awarded to her/his choice of the winner, let’s say if a writer gets five points for being selected for the first position by a fella contestant, the prompt-maker’s choice will get 10 marks. Five marks for the one getting the top billing and One for the one who gets the fifth place. Total up all the marks from each contributor to decide the eventual winner..You know, Buddy, change is the name of the game in this Century of Wonders and Innovations. All these thoughts were crashing against my mind shore as I found tears of happiness welling up in my eyes.
I was a two-penny writer with the distinction of never earning more than a few bucks from my writings. That nearly put paid to all my writing aspirations. I stopped dreaming big and focussed more on being a good teacher. One serene evening I’s busy going through the write-up of a favourite blogger on his site, when I was asked to post something on a given topic in the Comments Section. That done, I was further directed to send it to The Write Practice and from there I was redirected to this envious Flash Fiction site.
I started writing again on topics as varied as ‘the hippo’ to ‘the eunuch’! Writing for such a site was tough and competitive. There were some great writers, all seasoned and veterans. The people who caught my notice almost immediately were – one Phil Town; Andy the Brit; Ken Cartisano, the man who delighted in calling a spade a spade. Soon others joined in. A host of very talented storytellers like Jen Rourkey; Anindita Basu, and not to forget the indomitable Nepal-born-US-bred lad Nam Raj.
Soon it was heartening to find my stories among the Top-Five. ‘One day,” I found myself daydreaming often, “ I’ll occupy the first position. People will start noticing this RNB.”
March turned into April and April made way for June. But my dream of being a world-class writer remained a dream only. When my next story for the site started receiving a lot of praise and appreciation, I’s in seventh heaven. The story increased my market rating and won me a second position for the second time. By the time November arrived, I started patting me on my back saying: It doesn’t matter whether you win the first place or the last as long as you continue to entertain the public. Soon afterwards, I began to have serious doubts about my potential as my next two stories kept being relegated to the bottom. That’s when I started cursing myself. “You’re deemed not good enough for this site, RNB. Try looking out for other pasture.” I found myself Google searching for sites conducting Flash Fiction Contests. Soon I learnt about Friday Flush Fiction with brief notes on three hundred of its most prominent contributors and the accompanying pictures.
“Should I send them an email for membership and withdraw from this site? There’s something fishy about this site.” I found myself venting out my frustration. But I heard my conscience rebuking me “That’ll be sheer cowardice, man. You have a lot to offer to The Write Practice.”
“The Write Practice?” I heard myself doubting the dictates of my conscience,” You mean this h—-d site for the privileged few? I’ll sooner make myself a writer of some substance before I can prove to be good enough for this site!”
There ware Forgiveness and Friendship in the early December air in and around the area of my adopted country, when the latest prompt posted on the forum propped up on my screen. The topic was ‘The Murky Petticoat’. I was chuckling to myself thinking of the topic and the prompt-maker, when something from the distance past flashed in the recess of my memory. Natasha was leaving that day. The previous night we had spent in my bachelor’s den watching “The Other Side Of Midnight”. She had fallen asleep in the wee hours of the morning. Her head on my bare chest, under my chin. I kissed lightly the tresses of her auburn hair before turning off the night-lamp. I slept with a lump in my throat. She was leaving for the States for her postdoctoral. I tightened my arms around her, pulled the sheet closer to her translucent neck, kissed her on the forehead once more. She nuzzled letting out a sigh, nibbled me on the chest putting her hand around me. The streak of light coming from the street light cast a hypnotic spell in my otherwise dark room.
When I came back having seen her off at the airport, the first thing that caught my attention was her perfumy petticoat lying at the side of my bed. Natasha had told me on the previous night that she was settling down in the USA with her childhood crush, Steve Smith..
I wrote a story based on this incident cashing in mostly on my imagination, mixing it with a touch of reality. The reviews of my story from time to time in the next few days, were nothing spectacular and when Ken posted his story just before the day of the voting, I knew that I had no realistic chance of being among the top three. His story entitled ,”The Slut” was about how the chance finding of his wife’s petticoat in the room of his brother, who was staying as a guest temporarily, turned Polly from one of the most adorable of wives into a vicious slut.
I didn’t even look at the result that night after the voting. Next evening as I pushed my plate away on the dining table, the mobile beeped. Alice had posted the link to the Winners’ List. Habitually I logged on to the link. God Gracious! This site is not partial at all, all my thoughts of racial discrimination and prejudice were unfounded. There was my name at the top and Nam’s was also there below mine occupying the second position. Whoever thought and taught about the Superiority Complex of the West, had to be booed and shooed.
Do you know how long it took me to come in first on this site? I was 53 when I joined, didn’t win till I was 62, about 3 years ago. You’ll be getting no sympathy from me, pal. Judging by your picture, you’ll probably be no older than 32 by the time you eventually win. (And still a long way from ‘weatherbeaten.’) Nice story though. Not as strange as it could have been, but still a fine, straightforward, plausible use of the prompt. (That’s right, I said plausible.)
I haven’t been keeping well lately. Feverish. My wife keeps on calling me. She wants me to show her the plate with something on it. I just one to go sleep now.
I love you, Ken, for being who and what you are. Looking forward to another stunner of a story from you.
I am aware of the phrase Ugly American, and think that it is probably more prevalent these days thanks to the current prevailing attitude of America’s leadership, but in all my travels, and time spent with peoples from other countries, I seldom encountered a lot of prejudice, although it did happen occasionally.
Nice story, Rathin, but, I really think YOU were the one who had the inferior complex. Personally, I think if you spend time with your stories instead of hoping they win, make them good enough to win, is the day you will become that great writer you want to be.
You see, one of my problems is I have always believed that I was as good as anyone, and no one is better than me. I mean that in the terms of deserving, not in ability. I am completely aware there are better writers than I, and yet, I feel I’m as good as many writers who are famous and published. Ego? Perhaps. Writing is so subjective. Your talent comes in spurts, this story was nice, but I feel it was like what I do sometimes. I’ll get an idea, and no matter what, after writing the story, and realizing it really needs work, and maybe doesn’t really fit the subject, but will, through sheer laziness, lack of time or interest, or whatever, post it anyway. Then, wonder why my “excellent” story didn’t make the top three. After all, I wrote it. Can’t these people recognize my genius?
The answer my friend, is nebulous. What makes a story great ? Originality? Surprise? Honesty? I think, the secret is good writing. A good writer can write a good story with a bad plot, but a not so good writer can write a bad story with the best plot ever thought of. Glad you won first place a year ago. Now, let’s see what you can do. Come on, man. You can do this.
I have been contributing to this site for close to half a year and before anyone else tells you, let me do so by telling you that you are an added attraction of this site. Your considerate, well-intended comments provide a lot of perspectives not only about the writings of the contributors but also about their attitude, ego, personalities, and so on.
I won’t go into the controversy regarding the superiority of the west considering the fact that it is, after all, a story and I seem to have written it, on the spur of the moment, million of years ago!
I can’t but agree with you, Roy, that I need to spend more time with each of my stories. The problem s that I have to change myself in that case and be someone else. You will be surprised to know that I posted the story within hours of writing it while we were picnicking!
By the way, buddy, I never won the first place here. Nor do I expect to. For there are some quality writers contributing to this site. I want to keep on taking things easy for sometime more and then something may happen that will see the reemergence of a new RNB. Till then, bless me to be happy writing in my own, unique way. I never cared much for rewards and prizes. The list of Nobel Laureates for Literature is impressive but equally impressive, if not more, is the list of great writers, who should have been there but simply couldn’t!
Love you and respect you more. Take care and be here for all of us.
Great story RNB, it makes me sad to think you feel that way. I participate in another writing group, I’ve been contributing for about 6 years and I’ve never won, I came close one time about 5 years ago, I came in 2nd.
Sometimes I feel like the contest is rigged, but it’s not. And people can say “it’s not about winning, it’s about writing” which is true, but it is nice to win every once in a while.
It’s hard to stay motivated when you never do.
But when I look back at the handful of times I have won in this contest, the subject matter is always the same. Demons, angels and a demons fighting. Or zombies.
But it tells me that those types of stories I excel at. They are the ones I put most of my effort into. I always land in the bottom when I write drama or comedy. So, I use these contests to become a better writer, but also to figure out WHAT kind of a writer I am.
I’ve said in the past you are 100 times better than you were when you first joined the contest.
This story proves how clever you are. You wrapped it up all together and made it into a viable story for the contest. It makes us think and makes us feel and that is a key element in any story.
Side note, in the July 11, 2018 contest you were literally 1 point away from winning 1st place.
Not sure if you knew that.
I must have fallen asleep some time ago and woke up to my mobile notifying me about Ken’s story.. I’d hardly finished reading the story when it scrolled down to your comments. If you were angelic the first time, you were divine the next. No, Carrie, I have never asked anyone for the voting scorecard or whatever you call it. I love writing. If people like my stories, that’s great. I am treated like a celebrity by my students and the love and affection I get from them is more than enough to last a lifetime.
The thought that I came so close to wining a contest is unsettling. It makes me want to reevaluate myself. I’ll keep on writing the way I do it, Carrie, my friend, and be one of the early birds. Let people forget my story by the time voting starts, if they want to, I’ll have taken a decisive start ahead of most of them.
Thank you, Carrie, for being a dear and for being the great human being that you are. It is good to know that there are adorable, sympathetic and concerned people like you out there. Keep writing and encouraging. And, yea, Be Always My Friend.
Love you loads.
Will you change the title to “The Change of Fate”, please?
Rathin, I have changed it. 🙂
I opened the mind book of my own life to see if there is something strange happened. A page opened and stopped at that point. I am not going to read it now because it should come at last. Before that, I need to make some background to make sufficient words required for the story. I again opened the other pages linked to this one. Memories in life hide on the pages as if it did not happen at all. When we seek with some clues as I am doing, then it comes clearly in the vision. Events went on opening. I pinned some pages, which looked like telling the story that is uncanny, and looks like the blessing of God.
It was about thirty years ago I was traveling in a remote part of Nepal. There is a small lake on the lap of hills named Foksundo. One side of the lake is a Buddhist Monarchy and a small making community. There are bushes and small trees on the cover other sides. The place was like hidden treasures of nature. It was an amazing scene. Water on the lake was completely clean and looking blue. When excess waterfall from this lake fall from a cliff and flow in between rocks, it is almost impossible to explain what it really looks like. It was becoming milky when it moved forward after colliding with block of rocks on the way. I was not willing to divert eyes form this wondrous view. I asked myself if this is a blessing of God. Answer quickly came from inside, “No, it is not, all peace of nature is gorgeous unless it is polluted by people or over seen. Hence, I thought, I need to find something else that fits to use the phrase ‘blessing of the God’.
Other pages, it was on the similar time I was traveling in another remote place with friends. They were local people. There came a point on the route along the bank of Karnali River. Route disappeared in some point for very short distance. There was vertical cliff on this part. Flood in the last monsoon washed the temporary ladder made by the people.
Local friends said, “We can cross this point but it may not be possible for you sir. It is very dangerous if you fall, we will be completely lost in the river. River is very deep and flowing with high current.”
