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Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “Fire”

Theme: This post is for stories related to the contest theme: “Fire”.

Story Requirements: ‘Fire’ (any meaning of the word). No other constraints.


Word Count: 1,200



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Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 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).

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***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Carrie Zylka 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.

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110 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Fire”

  • Alice Nelson

    Let’s get to writin’ and chattin’

    • Well, Ladies and Gentleman—I showed my disqualification story to ‘Ol’ Blood ‘n’ Guts.’ My sweet babette, (the female reincarnation of General Patton,) and she said it was ‘pritt-ee—good.’
      And I said, ‘Prit-tee, space, good?’
      And she said, ‘Well,’ space, ‘yeah.’
      And I said, ‘Well, space, yeah?’ Quit yer hemmin’ and hawin’ and give it to me straight.’
      And she said, ‘Well,’ longer space, ‘I liked it except for the thing, and the transition and the ending.’
      And I was like, ‘Really?’ And I was cleaning my boat, so I was standing in it, on its trailer, so I was pretty high up, high enough to attempt a semi-suicidal leap. But I decided to have a last cigarette before I died, and realized that cigarettes were something to live for, along with pasta. Between that experience, and the underwhelming© (that’s my word, I invented that word,) response from the group, I have decided to rewrite the story, using however many words, and commas that I felt were necessary, and then I will lock the story in a safe, secure, fire resistant place, (the clay Chiminea, we never use that stupid thing anyway,) and leave it there for the rest of my unnatural life, or until I buy a new car, whichever comes first. Either way, you’ll never hear surf music again.

      Meanwhile, I have no replacement story. No backup story. No stories in reserve. No story in the wings, on the burner, in the oven, that I always wanted to do. No ghost, no ephemeral shadow of a fire story. It leaves me to cark.

      • Alice Nelson

        Ha! Just saw this. You are a mad man Ken C. 🙂

      • Ken Allen
        Well … now I just have to read it. Send it through, Mr C, so I can also use long pauses in my sentences (it’s something I’ve been working on anyhow) …
    • Ilana Leeds
      Hi Alice. When is the next prompt going up and when do we get to know the winners of Fire? Is Carrie ok? We have not heard. Cheers.
      • Alice Nelson
        Hi Ilana, so sorry I’ll get the vote tally out asap, and I know it’s Carrie’s Birthday a few days ago, so she’s probably having a grand old time, but she’ll be back. 🙂
  • Ilana Leeds
    Good prompt and it can be Fire, or fire, or FIRE as in a hot fire raging or a bush fire or a firing squad. Yup LOL
  • Congratugodamnlations Christopher. Great story.
    • Christopher Smith
      Haha…thanks, Ken!
  • ‘Well your eyes have a mist, from the smoke, of a distant fire.’
    • Alice Nelson
      Hey, I used to listen to that song when I was a kid.
      • Alice,
        Listened to them when you were a kid? I still do. The Sanford Townsend band. The song was released in 1976. (Forty years.)
        I was going to follow up the song quote with the observation that there’re a lot of songs with the word ‘fire’ in them and they have a variety of meanings. (But I forgot to.) It might be a source of inspiration.
        Speaking of old stuff, I once had a pair of t-shirts that lasted me more than twenty five years. I wore these Hanes t-shirts while painting a giant (60 ft. on a side) square game board on an airport tarmac. We used rollers to apply the paints, (red, green, yellow and blue) and me and my helper were sprayed with tiny speckles of red, green, blue and yellow paint, from the paint rollers. It took three days to paint the image. (It was for a TV commercial that we never saw.) So these two (of three original) t-shirts had these multicolored speckles on them. And I rotated them in with all my other t-shirts. Over time, they got thinner and thinner until they were no more substantial than gauze. But they didn’t rip either, not until they end, and they both tore at about the same time. They were two amazing t-shirts, and with the speckles, and the gauzy material, they were really unique. (For 30 year old t-shirts.) (Does telling this story mean I’m probably crazy?) (I had some left over words today, and a talent for procrastinating.
        • Alice Nelson
          Ha! Great story. I still listen to those great old songs too.
          Light my Fire is a good one, by The Doors
          Set the World on Fire by David Bowie
          All Fired Up by Pat Benetar
          Fire and Rain by James Taylor (one of my all time favorite songs)
          Fire on High by ELO
          Fire Woman by The Cult
          Fireball by Pitbull
          Fireflies by Owl City
          Fireproof by One Direction

