Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “The Refugee”

Theme: The Refugee. Any context.

Required Elements: a choice.

Word Count: 1,200

a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

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

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

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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

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

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

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Roy York/Chuck Lilburn per the Writing Prompt Roster.

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

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165 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “The Refugee”

  • robtemmett
    To be Notified
    • Carrie / Alice
      I am very very sad. You have left me off the writing prompt list!!! Should I read something into that? I could, after being pushed out of my own mother’s funeral and not even notified of it. Now that is a nasty story of family bastardy in and of itself. Shows how vile some family can be to blood relatives, doing things they would never dare to others and I have a prompt lined up just for that.
      Please do not let me sob alone in the cupboard or cellars of my subconsciousness.
      • I, too, was left off the writing roster even though I had written more than 2 stories in 60 days (I had a good idea for one, too!)

        And I tried to vote in the last contest (even though I didn’t write a story) but my vote was not accepted. Maybe you have to write a story to be able to vote?

        Either way, congrats to the winners!


        • Carrie Zylka

          Hi there, you asked that your stories be removed from the site. To qualify the stories would have to remain.

            • Carrie Zylka

              Per your request we removed the stories, we did leave the winners post up but the links no longer point to your story submitted in the comment section as they were scrubbed from the site.

              If you have permalinks that point to a story you requested be removed, please let me know.

        • Carrie Zylka

          Also Jen,
          Not sure why your vote was not accepted, voting is open to anyone. When you vote you’ll get a blue screen confirming that the votes were received. Next time if you don’t see that screen be sure to try again or to let us know. 🙂

          • Ok. My bad. Guess I mis-read the email where Alice said that you guys had decided not to remove my stories. They were there last time I checked but must be gone now? And I must have mis-interpreted the rules re: 2 stories in 60 days. Just kinda weird that I’m listed as winning yet there is no story. I was keeping up on the stories to vote and looking forward to offering a prompt. I’m trying to find anything to keep my mind busy after losing my son. But that’s cool. I’ll have to pay closer attention next time and make sure that noone outside of this group votes. 🙂 #blackballedlol
            • Carrie Zylka

              These contests and the site is a lot of work for us to keep up. You did in fact win, and the voting totals were already tallied. We didn’t have the time or energy to go back through and reconfigure each contest you asked us to remove your story from.

              You own the rights to your stories, by submitting them they do not become property of A Creative Mind, so your request to remove them completely from the site was honored. We left the winning blog post with all the totals up because you did in fact, win. And the person that came in 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc did fall into that slot.

              That is what she meant. It would have been way too much work for us to go back and recount, repost etc. for something that has no bearing on the current contest.

      • Carrie Zylka

        Ilana, I show you only contributed one story in the last 60 days. The AI prompt. The rules are 2 stories within 60 days!

        And you should know better, you’re welcome to my house and have a good cry at any time 😉

        • Don’t stress Carrie! Love you and the work you do for this I am appreciative so no sweat. I was only having light hearted banter mate! Please do not stress out.
          I prefer to cry alone if I cry. It’s a private thing.i gave up crying on shoulders when I realised the shoulders I cried on used what they knew about me against me. So it’s kinda trust no one!
          😊😂 be at peace. Do I do next prompt or wait till next round? I can put on the thinking cap – and come up with one. If you want.
          G-D bless and keep us all sane and safe from madness and malice.especially that of insane SILs.
          I just saw this nowso sorry for tardy reply.
          You guys need hugs, thank yous for your hard work and probably a belt of good whiskey to de stress.

          ❤️❤️❤️Peace ❤️❤️❤️

      • Carrie Zylka

        Oh crap – I just realized I never added the Quarantine story counts so Ilana – you should have been on there!!!
        Email me your prompt for the next post!

        And Jen if you submit in this prompt and the next you’ll be right in line for your roster entry which would have been after Chuck Lilburn!

        • Thanks. Right now I am preparing what I am going to say at the Celebration of Life Ceremony for my boy which takes place on July 21st because it was too painful to do it sooner. 🙁 He was only 22. My heart is shattered. Maybe after that. Time will tell. I just feel like I’m being turned away from everything but that’s just me. Grief is a roller coaster ride that is anything but fun to take part in. 🙁
          • Carrie Zylka

            Well just know you are in our prayers, we expressed many times in the email exchange that we welcomed you and we wanted you to take part in these contests, we are a tight knit group for the most part and we all have endured tragedy.

            Sometimes weaving those feelings and experiences into a story is a great way to help the healing process.

            We have many stories submitted over the years from writers who you can read between the lines and see personal tragedy or joy has influenced a story or two.

          • Ok. I get it. Thanks. I am really sorry I asked about the prompt. The email clearly said that the stories would not be removed so I stupidly thought that they were still there and that I could still offer a prompt.

            I obviously mis-read the following email from Alice:

            Jen, Carrie and I have decided we aren’t going to delete any of your comments. We are not, and have never been in the practice of wiping the history of people who have entered our contest. If we delete your comments we also delete any comments that come after, and that isn’t fair to the other participants. I’m not sure why you want to remove any proof that you took part in our competition, but that’s for you to work out. As it stands your comments and your stories and the list of winners that include your name will remain as is.

            Notice “and your stories”. That’s why I was confused. Again. I’m sorry.

            • Carrie Zylka

              Ahh yes I can see where the confusion is coming from.

              We cannot, by law, keep your stories up once you asked us to remove them. I can’t remember when I did but it was within a day or two of your request that I went through and deleted them permanently.

              In fact I’m pretty sure I had already complied with your request before Alice even sent that email.

            • Carrie Zylka

              Regardless…they are literally gone. And have been for some time.
              I couldn’t restore them even if I wanted to.

          • Oh Jen 🤭😢❤️❤️❤️🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼❤️❤️❤️❤️
            G-D give you comfort and a calm spirit on this journey.
      • Alice Nelson

        Ilana, I’ve been away from this contest awhile and just saw this. I’m so sorry about you rmom’s funeral, you can cry on my shoulder any time. I think Carrie explained about your turn in the roster. Take care my friend.

  • Robin Benôit
    To be included
    • robtemmett
      I have not received up dates
      • Robt.
        Lighter out of your WordPress account.
        Enter your name and email address and website.
        Check the box for email notifications.

        It is a problem with not our site.

  • For A Place Under the Sun:
    ( This story is written in the background of the Bangladesh War, 1971.)
    There it was stuck amidst the rounded and heart-shaped Shapla and Shaluk leaves, wrapped in a bundle made of a faded lungi and a checked full shirt. The seven-year-old, Binu, snailed lazily to the river brushing his teeth with the Nim twig, ready for his morning bath as usual, when the thing caught his eye. He wiped his eyes once more to be sure. It was a baby all right. He took a quick step towards it, changed his mind and broke into a retreat, shrieking. The first rays of the morning sun were just beginning to filter through the sky over the bare bank on the other side.

    “What devilish parents could discard a child like this? May God’s wrath burn their wicked limbs into ashes, ”  the middle-aged widow in a white sari exclaimed.
    “The thing to find out is- whether it is dead or alive,” the younger lady quipped. Naren Babu, the seniormist amongst the crowd gatered around the bundle, with an oily towel covering the lower part of his body, was the last to express his view. Having made a through investigation of the object in the bundle, he drawled:
    “Let me inform the Panchayat Head straight away. He’ll know best what to do with the child.” Just then the object of all this discussion and speculation, opened its eyes and let out a feeble cry.

    The Panchayat Head was aghast. In his entire tenure as the Village Head, he had never heard of anything like this. A live baby discarded near the river bank! What the world had come to! Let someone from the hospital take care of it till an alternate solutation could be worked out. Later that evening he was informed of the dead body of a young man in his minimal clothing, found floating a kilometer or so upstream……. …………..

    Swapan leaped out the gaping bamboo doors of his ramshackle hut with his three- year-old daughter held tightly to his chest as the explosion wrecked the village like a roaring thunder. Splinters of wood, pieces of bricks and the swirling smoke scattered everywhere under the crimson sky. War was battering and raging all around like never before. He got off to his feet and started running amidst the stench of burning clothes, wood and flesh. He looked back longingly one last time at his home in firey flames and stifled a cry, knowing full well that there was no point going back in order to look for his paralytic mother or the mother of the baby in his arms- his life.

    He had been walking stealthily for quite a while, keeping mostly to the corners. Famished and completely drained out. He could grab a bowlfull of stale food from a make shift relief camp on the way. He fed the cup of milk to his daughter and devoured the food, something he wouldn’t have offered to the stray dogs in the good, old days. As he ampled through the road again, he could hear the passionate speech of the President of Bangladesh, being broadcast live on a radio placed on a bench by the rescuers:
    ” Rakto anek disi. Aro rakto debo. Gharay gharay durgo goray tulbo amra. .. ( We have let flow a lot of our blood. We’ll do that even more. We’ll have each one of our homes turned into a fortress….).

    Once he got closer to the border, he preferred to slouch through the trails in the yellowed paddy fields, away from the prying eye. There was no guarantee that the Indians living in the border town of Ajimganj, would take to him kindly. His destination lay on the other side of the fast-flowing river Bhagirathi, in the sleepy town of Jiaganj. Once in his childhood, he came to a relative’s there with his uncle. He had taken an instant liking to the lazy, easy-going life then and the town was his destination now. Thousands of people like him, rendered homeless, identityless, had already fled there, secure in the knowledge that they would find food and shelter on the other side. In the core of his heart, Swapan believed that once he got there, his daughter would be safe.

    By the time he reached the river bank, it was close to evening. The width of the river from this side to the other was not more than a few kilometres. There was nothing to worry about, he thought to himself, as he took off his checked shirt first and covered his daughter, who, by then had stopped wailing and become delirious, due to hunger and exhaustion. He put his right foot forward from the muddied bank down into the water. The water felt cool and light. But he had to cover his daughter with something warmer first. He couldn’t take any risks when it concerned his last hope. He got out of his faded lungi then. Even against the fading light of the evening- his bare, chiselled physique gleaned like that of a Greek god.  The distance posed no threat as he, in his heydays, was a champion long distance swimmer. He put his other foot forward into the vast stretch of gray-grave tides breaking against the bank…..

    Swapan had been out in the river for close to six hours. River Bhagirathi was as he expected it to be, majestic, mystifying and mesmerising. The strong currents of the river made it easier for him. He just kept his body afloat by letting it flow with the waters, the baby sprawled on his broad back.

    He was getting closer to the other side. Another half hour to forty minutes and they would get ashore. Only thing bothering him at the time as he raised his head to the surface and saw the shadowy outline of the town in the distance,.was his ebbing strength. It was then the thought of not being able to make it safely to the bank occurred in his mind. All his limbs were being immobile, inert. He didn’t take a minute to make a quick decision – whether to reach his daugter to the safety of the bank or get there himself, without her. Still floating on the water intuitively, he took the bundle off his back and kept it afloat in front for a while. 
    “Ma Durga (Goddess Durga), save my daughter from all evils”, planting  a watery kiss on his daughter’s head, he gave a hard push to the bundle towards the bank. The currents and Ma Durga would do the rest and reach her to the bank safely. He felt completely worn out  after a long time and closed his eyes from fatigue.

    In the shady ground, outside the Panchayat Office, the childless parents, Atish Babu and his spouse, Purnima, let out a yell of delight as the Panchayat unanimously agreed to entrust the couple with the baby for adoption. The midday sun was shining at its beightest at that time.