They further said. “The alternate route goes round and crosses from the very high point on the hills that may take about two hours.”
I was confuse whether they are giving me options, or warning or challenging. I was pondering whether I should take the risk and cross the point in a minute or go around for two hours. I was very young that time and morally could not choose second options and took a risk. If I had chosen long route they would have to follow me unnecessary. In that scenario, I would have to feel inferior and week person in the situation.
Hence I said, “No, No, I will cross it, you just go forward I will follow you.” I observed carefully what they did and tried on self. I found pressed the stomach on the rock and found the place on the lower part to put foot on the texture of the rock and hold the hand somewhere on the intruded rocks in the upper parts. Slowly and slowly, crawled the body and moved forward as others were doing. I crossed by chance. It looks like a dream but it really happened. Knowingly or unknowingly, I had become reckless that moment and had become audacious.
I asked to myself. “Is that blessing of God?” Voice came from the mind, “No, that was not. There are so many points in life we need to take risk and life goes on as long it has to go.”
I am opening the pages nearby. It is another travel in the eastern mountain region. After walking five days, we reached a village in Chinese boarder. On the very first day of the return journey, I was feeling very weak and tired may be because reserved energy exhausted and diet was not sufficient on the journey. Climate was such that it was almost impossible to see the surrounding scene due to fog. I happened to place my foot on a stone at the edge of the road that slipped down. I loose balance and started to tremble down. It was a very steep slope. My friend could do anything, he just pronounced name of the God. After two jumps, I grabbed a bush. He extended his umbrella and I came up. I asked myself if that a blessing of God. Voice came, “No, it happens often for the people in that area. They live as long as they are living.”
Now I need to come to the point, to the pinned page. I was travelling in the eastern hills. It was just after the rainy season. I could watch landslides in several places as I was walking on foot trail on the contour of the hill little below the ridge. Other side was also hill and river flowing in between at depth. A landslide point came ahead which was slid little below from our trails and slipped the large area and rest on the river diverting the flow to the other side. One of the friends started to open the story behind this.
“There was a community may be about ten houses. It was night and land started to slide from the downside. In one stage whole land where the community was based started to slide”
What happened to people?” I asked with curiosity
People did not notice. They could not manage to relief themselves.
“No All died except one infant”
I asked with excitement, “how that happened”
He continued the story, “Bed the boy was sleeping floated on the top of the mass deposited on the river. It looks like a magic and happened as if some telekinetic power is doing all this. The river was blocked. Later it found the path to flow water from another side. The boy remained alive. ”
“How was he relieved?”
“No one could go to the point. Everyone just watched with fear and wished that the boy remained unmoved in the same location until something could be done.
“After some time helicopter came, picked up the boy and took him to Kathmandu.”
“Where is he now?”
There was nobody in his family and community hence; he has was handed over to a childcare home run by an NGO.”
I took a long breath at that point. I asked myself is that blessing of God. Voice came from my inside, “yes that is really a blessing of God.”
This fits here. It is completely bizarre, uncanny that weird me and fulfilled both theme and title. I wanted to add present status of boy but I did not find any linked news on the internet maybe it did not come on web at that time. With this story closes and pages in my memory book as well.
Your stories are getting better and better. Lots of little errors, such as the word ‘week’ is spelled ‘weak’ when meaning ‘loss of strength’. And this sentence: When excess waterfall from this lake fall from a cliff and flow in between rocks, it is almost impossible to explain what it really looks like – should read – When excess water from this lake falls from a cliff and flows between rocks, it is almost impossible to explain what it really looks like. Or something very similar. You have the word looks correct, but the words fall and flow should have the extra s. ‘Excess waterfall’ from this lake is redundant. Excess water falling is a waterfall.
Once again, I like your imagination. Keep making those tiny corrections.
I could re-write this story, (as best as I understand it) and send it to you through the Internets. This is an intriguing narrative, but I’m still not sure I understand it. Maybe I can help you clarify your intent. I just might do that.
Now, ep, ep, ep, ep, ep, ep… Don’t hate me now. Save up your hate until it’s substantial and then send it to me in one big pulsating cat-hairy ball of repulsion. (I’ll add it to my collection.)
So. The reason I’m being so magnanimous, (honestly? I don’t get many opportunities to use that word) I’m willing to do this because I can’t think of anything for this stupid prompt. (And it’s my prompt. I came up with it! How stupid is that?) All I have are little wispy idea ghosts. I’ve never even had one of these before, now I have five. Wispy little, ghost-like, notions. Uhcchh. The use of the word ‘notion’ is repugnant enough, to have them floating around in my mind is — unthinkable!
So, I re-write your story, you look at both versions, marvel at our brilliance, (if you like) and then merge them. (Use a word merger. Wurd Murjur 9.0 is free, but, alas, non-existent, unfortunately, so you may have to do it manually.
What say you, Nam? (Don’t expect me to do this more than once, if I do it at all.)
Blessing Of The God.
Nam Raj Khatri
I knew there was something strange that I could come up with, when I stopped to think about it. After giving it some thought, I remembered an event that I would like to relate, but first I need to provide some background, to help you understand.
In my search for something strange, I uncovered memories of places so bizarre and beautiful, I would define them as Blessings of God. In the spirit of the moment, I pursued other memories too, like pages in a book, which at first hid in plain sight, but with a little effort, gradually revealed themselves.
About thirty years ago I was traveling in a remote part of Nepal. There is a small lake on the lap of some hills named Foksundo. On one side of the lake is a Buddhist Monastery and a small service community. Across the lake can be seen a secluded little clearing in the midst of a small forest of trees and undergrowth. The pure spring lake water was so still it reflected the image of the secluded cove and all of its colors in perfect detail. A magnificent waterfall leads to a series of cascades where so much water flows over and through the rocks it looks as white as milk. It is almost impossible to describe what it really looks like but I could barely pull my eyes from the wondrous view.
I asked myself if this was a blessing from God? And an answer quickly came to me. “No, it is not, all peace of nature is gorgeous unless polluted or over-run with people. Hence I thought, ‘I need to find something else that fits the phrase, ‘blessing of God.’
On another occasion, at about the same time, I was traveling in another remote place with some friends. They were local people and knew the way. On our journey we came to a point along the bank of the treacherous Karnalie River where flooding from the last monsoon washed away a temporary ladder made for crossing the river.
My guides were distraught. “We can cross this point but it may not be possible for you sir. The river is deep and flowing with high current. Very dangerous. If you fall, you will be completely lost. It would not be possible to save you.”
They continued, “The alternate route goes back, around and crosses through a very high pass and could take as long as two hours.”
I wasn’t sure if they were warning me or daring me. I pondered my options. Take the risky route and cross in a minute or play it safe and add two hours to our trip. I was very young at that time and morally unable to take the second option so I took the risk. Picking the safer route was not an option as I could not allow myself to look weak and inferior in the face of these complete strangers.
Hence I said, “No, no. I will cross it, you just go forward and I will follow you. I observed carefully what they did and where they stepped and tried it myself. I found that if I pressed my stomach against the rock and used my feet to feel for foot-holds, and used certain protruding rocks above me as handholds, slowly but surely I inched along following the others forward along the rocks, above the chasm to the other side. It sounds incredible but it really happened. Knowingly or unknowingly, I had become reckless in that moment, risking everything and succeeding.
I asked myself, “Is that a blessing of God?”
A voice came from my own mind, “No, that was not. There are so many points in life we need to take risks, and life goes on as long as it has because we are lucky.”
This reminded me of another occasion traveling in the eastern mountain region. After an arduous five days walk we reached a village on the Chinese border. On the very first day of the return journey I began to feel weak and tired. We were low on food and I was exhausted. The climate was such that it was almost impossible to see the surrounding scenery through the dense fog. I happened to place my foot on a loose stone at the edge of the road, lost my balance and tumbled over the edge. It was a very steep slope and my friend only had time to gasp and swear to in the name of God. I was able to grab a bush and stop my fall, he extended his umbrella and I pulled myself up.
I asked myself if this was not a blessing of God. And a Voice came to me saying, “No, it happens often for the people in that area. They live as long as they don’t die.”
Which brings me to my point. I was traveling in the eastern hills during the rainy season. My first. I could see landslides in several places as I was walking on a foot trail on the contour of the hill just below the ridge overlooking a valley. On the other side was another hill and a river flowing between them. A landslide point appeared ahead of us slightly below our trail that covered an area so large it diverted the flow of the river to the other side of the small valley.
One of my friends explained to me what happened. “There was a small community,” he said. “Maybe about ten houses. It was night and the land started to slide from the hillside. In one freak moment the entire hill where the community stood started to slide.”
“What happened to the people?” I asked with curiosity.
“They were caught by surprise, in their sleep, and unable to save themselves.”
“No. All dead except one infant.”
I asked with excitement. “One infant? How did that happen?”
“The bed the boy was sleeping on floated on top of the mass of debris. As if by some magical or supernatural power, the river became blocked by the debris, the flood changed course leaving the boy stranded but alive.”
“How was he saved?”
“No one could reach the point from either side. Everyone just watched with fear and hoped that the boy stayed put until something could be done. After some time had passed, a helicopter came, picked up the boy and took him to Katmandu.”
“What happened to him?” I asked.
“Because of the flood he had no family and no community to return to, so he was handed over to an orphanage run by an NGO.”
I took a deep breath at that point and asked myself, “Is that a blessing of God?” A voice from inside me said, “Yes, that is indeed a blessing of God.”
It fits. It’s completely bizarre, uncanny and weird that it fits the theme and the title. I wanted to add the present status of the boy, but did not find any linked news on the Internet. Maybe it was too soon.
I close the story in the same way I close the book of my life.
Comment in response to the 2nd story – I read the first without realizing you’d posted a re-write.
I love it! You clarified a few things quite nicely!
Nam, I love your story, your writing is always full of color and details.
Although, one small observation, you tend to include a lot of unnecessary details, sometimes you have to let the reader create the scenery in their mind too. The paragraph describing Foksundo for example. I think it could have been simplified:
I thought back about thirty years, while traveling in a remote part of Nepal I discovered a hidden treasure I’ll never forget. On the banks of Foksundo Lake sat a Buddhist Monarchy, beautifully constructed, it complimented the clear and blue waters it faced. I could still, even thirty years later, feel a sense of serenity as I watched the water cascade over the cliff. A tall waterfall that created a picture of milky white water colliding with blacks of blue.
I asked myself if this is a blessing of God. Answer quickly came from inside, “No, it is not, all peace of nature is gorgeous unless it is polluted by people or over seen. Hence, I thought, I need to find something else that fits to use the phrase ‘blessing of the God’.
Just something to think about. Lord knows I’m no expert. But just something I thought as I was reading. 🙂
Your writing and stories are always really good, they always have a good message and they always make me want to go travel to far off places.
Reading your story was like reading someone’s diary or journal so your analogy of it being like a book was real for me. I also loved your interpretations of what was and was not a blessing of God. You seem to be a deep thinker and I enjoyed reading your work. It was a vacation from work for me to visualize the places you wrote about.