          Just to name a few of the fire songs I like. I hope this can inspire us both because right now, I got nothin’

          • Hey Alice, Carrie and et. al.
            Well, I have a problem. I wrote what I think is a great story, but I thought the word limit was 2000 words. Having trimmed it down to a svelte 2032 words, I double checked the guidelines only to find I need to trim another 800 words. (And that ain’t gonna happen.) I’m tempted to submit the story anyway, knowing it won’t qualify, just to see what the gang thinks of it. Being disqualified is a lot easier than writing a whole new story. I’ll have to give it some thought. (I don’t think I can beat either story submitted by Kenneth Allen, or Philip this week anyway!)
  • Ken Allen
    By Ken Allen (1199)

    I take out a cigarette, light it, and puff a few clouds of smoke into the air. In front of me is a hooded man tied to a chair. He struggles against his binds; he throws his head left and right like he’s being electrocuted. Now there’s an idea. If only I had thought this through a little more. I shake it from my mind, I had thought about this moment plenty.

    I let him fight the restraints while I finish my smoke. I check my watch and witness the second-hand tick the minute hand to tick the hour hand. A set of dominos falling signifying the commencement of our conversation.

    I drop the cigarette butt to the ground and snub it out with the toe of my shoe. I see him stop suddenly. He shifts his head like he is listening intently. He did not know I was standing in front of him. Ironic, really. I pull off his hood and let him come to terms with the light in the room, his face bright with the white bulb above his head.

    He blinks and groans and then makes noises like he is trying to say something. I grab a corner of the silver tape that’s across his mouth. I’ve been looking forward to this moment. I yank the tape off his face, removing parts of his unshaven upper lip. He groans as specks of blood start to appear.

    “Whatever they are paying you,” he pants, “I’ll double it, right now.”

    I say nothing, just circle him, like a vulture waiting for an animal to die.

    “Triple it! Whatever you want!”

    “Oh, I do want something, Richard,” I say.

    “Then tell me … I’ll do anything.”

    “Easy, Richard. First, I want you to know why. I want you to know that you did this to yourself. You have forced me to do this.”

    He looks up at me, follows me as far as his head will allow. “Do what to myself? Who are you?”

    I circle back around and grab him by the shoulders. “Wait, you don’t know who I am?”

    He searched my face, frowning at the lack of recognition and then shrugged his shoulders.

    I shake my head. “Now, this is fucking typical.”

    “What? Did I fuck your wife or something? Grab your daughter’s arse?”

    “Oh, dear Richard,” I say as I regain my posture and continue circling my prey. “So much worse.”

    “So, what then? Did I run over your dog? Did I sell you some bad investments?”

    “Keep going, Dick. You see, what you took form me wasn’t tangible.”

    “People are expecting me,” he says. “My wife, my kids. When I don’t show up -.”

    I swipe my hand across his face, the slap echoing around the room. My god that felt good. I can’t help but smile.

    “You’re not married, nor do you have any kids, illegitimate or otherwise … You lying son-of-a-bitch.”

    He stretches his mouth, fighting the sting I left on the side of his face.

    “I know people. They are going to fuck you up!”

    I clench my fist and swing. My form would be no good for a street fight, but here, against a restrained person, the effect is pure. I connect with his face and his head rocks back; a groan of pain follows. He grinds his teeth spits out a glob of blood.