    WC 1158

    • Very good story. You started with the end ( towards the end) and then opened the suspense. It raised the curiosity to understand what was happened. Then you actually ended the story with shining light on the face of baby. I was thinking that dilemma of Swapan would go little longer before taking decision. But it went very fast. Any I was pondering on the story while reading.
      • Thanks, Nam Raj. Right now waiting at Hasimara Station to catch the 11. 30 train. Before boarding, I wanna write something for my FB friends.
        Have gone through your story. Would go through once more, once I get down to Kolkata. Take care and all the best wishes.
    • Anindita Basu
      Hi RNB, I posted a comment on your wonderful story a couple of hours ago but it did not get posted. Hope this one does.I really liked this story. Your description of the setting is crisp and real. Enjoyed the dialogue, especially in the native tongue, ‘rokto anek disi…’ more so as I understand Bengali. The picture of the characters, their attires, lungy and oil streaken chekered gamchha or the cloth …vivid. The ending is also poignant…sad but hopeful. And you wrote it so fast…that is a precious gift you have as a writer, I write a lot in my head…not much on paper. Some minor things, rather slips of pen…in the last sentence you must have meant ‘brighter’…at one point you must have meant ‘ambled’not ample…such minor things. I think I liked this story the best of all the ones I read from you so far. Keep up the good work. Want to read more. Take care.
      • Hi, Anindita. Thanks for your honest feedback. You are right about the mistakes. I meant ‘ambled’ and ‘brighter’ as well. Finally, when I posted my story after deleting a word here and a sentence there, it was nearly, 1.30 BST . If I share the story about writing this story, I am sure that it will be equaly interesting.
        I am happy to know that you can understand Bengali. I mistook you for an émigré, born and bred in Bengal-settled abroad afterwards.
        I like your voice. There is something free, frank, honest about it. You must be a wonderful person to be around. God bless.
        • Anindita Basu
          You are right..I am a Calcation…born and brought up in goid old Calcutta. I came to US after I got married and happened to get stuck here.
    • That’s an outstanding story, Rathin! Very vivid, immediate and powerful. And the use of language is excellent, especially considering you are writing in a second language.

      The first three sentences describing the attack on the village are very effective, as is the detail dropped seamlessly into the story about the boy brushing his teeth with a twig, the cool and light feeling of the water (etc)
      And I liked the structure of the story, starting with the mystery of the discovery of the child, whose full story will probably never be known against the chaotic background of the war and flight of the refugees.

      A few typos that’s all, some of which Anindita has noted. And you don’t need the tautology ‘firey flames’, just ‘flames’ on its own, or some other adjective.

      Very good indeed.

    • That must be your best story yet, Rathin. I couldn’t stop reading it.I am totally impressed with your expertise in English. One tiny thing – may I suggest that you substitute ‘paralytic’ with paralysed. In the English vernacular, ‘paralytic’ can mean ‘dead drunk!’ Strictly speaking, you are correct, but some people may find it amusing, when the context of your story is serious.
    • Rnb,
      There are an awful lot of typos, but the essence and power of the story shines through unimpeded.
      • Hi, Ken. Nice to hear from you. Right now, I have a tough time in Kolkata. I lost my diary containing all the website addresses and passwords while boarding the train. Couldn’t even access this site easily. Be getting back in touch with all you wonderful people soon. Love and best wishes.
    • Your use of vivid and specific details makes this whole piece so enchanting. I felt completely immersed in the story. I especially loved the last sentence, a beautiful note to end it on. Well done, Rathin!
    • Phil Town
      Terrific story, Rathin. The structure is great – present > past (flashback) > present. The ending is welcome: some good comes out of the tragedy. Your descriptions are very vivid. And I love the subtle way you describe Swapan’s sad demise: we know he dies, so the simple “closed his eyes from fatigue” is very poignant. You kind of separate the action just before “Swapan leaped out the gaping bamboo doors”, but the dotted line could perhaps have come between the paragraphs, and there should be something similar just before “In the shady ground”, I think. Smashing story, though. I agree with the others – your best so far.
    • Amy Meyer
      The structure of your narrative is very intriguing. The baby was a great mystery which gave the story narrative drive. I wondered whether it would be helpful to separate the flashback and forward sections with a break: say by using asterisks or a line. It would help the different sections read more clearly. This is one of my favourite stories I’ve read by you, I think your use of language has become more elegant so well done!
  • Miza and Megha:

    Some people wanted to establish democracy in the country. Movement was going on with intensity day by day. It became movement of a group of people country wide. King found the way out to skip from the movement. Movement was declared as nationality and the whole group of people was expelled out of the country by truck. People ultimately reached the nearest county matching their culture and became refugee. United national got the job and managed for their shelter and foods. There were few community created.

    Life became painful for few month because social homes was broken. New home was simple and easy but lacks right to live on self. Gradually people became adapt to the system. Life become normal as refugee. Everything was arranged by others. There was nothing like social responsibility except surviving for the self and family. Family was also incomplete.
    Normal life was changed but need for love and affection was not changed. Almost ten years passed and child became youth. They grew in new culture where social and political freedom was only in imagination. There was only right to live remain. Right to freedom and right to enjoy with wider prospective was completely lost. They were like a new category of people.
    Miza was attracted with Megha living in different community of the refugee camp. They became closer and shared everything. Sharing did not remain within camp life. Freedom beyond present reality crossed towards overall natural freedom. They felt loss of freedom and life became like a jail. Love could not spread into a full size. World become narrow. Imagination was spreading. There was no way out to live full and complete life. Community had already lost capacity to take challenges. Mind was set for mere living. But there was some kind of spirit within Miza and Megha.

    “I want to fight”, Megha said.
    Curiously and with surprise Miza asked, “With whom?”
    “I want to fight in the country we born and restore life for next generation”, Megha said.
    Miza thought that Megha is in emotion. Hence, he took it lightly.

    Other day as they were alone below a tree but little away from permitted land. With little excitement and little anger Megha asked, “who is the most powerful country in the world?”
    Miza answered little seriously, including next probable question of Megha “There is nobody. Every country knows how to solve their own problem. None of the country in the world can solve your problem and interfere other country. ”
    What about UN? Megha asked. “UN can solve only created problem and maintain temporarily but for longer time. They cannot solve real problem” Miza answered.

    Megha said, “I am thinking one world government than only can solve worldwide problem and maintain human right”, Miza answered, “What you can do is only write a story. Put your idea and expectations. That you can do. Forget about getting it done in reality”

    Megha started to write a story on how to form world side government and make world as a family. She explained how to solve world social and political problem and insure right to live in line with natural laws. In the story she proved that most powerful countries in the world in fact are powerless. Miza provided ideas which became energy for Megha. Every day they met added energy for her story.

    One day her story was published with title” natural freedom for every one” Book gained freedom day by day. It spread national wide, crossed the region and spread worldwide. While they were in narrow camp their thought spread worldwide crossing all barrier and enjoyed complete freedom.

    One day Megha asked, “Our thought and idea can cross the border why cannot we?” Miza said, “It is because everyone is free to do think. People around world is free to think about freedom of every one but they are not free to do it. It is because society went to other direction than their thinking sometime in the history. It is not easy to reorient it back to same direction.
    Megha said with home and excitement, “If that happened is it possible to form one family world and match what we think and what we do. Can we make society as per natural law? ”

    Megha and Miza enjoyed the freedom through their book but themselves remained in the camp with loss of freedom with the expectation to restore natural freedom worldwide.

    • A thought provoking story, Nam, and truly perceptive.My favourite line – ‘our thought and ideas can cross the border, why cannot we? It highlights a universal problem to which there is no immediate solution. A very good story.
      • Thank you very much Harris for appreciation and pointing the good part of the story.
    • Anindita Basu
      Nam, There is a lot of things to think in your story. For example:

      “Life became painful…. New home was simple and easy but lacks right to live”

      “They felt loss of freedom and life became like a jail. Love could not spread into a full size. World become narrow….”

      Food for thought! I like the idea:

      “If that happened is it possible to form one family world”. What a positive message. I like that.

      Some editing and grammar work needed. Looking forward to reading more from you. Keep writing.

      • Thank you Anindita for pointing all good points in my story. I will take care of grammar errors in the future.
    • Nam,
      Interesting and provocative story. The plight of the refugee. If only people were as free as their ideas. If only Megha and Miza could enjoy the popularity and freedom of the book they created. Clever and wise, Nam.
    • As others have said Nam, a thought-provoking story. The first paragraph has echoes of the Rohingya refugee crisis.
      Interesting how the experience of powerlessness inspires both idealism and an urge to fight. Your story begins to explore the psychological impact of being displaced, with your characters determined to be positive in adversity.

      Natural law, I wonder – does it favour freedom and equality, the right to life’ liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or the dominance of the stronger over the weaker?

      • Thank you Andy for appreciation. This added energy to me.
    • robtemmett
      Thank you for the comment. About the three types of reading, I read the first way when reading the beginning pages of an author I’m auditioning. I use the second way with a novel in a series where I know the background information being presented. And yes, the third I use when I want to savor the work.
      Many years ago, I was taught to read at different speeds depending the reason for the reading.
      For long retention and full understanding, I read at 50 – 100 WPM. [ie for technical stuff.]
      Reading for enjoyment, I read 250 – 400 WPM.
      For the frivolous [ie the sports page] I zip along at 900 – 1000 WPM.
      You use of English, a very hard language to learn, will improve with exposure to native English speakers.
    • Phil Town
      Nam, the central theme of your story is a beautiful/sad one: thought and ideas can be free to move around the world, but the people who do the thinking and have the ideas aren’t – Megha and Miza are in just such a position. Some thought-provoking ideas here. In terms of structure of the story, how would it be if you left off the opening paragraphs of back story and started with Megha and Miza in the camp?
  • Notified. Will write for this prompt. Inspiring.
  • Anindita Basu
    Notifying. But my comment on RBN ‘s story did not get posted. So I am wondering what is going on.
  • Checking in to see if I get notifications. Was the winner ever decided on Pet Peeves? I can’t find any info. I got something going on crazy and don’t get notifications.
    • Carrie Zylka

      Roy – I actually just posted the winner thread. I kept trying to do it from the phone app but it wasn’t working so I published it when I got home. So you’re not missing the notification 🙂

    • Its on now Roy. Winner was Andy. I had a grumble because I was left off the writing roster list. LOL I think Carrie and Alice have been hitting the whiskey and leaving us poor struggling writers to our own devices.
      • Let’s all go round to Alice & Carrie’s house and share in the whisky. I’ll bring a couple of bottles. We can help out with the admin, and we’ll sneak you back on the roster, Ilana 🙂
        • Dear Andy,
          First of all, let me congratulate you on being the
          winner of the F2C on ‘Pet peeves’. I wanted to post the congratulatory note but couldn’t. Life in Kolkata is very different with my family, with lots of errands to run and all. You know, Andy, I have always had this feeling that you are a very good human being. Because you being what you are, I have the highest of respect for you.
          Today, I asked my eldest daughter to read out A Place. ..and the mistakes she pointed out while reading, made me feel ashamed of myself. I realized while listening to her that I couldn’t get put it down on the paper the way I wanted it. I guess, now instead of trying to impress upon the world about how good I am at writing a story on any topic at a moment’s notice, I should try focus on quality. Problem is some people never change.
          Thanks for your kind words. Thanks for being what you are, and thanks for being my friend. I am eagerly looking forward to reading yours soon. Take care and good luck.
        • You will have to sneak Jen back on too. 🙂
        • Carrie Zylka

          Hey!! If you two are going to organize a coup at least make sure to bring the good stuff!! 🙂 🙂

          • I can’t seem to reply to your earlier comment:

            “Ahh yes I can see where the confusion is coming from.