By, Christine Pfister
Fannie knew there was something strange going on in her new home, when her three-year old son slipped on the stairs descending the main floor.
Little mischievous James was running away from his big sister Ally who was giving him a bath. Still wet with bubbles, naked, and giggling, he made the turn to dart down the steps. Fannie heard the laughter from downstairs, and ran around the corner. Her smile immediately vanished and was replaced with sheer panic, as she watched her smallest son’s little wet feet slide on the top step. They locked eyes, and his widened as he realized he was going to fall. Fannie lunged forward, but before she could reach him he seemed to be lifted up, and floated downward.
James squealed with delight as Fannie snatched her son into her arms. She sank to the floor and struggled to control her shaking. A few minutes later, James wiggled free and ran past Ally back up the stairs. Fannie noticed a few dried petals on the step as she got up, and regained her composure.
Fannie told Bruce what happened later when he phoned, but he told her James must have been closer than she imagined. Fannie knew something inexplicable happened, but pushed it aside as her day flew by.
A few nights later, Fannie awoke to the sound of moaning. She shook Bruce, but realized he was exhausted from travel. The noise seemed to be coming from the hall closet, but when she opened the door, the moaning stopped. She noticed a box on the bottom shelf that she didn’t recognize. It was open, and filled with photos of people she didn’t know. Weary from her day, she decided to check it out in the morning.
The next day, Fannie looked at the photos as searched her computer for information. She found a news article relating Vern and Grace Diem lived with their daughter CC, in the home previously. The article related that Grace died when she fell from a ladder while painting the 20 ft. foyer, and was found by a visiting neighbor. Fannie shuddered at the thought of this poor woman losing her life this way.
Later that week, 8-year old Caleb came running into the kitchen, swinging his backpack. Before Fannie realized what was happening, Caleb’s strap hit the boiling pot of water on the stove. Fannie sprang to cover Caleb with her body and braced herself for the impact, but it never came. Ally stood in utter shock as she watched the hot water hit an invisible wall, and slide straight down and spill onto the floor.
Fannie hurried the children out of the kitchen, and when she came back, she noticed dried petals lying on the floor next to the empty pot.
She didn’t know how or why, but knew in her heart that Grace from the news article was somehow protecting her family. Fannie looked to the empty pot still lying on the floor, and spoke just above a whisper, “Thank you Grace,” she said.
Fannie awoke a few nights later to the strangest sensation. She looked next to her and remembered Bruce had left early that day for a 3 day trip, so she got out of bed and went down the hall to the check on her children. They were all sound asleep, so she went downstairs and made a cup of coffee. She sat at the kitchen window seat looking outside at the hundreds of daisies in her back yard.
As she took a sip of coffee, Fannie caught some movement out of the corner of her eye. At first it was a blur, and then it slowly became a person walking toward her. She blinked, and the vision became clearer. Fannie dropped her cup, and sprang to her feet. It was a woman with sad, hazel eyes. She was smiling at Fannie, and motioning for her to sit back down. “I’m Grace,” she told Fannie. “Don’t be afraid, I will explain everything.”
The children awoke later, and came bouncing down the stairs. Fannie hugged each one as they entered the kitchen. They greeted Grace like a long lost friend, and sat down to cereal and fruit.
As Fannie watched her children eating breakfast, she was comforted to know they would always be with her. She was also deeply saddened that they would never reach adulthood, but no one could have predicted the gas leak that would saturate the house. Grace told her she had tried furiously to wake them, but it was too late.
Bruce got the call, and broke into sobs. Consumed with grief, he had the house packed up, and never set foot in it again.
The Georgia home was on the market for weeks, and Grace, Fannie, and the kids continued as usual. Fannie realized she couldn’t leave until she saw her beloved husband one last time.
Bruce received a call from his listing agent asking about a box of photos. Apparently, Fannie had located a number for the previous owner, and left a message. He remembered telling the movers to leave that box in the hall closet. He told his agent she could retrieve it, but after a some thought, he caller her back.
Bruce drove halfway up his old driveway, and stopped the car. He started to sob, but managed to console himself as another car pulled into the driveway behind him. A blonde haired, girl stepped out of her car, and approached him.
She related she was CC Diem, and thanked him for the box of family photos. She told him her grief stricken father refused to let them return to the home after her mother died.
Bruce didn’t have the heart to tell her about his family, so he walked up the sidewalk, took out his key, and opened the front door. Maybe I need closure too, he thought.
They all heard the key in the lock, and knew daddy was finally home. They gathered on the landing, and watched as Bruce and a young woman entered. Fannie looked at Grace, and her smile widened when she saw the illumination in Grace’s eyes.
Bruce started up the stairs to retrieve the box, and stopped to look up at the landing. He was awestruck as his lost family materialized, and for a few precious moments he saw them all. “It was an accident dear,” Fannie said. “We always felt protected and loved.” She blew him a kiss, and faded.
CC stepped into the house behind Bruce, and noticed petals lying on the steps. Her mother loved daisies, and together they planted hundreds in the backyard. When she looked up to the third step, she saw her mother standing there smiling.
Grace whispered a phrase she often repeated to her daughter at bedtime, “I love you to the moon and back, CC,” she said. Tears spilled onto CC’s cheeks, as she watched the vision of her mother fade.
Grace caught up to Fannie and her children, as they made their way to the beckoning brilliant light. Standing at the thresh hold, Fannie joyfully turned to her families protector, and whispered, “Thank You Grace.”
Have you ever read “The Education Of Over Soul Seven?”
Now, it’s possible that I’m a genius with keen insights into worlds beyond the physical realm. Or maybe it’s something else, but… (I usually use that on a first date, if it doesn’t work…and it doesn’t…oh well.)
I’m joking of course, because I’m married. (Not really, but my girlfriend insists that I tell everyone I am, so I might as well be. I wouldn’t have to lie about it if she would just marry me, but I stopped asking her about five years ago.)
Anyway, I thought your story was quite good and didn’t find it confusing at all. (Like my marital status.) I had no problem understanding it and thought you delivered the two-part reveal with a very subtle touch. In addition, I felt like the lack of dialogue was a condition, a side-effect of the plot device. (I don’t really want to get married at this point. Too much trouble, and for what?) Fannie’s fate is predicated on her separation from her husband. That’s what delays her, and Grace, from their ultimate departure from this plane of existence, one last meeting with their loved ones.
In fact, one implication of this story is that Fannie and her kids have to die before Grace can, or will let go; a dark, and perhaps completely unintended aspect of your story or indeed, an unavoidable factor in the causality of existence.
In light of that condition, ‘separation,’ it’s not surprising that the balance of the story is weighted towards ‘tell,’ using dialogue sparingly but effectively. Since you used so little dialogue, I felt that what little there was, however, should have utilized contractions in every instance. Other than that, and a fair amount of grammatical errors, I thought this was a beautiful narrative, gracefully delivered. Though the errors were abundant, none were so drastic that they took me out of the story. Still, they should be corrected—the only thing this story lacks, in my opinion, is polish.
Christine, a very well written story indeed. I loved the premise, it reminded me of the rare ghost story that has a happy (sad-happy does that even make sense?) ending.
I found some of the story to flow very well, very smoothly, but other sections seemed a little clunky.
But I think that’s because you told a complete story with several sub plots in 1194 words. A few sections felt a little rushed, the section where she researches the photos for example.
Overall I definitely enjoyed your story, I thought it was well written and a great submission.
Charming story and I was nearly crying at the end. (I’m a softy and sucker for stories like this.) When little James slipped on the stairs and “floated” down, I knew we were dealing with a ghost or guardian spirit. I like the way you related the story, making Grace a kind and comforting presence in the home, protecting the family when she could and welcoming Fannie and the children to their new existence. Well done.
It was a woman with sad, hazel eyes. She was smiling at Fannie, and motioning for her to sit back down. “I’m Grace,” she told Fannie. “Don’t be afraid, I will explain everything.”
The children awoke later, and came bouncing down the stairs. Fannie hugged each one as they entered the kitchen. They greeted Grace like a long lost friend, and sat down to cereal and fruit.
As Fannie watched her children eating breakfast, she was comforted to know they would always be with her. She was also deeply saddened that they would never reach adulthood, but no one could have predicted the gas leak that would saturate the house. Grace told her she had tried furiously to wake them, but it was too late.
I had to go back and reread them as I was confused. After reading her husband had been called with the bad news, I put it together, but I think you could have made it easier on the reader of if you had simple said – after the sentence “Don’t be afraid, I will explain everything.” – these words, or something similar. As Grace explained, Fannie realized what had happened, and why Grace looked so sad.
Or, better yet, don’t tell, show. Use Grace as a dialogue model and unfold a bit more about the gas leak. A dialogue between Grace and Fannie before the children come bouncing down the stairs would be nice, I think. Your story could use less tell and more show, IMHO.
Liked the concept behind your story, and your writing is crisp, not in need of many corrections, and flows well. I think there’s a few spots that could be tightened up, but I truly liked where you took me with your story. Writing a story having so many people die and still have some sort of a happy ending is a gift, I guess.
It’s that ‘life after death’ thing that keeps most religions in business, and it has to be happy, doesn’t it, or what’s the point?
Hope to see more from you.
I think comments and feedback are two of the main rewards for posting on this site. I wish more people did it. And, I’ll be frank, I am the least diplomatic person I know, (except for what’s-his-face.) So my feedback often comes across as harsh and overcritical. And I’m sure that some people see my jokes as ‘jokes’ with scare quotes, rather than what they are, genuine attempts to amuse people. (I know, it’s hard to believe sometimes, isn’t it?) …but it’s true!
Your comments are always kind, well-intentioned and generally useful, with one exception. You often chide people for an imbalance of show vs. tell and I think this is a mistake. I concede the value of ‘showing’ ones story, and who can doubt the benefits? But I consider it one of many ways to measure a story, and should not be considered a rule or a standard to follow or suggest.
In the case of Christine’s story for instance, I adamantly disagree with your advice and opinion. But in the interests of fair play, since part of my critique is based upon your comments, I invite you to respond to or rebut my critique, if you like.
A big part of me agrees with your interesting, and kind critique of my critique of Christine’s story. As I do tend to go more toward ‘show’ vs ‘tell’, so you are right.
But, since you disagree ‘completely’ about that critique, I have to respond and say it’s my humble opinion that show vs tell is better, and one of the easiest and best ways to do that is to use dialogue. It is never my intent to rewrite someone’s story, or to be overly critical. When this site was first started, there were far more individualistic critiques than we have now. A comment here, a comment there, and pretty soon we’re all singing Kumbaya.
My only reason for taking the time to critique is to try and help writers become who they want to be. In Christine’s story (feel free to jump in Christine, and either take me to task or defend my position if you think I’ve hit on something) I felt she left a lot of tension out of the story by simply telling us what happened. And, this was a good story. A little disconcerting in parts, but all in all, I really liked the plot, how she got there and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with her grammar and punctuation that I would be overly concerned about. I felt, and still do, that a little more show and a little less tell would have turned a good story into a great story. An absolutely great story.