    “Concentrate on the task at hand, Dick. You’re not thinking hard enough. You lie, you steal, you take whatever the fuck you want to take, be damned the consequences. Well, here are the consequences.”
    I push his head. “Now look. Look at me.”

    He hesitates. I smack the side of his head. He slowly raises his eyes.

    “Who am I? What’s my name?”

    “I … I told you, I don’t know who you are.”

    I rub my knuckles. “Well, you sure as shit knew who I was on Monday.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “When you called me into your corner office, with your oak desk, leather chair and five grand suit.”
    He looks down and I can tell he’s trying to remember. Not just to appease me, but really trying. I give him props for attempting to remember.

    “You really don’t remember? When I stood at that desk and stared at your suit, and you didn’t even have the courtesy to lift your head and look me in the eyes to fire me!”

    Recognition flashes like a lightning bolt. “Walsh? Sam Walsh?”

    I nod.

    “Are you fucking kidding me? You did this because I fired you?” He laughs. “Grow some balls.”

    I grab him by the throat and squeeze. His eyes start to well up and a gurgle comes out of his mouth.

    “Alright,” he burbles. “Alright!”

    I release my grip and swing the back of my hand around, my ring connecting with his temple. I grab his hair and pull his head upright. I inspect the blood that begins to trail down the side of his face.

    “Don’t ever laugh at me, Dick.”

    “You want your job back? Is that it?”

    “No. I want you to feel the way I did. I spent fourteen years working my way up that damn company. Starting early, kissing arses, finishing late … and for what? To be unceremoniously dumped because of ‘corporate rightsizing’ or some bullshit like that. I was escorted out of the building by security with nothing more than a cardboard box and a payout of eleven grand.”

    “So, you want more money? Let me go and I’ll take you to the bank right now.”

    “I told you, Dick. This isn’t about the money. When you fired me, you took everything from me. My purpose, my compass, my reason for being. And now I’m taking yours.”

    I sat a briefcase down in front of him, snap open the locks and pull on the lid.

    “What’s that?” Richard asks.

    “That’s $11,644. That’s what you gave me.”

    “What’s it for?”

    “That’s for you to run.”

    He laughs again. I raise my hand and he cowers, as much as his restraints will allow. “Alright, alright! Sorry!”

    He looks at me. “But I’m not running anywhere.”

    I look at my watch. “I beg to differ. You see at this exact moment, members of the FBI are raiding your home and office. They will find evidence of child porn on your personal and work computers. They will find things you won’t be able to refute.”

    “You sick fuck,” he roars.

    “I’m not saying I didn’t have to go to some dark places, Dick. But to see you here like this, it was all worth it.”

    He fights against his binds once more.

    I push my foot down on the briefcase lid and raise my shirt to reveal the handle of a firearm.
    “Of course, if you don’t want the money, Dick, you can always have the bullet.”

    Richard stops struggling and slowly lowers his head. He sniffs, and I can tell he’s crying. “I don’t have anything, I don’t have anywhere to go.”

    I squat down in front of him and lift his face.

    “Exactly. Now, what’s it going to be, Dick? The money or the gun?”

    • Christopher Smith
      I liked it, Ken. I feel that for someone who may only have that job to call their own (no family, no friends, etc), the violence would be the first thing to resort to. I enjoyed the scene and all that went with it; I only wish there would have been a reason other than him getting fired that fueled the revenge. Perhaps it was just me, but I was looking for a more unique reason (and sorry, I can’t even think of an example off the top of my head), a reason we don’t read about every day.

      A good story, though; I was with it from line one until the end. Great job!

      • Ken Allen
        Thanks Christopher … interesting points. With a larger word limit I could have painted the picture of extreme workloads and stolen praise (or reduced the dialogue, however I was just having too much fun with it).
    • Ken Allen,

      Excellent, excellent, excellent. Great story, dialogue, tension, suspense, drama. This is like, the perfect revenge fantasy of half the people on the planet, at one point or another. The dialogue is really good. This is an absolutely fabulous story. I can’t imagine why anyone would pan this, because this is a great fucking story. (My opinion, minus the humility.) And the ‘fire’ prompt is the loss of a job. Well done.