            We cannot, by law, keep your stories up once you asked us to remove them. I can’t remember when I did but it was within a day or two of your request that I went through and deleted them permanently.

            In fact I’m pretty sure I had already complied with your request before Alice even sent that email.”

            I just want to say that this is very disappointing but I obviously can’t do anything about it now. The email specifically said “…your stories and the list of winners that include your name will remain as is”, so I had no reason to think that they had been removed and every reason to think that they were still on your site.

            Guess I need to earn a little ESP. Now that would make a good story.

            Good luck to all the participants.


            • Carrie Zylka

              Well glad we could clear it all up so we can move forward with a clean slate. 😊

          • Alice Nelson

            Hey Jen, sorry I caused that confusion. After I sent the email Carrie told me we could not keep your stories since you own them. Hope to see your stories here again.

          • Carrie if I was able to bring whiskey or liquor I only bring quality. I may not drink much but if I do, it’s always quality. Probably that is why I do not drink because I cannot afford what I would want to drink. Does that sound right? 🙂
  • We’re back now, took me a few days to sober up 🙂 🙂
    • Hooyah girl!!! 😀 😀
  • Anindita Basu

    REFUGEES- the word jumped in two-inch bold black letters as I stretched the newspaper. Picture of a long line of people – people in bullock carts and on feet, some carrying an elderly one or a child in a basket on their heads, some dragging their belongings covered the front page.

    How awful, especially on the Independence Day! I thought there would be bagpipes singing patriotic tunes. There would be marches, celebrating the freedom of India. But all was quiet, in Mymensingh that day.
    I saw through the slats of the window- not a bird was chirping, not a leaf trembling with joy. The air was stiff, stunned. The sky- solemn grey. I decided to make a change.
    “ Going to Padma’s house, Ma.” I hollered strapping my sandals.
    “No, you’re not. Are you crazy? There is a curfew. Padma’s family is Muslim, we are Hindus. You are fourteen years old Khuku, I hope you understood these things.”
    “ Padma is my best friend, Ma, since we were six years old. Doesn’t matter, Hindu or Muslim. I wished you understood too.” I smacked back, ready to leave.
    Ma grabbed me by the arm. “You are not.” She locked the front door, the iron shackle clanked.
    I ran to my room. Slammed the door. Plopped on my bed burying my face on the pillow. Why do they always win? The ones with power but not with the right mind? I cried. At one time when the sobbing stopped the image of the refugees cropped up again. I felt pity for them.
    I walked into the garden. As I stretched myself under our favorite shiuli phool tree, on its soft blossoms with my diary, I was filled with a strange feeling- how I loved the smell of this soil, the smell of these tiny white and orange flowers.
    I grabbed a handful of them and let it rain. I squished a few and it playfully turned my palm to a carnelian mess, mimicking the hue of its orange stems. I ran to the Kachdighi (Glass Lake) and dipped my toes in its water. The water purled through the mossy pebbles, tiny fish swirled around my ankle. A dove cooed.
    THIS IS MY HOME. No one can take it away from me. I opened my diary and entered a new word. ‘Querencia’ (noun)- a place where one feels safe, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home.
    “Inquilab zindabad” shouted a mob with red placards in hands. A boy was beaten. People scurried, swarmed around his bloody body. Blood streaked our quiet cobbled neighborhood path. An egret that was standing still on one leg near the lake flew away. Crows cackled kaw kaw. Shutters of stores shut with loud thuds.
    That night we came to know that our neighborhood sweetmeat shop was looted. Dr. Banerjee’s apothecary was ransacked. Bottles of medicines were whacked, glass windows were broken. Young women were gang-raped in the little Hindu village across the Glass lake. One by one our relatives and Hindu friends were leaving.

    How could people change so quickly, I wondered when I was not invited to the Eid festival this year from the friends I knew all my life. Even Shamima reminded me that all our Hindu friends have already left and had the audacity to ask when were we leaving too.
    “ This is my home. Why should I leave? ” I protested.
    “ Because this is Pakistan now, dear friend.” She raised her eyebrow.
    I was almost going to punch her when I heard, “Do you remember how the Muslims are treated in Calcutta, like my aunt’s family.. what was their fault other than being Muslims?” I ran. I ran as fast as I could until I was out of breath. Then I reached the Station Road.
    A train was approaching fast like my destiny. Too fast to grab me. Its nostrils flared with fumes of anger, eyes red with rage. I closed my ears to shun its shrill whistles.
    The imagery ran in my mind all evening long, even when I was safe at home. Then I came to know the most dreaded decision of my parents. Yes, we were leaving too as soon as possible.
    All the furniture, the chaises, sofas, the large oval mirror were covered with huge white sheets as if we were soon to return from a vacation. They looked like covered dead bodies.
    My father stooped in the garden tending his carrots, pulling weeds forgetting that no one would eat them. Ma like every morning was mopping her prayer room, stringing marigold garlands while the statue of Krishna stood beside Radha with His omnipresent smile, with the flute in His hands. I wondered who would know what He meant to my Ma
    These would be looted, sold for the price of precious metal, or sold to an art dealer who’d sell it to an even bigger dealer and our Radha-Krishna would end up in a glass box, in a foreign museum as antique Indian art pieces. Oh Lord, where is your power to stop all these crazy nonsense? I questioned with tears. He kept smiling.
    It was time to go. Gypsy our German Shepard whined as I kissed her forehead. Her iolite eyes filled with tears. I was afraid animals understood more than humans. I turned at Padma’s window to see her one last time.
    A musty smell with cigarette smoke overwhelmed the tiny train compartment. Outside, my known world started moving away as the train picked up speed. The Indigo range of the Sushong hills, the ginger-tan Brahmaputra river, the simple people I knew all my life as our country folks, neighbors, were passing away. The patchwork of green fields bordered with brown ridges resembled my childhood quilt, the security blanket I used to drag everywhere. I felt a deep pang in my chest, my eyes blurry. I felt like running to that verdant vastness, hugging that soil.

    Our travel companion- a pot-bellied, scrawny attorney stretched his body over me clenching a cigarette between his teeth to shut the window. In the dark through his bifocals he looked at my father and started:
    “ It’s a different world now, Mr. Lahiri…this problem with the refugees. You’ll see that when you reach Sealdah station in Kolkata. Hundreds and thousands of refugees sitting on their trunks. Bewildered. Waiting.” His bulging eyes behind those bifocals looked eery, uncanny.
    “The food the government will give you, ” he paused to take a puff “in the beginning you won’t be able to eat ..but eventually…and the way people get sick.” He turned his face eyeing my little brother. “Men go out to seek fortune in the city, never come back.”

    Fortunately, the train entered to cross a bridge. Its loud roar drowned his voice. All dozed off.
    In the dim light, I pulled out my diary and found a new word to write: Hiraeth- (noun)- A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home that may never was, the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost place of your past.

    1194 words

    • Thank you Anindita for interesting story. All parts were equally valuable. Climazx was on last part : A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return. This also recalled some of the Hindi movie and Pakistani dram written in this line.
    • Anandita,
      Lovely writing. Wonderful contrast between the descriptive beauty of the young girl’s home against the bleak backdrop of xenophobic and religious discrimination. The final few paragraphs aptly describe the stark reality of what awaits refugees of all nationalities and cultures. This is a very moving story.
      • Anindita Basu
        Thank you Ken. History repeats itself … geography,…. the map only keeps changing, isn’t it?
    • Excellent writing, Anindita. Your love of language shines through – what do we have here? English, Hindi, Bengali, Spanish and Welsh? The story had me looking up more words than any other story since reading some Umberto Eco a few years back 🙂

      The story expertly tracks the narrator’s progression from witness to refugee herself, and her childhood experience and security – and innocence/naivety – are torn out from under her.

      There are too many nice touches to comment on! … The patchwork of fields like her quilt, the references to gemstones in association with things she holds dear, the insouciant god who keeps smiling while the world falls apart …

      A story with several layers, and I loved it.

    • Beautifully described, Anindita. Full of pathos and hope. I never expected to see the lovely word ‘Hiraeth’ in this forum. Reminds me of my home.
    • Hi, Anindita. I am finally in Kolkata. Your story as always, touches my heart. It reminds me of Taslima Nasrin and a story related to the Partition of India.
      Thank you for letting me add two beautiful words, i.e, ‘Querentia’ and ‘Hiraeth’ to my vocab.
      Take care and good luck with your story.
      • Anindita Basu
        I love beautiiful matter the language. Enjoy Kolkata, the city of joy. As I wrote you earlier I wrote a story about the partition..the seed of it was from stories I heard from my mother who had gone though it and now she is no more. This particular piece has a shadow of that writing. You like Taslima? I liked one of her book, name Lajja…I am not a super fan of hers though. Take care and relish the ilish in the monsoon. It must have started raining there?
    • Absolutely a great story, Anindita. I love the contrasts and you have depicted the sadness of a little girl leaving what she knows and loves and who is without malice or xenophobia but suffers because of others’ flaws and perspectives.
      Well done. A sterling effort.
    • Phil Town
      This is a lovely (sad) story, Anindita. The excellent descriptions of the narrator’s home make it so idyllic that we feel the ‘hiraeth’ along with her. I love this line: “My father stooped in the garden tending his carrots” … as if he too can’t accept that they have to leave. The stupidity of politics is also here – separating for the sake of … what? Nothing, really. People with a different religion? Absurd! Well rendered and touching.
    • Amy Meyer
      I liked your use of word definitions to tell the story– clever and original. There were a few grammar things that threw me out of the story, for example:
      “I wondered when I was not invited to the Eid festival this year from the friends I knew all my life.”- this could say “by the friends I had known all my life”. Overall your narrative was well paced and told an interesting story.
  • Adrienne Riggs
    Signing in for comments. Can’t wait to read the stories!
  • HOPE

    Another shot outside – the flash and crack. Like lightning, you could tell how far you were from it by the gap between light and sound; whoever it was, they were close. The gunfire was for effect, to frighten victims, make them more malleable.

    Maria bundled Juanita into the cupboard beneath the sink and squeezed in after her. She held her hand over her daughter’s mouth to stifle the sobs. If they were heard …

    The crash and crunch of mangled wood: the back door. Maria held her breath and tightened the grip on Juanita’s mouth. She could smell urine – Juanita’s.

    “Look upstairs!”

    Maria recognised the voice of Àngel, one of the local gang-leaders; ‘Àngel’ was a misnomer, if ever there was one.

    There were just the two of them, Maria guessed. Heavy footsteps on the stairs told her that Àngel was the one opening cupboards in the kitchen, throwing plates on the floor, knocking over the poor furniture that they had. She was sure that their cupboard would be next, that they’d be discovered, that …

    “Nothing.” The voice of the other man, which Maria didn’t recognise.

    “Shit!” said Àngel. “The whore must have taken off. We’ll have her next time. And that sweet Juanita.”

    The other man laughed – a filthy, cruel laugh.