I realize we are dealing with a minimum of words. Remember when we only had between 750 and 800 words to work with? Now that was a challenge, and that’s where I learned to use dialogue as one of my means of show vs tell. Maybe I should point out something like this as show vs tell as well.
The falling leaves quickly tiptoed across the surface of the snow, gathering in small groups in corners of the garden, plotting their next moves. Or, I simply could have said: The leaves fell on the snow’s surface and were blown by the wind into piles.
That’s what I’m talking about. Show vs Tell. Your turn.
Well, I decided to read up on show versus tell to make sure I knew what I was talking about. And it turns out I didn’t, you were right. You were right. I admit it. I had a very limited definition (erroneous really) of show vs. tell. (Are you done celebrating yet? I’ll wait……………. are you finished? I’ll continue any time you’re ready…………) So I learned something by criticizing you. I suppose the lesson here is that I should criticize you —–as often as possible. Imagine how much I could learn!
Anyway……The good news is, I’m old enough to claim that I actually knew this, but simply forgot. I’m not old enough for everyone to believe it, yet… but I’m old enough to make the CLAIM.
Still, I hope you don’t think this will induce any humility on my part, no more than my usual ample supply, nor, I should think, any sense of superiority on your part, if you’re even capable of such a thing, since it should be clear by now that, just because you’re right about this one thing, doesn’t mean you’re not wrong about everything else. Like the allure of long sentences, for instance.
All kidding aside, I think we need more critiques on this site, even if they are opinions, as long as they are constructive. I need to have flaws in my stories pointed out so I can either defend them, or learn from them.
I realised that my story didn’t actually begin with the required phrase, so I’ve tweaked it a bit.
Could you please remove the first version (above) and this message?
Old Story is removed Phil! 🙂
How dare you? You should be flogged and shot with cat-crap for such a transgression. Where are my goons?
“I knew there was something strange about her as soon as she walked in the door.
I’ve been … I was married to her for 20 years. You get to really know a person after such a long time. And you have routines. Our routine was this: I’d get home from work first – my office is only a couple of blocks away – and start preparing dinner, de-frosting things, cutting up the vegetables. I’d always have a shower, just in case she was up for something before dinner. I’d never know if she would be or not, but I always made sure I was prepared. Then I’d put some nice music on; she really liked Frank Sinatra, and I don’t mind him. That night it was Ol’ Blue Eyes on the turntable. I sat in the living room with a glass of whisky, waiting. She was very late. Then I heard the key in the lock and jumped up to give her my customary kiss.
She dropped her keys on the table in the hall and walked straight past me; she actually pushed past me, in fact, so she knew I was there. This had never happened before, in 20 years. I stood there in shock for a moment, then followed her through to the bedroom. I found her lying on the bed, staring up at the ceiling.
“What’s the matter, darling?!” I said to her, sitting on the side of the bed and placing a hand on her arm. She didn’t move a muscle, just responded, repeated, in a whiney voice that chilled my blood.
“What’s the matter darling?!”
I stood up and took a step back, looking down at her. She didn’t acknowledge me, but her chest was rising and falling heavily, and I could see the side of her jaw twitching.
You may not be a believer, officer, but I am, and I’m absolutely terrified of … them. This wasn’t my wife lying there, of that I was certain. After 20 years? You think I can’t tell the difference?
In our meetings, other members have described similar situations – not ones that they’ve experienced as such but ones they’ve read about or heard about – and they’ve talked of what to do.
So that’s what I did. I went to the kitchen. […]”
(Extract from statement transcript – Process 3275/18, Ref. 001/AS)
“Yes, I’d known her for – what? – three years? Give or take. I met her on one of my visits to her firm. We’re … we were both smokers, and she was outside the back door smoking when I went out there to do the same. There were just the two of us, so we got talking, as you do. We hit it off immediately. Chemistry, I suppose you’d call it. The next time I saw her, doing the same out the back, I got her phone number – her direct work number; she told me that I should never try to contact her at home or on her personal phone. Because of her husband.
She said he was a really weird guy. Just listening to her speak about him gave me the willies. It was obvious that she hated him and the creepy routines he maintained for them both. She told me that he had some pretty weird interests, too. He was a train-spotter – those guys that stand on station platforms taking the numbers of trains. What kind of hobby is that for a grown man to have? And he was also well into science fiction. Convinced that aliens exist, and that they’re here amongst us. He was in a club of similar-minded folk. According to her, he was terrified of body-snatching – you know, aliens taking over your body or the body of your loved ones. Absolutely horrified by the idea. Utter nonsense, of course.
After a few times of meeting for smokes at the back of her office, we started going out. Then I’d get a hotel room in the centre and we’d … well. I really liked her. Loved her, I suppose. And she felt the same about me. I was in an unhappy marriage myself. After one meeting in the hotel, I said I was going to get a divorce. I don’t think she believed me. Then on the evening in question, I told her I’d left my wife – who was pleased to see the back of me, to tell you the truth.
I left the hotel with her, and we hugged – the most intimate moment I’d had with her, even after all the evenings at the hotel. She was kind of crying and smiling at the same time. But she was angry, too – that she’d put up with him for so long. She was going to tell him that night that she was leaving him. […]”
(Extract from statement transcript – Process 3275/18, Ref. 002/WS)
White female, 45
Cause of Death: wounds to main arteries and vital organs; blood loss/organ failure
Observations: 38 separate cuts and deep wounds, some defensive; one deep laceration from sternum to groin, one horizontal laceration, lower abdomen, with resulting disembowelment; kitchen knife, blade 15 cms – murder weapon, based on width and length of blade – found inserted post-mortem in heart.
(Extract from autopsy report – Process 3275/18, Ref. 003/AR)
Wow. What can I say? Powerful story, well told. Way to go.
Very clever take on the “official statements” from a murder.
I loved the flow of the story and how you told two sides to the story!
I knew something was strange but could never anticipate it this way, because Zina is a brave girl. She is four and a half and she is afraid of nothing. Almost nothing.
When the Dracula laughed out showing its bloody teeth sitting at Didun’s porch kicking fallen leaves all the children freaked out. Not Zina.
“ It’s just a fake one, a record inside is doing the trick” she commented.
When the wind howled hoo-hoo, crisp autumn air swung the hanging ghosts on the clothes line, Zoe pointed that in the wee morning hours when it is still dark, real ghosts do come and visit. She even showed their spits on the morning glory flower bed.
Zina shook her pig tails. “ I’m not scared. They are not ghost spits. They are just bud spits. Soon you’ll see white flowers coming out. Daddy told me so. Trust me, Zoe, there are no ghosts, Really.”
When Didun brought cookies for the children and Robin shrieked out,
“ A spider!” Zina held her head up, brought a plastic cup and a junk-mail envelope, slid the spider in to the cup, covered the top and took it out side.
“ Spiders are good things, Robin, nothing to be scared of.” She assured like a big sister.
When Aria pointed out that their neighbor Melissa who dresses up like a witch for Halloween is a real witch, “ I am scared of her mole, her real mole…” Zina came and caressed her.
“ Aria, she can’t help her mole. It happens to some people but she is the kindest person. Really. Trust me. She feeds the birds every morning, cures sick baby orchids, and helps me cross the road. She is not a witch, just pretends to be one on Halloween nights.”
Didun exclaimed all of a sudden, “ Oh Zina, I forgot, I have something for you”, and gave her a big bag.
Inside, there was a coat. A silver grey coat with two iridescent blue buttons.
“ That’s a beautiful color!” Zoe clapped. Aria brushed her fingers on it, “ So soft!” Robin smelled it, “ Umm!” But Zina kept quiet.
Colors from her tomato-red cheeks drained. Twinkles from her dark eyes dimmed. All the giggles from spunky Zina turned into a frown, Zina started sobbing.
“ What happened, Zina?” Didun held her chin up. Tears rolled down. She hid her face on Didun’s bosom. “ I am scared. I am scared of buttons.”
“ Scared of button?” Everyone laughed. “ Look Zina, they are pretty easy.” Zoe showed buttoning and unbuttoning the coat several times.
“ Zina, other people will see your buttons, not you. They are too close to your throat, See!” Aria tried to comfort. Robin poked the two buttons
“Like fox eyes, Zina? that’s why? But they are not real!”
Zina cupped her ears. “ No, no, no. Stop. I just don’t like buttons. I won’t wear buttons. I don’t want other people to see my buttons. I am scared of buttons.” She jerked.
Didun held her. “ That’s fine, Zina. We are all scared of something. I’ll fix your buttons. You don’t have to wear them.” She yanked them out and replaced with velcro circles. It managed to keep the coat fastened.
Zina wiped off her tears and sniffles. A rainbow smile beamed on her face. Didun helped her with the arms and she skipped and danced and rushed outside to play.
557 words Oct 25, 2018.
Welcome back Anindita, it’s so good to see your stories here again!
Keep writing. All the best.
This time your story sounded more like a complain than a story. Don’t you worry who likes your story or not, because my friend, you can’t make everyone happy..remember the saying, ‘A person who tries to make everyone happy can make no one ‘ ? From this forum and other I came to know that not every piece is for every reader….I am not a horror genre reader, nor a sci fy either. On the other hand the nuisance of children’s lit or memoir genre may not be for everyone either. Even I found sometimes a pretty good writer writes crap..or may be I am not the reader of that piece.. It is true a writer and a reader make a story successful. So, I try to grow a thick skin and take comments with a grain of salt. You even don’t need to accept every suggestion..better if you don’t… as a writer. I write all this so that you and I can write what our hearts need to give…the story that needs to be told. Be free. Learn the rules of good writing from the right source but don’t feel numb with too much critiqueing. It can stop your writing. That had happened to me.
And don’t worry to win the first prize… it doesn’t mean much….just keep writing good, what you do best.
I don’t take unfavourable critiquing to heart, Anindita. But the desire to make it big as a writer of some substance is too overpowering at times. Time is fast catching up with me and the earlier I make my writings count, the better it will be for whatever writing aspirations I have.
Don’t worry if I fail to make myself clear to you. I am writing from the staffroom with a colleague breathing down my neck, asking me to help her with the Character Certificates.
Keep writing to inspire others, Anindita. You have it in you to be really a good one, if you are not one already.
Take care and all the very best wishes.
A question before I go. Anindita. In one of your first sentences you refer to one of the girls being afraid of ‘the’ Dracula. In the USA, Dracula is a singular being, and I read it in your sentence as a vampire. Do you refer to all vampires as a Dracula, and if so, is it supposed to be capitalized? Just wondering.
Here’s a quibble: ‘Zoe pointed that in the wee morning hours’ – should be – ‘Zoe pointed ‘out’ that in the wee morning hours. ‘Pointed’ is a singular definition used to imply a direction, while ‘pointed out’, is exactly that, making a definitive statement that is specific in its referral and usually not a direction.
“ Scared of button?” Either this was a typo, which I would like to believe, or you need an ‘a’ for ‘a button’, or you need to say ‘scared of buttons?’. I think it’s a typo, but still one of those little ‘quibbles’ I talked about but wasn’t concerned with writing about in my original critique. Just some quibbles. I’m sure you can go back through your work and find more. I find them in mine after I’ve gone through them so many times I get eye strain.