      • Ken Allen
        Thanks Ken for the very kind words – I’ll make sure to transfer those funds into that Swiss bank account of yours.
        • Ken,
          I thought we agreed on small, unmarked Bitcoins? You were going to ship them to me, remember?
    • Alice Nelson

      Ken, really well written, and the tension build up is great. The lighting of the cigarette, the fear Dick must feel when he hears Sam but can’t see him, I could envision that scene in my mind. You are great at setting a mood, or a scene and using wonderful phrasing to bring the reader into your story.

      You do mention that Sam worked long hours and worked his way up, I can understand the frustration of being fired and the employer not even having the decency to look up, but like Christopher, I was hoping for something other than losing a job. But people have killed for far less, so this is as believable as anything else.

      Great job, glad to have you back this time around.

    • Ilana Leeds
      Good story Ken. I liked the way you led the reader on. Good use of dialogue. I actually think you are one of the best dialogue writers in this group. You reveal your characters through their dialogue and the reader is able to build a very vivid visual on the person speaking.
      Good work and you are tying with Maud Harris who I am so glad is back. 🙂
      • Ken Allen
        Thanks Ilana, appreciate your kind words … I like writing dialogue because I suck at writing description …
    • Phil Town
      A kind of familiar scene, Ken (from films/TV), but you do it really well. The descriptions are great, the menace is there, the fear, too. And the dialogue works well. The torturer must have a couple of screws loose, so it’s believable … although this (“I want you to feel the way I did.”) jars a little – the suffering now is physical and psychological, what the torturer suffered was purely moral, so not really ‘the same’, is it? Really good stuff, though.
  • Ilana Leeds
    A bit of a mean story there Ken. I must say when my teaching career was destroyed in Deniliquin I did not feel like that. I actually felt like I should be dead, except for my young son. I had to stay alive and look after him and it was sixteen years of teaching thrown down the gurgler, because a head teacher had a friend that she wanted in my job and I had made a complaint against a Principal and therefore I was totally expendable.
    He actually frames the guy which was nasty smart. What I did not like was the violence. I was thinking, if he was a really smart guy, he would not use violence. He would destroy the guy from the inside out. He would pretend to be the guy’s friend and then set him up. Then at the last minute, let him know it was him…that makes people want to kill themselves – the betrayal of trust.
    Good dialogue and the violence was all too realistic. Sorry.
    • Ken Allen
      Thanks for your reply, Ilana. Regarding violence, I’m glad I didn’t post my original version then, which included paper cuts, lemon juice and watching the Baywatch movie on repeat. I think it’s safe to say that we all respond to events differently, and Sam Walsh, well, he just went to an extreme. The violence in this story is by someone who doesn’t really know what they are doing (i.e.: “form would be no good in a street fight”) and the impacts make Sam feel better about things as opposed to causing real damage.
    • A nice twist on the theme, Ken, It’s authentic and believable, except to where Sam offers to give him the money to escape. I can only assume that Sam, being a bit weak and puny, doesn’t have the guts to pull the trigger.
      • Ken Allen
        Hi Maud … and we’ll nver know … until the sequal, book, and day time movie are released.
  • Phil Town



    “Ready?” I hold the rope back, Mary gripping it with her hands and legs.

    “Ready,” she giggles.

    I let go and she swings out over the narrow, slow-moving river, laughing out loud now. At the fullest extent of the swing, she’s static for a split second, then returns.

    “Jump!” I yell.

    “No fear!” she yells back.

    And so she continues, back and forth, the swings of the rope becoming increasingly short until they stop altogether and she’s dangling there above the water, still holding on to the rope, attached to a sturdy branch of the grand old oak tree on the bank.