    “Anything valuable upstairs?”

    “There’s this.”

    A pause while Àngel apparently inspected the find.

    “A piece of shit.”

    The sound of breaking porcelain. Maria knew what it would be.

    Àngel gave the order to leave. The two men’s footsteps crunched across the broken china of the plates and then there was relative silence – just their laughter receding down the alley that ran along the back of the house.

    Mother and daughter remained where they were, trembling. Maria took her hand away, releasing Juanita’s sobs.

    “Sssh, my darling.”

    She stroked her daughter’s hair until the sobs eased. They stayed that way for several minutes until Maria pushed the cupboard door open gently and peered out. She wasn’t going to trust that they’d gone until she saw it with her own eyes.

    “Stay here,” she whispered.

    The kitchen was clear of evil but strewn with broken crockery, and on the table, the shattered figure of the Virgin mother. Maria gathered the pieces up and placed them in a green cloth that she carefully folded. She put the small bundle to her lips and started sobbing herself.

    Juanita emerged from the cupboard and went to her mother, hugging her from behind. Standing there, in the midst of the destruction, Maria knew what they must do. She broke from Juanita and went to the skirting board at the foot of one of the walls, loosening a length of it and taking out a small package from the exposed recess.


    “Five hundred dollars.”

    Maria shook her head.

    “I cannot pay that.”

    “Then you don’t go.”

    Maria looked around at the others, gathered around the meagre fire crackling away in the clearing: exhausted faces, drawn through lack of proper nourishment, but with eyes that were determined and bright with hope.

    She left the guide and sat back down with Juanita, next to a young couple with a babe in arms.

    “It’s probably for the best, you know.” The young man addressed Maria. “We’ve heard that the patrols on the other side have been stepped up. The chances of making it over are … well …”

    “So why are you going then?” Maria was a little annoyed at the pessimism, especially as Juanita had overheard.

    The man pointed to the baby.

    “What future has he got here? We have to try.”

    Tears of frustration welled up in Maria’s eyes.

    Juanita touched her on the arm. Maria turned, and her daughter passed her something: a small, green bundle.

    Maria smiled gently at her daughter’s wisdom. She nodded and opened her bag, taking out the package she’d retrieved from the wall. She’d wanted to keep some money for when they got over the border, and this would leave them with very little. But, God willing, they’d work something out.

    She stood and approached the guide.

    “Five hundred, you said?”


    • Intense and involving story, Phil. Intense from the first words, as we’re dropped straight into the middle of a situation of violence and vulnerability with the visitation of the Angel of death.

      There’s quite some symbolism here with the contrast of this gang-leader ‘Angel’ and the shattered religious icon. Like Anindita’s statue of Krishna, an icon that fails to protect. And here may symbolise shattered beliefs – yet she picks up the pieces to take with her – a touching but perhaps forlorn hope

      The required element for the story is ‘a choice’ and I really like the way the story ends with exactly that, their choice. Which would inevitably have further dangers and uncertain results.
      You had the word-count to take the story further, but personally I like this ending in ambiguity, which must be the dangerous reality for so many refugees.

    • Intense and gripping. Phil, especially as we don’t know how it will turn out. Will they make it to safety ? A superb tension filled story that left me wanting more.
    • Anindita Basu
      Very nicely written Phil ..a story of the destiny of refugees..the dilemmas they face making the choice leaving their homes for an unknown foreign land.

      The shattered image of the Virgin Mary was touching. Tension was intense through out and I liked the ending.

    • Dear Phil,
      I spent 25 minutes or so trying to comment on your story, without any luck. But before that let me express my sincerest gratitude to Carrie and Alice for including my name in the Writing Prompt Roster. It is like a dream come true for me – finding my name along with the names of some truly wonderful people like you, Roy, Andy, Ken and a lot more.
      To come back to your story, Phil. You are making it increasingly difficult for me to comment on your stories due to lack of the choicest of adjectives. Initially I thought that the conclusion was a bit ambiguous. I realized, after the second reading, that it was sheer class. Maria reconfirming the amount to go across the borders for Freedom and a Secure Future for her daughter, is masterly done. That is where the title takes a new meaning and becomes all the more appropriate. The characterization of Maria is just amazing!
      God bless you, Phil. Keep writing and all the best.
    • Great story Philippe, great suspense, tension and drama. And all too accurate as well, I’m afraid.
    • Phil a well intertwined seamless story. You have the setting down to a fine art and the characters fit in like a master carpenter’s dove tail ends. They are so very real we could almost touch them.
    • A real journey there, Phil! I felt fear, I felt sadness, I felt disappointment and frustration. Most importantly, however, I felt hope. A well thought out and well written story. Well done!
    • Amy Meyer
      This story was fantastic! So well written and dramatic. A heartbreaking story which you told with great structure and pace.
  • Dear Phil, Story went smoothly. You explained the situation very nicely. I stocked in the last part where title “Hope” has to realized. How that five hundred dollar was managed?
  • Carrie and Alice. Don’t wait for me this week, I am away until the end of the month.
    • Alice Nelson

      Have a great time Maud!

  • robtemmett
    The Price of Survival
    by Robt. Emmett ©2018

    Sonya and I had a special bond. We were close, open, and honest with each other. She had been Mom’s maid since my sixth birthday, August 1946, fourteen years ago. Eighteen years old at the time, she spoke only Russian. Because of her, I could speak, write, and even think Russian.

    Over coffee in the breakfast nook of my parent’s home, we conversed in Russian. I glanced at Sonya. She was thirty-two years old, not hard on the eyes. I needed to ask, “How come you never date? I’ve seen plenty of guys at church eyeballing you. Yet you never date any of them. Are you queer?”

    She laughed. “Would that be true, I could live with it.”

    It dawned on me she had something painful and close held inside of her. “You have to let those bad memories out.”

    Her head turned and she stared out the window at the leafless trees in the backyard and said nothing for a long time. She shivered. “During the war, I had bad experiences with men.”

    Crap, I thought, I’ve opened a door and now I’m not sure I want to step through. “Continue.”

    It all started with the Nazi’s shelling which destroyed our apartment building in Stalingrad. My parents died. I was alone with no place to live, nothing to eat, and only the clothes on my back.” She started to weep.

    I reached out and took her hand in mine.

    “You must understand,” she said, “the times were very difficult during World War 2. I had little choice. I needed to survive. I was twelve the first time I trade my only possession of value for half a loaf of black bread and a place to sleep the night.”

    I interrupted her and asked what she’d traded?

    Lowering her head, she said softly, “Me. Understand that a price had to be paid for every morsel of food, for a place to sleep, for any and everything.”

    She sighed, took a deep breath, and continued.

    “Late in nineteen forty-two, I became the mistress of a Colonel. I was his fourth mistress. The others had gotten pregnant and he sent them to the women’s combat Battalions. They all died. I was determined not to be one of the replacements. Stalin’s armies surrounded the German and they surrendered in February of forty-three. The city was in total ruin. There were the many difficult days between the German’s defeat at Stalingrad and the spring of forty-five.

    My Colonel kept me safe, except … he wasn’t a bad man, when he was sober, that is. The days were long and the nights longer.

    “In April of forty-five, I learned the Russian and American armies were about to meet at Torgau, on the Elbe River. I asked him if I could go to the Americans. I must have pleased him because he said he would try to work it out, and he did. He sent me to an old friend with instruction to get me to the first American unit possible. The friend’s driver, a mean man, and his bodyguard, a grizzled, hairy, Ukrainian sergeant, were to drive me to the Elbe River and wait.”

    “We waited by the river. It was a long two-day wait during which they … they….”

    A few minutes later, composed, she continued.

    “Afterward, they would beat me savagely. My clothes were torn. My chest, my face, I hurt most terrible, everywhere. I was a black and blue mess. My left eye was swollen shut. Somehow, I managed to stagger to the car and crawl into the rear seat to hide. Then I saw it, the sergeant’s pistol. I knew a little about guns. I left the car and staggered toward them. I hid the gun behind my tattered skirt. I needed to be close. When I was, I pointed the gun at them and pulled the trigger … nothing. I quickly flipped the safety off. The sergeant was near to me. Again, I pulled the trigger. His face disappeared. Too late, I realized the driver had followed the sergeant. I could not escape him. He grabbed me. He had a hand on the gun. He wrestled me to the ground. The gun fired, he screamed. I freed myself and stood. His arm was bleeding. I pointed the gun at his head. Then, I don’t know why, but I didn’t want him to die quickly.”

    She sighed. “I should have blown his brains out. I didn’t. I shot him elsewhere.”

    Elsewhere? I wondered.

    “He was an animal. I kept pulling the trigger until the gun was empty. Now, some nights, not often anymore, his high-pitched screams awaken me. He died slowly, painfully.

    “Worse, I’m glad he did.

    After a long sip of her cold coffee, “About my rescue, I do not know how. All I remember is running toward the river, I fell and banged my head. I was on a boat when I regained consciousness. Three men, an officer, and two others were leaving the Russian side. One man announced, ‘Colonel Langford, she’s awake.’ I was confused. He was wearing Captain’s bars. The two men who were rowing seemed to be leering at me.

    “I had had it. I gave up. My mind screamed, enough. I no longer wanted to live. I paid too much for my life. I tried to throw myself over the side of the boat one of the men pulled me back.

    “After that, I don’t know, the days blurred. Then, I awoke in a bathtub. A young woman in a white uniform was scrubbing the years of grime from me. I took the soap from her. It smelled wonderful. I did not give it back.”

    I squeezed her hand gently. She’d bared her soul, yet I sensed she was holding back. “Finish your story.”

    “You are young, and I do not know if you can comprehend.”

    “Am a college freshman, of courses, I can,” I said.

    She eyed me for a long moment. “The American who rescued me, a Captain Langford, took me to the Army hospital. I received strong medicines to cure the evils all those men had given me.”

    I shrugged, “Great.”

    She slapped the table. “Robin, you are not appreciating what I am telling you.


    She pursed her lips disapprovingly, “I cannot have children. Men, all men want children. It would be unjust for me to gain a man’s love and deny him what he desires most. As badly as I have been treated by them, I could not be that deceitful, never.”

    Now I understood her meaning. “The right guy’ll love you for you.” I stood and stretched. “I hope my listening’s helped.”

    She smiled and relaxed. “It has. Thank you for asking and for your understanding. I have held onto these bad memories far too long.”

    “Oh, by the way,” I asked, “this Captain Langford, what happened to him after he rescued you?”

    “He brought me here.” She said.

    “To America,” I asked.

    “Here to your parent’s home.”

    I was confused, “What, why?”

    She chuckled, “Because your Aunt Margaret did not….”

    “What, are you saying that this Captain Langford is…?”

    “Yes, your Uncle Lang is my Captain Langford.”