When I published my first book, and received the very first copy of the edition that was printed in bulk, I discovered an error on the first page, and several more throughout the book, even though it was proofread by my editor, several beta readers, part of the publishing staff and myself. Pesky things, those little ‘quibbles’.
Finally, and I’ll quit here, I promise, you leave spaces between your quotes and the first or last letter of a quote. Not all the time, but enough to notice.
On a positive note, I loved the phrase ‘ghost spits’, and ‘bud spits’. Quite descriptive. I could visualize them, and disliked them with the ‘spit’ connotation.
Your story had quite a number of errors. However, I really enjoyed it because the main character was so sympathetic. I’m a little amazed at how many people seem surprised that a kid could be afraid of buttons. I was once terrified of suspenders, when I was four! My sister hated big elephant-eared plants. My wife’s five-year-old hated tomatoes. That’s the whole point of the story, the peculiar contrast between rational and irrational fears, it’s especially traumatic for and effectively illustrated by a four year old child. Pretty insightful.
The one thing I would suggest, Anandita, is cut down on the number of names. You use six names. Zina, Zoe, Didun, Robin, Aria, and Melissa. When you introduced Didun and Robin I stopped and tried to figure out who was who and who was important enough to worry about. (At some point it’s clear that Zina is the main character but until then….that’s a lot of names.) It’s okay to use numerous names and characters in a story, but not until you’ve established who the main character is. (I think.) If you could convey the fact that there is a group of children without creating confusion, that would be better.
I thought this was a damned clever story.
I’ve been afraid of mannequins since I had nightmares of them as a young child. I can rationalize all day long that they are not real, made of plastic, and can’t move on their own but they still terrify me. I won’t shop in stores where they have mannequins.
Welcome back Anindita!!
Super cute story and I love that you chose such a simple item for her to be afraid of. I was afraid that the story was going to twist into a morbid “afraid of buttons because she’d been molested” type of story and was happy it was just a simple, good old fashioned cute story.
Your writing is always great.
by Robt. Emmett ©2018
We knew there was something strange about them. Bob, Johnny, and I were tour guides for the incoming class Open House the last week of our ninth grade year. That’s when we met the three of them; Rita, Kathleen, and Sandra.
Being born rich and beautiful, they shamelessly flaunted those accomplishments. Or as Johnny Loiselle put it, they think their shit don’t stink! He seldom minces words.
Bernice sashayed to the booth across the way to wait on the three well-dressed girls.
Bob Waterman waved to her, “Hey, a little service over here!”
She sauntered to our booth and pulled a pencil out of her salt and pepper hair bun. “Look, mister, you hey me in dat tone of voice again an’ you’ll be spittin’ sidewalk.” She raised her left eyebrow, “Yous got dat? Now, what can I get yous, ah, I use the word reservedly, gentlemen?”
Bob slouched lower, “Pepsi, please.”
“I’ll have ah … Pepsi.” I said.
“Glad ya remembered, Stud.”
We talked about the rich chicks until our food came.
Bernice touched my arm as we started to leave. I stopped. They didn’t.
“I overheard yous guys talking ‘bout them three Richies, the dark-haired one asked me ta give ya something.”
I held out my hand, “Okay, give.”
She pulled her order pad from the pocket of her dirty blue striped apron. “She wrote on one ah my chits. I didn’t read it or nothing, but I think she wants ta meet whit ya somewhere soon and she don’t care where. But I bet ya it’s important.”
Her handwriting was neat, precise and the product of Benediction influence.
We need to meet as soon as possible.
Any place is OK. It’s very important.
Gosh, first name basis already. Ain’t I a fast mover? “Thanks, Bernice, I appreciate your discretion and confidentially.”
“I only do it for people I like.”
“And those who leave you a tip.”
She smiled, “That too.”
I slipped the note into my Levis and forgot about it.
At the bank on Tuesday, I cashed my paycheck. Turning, I bumped into Rita Dondineau and nearly dropped her on her can. Our eyes met. It wasn’t love at first sight. Her glare scorched the peach fuzz on my upper lip.
“You need to pay attention to….” She suddenly stopped. “Oh, Bill, I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you in those … whose….” Her grimace said it all. “… ah, work clothes?”
“Yep, you caught me.” People needn’t look down on those with dirt under their fingernails. Not that I do, I’m just saying.
She wore a sheer summer dress and enough makeup to be a two-dollar hooker. Not that I ever saw or been with a two-dollar hooker. My imagination says she could pass for one.
“Are those your work clothes?” I asked.
“Yes, I suppose you could say they are. Father asked me to make…,”
I left her, mid-sentence, and walked Katty-Corner across Superior Street to Gustafson’s Malt Shop.
“Good morning Bernice.”
“Morning Stud. Whadda want?”
“A Pepsi, a burger, and apple pie.”
“Pepsi, burger, cherry pie, got it,” she echoed back.
“Apple pie,” I corrected.
“We’re outta apple, its cherry, or nuttin’. Pie cook’s sick. The cherry’s yesterdays.”
I tilted my head, looked up at her, “The cherry any good?”
“It sticks to the plate.”
“Cancel the pie.”
“Got ya,” she left. The hooker from the bank plopped her cute butt in my booth.
“Sorry I shot my mouth off over at the bank. I am, really.”
I let her apology sink in. “Why?”
That caught her off guard. She coughed up her sleeve, made a few guttural sounds, and recovered. “I was rude.”
Never one to cause confusion, I agreed with her. “You were.”
“I was wrong and followed you to apologize and you make sport of me. Why?”
I did my best Groucho Marx eyebrow and cigar wiggle, “I’ma sportin’ kinda guy.”
“Here ya go, sportin’ kinda guy, your burger ana Pepsi.”
“Yous gonna buy the lady somethin’ or wha?”
I shrugged, “Sure why not.”
“Call me Reets…,”
I knew the ‘everyone does’ was coming. I waited.
“… Everyone does.”
Damn! Do I know chicks or what?
She ordered a cucumber sandwich and a diet something.
After lunch, we walked out into the sunlight of another hot day in Duluth. We were a sight, the pauper, and the princess. Me dressed in my third best T-shirt and washed last week Levis. Her hooker outfit was low-cut pale teal with shoes to match. Her black pageboy haircut, skun up the back and long in front, hiding the over-plucked eyebrows.
“I know this is bold of me, but I would like to ask you for a date.”
“We just had two dates”
“Yeah Reets, our first and our last.”
“It was a date, oh goodie.”
“By the way, as this was our first date, do I get a kiss?”
“I never kiss on the first date, but could you take me to a movie at the Norshor tonight.”
“I can’t, my car’s not running.”
“Bill, please, you must say yes.”
It was a bus date. The Tom and Jerry cartoon was great. The movie sucked. I asked for a second date kiss, “I’m not that kind of girl.” She said.
As our lunch at Gustafson’s ended, Johnny cleared his throat and asked, “Either of you guys dating, ah any of those three rich babes?”
Bob, Barney Fifed it with a nervous head wiggle, puckered lips, and a clipped, “Nu!”
I shook my head. “Why’d you ask?” They lie, I lie.
“Ah, no reason, Bill, just curious, that’s all.”
“Bill, would you take me to the Sundowner drive-in movie tonight?”
“My car is still broke.”
“Not a problem,” she said. “I’ll ask daddy’s chauffeur to take us. After, he’ll drive us to the burger place on London Road and 17th to have a tiny little bite to eat.”
Damn, how could I refuse someone this cute, this rich, this eager to date me, and willing to drive us to a burger joint in a Cadillac?
“What kind of car does Daddy have?”
“A Lincoln,” she tilted her head. “I think.”
The question now becomes, could I refuse someone this cute, this rich, this eager to date me, and willing to drive us to a burger joint in something other than a Cadillac?
“I’d like to take you on a date Reets, but….”
What’s a guy to do?
I heard them stompin’ up the aisle at Gustafson’s. I knew they’d be upset. Bill slid in, but Johnny stopped and pointed a finger at me. “You said you weren’t dating any of them.” He was red-faced pissed-off, “so what’s with you and Reets?”
I pointed at Bill, “What’s the deal with you and Kay? And you, Johnny, what about you and Skeeter?”
They looked at each other, then back at me, a deer in the headlights moment.
They sat and I explained. It was a contest to see which of them, Rita, Kathleen, or Sandra could be the first to get three dates with one of us.
I’d won and got the kiss of my life.
— Ԙ —
And, I’m not sure when Bob got kissed, since all I heard were refusals. Anyway, it made for an interesting high school drama that was probably enacted in every high school in America at one time or another.
I like Rita as well. How nice it would be to be dating someone like her! Keep writing, buddy, if for nothing else then for the distinct flavor and sheer pleasure your writing provides to the reader.
Good luck with your story.
P.S: if you don’t believe me then you should read your stories in the wee hours of the morning.
The ending was classic. I knew something was up with the girls’ interest in the guys but didn’t think of the old bet ruse. In my high school (in the good ol’ days) it was the guys who made bets about the girls they could get. Luckily I was invisible in high school and no one bothered me. LOL.
You said, “I thought his reaction to her in the bank a bit extreme.” You’d needed to know Rita!
The mid-50s were the greatest time to be a teen. If lived then, you know what I mean. If you didn’t, you don’t.
Robert, I was a bit confused as to what was going on exactly, and I thought his reaction to her in the bank a bit extreme, I didn’t find it too rude but then I saw your comment “That is what happens when a beautiful crafted 25,000-word love story between three sophomores and three very rich girls is reduced by 95%.” And chuckled. Because it does seem that way. I’ll bet the original is very amusing.
I did go back and read it a second time and the story seemed to flow better and made more sense once I knew what the reveal was.
Good job, and I loved the attention to dialect.
By: Sarig Levin
I knew there was something strange about him the moment he walked into the room, even if no one else seemed to notice it. Something about the casual way he introduced himself, navigating the room with the ease of skating ice, getting blushful giggles out of bashful maidens and insinuating his way into the hearts of forbidding patriarchs and matriarch alike. The way in which faces prone to frowning upon smiling lit up in his presence was beyond strange. It was deeply unnerving.
Ours is a pious community, devoted to the one true god – the all-seeing bat of eternal Dalmatian. We largely keep to ourselves and our humble way of life, guarding our traditions against outside influence and our hearts against temptation. Strangers are not welcomed among us and the occasional peddler or misguided traveler who happens to show up at our doorstep we would duly drive out of our midst.
As a matter of fact, we were about to handle this peculiar troupe of actors passing through our village in much the same way, when the men charged with driving the intruders away were somehow swayed by this serpent now slithering among us and invited his troupe of fiends and succubi to put their wagon up right in the village square.
‘Such weak men I have under my charge,’ I thought to myself, ‘sopped with the promise of ale recent droughts had deprived our village of.’
“He truly is unlike any foreigner I’ve come across before,” I heard my wife’s squeaky little voice buzzing around my ear. “And he swore my eyes are as beautiful as doves’ eyes. Do you think my eyes beautiful, Ivan?”