    “Help!” she bleats, but she’s enjoying this.

    “Hang on!” I shout, laughing myself now.

    I take off my shoes and socks, roll up my trousers and step off the bank. I’m expecting shallow water, but what I put my foot into is two inches of water and deep mud. I lose my balance immediately and fall flat on my face.

    Mary’s observing my pathetic attempt at rescue and starts cackling at the top of her lungs, distracting her from the job of holding on and making her lose her grip. She falls into the water and mud with a mighty splash and squelch.

    Covered in mud, we stagger to our feet and wade unsteadily towards each other, but the mud betrays us and we fall into each other’s arms, rolling in the shallow water and mud and laughing like infants.

    It’s funny what you remember, isn’t it? Mary and I had many other magical moments together – our first dance, our first kiss, that time we sheltered from the rain in a barn and made love in the hay, our walks through the woods, hand in hand – but now the moment that pops into my mind ahead of all the others is that silly afternoon by the river, and our loving embrace in the water and mud.


    Mud. That’s all there is. Mud in the bottom of the trenches and on the sides of them, mud around our feet, around our legs in places … grey-brown mud. Endless, treacherous mud, stretching out between our lines and theirs.

    A field of mud, where once a farmer would have led his horse to plough the earth, where once crops would have thrived, where once happy farmworkers would have picked and dug the fruits of nature. Now just mud – stinking, sucking mud.

    We’d gone over twice in two days. I was held back with a fever – not serious enough to be sent to the field hospital, but bad enough to get dispensation for the push. I lay on my bunk, listening to the whining of the shells, then the whistles urging our boys over the top, then the machine guns, then the screams.

    It seemed a part of my horrific, feverish imaginings, but on the third, day, when I came through the fever, I asked after my mates. All but two of my platoon were gone, killed by guns, consumed by the mud. Tommy had been hit in the shoulder, Ray in the leg as they clambered out of the trench. Lucky wounds; they were out of it, at least for a few months.

    But now I was fit and was expected to do my duty. And so the waiting by the ladders, the prayers, the nervous jokes, the whistles … and we were over.

    The air was singing with bullets as we struggled through the mud. It sucked at our ankles, and it sucked at our legs. Men fell around me, so many men, but still the Captain whistled – onward, onward.

    I found a muddy shell crater, half-full of water, and I dived in. The bullets kept on hissing past and hitting flesh and bone nearby. All I wanted was Mary, to be with her again, to hold her, to be comforted in her arms.

    I slid out of the crater and began to crawl back towards our lines, through the slow, slick mud, Mary’s beautiful face my imagined beacon, and I made it.

    But the captain hadn’t ordered a retreat, and so here I am, in a muddy compound behind our lines. I want to think good things, so I focus my mind on Mary’s eyes. Her lovely, smiling, golden-brown eyes.



    • Great story, Phil. Poignant and inspired. Loved it .
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Maud! Glad you did.
    • Ken Allen
      Hi Phil, I love this story, particularly the contrast of past and present, and the single mud narrative running throughout to join it all together. My only wish is to somehow expand the turning point. For me, the “But the captain hadn’t …” felt rushed.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks very much, Ken! Yes, maybe re the ending … but it couldn’t be drawn out much longer … the body of the story represents (with a bit of narrative licence) mere flashes of thought between the READY! … AIM! … FIRE!
    • Ilana Leeds
      Phil as usual a great story. I really did like this story and there is tautness to the story line that works well.
      I take it he is before a firing squad for desertion under fire. Well done.
      You had me right to the end and I liked the juxtaposition of the reality with his reflections on Mary in the past.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks very much, Ilana (sorry – I made a typo of your name in my critique of your story). Yep re your theory.
    • Alice Nelson

      So well written Phil, loved how you began with a flashback, and then the reader is thrust into the present predicament of the main character. Loved the dialogue, the smoothness in the flow of the story, and the Ready, Aim, Fire angle.