    [1200 words]

    • Dear Robt, Story moved smoothly and easy to understand. Yes for some people survival of life becomes very costly. By the way there are three ways the readers read a story. One, they skip the lines to catch key points of the story. Two, they skip till the suspense is open. Three they read slowly so that story do not finish quickly because each lines are interesting. Your story is near to type three.
    • Anindita Basu
      Lovely story.
    • Dear Robt,
      The mere fact that I read your story after Phil’s and still enjoyed it immensely, speaks volumes about your skills as a writer. Any story written in the background of the WW-II is bound to be a smasher. Yours sure is. Brought to mind time and again Irving Wallace’ epic novel “Prize”.
      The dialogues are crisp and Sonya. What can I say about her? I just wish that I could be the knight in shining armor for her!
      Thanks for such a ravishing story and good luck.
    • Great story Robert. Very entertaining. Nice ending. Reminds me of my Aunt Francis. (Who has been dead now for decades.) She was a peculiar looking woman. Her ethnic origins were a complete mystery, but she seemed, in certain physical ways to be at least half-black. She doted on me and my sister, she was tough as nails, lived her entire life in a not too savory part of New York City. My father evaded every question ever asked about her, until one time I pinned him down, and refused to settle for a joke or evasion. He said, “I don’t know where she came from. She was always there, from as early as I can remember. And she always looked after me.”
      I was doubtful that he never asked her where she came from. But I asked him about it years after her death and he said no. He never did.
    • Phil Town
      A harrowing story for Sonya, Robert – not uncommon in warfare, even today (that women especially are punished). The scene by the river is well described and very graphic, but needs to be: the war has brutalised Sonya. The relationship between the two main characters is nicely drawn. As it is, I felt it a little unrealistic that Sonya would open up so much to the narrator about such traumatic events, just because he asked the one time; maybe it could have been that he was always insisting, over a period of time, and she finally gives in (?)
    • I was sure I’d commented on your story earlier, Rob, but seems not …?

      I think it’s very well-written and effective. Rape and the abuse of women during wartime and as instruments of war and terror are difficult subjects to handle. And it was of course particularly prevalent on the Eastern front in the war (though not only there). You provide an effective framework in the family setting for Sonya to reveal what she has been through, and the continuing impacts.

      One of the most harrowing books where this is central comes out of the Bosnian War, ‘S.: A Novel about the Balkans’
      I really couldn’t bear reading it, but had to keep turning the pages: gripping, repelling and extremely important at the same time. This is humanity just below the surface, and your story too is a reminder of that.

    • Amy Meyer
      I really enjoyed the story told by Sonya: it was sad but very interesting. I thought that the dialogue felt a little stilted. I agree with the other comments that she wouldn’t have opened up so quickly. The twist at the end worked well too.
  • No Place Like Home

    Yonas was not alone in feeling seasick. He had been on a boat once before, but not in weather like this. Tonight the wind was high, the Mediterranean choppy. Waves swelled around them, and each time the boat plunged downwards his stomach was left behind.

    Around him many of the other 200 or so migrants were hanging over the side and retching on near-empty bellies. Others had given up and simply vomited where they sat.

    The vessel lurched and creaked unrhythmically, and each time the moon disappeared behind the fast-moving clouds many recited their prayers more urgently. Yonas pressed the St Christopher he kept around his neck to his lips, and tried to remain upbeat. After all, he had paid the traffickers considerably more to ensure he travelled in a sea-worthy boat.

    He’d heard tales of desperate hundreds crammed into rubber dinghies or leaking fishing boats that failed to survive the journeys. And now with the new hard line from European countries, the rescue boats funded by charities were confined to port. It was now up to the Libyan and Tunisian coastguards to deter the traffickers or save refugees, as circumstances allowed. Or, more profitably, to look the other way as traffickers took their human cargo across.

    “You look worried, my friend,” said a man sitting across from Yonas, with a chuckle.

    “A little,” said Yonas. “Who wouldn’t be?”

    The man smiled broadly. “I’m Somali. I was born on the sea! A real sea. This Mediterranean is just a small pond, my friend, so have no fear. My name is Tadalesh.” He stretched out his hand, and they shook hands firmly.


    “Let me guess. Ethiopian?”


    “I can tell, even when you speak English. There were many Ethiopians in the detention camp. And people from every nation. All waiting their turn to go across. But I am an impatient man!”

    “You escaped?”

    “Ah, they are so badly organised. And everywhere there are people who want to make a little extra. I walked out, with my head held high.”

    “I heard if you go in, it can take a lifetime to get out. So I make my own way too.”

    Tadalesh looked over Yonas’ shoulder out into the dark, and motioned with his chin for Yonas to look as well. “Can you see the lights in the distance? I think that must be Malta.”

    “Does that mean we’re getting near?”

    “Not near enough!”

    They sat for a while in companionable silence.

    “What do you miss most about your homeland, Yonas?” asked Tadalesh.

    “Ah, where do I begin?” said Yonas, a wistful smile crossing his face. “The sunsets across the valley. The singing, we were always singing. Church picnics.”

    “Church picnics!”

    They both laughed.

    “How about you, Tadalesh?”

    “Ah, there are many things I do not miss at all about my homeland. It is the ‘who’, not the ‘what’ that I miss. My family. My little sister, Yasmiin. So smart and confident! Inshallah, we will be reunited soon.”

    “I will pray that it will be so, my friend.”

    Tadalesh turned to look at the man sitting next to Yonas, who was taking deep breaths to overcome his seasickness. “And what about you, my friend? You look like Syrian. But if I’m right, it seems strange you are on the Libyan route. It’s a bit out of your way …”

    “Yes, I am Syrian, from Aleppo. I’m Adnan.”

    They all shook hands. Adnan waved towards a small group of women, some of the few on the boat. “Over there that is my wife, my two daughters, and my mother.”

    “So you bring your whole world with you?” said Tadalesh.

    “Yes – and food!” Adnan beckoned his family to come across, and opened his battered holdall to take out his food to share.

    “But surely it’s better for you to go by land, through Turkey?” asked Tadalesh.

    “It would be. But it’s not possible. Everywhere on that route there are fences on the borders now. Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece …This was our only choice.”

    The seas began to calm, and the terrors subsided. More refugees began to introduce themselves, sharing their stories and meagre rations. Yonas struck up a song from his homeland, and some voices from the other end of the boat joined in. Then Adnan’s daughters sang a sweet Syrian song, and others joined in with songs from their nations and regions.

    “What’s that?” called out someone, and everyone looked towards where he was pointing. The singing petered out.

    “It’s OK,” Tamasso, the boat’s captain, called out to his passengers as an Italian navy light patrol frigate came into view. “We need to stop while they take a look at us. Keep calm. Nothing to worry about.”

    Soon the frigate loomed close by, shining searchlights across the boat and its passengers. Then it moved on, instructing Tomasso to follow.

    The sun rose on the next day, and still the Italian ship led them on, well into Libyan waters before turning to leave.

    In the distance they could see land. “Africa!” cried someone. A loud cheer arose and the passengers began to hug each other, realising their journey was almost over. Only Adnan and his family seemed downcast.

    “I guess there isn’t much of Aleppo to return to,” said Yonas, putting his hand on Adnan’s shoulder.

    Adnan shook his head sadly. “We cannot return. But we could not stay in Germany either.”

    “How long were you there?”

    “Six years, in Munich. At first, they welcomed us. Our German neighbours took us into their hearts and their homes. Taught us German. Helped me find work, my wife too. Helped the children get into schools.”

    “What is your job?”

    “I’m an engineer. My wife is a doctor. Safa is medical student, and Lena, well, she has to decide. I think half the Syrian middle class came to Europe. And now they don’t want us.”

    “Six years? Surely they would let you stay,” offered Yonas.

    “We applied. But always complications. Then this new government came, and when they started building a detention centre just outside our town …”

    “Yes, now it’s the same everywhere. Even France and Spain. And no one gets to England anymore.”

    “First Merkel welcomed us, saying they needed a million of us to support their ageing population. Now they treat us like outlaws, like rapists and thieves. Politicians call us terrorists. Their supporters attack our homes. Even our German friends are frightened now. It’s no place to bring up daughters.”

    “Same in the Netherlands,” said Tadalesh. “I would never bring Yasmiin there now. So Tadalesh returns! But where will you go, Adnan, my friend?”

    “Maybe Lebanon. Or Dubai. Maybe stay in Libya a while – they say it seems more peaceful these days. It’s in God’s hands.”

    “Everyone come to Ethiopia,” called Yonas brightly, as he gathered his belongings to disembark in the quiet fishing port chosen by the traffickers. “You’ll always be welcome there. Come join me on a church picnic!”

    They all laughed.

    Then Yonas stepped onto the harbour and knelt down to kiss the ground, thanking God for his return to the safety of African soil.

    (1188 words)

    • Dear Andy, I went through all lines of the story. Conversation going on on boat among the people, all displaced, from different paces was interesting. I was not familiar with Church Picnic, now I got it. I am not clear why people laughed both times when Yonas spelled “Church Picnic”. Is it (Church Picnic) a matter of laughing? Any way I enjoyed.
      • Hi Nam – glad you enjoyed it (hope you really did!)
        The thing about the church picnic is that it’s something very ordinary, simple, local that he misses, where he feels safe. Coming after saying he misses the sunsets, it might seem a little mundane.
        It also confirms that he is a Christian, whereas those he talks to are Muslims. At the end he refers back to it, and they laugh because it’s unlikely they would all meet again in Ethiopia (very distant) and at a Christian church event. I’m sure they would be welcome, but they laugh because it’s very unlikely 🙂
        On the boat, though, they do form a small community in adversity, and all victims of hostility in the place they had hoped would bring them a better life when they first went there.
    • “No Place Like Home” is a very realistic story glimpsing the present world scenarios. The settings, the plot and the characters are delineated skillfully. There is something about Yonas calling out to all the refugees to join him in Ethiopia, towards the end. A promise? Hope? The dialogues are quintessentially Andyian (?), as is the hopeful ending.
      Another super-duper story, Andy. God bless you.
      • Many thanks, Rathin!
    • Fabulous story, Andy. Entertaining and politically (and sadly) relevant.
    • Great dialogue and good story Andy.
      • Many thanks, Ilana
    • Phil Town
      That’s a great story, Andy. I especially like the way that these people, from all walks of life and from all religions, are joined by a common element – the flight from xenophobia – and can co-exist in peace and harmony, for however short a time and in a ‘false’ environment (the boat). And of course, the brilliant twist halfway through: they’re going home. The idea of ‘home’ as a shining beacon is a very strong one (like in Anindita’s story, only the other way round). Maybe the dialogue on the boat could be punctuated here and there with vomiting and stuff, to remind us where they are?
      • Many thanks, Phil. You’ve found the very heart of the story in your comments, about the co-existence of the people and the pull of ‘home’. Except for the Syrians, whose home is uncertain. Adnan’s family have many choices, and no choice, at the same time.

        The reverse migration is revealed half way through as you say, when at first it might seem they were coming to Europe. The Italian ship is there to see the boat away from Europe, reflecting the real-life hard-line policy from their new populist xenophobic government.

        Actually (critiquing myself now) I felt maybe the story gets a bit flat at that point (?) and maybe I could have left the Italian navy out of it. Then I could have had room for more vomiting or sharper dangers etc. But I got seasickness and vomiting out of my system at the start to focus on the dialogue and interactions 🙂

    • Amy Meyer
      A heartfelt and well written story– well done! The ending rounded the story off satisfyingly. I liked how you had a sweet story of comradery and friendship against a harsh backdrop.
  • Dear Carrie,
    I seem to have the devil’s own time accessing this site. My knowledge about computers is as meagre as my knowledge about the internet! Is there any way I can have the stories along with the comments directed to the following email address?
    I am asking for the favour in order to be able to cast my vote tomorrow.
    With loads of love and good wishes.
    • Carrie Zylka

      No problem, I’ll see if I can get it to work, so if you see a random comment using that email address…it’s just me impersonating you!