I tore my gaze away from our ophidian guest for but a moment to look at her. ‘Aye, my woman has beautiful green eyes alright, though the rest of her isn’t much to look at no more.’ When I looked back, there he suddenly was, standing right beside me, his soft hand already resting on my shoulder and a sparkle of amity in his eyes.
“And you must be Ivan,” his voice resonated like music in my ears. “Your charming wife has been telling me what an extraordinarily devote priest you are and how dedicated you are to the spiritual well-being of this wonderful community.”
And though every fiber of my being yearned to bawl out at the intruder, I found my lips not merely sealed but also will-lessly curving upwards the way they never had, not even once, over the long years that had passed since I had taken over as spiritual leader.
“Come now. Come, my friends,” the troupe master bade, guiding me and my wife into seats in the center of the village hall, where a large, crimson curtain of the finest material I had ever seen was keeping the back end of the hall hidden from the curious hearts and minds of every peasant man, woman and child that had gathered there that evening.
“The show is about to begin…”
* * *
As the curtain parted, the hall seemed to have transformed into a cave, lit solely by a dancing flame that cast shadows against the wall behind it. Around the campfire, several men were drinking ale, singing a song whose lyrics Ivan could not understand, while their women were busy mending clothes and chitchatting merrily, the quick movements of their hands throwing long-fingered shadows across the back of the cave.
Then a man stepped into the cave, jaded and feverish, his hair filthy and his tunic torn. The man’s eyes sparkled with fervor and his facial features put Ivan in mind of the troupe master who had been standing over his shoulder only a moment before. However, when Ivan turned to look, there was no one behind him but his village folk, memorized to the last one.
“Husband, you have finally returned to us!” cried out one of the actresses, leaping to her feet and throwing her arms around the newcomer’s neck. And as he wrapped his trembling hands around the woman, tears began to run down the departed man’s face.
“Though I alone dared to step through the forbidden mouth and explore the great beyond, you were always in my heart, brothers and sisters,” he addressed his fellow cave dwellers, who lacked comprehension of the passing of time. “For out there in the real world, there exists a great ball of fire that rises to the sky at dawn and sets back down at dusk, while here in our cave only an eternal night exists.”
‘But they obviously did not believe this man, who braved the real world only to bring the truth back to his people,’ thought Ivan as he watched them turn their backs on the batty visionary and refuse to follow him out of the cave.
And so, alone he went back into the world, traveling across oceans and mountains in search of the truth. And he knew hunger and sickness and fear beyond anything Ivan could have ever envisioned. But above all, both men were experiencing the angst of solitude so profoundly that Ivan’s heart went out to the handsome, lonely actor.
Had his eyes not been filled with tears by the time the weary explorer had finally returned to his people and the cave of his birth, determined to challenge their worldview with the truth he had learned, Ivan would have also witnessed their belligerent refusal to hear the man out. Had he not found himself overwhelmed by an emerging crisis of faith, Ivan would have gasped at the murderous silencing of truth that was to also seal the poor visionary’s fate.
Alas, by the time the crimson curtain fell, Ivan was no longer to be found among his flock.
* * *
It was to the woods behind the village that Ivan took. It was in those woods that he finally collapsed to the dusty ground under the weight of his own sense of falsity and estrangement. And it was in these woods that he was later discovered by the one and only person in god’s plentiful cave he truly wanted to be found by.
As the handsome visionary took Ivan in his arms, tears of woe began to run down the priest’s face. And as the actor’s soft lips found Ivan’s trembling ones, the latter gladly gave in to a sense of human warmth, the likes of which he had never felt before. And as this savior finally took Ivan in his mouth in the most forbidden of ways, the priest shut his eyes, sensing all of his torment, maladies and iniquities draining into a single, tumid vessel, finally discharging in an ecstatic blast that shook the priest to his very core.
When Ivan came to his senses, a shock wave of guilt suddenly struck him, draining every shred of warmth from his body and replacing it with cold, hard, naked shame. Shivering, he bent over, grabbing the other man’s sandy locks with one hand, while picking up a rock with the other.
Like the curtain falls, he then brought the rock down on the poor man’s head in one fell swoop, cleansing himself of this wickedness and deceit.
Here’s something I noticed, and the reason I noticed it, is because I do it a lot, and am trying to avoid doing it. Here’s a sentence in your story: As the curtain parted, the hall seemed to have transformed into a cave, lit solely by a dancing flame that cast shadows against the wall behind it.
I think ‘seemed to have’ is not necessary. It either transformed or it didn’t. I always try to find another way to say the same thing. I think you are telling the reader the troupe did a good job of making the scenery so well done, that it took you to this dark cave. But if it truly took you there, it didn’t ‘seem’ to do it, it did. Does my explanation make sense to you?
Here’s the real deal. You kept me engaged, and while I struggled with the style a bit, I began to get into it after a while. Loved the unexpected ending, and although you didn’t disguise the fellatio aspect very well, which had to be your intention, I found it a bit over the top and almost into the ‘blue prose’ aspect of writing.
However, having said all of the above. I liked your story, your descriptions and the way you drew me into the shadows. Nice job.
But that doesn’t take away the certain beauty of the story. You have woven a mystic charm, a sense of hypnotism in your story that is really praiseworthy.
Keep writing, man, for you seem to be such a bundle of talent and energy. All the very best wishes.
Holy hells Sarig – freaking great story!
The elegance of the writing, the detail and setting explained without being cumbersome is a testament to your talent.
I loved the twist at the end, reading and realizing what was going on made me uncomfortable which I’m assuming was the intent.
I loved the character development and just can’t stop swooning over this story.
Ok I’ll stop fangirling now….
I don’t mean to gush but, great story man. Your writing has a wonderfully captivating quality. Like a tapestry, complex and colorful, but effortless to consume. Like whipped cream that doesn’t make you fat. The plot is beguiling too, (here come the puns) sucking you into the story, within a story. I did not anticipate the ending, (I didn’t see it coming), which, in my opinion was perfectly done. Elegantly inferring a most repugnant act, (to ordinary guys) with some very cleverly worded description.
There was humor too, ‘the all-seeing bat of eternal Dalmation’?
The play about the people of the cave was a clever construct too, almost deserving a story of its own.
I’m not sure if these were errors. ‘…what an extraordinarily devoted (or devout) priest you are…’
‘…his village folk, memorized to the last one.’ (Surely they were mesmerized.)
They look like errors, but they may have been the effects of worshipping ‘the bat of eternal Dalmation.’
A very fine story with a very fine title.
I knew there was something strange when I heard a phone ring nearby while I was in the basement looking for an old tax file. Instinctively, I reached for my cell phone and while holding it in my hand, I heard the ring again. It was not my phone. I walked toward the sound which grew distinctly louder but was muffled.
I quickly went through a stack of boxes and holding up the one marked ‘ELECTRONICS’, held it close to my ear. Sure enough, the ringing was coming from inside that box. I opened it and found the culprit cell phone, an old flip top. ‘How could it be ringing,’ I wondered. ‘The battery had to be dead.’ I flipped it open and answered. There was an eerie sound that was whisper quiet, yet not silence. As if there was a soft echo bouncing around.
I repeated ‘Hello” and then heard a series of clicks. There were clicks, silence, then more clicks, then silence again. I said ‘hello’ and thought how silly I was answering an old dead phone. I flipped it shut. It rang again. This was beginning to get creepy, not to mention annoying. I flipped it open and immediately heard the clicks. Rhythmic and steady. A series of clicks, pause, clicks, pause and so on. “Hello!” No answer, just clicks.
How does a phone that has been sitting in my basement for years – whose battery had to be dead – start ringing?
I turned it over and removed the back cover. There was a battery in it all right, but it wasn’t new. It was covered with the white alkali that is ever present on batteries than have seen better days, and the connections were rusty from the acid that drips from batteries that have popped. ‘Probably shorted itself out,’ I thought. ‘That’s it!’
I walked over to my workbench and selected a flat blade screwdriver. I stuck it behind the battery and with a quick twist of my wrist, flipped the corroded battery onto the bench top. ‘There,’ I mused, ‘that will stop you.’
When it rang again, I almost dropped it. I flipped it open and the clicks started again.
The clicks were regular and in a pattern. A pattern, I soon learned, that repeated itself after a few minutes. I reasoned it may be Morse Code, because it was too rhythmic and steady.
Inspired, I took my phone out and set it up to record. Waiting for the other phone to start the series of clicks again, I immediately hit record as it went through its sequence. Figuring it was going to ring again if I closed it, I simply left it on the workbench clicking away. I took my recorded message with me and decided to try and solve this mystery.
My Uncle Ralph had been in the Navy during World War II and was a radioman. Fortunately, he was still alive and kicking. Doing really well, in fact, for a guy who was 96. He finally had to move into a assisted living center because he couldn’t drive anymore.
I decided to give the old guy a call on my land line. He answered on the first ring. ‘Ayup,’ he said. “Whatcha want Louie?”
“How’d you know it was me, Uncle Ralph?”
“Ya know,” he said, “what did my sister do with you when they was passing out brains? Think they said ‘trains’ and said no thank you? I got call waiting. Whatcha want?”
“Wow, your manners have really improved. What are they feeding you at that home; tranquilizer meat loaf? You’ve mellowed out.”
“You only call me when you want something. I figure this ain’t going to be any different than the last few times you called.”
“As a matter of fact, I do want something. I want to pick your brain. How well do you remember Morse Code?”
“Like it was yesterday. Why? You thinking of becoming a Eagle Scout or something?”
“Nope. I just want you to listen to something and tell me if it’s really Morse Code. Then, if it is, what does it say? Here, listen.” I played the recording and when it was finished said, “Well,”
“It’s Morse Code all right. Play it for me again, but let me get a pencil and paper to write it down. My memory ain’t what it used to be.”
A few minutes later I knew what the message was. “Bears 24, Pats 16.” I asked Uncle Ralph, “You sure?”
“Of course, I didn’t spend 30 years as a radioman and not be able to pass that test. Sounds like the score of a football game.”
It dawned on me. The Bears and Patriots were playing tonight. ‘What if … Nope, not a chance, but then … what if?’ I thanked Uncle Ralph, told him I would stop by soon and hung up the phone.
I waited with great anticipation for Monday Night Football. I could hardly contain myself when the Bears walked away with it winning 24 to 16. I had to test it again. On Thursday I recorded the clicks and called Uncle Ralph.
“What’s it say this time?”
“The Fish 9, Lions 31.”
That cinched it for me. The Miami Dolphins were playing the Detroit Lions tonight. “You still got that bookie friend of yours?” I asked Uncle Ralph.
“Yeah, you thinking of putting something on the game?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I’m putting two large on it, and if you’re smart, you’ll do the same.”
“If this don’t come through, you owe me.”
“Don’t worry about it. This is a sure thing.”
I was right. The Lions crushed Miami 31 to 9. I was sitting on top of a gold mine with a magic lamp. I called Uncle Ralph and he was as excited as a 96 year old could get. “Whatever you got going, I’m in.”
“Don’t worry, Uncle Ralph.” It’s just me and you. I ain’t gonna let anyone else know about this. Not even Jeannie.”