      Like Ken I was wondering where the fire would come in, I even went back to read it before the end because I thought I missed the reference. A sweet, yet brutal story of love and war.

      Beautiful job, Phil.

      • Phil Town
        Thanks very much for that, Alice!
  • Christopher Smith
    Wow, Phil…I loved this. “Ready!” and “Aim!” contrasted each other in a way that made me want to keep reading to see how they would come together, and I was pleasantly surprised.
    Great job!
    • Phil Town
      Cheers, Christopher!
  • Excellent story Philip. So compelling, so well written. The composition is clever as well, I had no idea where you were going with it until the last few lines. (Honestly, I was wondering, ‘Where does the fire fit it?’)
    One flaw, ‘…but on the third, day, when I came through the fever…’
    This is a fabulous story, Philip. In fact, I read it so quickly, I had to re-read it to appreciate all of the wonderful details you so beautifully describe.
    • Phil Town
      You’re very kind, Ken, thanks.
  • Heather Austin

    The Light Messengers

    Six pre-teen girls ran into the kitchen and plopped down at the table with squeals of laughter and hair flying bringing an invisible cloud swirling around smelling of bubble gum, sweet perfume, and a hint of sweat. The flicker of twelve candles reflected in Maddy’s September blue eyes before she blew them out giving her wish wings. With the synchronicity of a flock of blackbirds taking flight, the girls simultaneously rose and ran to the backyard, each claiming their spot in the tent for the sleepover.

    Charlene looked around the kitchen at colored streamers dangling from the ceiling and light fixtures, nearly empty bowls of potato chips on the table, and crumbs of chocolate birthday cake smashed on the floor. She smiled at her daughter’s happiness but hesitated to allow for too much enthusiasm because her younger daughter was hundreds of miles away visiting her cousins and knew today she would be sad about missing her big sister’s party.

    Maddy poked her head back inside shouting, “Mom have you heard from her yet?”

    “Not yet, Maddy,” answered Charlene.

    Maddy wanted to talk to her sister to include her in the celebration – even if over the phone. Maddy and Sarabeth were complete opposites of each other socially, but replicas of one another in physical appearance despite the difference of three years and four inches.

    “I’ll call her at Aunt Bea’s house later,” said Maddy, letting the back screen door slam as she returned to her friends outside.

    Sarabeth screwed the lid tightly onto the jar and held its contents up to eye level. She had enjoyed running freely through the woods capturing them one by one until she had just enough. It was getting dark but the fireflies inside her jar created a natural lantern lighting her way back toward the house.

    Already she was bracing for it. Her blue eyes began to darken. Nighttime is when it became worse, almost unbearable.

    She sat on the front porch and pulled out her backpack to leaf through the pastel pages of stationery she bought with her own money at Aunt Bea’s gift shop earlier that day. Sarabeth had an extensive stationery collection that she always carried with her: lined, unlined, textured, patterned, glossy, floral, polka-dotted, and some with whimsical prints of fantasy animals including unicorns and the rare purple winged dragon.

    She pulled out her collection and spread the sheets out by color, arranging them from light hues to darker tones. Deftly controlling her hand with much forethought, she rearranged them by heft placing the heavier sheets on top of the lighter ones so they wouldn’t blow away in the cool breeze that had picked up. Squinting her eyes to boost the contrast between light and dark, reducing the images on the paper to shades of gray, she finally arranged them from plenty of empty space to welcome a writer’s thoughts, to highly decorated, detailed, and gaudy designs that looked more like pieces of modern art than a tool for communication.

    The temperature was dropping but she felt sweat beginning to form on her brow, her breath became shallow as her body tensed. Slowly and methodically she held her hand over each page until she found the page whose vibration matched her exact emotion. She quickly wrote the message to Aunt Bea in neon green ink, gathered up the rest of her stationery, and ran inside just as the rain started.