    • Carrie Zylka
      Check your email at

      You should receive an email that you’ll have to click on the link to activate it.

      If you don’t see it, be sure to check the gmail promotions and spam folders.

      • Dear Carrie,
        I did receive your email and click on it for activation. It is complicated. I have to register with WordPress first. But in that case I’d have a different account. I am quite confused not knowing how to vote. Sorry for troubling you every now and then.
  • Safety of the Shore

    I sat on the wall overlooking the white-sand beach, watching the mass of natives that flocked to the seaside like a herd of sheep seeking shelter in a familiar pasture, all gathered around the shepherd’s crook.

    It had been four months since I had arrived from Somalia, yet I was still unaccustomed to this sense of freedom, the chains broken by borders invisible to the eye, the ocean’s vast reach overlooked by those content with their situation. A bead of sweat trickled down my spine, its smooth path disturbed by the discs that poked up under my skin. I was well adjusted to the heat, its touch barely warming my skin as people melted around me.

    The coast stretched off to my right, the curved headland jutting far out into the sea, the blue water contained but not trapped, restricted but not limited in its abilities. It pulsed like a living being, each wave that crested onto the shore a long exhale. My gaze travelled along the horizon as I searched for a boat, a small dingy carrying refugees, including my brother, to the safety of the shore. It never appeared, but still I looked and still I hoped.

    What other option was there?

    I vaulted off the wall and landed on the beach, a small puff of sand rising around my legs. The grains were hot, each particle vulnerable to the direct rays of sunlight, but my soles were tough and worn. The dust of eroded rocks kissed my feet as I headed toward the shoreline.

    The beach was infested with people, families and friends, congregated together along the coast. They shared food and laughter, some under gazebos and others on one side of windbreaks. Many, however, sat with the sky as their roof, disposable campfires cooking slabs of meat, others passing around cooling drinks.

    I wove through the crowds, trying not to stare but finding it hard not to, my gaze drawn involuntarily to such happiness. As the sun beat down, it was hard to see why people wouldn’t be happy. Why had that not been the case for us? We were under the same sky and sun, travelling over the same ocean that connected the whole world. Why had our cares not evaporated too? I looked for familiar faces, for friendly features and a wave of recognition, but none came. A few did smile shyly as their dogs ran over. I latched onto those displays of kindness with all the strength I had.

    Their happiness as units glowed brighter than the sun, its radiance inviting me in, warming my insides as my skin soaked up the rays. My thoughts turned to my own family, a unit broken by war and turmoil, my parents beyond the reach of the living, my brother captured beyond the reach of anyone’s aid. We’d been happy at one point, but it hadn’t lasted. It rarely does. I clung to the memories we had, of telling stories under the stars, of helping my mother carry water back to our hut, of our village coming together, pooling our resources in times of celebration – my brother’s wedding and the birth of his daughter. I clung to them even though they had long passed and could never be reached again.

    Watching people’s memories take form as an observer rather than a participant, I wondered at how they would hold these seconds dear in times to come. I prayed it was enough to sustain them.

    The dry sand turned damp. A few shattered shells cut into the rough skin of my heels. I dared not go any further. I had never learned to swim, and the fear of the sea, of travelling over unknown depths in a cramped boat with no idea of where we were headed, only knowing for sure that we could never turn back, was enough to cement my fear entirely.

    Once I stepped off that boat, feeling firm land under me, I had sworn I would never go near the sea again.

    I looked out over the blue expanse, the water turning a clear green under pillars of gold. No boat appeared in the distance, no pleading shouts hurled at us by the breeze. Everything was peaceful.

    With a steadying inhale, I walked into the shallows and submerged my feet up to my ankles. A few strands of seaweed brushed my skin. It was cool, refreshing, the smell of salt clearing my head and cleansing my body. I could still feel the ground beneath me. The water turned murky when I wiggled my toes and churned up the bed, but it settled once I stilled, clarity overcoming chaos.

    I needed to learn how to swim. I needed to learn how to survive. I needed to learn how to save myself. I didn’t know what the future might hold, but maybe this safe place would turn against me, and I would need to escape. What then? I couldn’t rely on anyone but myself. I’d learnt that the hard way.

    My life. My choice.

    Pushing myself forward, the waves breaking around my calves, I submerged myself up to my thighs and let my fingertips graze the surface. All around me were children, teenagers and adults embracing the sea completely, their heads bobbing under the surface, splashing one another with chiming laughter.

    I remained there for some time, all the while looking out into the distance. No boat came. When my body turned cold, goosebumps prickling my legs, the water no longer so inviting, I waded back to the shore. It hadn’t been much, but it was a step in the right direction.

    A step toward a brighter future.

    (944 words)

    • Thank you Williams for interesting story. You made “safety of the shore” very nicely. Actually story itself was very safe and sustained in the shore. I enjoyed the scene and situation you described. “–while looking out into the distance. No boat came” That provided you make the interesting part of the story.
      • Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Nam! I appreciate it more than you know. I had been at the beach the day before, so hope I captured the essence well 🙂 Again, thank you from the bottom of my heart and I’m really glad you liked it x
        • Nice story, Charlotte. I am just bowled over by the beauty of your language. There is something serene, something majestic about the description of the whole setting.
          I needed to learn how to swim … survive….how to save myself. BEAUTIFUL.
          I have this feeling that the ending is more poignant and meaningful than one would have me believe! Hope to see more of yours in the coming weeks. Best of luck with your story.
          • Charlotte Williams
            I am completely and utterly overwhelmed with your lovely message. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making my evening 1000 times better. I am so glad that you liked my description, and am overjoyed that you loved the story. Yes, more is definitely to come😊 Again, thank you!
    • P Craven
      So good !!!
      • Charlotte Williams
        EYYYYYY THERE SHE IS, thanks queen😘😘😘😘
    • Beautiful writing Charlotte. And a beautiful story, too.
    • The beach was infested with people, families and friends, congregated together along the coast.

      Think of a different word for infested. It makes the people sound like vermin or pests and that was not what you intended, was it?

      With a steadying inhale, I walked into the shallows and submerged my feet up to my ankles

      Do you mean inhalation here? Perhaps rework this sentence. With a steady inhalation or a deep breath –simply suggestions, but it is your writing and you be the master of it. You can say this better with a bit of editing.

      Otherwise a very good story with a lot of well written images interlaced within the girl’s thoughts.

      • Charlotte Williams
        ‘Infested’ is indeed what I meant, Ilana! I wanted to create the image of the beach being entirely overrun with people, riddled with them, in fact. I also chose the word to juxtapose how the people on the beach might view the boy, as many (not something I agree with, of course) view refugees as ‘infesting’ the countries they seek refuge in, which, of course, is ridiculous as he is the only one mentioned. I can understand, however, how that image might not have been interpreted, as it just goes down to its symbolic use and further connotations 🙂

        As for ‘with a steady inhale’ – I just thought that sounded more natural than ‘inhalation’. I have certainly never used the word, and as going to the beach is seen in itself as casual ad relaxing, I decided to say it in a way that was more natural to me. I will, however, take your suggestion on board.

        Thank you for your lovely comments 🙂

        • *the narrator* rather than ‘the boy’.

          Upon further reflection, I do see that perhaps the word ‘infested’ was not the right one to use, and will consider this during my next piece of writing. Thank you ever so much, Ilana, for your very well placed constructive criticism. I take it all with gratitude and will keep it in mind when next writing. 🙂

    • Very vivid writing. There’s something almost classic (I’m guessing you read a lot of 19th century literature…) about the imagery of the sea / the narrator’s relationship to it, and the new unfamiliar, terrifying yet hopeful world she/he is dipping her/his toes into.

      I really enjoyed your story and use of language.

      • I cannot express how extremely grateful I am for your comment, Andy. I am a huge fan of Daphne Du Maurier and Tolkien, as well as the Bronte sisters, and am finally (it’s well overdue) dipping my own toes into the realm of Jane Austen! They all heavily influence my personal writing style, though I hope I can add an individual twist to it. Again, thank you for your heart-felt comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed my story. I hope you’re well 🙂
    • Phil Town
      Beautiful description, Charlotte. Not a lot happens, but we’re there, seeing, feeling and hearing. There’s sadness (the lost past), safety (the now) and hope, all very smoothly intertwined. I agree with Ilana about ‘infested’ … but it’s a lovely story.
      • Charlotte Williams
        Thank you very much, Phil! While I explained my own reasons for choosing the word ‘infested’ , as it does not translate to the reader, then I will consider the impact of specific words more thoughtfully in the future. Thank you for the feedback, as it will help me to grow and develop! Best wishes to you and yours 🙂
  • Displaced approx(978)

    There is no light. Darkness invades again and again. I want to fight it with all my remaining strength. But it conquers every time. It’s like having a hand wrestle with someone ten times stronger who is playing with you. They play with your weakness of body and mind. Then, finally they grow tired of the game and slam you down. SNAP and you are left helpless and wanting.
    Oh I do remember the boat and the trip on it. We had fled in the night. Victory for the north was defeat and death for us if we stayed. So we left our home amidst the flooded rice paddies, and our market garden replete with good things to eat for us and our customers.
    We fled on foot to the coast with some food and a meagre amount of cash which my parents handed over to a man who promised us transport to a sanctuary over the ocean.
    The boat was a floating bucket; the decking and hull interior of which was smeared with human and rat excrement, remains of previous escapees presence and it was in this we were crammed. Seventy six beings of various ages with all one thing in common; to remain in our homeland was to invite death. We had all been loyal to the wrong side. My father had been a captain in the army. The first thing he had done on hearing of the Americans’ departure and the North’s victory was to burn his uniform and anything that connected him to his army service. However, he was too well known and it was only a matter of time before someone hoping to curry favour with the new administration would point him out to those who were cleansing the south of those “traitors” and whose ideological perspective was suspect and “tainted “by the American capitalists.
    The boat was supposed to take us to safety. Instead we entered hell never to return. The boat trip was supposed to take three to four weeks we were told. It took us closer to six weeks. Six weeks of tossing on waves, drenched with sea water, rain and spray, with little food and even less comfort. Six weeks of hunger assuaged by raw fish caught with remaining food scraps. Six weeks of waiting – between sleep and waking for a sight of land that came eventually. Then the pirates found us.
    It was a crease of green on the horizon. A cheer went up in the boat which now numbered sixty-five as eleven souls had departed into the ocean depths in the past few weeks. Starvation when you are already half-starved does little for good health. My baby brother Huy was one of the first to decide this voyage was not for him and departed. My mother woke one morning to find the fever he had been running for the past five days had abated. It was replaced with blue lipped coldness from which he could not be roused. The elderly grand-parents of another family also clasped each other in a death-locked embrace.
    The cheers were replaced by a quietness when we saw a boat cutting across through the ocean waves. We were quieter still when we saw the flag it flew as it approached us. Some who cried were silenced by their relatives.
    They boarded. Screams in a language we did not understand, then something we recognised as English.
    “Money! You got money? Cash!” People huddled in forlorn groups on the deck. When they shook their heads, the swords slashed faces and limbs until the deck was awash with red and human meat. They laughed, as though they enjoyed this macabre work of butchery.
    I remember the screams and blood everywhere. My father fell over me. They hacked at his head and back. I, frozen with fear, lapsed into a catatonic state of confusion. I remember nothing more.
    The lapping water woke me. The boat had beached on a sand bar. All around me lay what were once people, now they were meat carcasses buzzing with flies. That sound too echoes in my consciousness, invades my dreams and blights my conscious moment. My psychiatrist told me to think of bees and more positive things. But I cannot.