That night I went to bed and slept the best sleep I’d had in years thinking me and Jeannie were gonna be on Easy Street. I even slept in. I got up and dressed and went downstairs. Jeannie was fixing breakfast. I swatted her on the butt as I walked by. “Hey babe. Gotta kiss for your old man?”
She whacked me with a spatula. “About time. Sit down and drink your coffee. Breakfast will be on the table in a minute.”
“I’ll be right back. I gotta take care of something in the basement.”
“While you’re down there, Bring the broom back up with you. I cleaned up the laundry room this morning and forgot the broom. By the way, I threw away that yucky phone sitting on the bench. It was smarmy.”
“You … you what?” I asked. “What did you do with it?”
“I put it in the trash. They picked it up two hours ago.”
I stood at the dump watching the graders slowly push the mountains of garbage into the large pits and smooth the dirt back over the top while a tear trickled down my cheek. Then I turned and walked away.
Nice story. This seems like a fairly simple straight-forward trope, but nicely done. (And no, I did not anticipate where you were going with it.) I like the way you ‘show’ the main character’s optimism and new lease on life. Until, you know, his wife ruins everything. (Women. Bah! Always cleaning things.)
Seriously, nice job, good dialogue, and a very clever plot.
I stood at the dump watching the graders slowly push the mountains of garbage into the large pits and smooth the dirt back over the top. ‘They’ll never find her body,’ I thought. Then I turned and walked away.
She was pretty adamant about it, so I changed it to a tear trickled down my cheek.
Oh my GOD! That’s BRILLIANT! THAT—-is the perfect ending. I hate to disagree with your wife, Roy, but you should try that ending out on a few other less prejudiced people. I’m glad you reminded me, and I’m serious, that’s an awesome ending. And it plays so well coming right after his jaunty attitude and playful smack on his wife’s rear end in the kitchen. They’re getting along so well. He surely seems to love her.
I believe that’s your best ending, Roy. I’m afraid your wife is biased on this one.
This is an excerpt from my book. “How To Survive Life With A Normal Woman.” (Simone & Sheister.)
I think it’s relevant.
See, what I do is, or rather, what I try to avoid doing, is insisting that my girlfriend read those stories in which she gets murdered. (Especially by me.) For example…
She: “So, did you write a story this week?”
(Hint, never say ‘Huh?’ This is a dead give-away. Women are genetically programmed to become suspicious at this obviously cave-man-ish grunt. I repeat, never say ‘Huh?’)
She: “Well? Did you write a story?
Me: “Story? Oh, yeah.”
She: “What’s that mean? It’s no good?”
Me: (This is the tricky part.) “No, it’s good. I mean, I like it.” (This is spoken with as little conviction as possible, which is easy for most men. Not all, but most.) “It just needs a little bit of clean up.” A significant pause. “Well, a lot of clean up actually.”
She: “Great. I can’t wait. I’ll let you read it to me when it’s finished.”
That’s the sound of me never bringing it up again.
At this point, with any luck, unless you’re a complete schmuck, someone’s birthday or anniversary gets mentioned or remembered and suddenly becomes of paramount importance, and you will be relegated to the spot, located just in front of the wallpaper, where you are most comfortable, and can do the least damage. (Preferably with a drink in your hand.) You finish your story, post it, and move on. Happily whatever after.
Naturally the book is geared towards younger schmu…oops, I mean younger men, not old troopers like us. That’s the whole point of the book, to inform young and optimistic men that their plight is ultimately hopeless. Their fate is sealed. Resistance is futile, and subject to severe consequences. Their optimism would be cute if it wasn’t so pathetic. I haven’t actually published this book yet since it remains unwritten but it’s on the back burner. It’s simmering.
Actually my next job is an article for the New Yorkie. A short piece on Trump. Seems there are some rumors floating around (ironically) that he wasn’t born here and can’t produce a birth certificate. In fact, that much is a given. What’s not clear, and the source of much speculation, is exactly which planet he actually WAS born on, and, again, somewhat ironically, several reliable sources claim his origins trace back to Pluto, a ‘FORMER’ planet, of all places. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they’re not even from a real planet. I mean really, PLUTO? (It’s disgusting.) It raises a lot of questions. And,,, if this turns out to be true, I’m not saying it is, but if it were true, it could obviously affect his credibility at some point. Am I right?
Anyway, that’s what I’m working on. What’s up with you, Roy?
My life is one of simplicity. I wake up with a purpose – to make it through the day doing exactly what I want to do – well, with limits, I am married – and then to have a couple of glasses of wine in the evening and then, this is the big one, make it through the night so I can start all over doing what I want to do the next day. Ya gotta have goals and a sense of purpose. Still writing the Great American Novel but it is lying in pieces around my office with several different plots, styles and in great need of cohesion and some serious editing. Probably going to edit it with a big toss into a waste can and start over. Just entered a writing contest in Michigan. I’ll PM you on FB and send you a copy of my entry. It’s fairly short. about 1750 words, but I think it’s well written and fairly novel in it’s idea and twist. I’d like your opinion. Can’t post it here because it would be counted as published, and they frown on that.
Some of your comments are coming through, like this one, so I’m not sure why you’re having issues.
The nice thing is, feel free to reject my advice and opinions and write the way you feel is best for you. If you are comfortable, go for it. I like to hear what people have to say when they critique my stories to get another perspective, even if they don’t like my style or stories, I find out why. And, sometimes, I don’t like what I hear, not because they are wrong, but because they are right.
Everyone has their own style. Like I said, I like what you did with your story, and I really think it could be awesome with a few changes here and there.
“Corpse Bride” (1,196 words)
Martha knew there was something strange going on as she watched crazy Ms. Hathaway packing away her Halloween display. She watched the activity every year as she peered through the living room curtains. Martha watched the older lady packing each skeleton with care in wooden boxes for the neighbor boys to stack in her garage. All of the skeletons represented women and all wore wedding dresses. The old lady straightened each dress before closing the lids. Yes, it certainly was strange.
When Martha had moved to the neighborhood twenty years earlier, she was appalled at the old lady’s quirky way of celebrating Halloween. Ms. Hathaway rarely left her house, so it was a surprise to see her industriously decorating her yard in October that first year. She erected elaborate fake walls on the lawn, complete with wallpaper, picture frames with black backgrounds and other ornamental items. She then placed a mirrored vanity in front of one wall, random side tables, suitcases, lamps and other items to make the space look lived in. One table even had a tea set tastefully placed in the center.
Martha was intrigued at the quaint setting until Ms. Hathaway pulled a wooden box from the garage. She carefully posed a skeleton, dressed in an elaborate wedding dress and veil, on the small chair in front of the vanity. The skull’s veiled reflection in the mirror made the scene doubly gruesome. Pulling out another wooden box, she stood a second skeleton near the first, this one also adorned in a wedding dress. This skeleton held a bouquet of dead flowers as if waiting to hand it to the first. Martha felt uneasy as she watched.
Neighbors and children came in droves to admire the Halloween set-up that often won the community award for best display. Unable to contain her curiosity, Martha went over to see everything for herself. Ms. Hathaway greeted her warmly and talked enthusiastically about her display. She invited Martha to look around. With trepidation, Martha looked at the skeletons closely. The bones were a white-yellow and dry, just as she imagined real bones would be.
Over the next 19 years, Martha watched the Halloween display expand in size. Every couple of years a new skeleton bride or two would join the tableau. As the years passed, the styles in the wedding dresses for the new additions changed with the times. The skeleton brides were posed as if talking or as if they were “taking tea” at the table. One “bride” was posed bending over a baby carriage reaching for a skeleton baby. Martha never saw where the skeletons came from; they just showed up in the tableau.
This year, there were 26 skeletons in the display, not counting the addition of cat and dog skeletons sitting on the lawn among the wedding “party”. The sight of the cat bones made Martha a little melancholy since her old tabby, Fluffy, had crossed the rainbow bridge last year. Martha thought back to a conversation she’d had with Ms. Hathaway that first year in the neighborhood.
“That’s … um … quite a display” she’d said hesitantly.
“Why thank you!” Ms. Hathaway beamed with pride.
“However did you come up with the idea for a skeleton bride?”
For a moment sadness filled the older lady’s countenance and a flash of something else. Was it anger? Ms. Hathaway cleared the emotion from her face and smiled.
“Oh, my daughter always loved Halloween. It was her favorite holiday and we always decorated together. She died right before her wedding day. It was tragic.” Once again a flash of anger crossed her face.
“Oh my” Martha murmured.
Ms. Hathaway went on. “I wanted to honor my daughter so I thought of combining her last big dream with her love of Halloween. This way, she will always be a bride.”
Martha had thought her words were a bit odd. The old lady spoke as if her daughter were still there. Martha later discovered that the daughter, Amelia, had committed suicide days before she was supposed to be married. One woman mentioned that Amelia’s death was part of a huge scandal in town but didn’t offer anything more. Over the years Martha thought about the mystery but never pursued it.
Moving away from the window now, her eye caught sight of the new laptop her son had bought her. ‘I wonder…’ she thought as she googled the Hathaway name. Numerous articles and pictures came up of the Halloween display. It had been popular for years. Finally an old news article came up. She scanned it rapidly, key words jumping out at her.
“Hathaway daughter commits suicide after horrible Halloween prank.”
“Classmates at local high school designed elaborate scheme to bully and humiliate local teen.”
“Captain of the football team woos teen and promises marriage.”
“Teen plans wedding only to have her dreams crushed during the annual Halloween party at the local school by her classmates. Per witnesses, she ran from the party in tears amid the raucous laughter of the other teens. Her body was found later, hanging from a tree outside her home, dressed in her wedding gown.”
“The girl’s classmates were questioned by police but no one took responsibility for the cruel prank. With no concrete evidence of wrongdoing, no one was charged in her death. The girl’s mother vowed to seek justice for her daughter’s death.”
Martha backed away from the computer, shaking. This was worse than she had ever imagined! Why would the old lady choose to “honor” her daughter with the gruesome Halloween display after her tragic death?’ It didn’t make sense.
Just then, a small article written two years prior caught her eye. Titled the “Hathaway Curse”, it was one of a group of creepy stories posted in the local paper around Halloween. The author had attributed a series of local deaths of women over several years to Amelia’s death.
“After the tragic death of Amelia Hathaway in a cruel Halloween prank, her mother vowed to find justice. Perhaps this justice has resulted in the curse that has seemed to follow the classmates involved in the prank over these past few years.”
Martha gasped and her heart began racing. The author rambled on about the strange deaths of one classmate after another in the years since Amelia’s death. Most of the deaths were female classmates, dying before or immediately after marrying. One girl was killed in a car accident with her infant daughter. Martha thought of the realism in the skeletons. With a horrible certainty, Martha knew what had happened to Amelia’s classmates.
Running to the window she saw that everything had been packed away. The neighbor boys were carrying the last of the wooden boxes into Ms. Hathaway’s garage. The old woman picked up the baby bones from the old fashioned carriage and placed it in the last wooden box with its mother before closing the lid. Standing straight, she looked over at Martha standing at the window. With a smile and a wink, she placed a finger against her lips warning Martha to silence. Still smiling, she followed the boys into the garage.
And, Adrienne, I don’t know what to tell you to help disguise how transparent the plot is. I loved reading it, and the writing doesn’t leave any room for nit-picking, because there isn’t anything to nit-pick about. I recently saw a photo on facebook which depicted the very tableau you presented in your story and the thought occurred to me as I looked at it, ‘what if those were real skeletons?’. I think the problem here is you have a story which needs about 100 times as many words for you to be able to develop a scheme that hides the facts until you are allowed to dribble them out, in various places, leaving clues for discerning readers, and then having some kind of twist at the end which finally leaves no doubt.
And, I guess, in what has become my calling card, I do think you could have had some dialogue and a little more show and tell, which may have helped disguise the wicked old woman’s true nature. Otherwise, well done. Good writing.
You are completely correct. It was predictable and I knew that but I was having fun. That photo on Facebook is where I got the idea for the story. I wondered what would happen if they were real skeletons. Sometimes the best place to hide things is in plain sight. I wish I’d had more words and more time to make it more of a mystery but as it was, I had to cut some things out to meet the word count.
I would like to expand this story and really play with it. There are so many variables to play with in this account. Does the old lady do the killings or is it a curse? How does she get the bodies? How long does it take to reduce the bodies to skeletons? How does she hold them together? How would she disguise the smell of death? (I had an answer for that one.) How does she keep people from guessing her secret and avoid suspicion? Who makes the wooden boxes for her? Does she have someone to help her? Oh, the places I could go!
It will go on my “to do” list. LOL
by ken cartisano
I knew there was something strange going on. But it was a minor thing, hardly worth mentioning. I’m not sure most people will understand what I’m saying when I tell this story. But I was there, it was unnerving, and I’ll never forget the experience.
It was a long time ago, okay? I had a physically demanding, labor-intensive job that paid fairly well. The only drawback was the hours. I went in at eleven at night, and finished my shift at around seven in the morning. So I was getting off of work when most people were waking up and getting their morning coffee.
Most days it took a while to unwind from the hectic pace of cranking out 400 dozen donuts in eight hours, but at least it was payday. I had a leisurely dinner at my favorite local diner first, then cashed my check at the bank shortly after it opened. Then I took my dirty clothes to the Laundromat, read the paper while I waited, afterwards I paid my phone bill, in cash, at a satellite office just down the street. With a full wallet and all my chores done, I felt like treating myself to a drink or two before going home to bed.
Since it was still before noon, most drinking establishments were closed, but there was this one place up the street on the corner of a busy intersection whose front door was open. Two cars sat in the parking lot. I pulled in next to them. It was warm and sunny, so my pupils must’ve been the size of two pinpricks: I could barely see a thing as I entered the dark and smoky nightclub.
The bar itself was shaped like a narrow U and the place was nearly empty but for three souls sitting at the bar across from me. I ordered a double-shot of Wild Turkey with a splash of coke.
I took a sip and set the glass on the bar, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. It was too dark to discern much more than the fact that the three people sitting across the bar were men, and didn’t appear to know each other.
They showed no interest in me either, and as I sat there nursing my drink, it occurred to me that the place could use a little music, something to lighten up the gloomy atmosphere. At least, I thought it was my idea. A jukebox stood over by the wall, and, with my drink, I got up, walked over, and reviewed the list of songs it offered. I fed two quarters into the machine, and stood there considering my choices.
A variety of titles glowed at me, but E-19 stood out. ‘Night Moves,’ a song by Bob Seger. It was a popular song at the time. They must’ve played it on the radio five or six times a night. I was sick of it.
I scanned the titles and found a song more to my liking.’ I punched the appropriate buttons: H-22, ‘Horse With No Name.’ The machinery of the jukebox whirred. It retrieved the song and began to play it, an acoustic number by three guys who harmonize well.
‘Night Moves’ popped back into my head. Not the song, just the name. I frowned, annoyed at myself, they way a song or jingle gets stuck in your head and you can’t get it out. Except that this wasn’t the song, it was just the name, and the corresponding number, E-19. The urge to play it was strong, compelling.
I resisted, found another song, and punched the requisite buttons. ‘Take Five,’ by Dave Bruebeck. A jazz tune by four very ordinary looking guys.
As I deliberated over a third song, the word ‘Night Moves’ screamed in my head over and over, like a broken record. Night Moves; Night Moves; Night Moves; like a harsh neon light, flashing on and off through a dirty window.
I stood there tapping my fingers to the tune of the first song, stubbornly searching for a third selection before the first song ended. I spotted something by Jackson Browne. ‘Doctor My Eyes.’ Not a ‘rock and roll standard’, but a personal favorite of mine, a kind of lament, a spiritual ballad with vague connotations of good vs. evil.
With the words ‘Night Moves’ bouncing around in my skull, I stubbornly punched in the Jackson Browne selection, U-14, (or something) and returned to my seat as the first song ended. I glanced up at the strangers across the bar. My eyes had adjusted to the darkness and I could see their features. None of the three met my gaze nor seemed interested in anything but their drinks. They were unimpressed with my first song, my second, and my third.
In fact, none of them even acknowledged my presence in any way. A pretty good trick since I was sitting almost directly across from them. It didn’t matter, I wasn’t looking to make friends, I was just looking for a reaction, a thumbs up, a nod, a shake of the head, but none was forthcoming.
I called the bartender over, “Another shot,” I said. “Just make it a single, straight up.” I was ready to head home.
I watched the bartender as he fetched the bottle. He was a large fellow and stood directly in front of me as he refilled my glass, then waited while I extracted a ten-dollar bill from my wallet and laid it on the bar. “I’ll be right back with your change,” he said.
“Keep it,” I told him.
“Sure thing, young man. Is there anything else I can get ya?”
“Nope. I’m good. Thanks.”
I was marginally aware that one of the three men across the bar had gotten up, and returned to their seat while I was pre-occupied with the bartender, but I wasn’t sure which one, nor did I care. When I picked up my glass to sip my drink, the song ‘Night Moves’ began playing on the jukebox. I set my drink down and gazed at the three strangers, wondering which one had selected the tune. None returned my inquisitive look. If they were competing to see which of them could look more bored, it would have been a three-way tie. After the song finished, the jukebox paused, clunked and then played it a second time.
I squinted suspiciously at each of them in turn now. All three were oblivious to my scrutiny, conspicuously so. They stared past me at nothing, as if I didn’t exist. When the song ended, there was one more song preparing to play, as the machine clunked and whirred, you guessed it: ‘Night Moves’ played for a third time.
I downed my drink, got up and left. To this day I’m not exactly sure what they did or how, but I’m certain that they knew each other, and knew what they were doing.
And I… I’ve never quite looked at the world in the same way since.
Nice job of writing a story that was very real. Kept my attention. Like you said, you’re not sure if it’s a particularly satisfying story, but it has a nice creep factor. And, as pretty much always, written well. I like the fact you had lots of show. Ha, ha, ha, ha!
Your story is nicely written… but, I don’t understand it. Am I missing something? I’ve never been in a bar and I don’t know the song “Night Moves” so I’m not sure I’m getting the message of the story. Can you clarify?
Sure, I’ll clarify. If I can. I don’t know where I’m going wrong in the telling of this story. The name of the song is not relevant, other than the fact that the story is true and that was the title of the song that kept repeating itself in my head.
It was, all in all, a harmless event, but unsettling, because it seemed to me that somebody was somehow urging me, mentally, to play THAT song. It certainly wasn’t my desire or intention to play it since I didn’t like the song and was sick of it anyway.
And yet, the urge, the repetitive mental images, the inability to stop thinking about that song while I was actively looking for other songs to play, had to come from somewhere. And it took a deliberate and stubborn force of will for me to avoid playing it.
And since the only people in the bar were me, the bartender and those three strangers, it had to be one of them. And if there was any doubt at all that it WAS one of them, the proof was that one of those three guys got up and put enough money in the jukebox to play THAT VERY SONG three times in a row! Their near pathological ability to ignore me when I was sitting right in front of them was strange too, not unthinkable, considering it was a bar, but when added to the other aspects of the incident, it made me think that they DID know each other. In fact their behavior, looking back, could easily be interpreted as intense concentration. Absolutely, they were there together, and nothing about the entire event was coincidence. Except perhaps, for me being there in the first place.
I realize this is not a particularly exciting story, or satisfying, but like I said. I was there, it really happened, and it was really weird. We accept people’s ability to affect our behavior through various overt methods. Music, speech, visual imagery, repetition, fear of retribution. But someone in that bar, that day, tried very hard, and nearly succeeded, in influencing my thinking to such an extent that it nearly affected my behavior, and all without looking at me, or uttering a sound. That–is a powerful mental force.
Does that make sense? If so, where did I go wrong?
A couple of other thoughts. In retrospect, I’m not sure that it was my idea to put money in the jukebox to begin with. It’s possible that going there in the first place wasn’t even my idea. Perhaps they had willed that too. By the time I got up and left, I felt like a lab rat in someone else’s experiment. My only consolation was that I was an uncooperative lab rat. And as such, perhaps I was more trouble than I was worth for their purposes.Whatever that may have been.
Perhaps I really was part of an experiment which proved to some degree that, even with three guys working together, they couldn’t even manage to make me play a song on the jukebox. And it was only because I was stubborn and hated that song. Maybe they had a bet with the bartender and he threw them all out on their asses right after I left. I don’t know about all that. I just know that someone tried to manipulate me, telepathically. Of that I have no doubt at all.
It’s time to cast your vote.
Remember you must vote for your story to qualify, you may not vote for yourself and you can only vote once.
RNB became winner for a story inside story at the age of 32 (to be confirmed)
Only an infant survived in a landslide as if it has been played by telekinetic force whereas whole community died.
Fannie noticed that some unknown force was protecting her family from all possible accidents. It was soul of Grace who died already.
Zina, a small girl, did not scared of anything even animal and even ghost but scared of with the buttons on coat.
Something strange happening inside. Frankly speaking, I could not go inside and see the real strange.
There is some strange happening between Bill and Rita. Matters did not come clearly to me.
Like the curtain falls, Ivan brought the bunch of flowers down on the head of the stranger. No no, it was rock that that fell down cleansing himself of something wickedness and deceit.
Yucky phone set was calling with Morse code telling future scores and 96 years old Ralph was able to interpret it.
Changing Skeleton used for Halloween display by Ms Hathaway found real one.
Three people in the bar showed no interest to Ken and to themselves. However, they played the music that ken wanted play that too three times.
Raff. – Thinkful Wishing.
Nam. – Death By Blessing.
Christine. – Classical Gas.
Phil. – Guts and Roses.
Anandita (Riana-anandita.) – Ain’t Skeert.
Robt. – Kiss Me Quick.
Sarig. – Faith And Phallusy.
Roy. – Call Forwarding.
Adi. – Bridal Fails.
Ken. – Night Movement.
Just waiting on Robert and Anindita to cast their votes!
Sorry about only being able to critique half the stories.
I plumb ran out of time and had to read through them so I could vote.
New Year’s Resolution… critique/give feedback more!
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