    Something always brings me back to it. It may be the buzz of a saw in woodwork, or bees in the lavender bushes in my school garden or the sound of a phone buzzing. I remember only the blood and bloat carcasses of my family and others on the boat. Only three of us survived. The others were older than my five years. I wonder if they remember what I do.
    Sometimes I want to hurt others as I have been hurt. The desire is so strong. Yesterday I hit a boy who called me “chink “and “slope”. I am not sure how long I can control this impulse to destroy what others love, just as they destroyed what I loved. My aunt, my mother, and my two sisters. Before I forgot what I forgot, I saw the pirates pull their clothes off and violate them in turns, before shoving a sabre between their legs and gutting them like pigs preparing them for a spit. I saw their entrails litter the deck of the boat before I fainted.
    Now when I remember too much, I rock until the pictures I see in my mind are no longer there. With rocking, I erase them. I sit and rock and rock, knocking my head on the wall helps to ease the pain, and it shatters the pictures. Then I can, sometimes, I can cry. I can cry for my family who once existed. Now there is only the new which is not mine. The family which tries but is not the one I was born with. Just kind people who know not my pain. Who do not understand the darkness of wanting to be with those who birthed you, those who you saw killed. Those whose soft breath and words you will remember till your dying day. Those who were your older sisters, your young brother, your beautiful mother and strong father. You carry them in your heart and the burden is so heavy.
    The burden is so heavy, but it is the only place you can have them now.

    • Good Lord. That was a — that story was so graphic and horrible, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had nightmares tonight. A chillingly grotesque story that pushes the limits of — the limits of keeping your food down. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You excel at horror as few others can. Excellent writing Ilana. Incredible story.
      • Sorry Ken, I was just trying to capture the anguish of a refugee boy from Vietnam. I had a student many years ago in 1989 when I was doing my ESL teaching unit at a school with predominantly Cambodian and Vietnamese students.I had a class with a student who periodically broke off from the group and sat and bashed his head against the wall, grasped his face in fisted hands and he would moan.
        I was told he had flash backs to the time pirates boarded the boat he was on and slaughtered everyone on the boat except some kids who were under the bodies of their parents and the other adults and children. He was around 8 or 9 and saw his mother and sisters raped and gutted and the men cut to pieces or shot. Apparently the pirates were interrupted in their grisly work by a gunboat from Malaysia or Thailand. Forget which, but the anguish of that poor child remained with me down through the years. I am not so happy with the story as it is a lot of telling rather than showing, but maybe it is more effective getting into the head of a refugee through him/her telling their own story. Everyone will have a different perspective.
        I read one story where dialogue was used to capture the essence of a refugee experience on a boat.I had played with the idea of a dialogue but decided against it, or did I decide against it, or the story decided to lend itself to an inner monologue.
        And writing horror is quite easy with the kind of horror siblings and their families that I had to deal with. I had a brother who tried to drown me when I was 8 and a half and the same brother shot at me as a joke and also tried to poison me. The second brother and my American SIL are psychopaths of the first order. I have kept emails they sent me after my mother died last year and my SIL version of how well she got on with my mother and father was remarkably different to their versions of what they really thought of her. So you could say, horror has been with me for a long long time, through my childhood since my grandmother died and also when my father died and then what happened to Mum.
        I could tell stories of psychological abuse and torture but I do have to thank them for making me a better and more intuitive writer who can pick up the slightest nuances in body language and speech.
        I tend to read people I meet too easily.
    • Great and hard-edged story, Ilana. You’ve done a great job of getting inside of the mind of someone who has suffered terribly. And your comment about the background makes the reality of it all the more terrible.

      Many of the people driven out in the 1970s were ethnic Chinese – one of the biggest and worst acts of ethnic cleansing in modern history. Sadly your story may be representative of the experiences of many.

      I had an older colleague back in the 90s who, as a child, was part of the overland exodus of ‘foreigners’ from Burma (he was half-Asian), escaping the Japanese. Many Indians who had settled under British rule took this journey too. He saw things no child should see and lost family members, including his father, on the long march into India. He was in his 60s when he wrote a book about it as a way to try to come to terms with his experiences.

    • Wow, Ilana. This is a VERY powerful piece, and I fear that your words will also now be carried in my heart, not as a burden but as an anchor.

      ‘My mother woke one morning to find the fever he had been running for the past five days had abated. It was replaced with blue lipped coldness from which he could not be roused. The elderly grand-parents of another family also clasped each other in a death-locked embrace.’ Beautiful, in a haunting sort of way, but nonetheless beautiful. I especially love the ‘blue-lipped coldness’, as its simplicity speaks volumes. A wonderful example of show, don’t tell. I loved every second.

    • Phil Town
      Ilana, this may be the best thing I’ve read of yours, and you’ve written some great stuff in the past. We’re in the mind of this person, we can see and feel their nightmares – and they ain’t pretty. I like how the country is kept anonymous: just ‘north’ and ‘south’ … it could be anywhere (sadly). The pirate attack is so horrific, but terrifically well described. And the last part – where the narrator sums up his/her current existence – is just beautifully rendered. Bravo!
    • Amy Meyer
      Jeez! Very visceral and graphic.
      I thought some of your prose could have been tightened up. For example: “It’s like having a hand wrestle with someone ten times stronger who is playing with you.” could read “It’s like an arm-wrestle with someone ten times stronger.”
      Your use of imagery is great. I particularly liked the buzzing of flies on human carcasses vs the bea’s around lavender! Very memorable.
    • Anindita Basu
      Beautifully written. The emotion is so real that it touches the reader.
  • Dear Ilina, I went through your story, a pain of displaced people. The last para was serious. “Now there is only the new which is not mine”. “Just kind people who know not my pain” these two points touched me.
    • Thank you Nam
  • Test for comments.
  • Amy Meyer
    by Amy Meyer (1,200 words)

    Miguel leaned over the ship’s railings and was sick down the side of the boat. Flori patted his back, feeling useless. She wrinkled her nose as the smell of vomit mixed with the cold salty sea air. After the rough seas of their two day journey, she was relieved to finally be able to see the shore.
    Miguel turned away from the rail, his eyes red and watery. He clutched Flori’s hand and asked,“Where’s Mamá?”
    “We’re going away for a few weeks, remember. Mama couldn’t come with us,” said Flori. She though back to the last time they’d seen her, in the packed and sweaty mass of people at Santurtzi. She had hugged her mother tight as they said their goodbyes.
    “Look after your brother,” her mother said, “Keep him with you, don’t let him out of your sight”
    “I won’t let go,” she had promised.
    The ship approached a grey industrial dock, which was swarming with people. They’d told her it was called Southampton.

    Twenty minutes later, they heard a relayed call to get into to a queue.
    “Miguel, we need to move,” Flori said, “Feeling better?”
    He nodded and she steered him away from the railings.
    Flori watched Mrs. García rounding up children, a white band tied to her wrist, and a worried expression on her face. They jostled forward in the queue as the swirling chaos of children on deck began to settle into an calm line.
    “You’re hurting,” said Miguel and Flori realised that she was tightly gripping his hand.
    “Sorry,” she said, slightly releasing her pressure, “Just don’t let go.”

    “Boys this way, girls this way,” called Mrs. García, directing the children into two different lines.
    Flori looked at Miguel’s skinny form and decided that she would have more luck posing as a boy than he would as a girl. She pulled her grubby hair into a knot on her head, then plucked Miguel’s cap off and secured it on her own.
    “Don’t say a thing,” she hissed to Miguel, as she led them into the queue of boys.
    Flori rocked nervously from one foot to the other as they waited, moving slowly forward. Five tense minutes later, they entered the saloon and saw that all the furniture had been piled in the corner, leaving a neat line of four screened areas on either side of the room. Mrs. Garcia, the teacher closest to them put a gentle hand on Flori’s shoulder.
    “Go to that station,” she said, pointing to a cubicle at the back of the room. She pointed Miguel to a cubicle on the other side of the room
    “No, we have to stay together,” said Flori.
    “You need to be examined separately, “ Mrs. Garcia said brusquely.
    Flori considered the exits and corridor, thinking of making a run for it. But there were so many adults she didn’t think they’d get very far. She reluctantly let go of Miguel’s hand and walked to the cubicle at the back of the room. Inside was a middle aged man sitting behind a make-shift desk.
    He narrowed his eyes at here as she approached and said something unintelligible, in a flat accent that she thought was English.
    Flori snuck a glance across the room to Miguel’s cubicle. She could see his little feet pocking out from under the curtain.
    He said something unintelligible in a flat accent that she thought was English. He began his inspection— the ice cold stethoscope on her chest, the rubber gloved fingers probing her hair, mouth open wide to look at her tonsils.
    She wriggled and checked Miguel’s cubicle again. The man’s fingers were scratchy as he tied a white cotton band around Flori’s wrist. The Doctor gestured to the door at the end of the room where two older boys were leaving.
    Flori waited at the door for Miguel, and breathed a sigh of relief when at last he joined her wearing a blue band around his tiny wrist. She grabbed his hand and they left the saloon together.
    At the bottom of the gangway were pools of children, separated by their differently coloured wrist-bands. She realised that once they reached the teachers they would be forced into separate groups.
    She tugged at her wrist-band slipping it higher up her arm and pulled down her sleeve over it. She inspected Miguel’s band. The ends of the cotton band fluttered after the knot; it was far too big for his tiny wrists. She dug her fingers into the Doctor’s hastily tied knot and pulled it loose. She ripped the band in half, retied one half to Miguel’s wrist and the other to her own. She looked around. She didn’t think any of the teachers had seen her trick. She tightened her grip on Miguel’s hand and led him over to the blue-wrist-band group of children. They were a sickly looking collection; coughing, scratching and pallid faced.
    “What are you doing?” Flori jumped as Mrs. Garcia put a firm hand on Flori’s shoulder and peered down at her.
    “What do you mean?” Flori said.
    “You’re not sick,” Mrs. Garcia and roughly pulled up Flori’s sleeve revealing her white wrist band. “Why? I don’t—” Then she looked between Miguel and Flori.
    “I’m sorry. You can’t stay together,”
    “No!” she puled Miguel to her and hugged him a protective hand on his head.
    “These children are unwell. They’re going to be taken to hospital”
    “Miguel isn’t ill, he’s fine, aren’t you?” She said, looking down at Miguel.
    He looked up at her and nodded obediently.
    “No! He can’t—”
    “I’m sorry, he needs to go to the hospital”
    Flori looked again at Miguel’s red eyes and palid face. She felt sick. Could she really let him go? She had promised their mother not to leave his side.
    Finally she let go of Miguel’s hand.

    She crumpled, as Miguel’s group was led away. She had betrayed her promise to her mother. She felt defeated, there was nothing more that she could do for him.
    Mrs. Garcia patted Flori’s back, then gently steered her to the white-banded group of children. Flori felt empty like a deflated balloon. She had know that Miguel wasn’t quite himself, but hospital… She didn’t like to leave him with all those sick children all by himself. She waved as the blue-banded children were herded onto a van and driven away.

    Eight years later, she stood in the baking heat, waiting to be reunited with her mother. She tried to breath steadily as she waited in the baking Peruvian heat. At last she saw the familiar face and the woman running towards her.
    “Mamma! I thought I’d never..”
    “I know, Flori, I know. But we’re together again now my dear,” she said embracing her daughter tightly. Flori pulled back, “Mamá, I’m so sorry. I couldn’t protect Miguel. I tried, but—”
    “I know you did, I know,” her mother said, hugging her tighter.
    Miguel stepped forward to hug their mother. The eye infection— they’d called it Trachoma— had left him blind, but after all they’d been though it was a miracle they were both still here. Flori held his hand and silently promised herself she’d never let go of him again.

      • Amy Meyer
        Thank you!
    • Lovely story Amy and well written. You have captured the essence well of Flori’s distress at being separated from her brother. One point, my dear, and I hope you do not mind, please cut out one of these sentences as you have said this twice. It jarred in an otherwise smooth story.

      “He said something unintelligible in a flat accent that she thought was English.

      • Amy Meyer
        Thank you! And thanks for pointing out my repetition: super useful.
    • I’ve become a big fan of your writing, Amy. This is characteristically very well-written, intense and immediate. Until the end we’re not sure if the separation of the children is benign and malign, as we see the situation through Flori’s young and anxious eyes.

      One thing – I couldn’t work out the setting. Santurtzi (Northern Spain? Santurce in Puerto Rico?) to Southampton (England? New York?) to Peru (the other side of South America)? I couldn’t work out a geographical or historical setting, or a reason for the children to make the voyage without a parent (who then went to Peru), and that left me a bit puzzled.

      • (above, that should say “benign or malign)
      • Amy Meyer
        What a lovely comment, thanks Andy, that means a lot.

        The story was set in May 1937, during the Spanish Civil War when 4000 children were evacuated from Santurtzi in Northern Spain to Southampton, England on a ship mean for 400.
        It’s a really heartbreaking story.

        Thanks for pointing out that you couldn’t place it: I will think about how I can add in more clues to the wider context.

        • Thanks for the link, Amy – always nice to learn something new
    • Phil Town
      Very good story, Amy. Flori really is an heroic figure – doing her utmost to keep her promise to her mother. You’ve stretched one detail out a long way – the band – to show us the lengths that she will go to protect Miguel. That long section is really well done – very suspenseful. The ending is upbeat with a difference; Miguel doesn’t come out of the ordeal unscathed, but everyone is happy to be reunited. Good stuff!
      • Amy Meyer
        Thanks so much!
  • 2024
    By Ken Cartisano (1199 words.)

    A burly looking customs agent stopped us at the border. “Do you have your papers?” He said, without any pretext of courtesy. We were just inside the rusting steel barrier known as ‘the wall.’

    I held them out the car window and he accepted them grudgingly. “Step out of the vehicle, please.” He leaned closer, saw my daughter and said, “Both of you please.”

    Another border guard sauntered up. They exchanged a few words in their native tongue, a language I didn’t understand. Whatever the conversation was, it must have been funny because they both laughed, albeit with a touch of cynicism.

    I turned and gazed at my daughter, Marta. She looked like I felt—frightened. I rolled my eyes and shrugged. What could we do but comply?

    As I exited the vehicle I could see that the second border guard was opening the passenger door for Marta.

    “Step over here, please.” The nearest official said. He waved his arm toward a yellow rectangle painted on the asphalt.

    I complied, while looking around to find my daughter still standing next to the car with the second customs agent. Both of their expressions were anything but cheerful.

    “So, Mr. Ru-eez, is it?” He said, looking at my passport.

    “Ruiz,” I said. “Just like it’s spelled. Rue-iz.” I was watching my daughter, wondering what in the world she was being told by the other agent.

    My distraction seemed to annoy my inquisitor. “Are you giving me lessons on how to speak English, Mr. Ru-eez?”

    I hesitated. “No—no of course not. What’s going on with my daughter?”

    His eye twitched. “Let’s stay focused Mr. Ru-eez while I determine if all your papers are in order.”

    I glanced his way and said, “But my daughter…”

    “Your daughter is in good hands, Mr. Ru-eez, and your cooperation will make this whole process much easier for all of us, eh?”

    I remained silent.

    “So, is this your first visit to our fine country, Mr. Ru-eez?”

    “Hardly,” I said. “I’ve been here many times, been to the middle east, too.” I showed him my military I.D. “Two tours in Iraq,” I added.

    This seemed to temper his attitude. “That’s very noble of you, Mr. Ruiz.” He even pronounced my name correctly.

    “Some would call it patriotic,” I said.

    “It is,” he said, returning my military I.D. “Wait here.”

    He joined my daughter and the other agent and a brief but heated debate occurred between the two officials, with the other one shaking his head emphatically.

    He made a phone call and returned with a more chagrined attitude. “The thing is…”


    “Your daughter’s an undocumented immigrant.”

    “She’s eleven. Why would she be documented?”

    “She says she’s twelve.”

    “She’s going to be twelve,” I replied, “in a week. What’s the difference? Eleven, twelve? She’s my daughter.”

    Before he could reply, I saw the other agent escorting my daughter toward a nearby building. “Hey! What’s he doing?”

    “Easy Mr. Ruiz.”

    He laid a hand on my arm. I glanced at it and he removed it. But he also stepped in front of me.

    “Where’s he taking my daughter?”

    He held one hand out as if to stop me while his other hand went to his sidearm, which was still snapped securely into his holster.

    “Mr. Ruiz! Please, don’t force me to have you restrained.”

    Once my daughter disappeared into a building a mere 50 yards away I turned my full attention on the agent. “What in the hell is going on here?”

    “Mr. Ruiz, your daughter is a minor, trying to cross the border…”

    “With me. She’s crossing the border with me,” I said.

    “Yes but—I don’t know quite how to put this but, we have no proof that she’s your daughter.”

    “Oh for Christ’s sake.”

    “For all we know, you could be bringing her across to sell her into the sex trade.”

    “What? Oh for the love of… I can’t believe this.”

    A third agent arrived, clearly superior to the other two and directed me to follow him to his office in a different building. He offered me a chair and a bottle of water and said, without preamble, “We’re going to have to detain your daughter, Mr. Ruiz.”

    “What do you mean detain? Is she under arrest?”

    “No, no, of course not. We’re simply holding her until we can sort out the exact nature of her status.”

    “The exact nature of her status is what I told you. She’s my daughter. She’s eleven years old. Her mother was raped and murdered by a—a gang of thugs that run the entire city. Thank god she was at her cousin’s house at the time. The police are useless. They’re almost as bad as the gangs. She’s not going back. Not as long as I’m alive.”

    The agent sat there flicking the point of his pen in and out, staring at the blotter on his desk. “I understand Mr. Ruiz, and I’m sorry for your loss, and that of your daughter, but—we have procedures and regulations that must be followed.”

    “I don’t understand what kind of regulation would necessitate separating me from my daughter—under any circumstance. Especially these. She’s already traumatized; this’ll only make things worse. I can’t believe this.”

    The agent leaned forward in his chair, his face suffused with compassion. “The only thing I can do at this point is release her back into your custody, but we’d be forced to deny your entry into the country.”

    Despite my sudden relief I said, “Let me get this straight, if we choose to stay, in this—this country of yours, my daughter may be detained indefinitely?”

    “Just long enough to determine her actual identity,” he said.

    “But you don’t know how long that might take.”

    He shrugged, “Not long.”

    “My only other option is to take custody of my daughter and return to my own country?”

    “I’m sorry Mr. Ruiz, but based upon our laws, those are your only two options.” He let that sink in. “What do you want to do?”

    “Can I have a minute to think about it?” I asked.

    “Sure.” He glanced at his watch and then rose from his seat. “I’ll be back in five minutes.”

    I weighed my two options. Take her back to a lawless country with a broken justice system, a frightened and paranoid populace…or put my trust in this man, his government and their somewhat questionable legal system.

    When the border agent returned, he seemed pensive, perhaps about the nature of my decision. I’ll admit, I was angry about our treatment thus far, and their idiotic devotion to procedures but—“We’ll stay,” I said.

    “Very good, Mr. Ruiz. Your daughter is speaking with a psychologist at this very moment.” He looked at his watch. “As soon as she’s done, we’ll arrange for hotel accommodations for both of you until we file all the appropriate paperwork.” He leaned toward me. “It eez, excuse me, it is mostly a formality, but a necessary one.”

    “Frankly,” he said, pulling some forms from his desk, “we’re happy to welcome you and your daughter to Mexico, and believe me Mr. Ruiz, I don’t say that to very many Americans.”

    • Great story, Ken, and nice turnaround
    • I loved every word, Ken, especially the dialogue, which seemed so natural and to flow as through it had rolled straight off of someone’s tongue! My mind was going back and forth like I was watching a tennis match, leaving me on the edge of my seat the entire time. The end was a nice twist too, not something I expected at all! Brilliant job 🙂
    • Phil Town
      Great stuff, Ken. That ending – oh my! The frustrations of Ruiz are a bit Kafka-esque and very believable (although his dialogue with the three agents might have been streamlined just a touch?). The actions of the officers fit well into what we imagine US ones might be like, which sets you up well for that final line. This is a great line: “We were just inside the rusting steel barrier known as ‘the wall.’” The word ‘rusting’ … says it all. It’s like the Statue of Liberty at the end of ‘Planet of the Apes’ – a monument to a time gone by. ‘ “Do you have your papers?” He said, without any pretext of courtesy.’ That sounds quite courteous as is – maybe: “Papers!” A detail – this is a great story.
    • Amy Meyer
      A skilfully told and, as ever, an immaculately written story. And what a great twist at the end!
  • Thank you Ken for your wonderful story. I went through word by word with fear. It run like a hate story and full of suspense. It was completely uncertain who the story would end up. Any way it ended positively and released the pressure. By the way why the title of this story is “2024” ?
    • Dear Ken,
      I am commenting on your story for the third time. There is a problem due to the inaccessibility of my main Google account. Any F2C without your contribution is incomplete. And what a superlative contribution it has been in the form of this near flawless story!
      With the content you have shown us how far the prompt can be stretched realistically. The conflicts keep us groping(?) till the end. The dialogues are as good as they can get. The delineation of the narrator-father is brisk and superb.
      You can count on my vote this time around. Good luck and all the very best wishes.
  • Hi Ken is that story about the end of Trump’s presidency when the USA descends into a post nuclear holocaust society. I was left in the deep end, dog paddling and wondering what would happen next. Do you know much about Cuba? Cuba is one place that fascinates me. That is what sprang to mind reading this story. But Mexico, I thought that the Mexicans were a little looser than this and open to bribery.
  • Anindita Basu
    I love it. Throughout what a tension…and the ending is just great.The title 2024 – a wry humor !

    The theme of the story ‘choice’ is wonderfully dealt here. The dialogues you created with the accents..I could just hear them. There are lots of things I liked in this piece especially the contemporary flavor in it.

    Nice work Ken.

    • Charles Lilburn
      I am unable to vote in this contest, so don’t wait for me. Thanks, Roy

      I need to figure out why I don’t get any notifications for either Charles or Roy. Something I did, no doubt,

      • Carrie Zylka

        Did you receive a confirmation email and click the link?

  • Alice Nelson

    Waiting for Ken’s votes. I’ll give him until 5pm MST, then I’ll post the results.

  • How long to go now?

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