    Aunt Bea took the purple and black zigzagged notecard and read Sarabeth’s message scribed in perfect cursive that betrayed the chaos inside her mind.

    “Yes, you can,” said Aunt Bea.

    Sarabeth dug her heels into the floor for traction as she walked to the back bedroom, her backpack bouncing haphazardly and sounding like a xylophone as her colored pens clanked together inside. She chastised herself for not putting them back in their orderly rainbow fashion tucked in the safety of their box. But that would have to wait. Filled with anticipation she sat on the bed, lifted the phone from the receiver, and dialed home. One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Four rings. No answer. She flopped back on the bed, took a deep breath, sat up and tried again. After dialing and redialing with no answer for five minutes, worry and fury began to build.

    “They are having fun without me!” she told herself.

    She sat on the floor hugging her knees into her chest and began rocking forward and back. The Kansas sky unleashed rain and hail that hit hard against the window pane, like a bucket of marbles dumped onto the cement floor in the basement where she and Maddy often played. She couldn’t tell if the thunder was part of the storm raging outside her window or coming from deep wounds in her chest.

    “My family has forgotten about me!” she thought.

    She would not succumb to the loneliness creeping into her heart. She reached into her backpack again. With words as kindling and pen as a spark, the paper roared to life nearly engulfing Sarabeth in its ferocious heat. Heat that can only come from deep within the core of molten emotions that are held in buried deep for so long, too long, that the pressure becomes inescapable. In heavy bold lines she wrote, “Maddy, where are you? Please answer!” onto red-orange paper streaked with yellow.

    Feeling trapped, she repeated her mantra in her mind, “I need you Maddy. I need you Maddy. I need you Maddy.” She picked up the phone and quickly dialed home again. Holding her breath, she let it ring five times. No answer. An electric bolt of lightning cracked outside the window, a thunderous boom echoed through the house simultaneously, and the power went out. Tears streamed down her face, blotting out words and dampening the page. Sarabeth crumpled on the floor, a crumpled cry for help held tightly in her fist.

    Aunt Bea knocked on the door, “Everything OK?” Unable to form words, frozen in her fear, curled into a ball, Sarabeth simply lay still on the floor. Aunt Bea slowly walked in and set the jar of fireflies on the dresser. “I found this on the front porch and thought you’d want it in here with you,” she said calmly. “I remember the first time you and Maddy visited us from Montana. You were about three years old and the two of you delighted in catching fireflies. You were so enthralled with them, dancing across the lawn, laughing with glee, and catching them in your hands.” She sat next to Sarabeth on the floor and wrapped her arms around her shoulders giving them a squeeze. “Come have some dessert with us. We’ll celebrate your sister’s birthday here with strawberry ice cream.”

    “Thanks, Aunt Bea. I’ll be there in a minute. I have a letter to write.”

    After Aunt Bea left the room she reached for her backpack and pulled out a light blue sheet of stationery the weight of a feather with fuzzy white dandelion puffs printed in the corners. In shiny silver ink she wrote, “Happy Birthday, Maddy!” and drew a picture of a firefly swirling around the dandelions and embellished it with hearts. Satisfied with her message, she stood up with her jar and stepped out onto the front porch. The rain had slowed to a sprinkle dropping ripples into puddles on the off-beat. She took a deep breath and unscrewed the lid watching the fireflies fly out of the jar like magic pixie dust as she sang Happy Birthday.

    It was nearly midnight and Maddy huddled with her friends around the fire pit with remnants of marshmallows and gooey roasting sticks scattered on the grass. With the sugar intake of the night on its downward slide, the girls stretched, yawned, and one by one headed into the tent. Maddy stayed behind watching the coals dance their hypnotic waltz – indigo, blue, violet – as the once solid log slowly turned to ash. The warmth of the fire slowly faded and her glazed eyes grew heavy. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a faint light swirling about. She opened her eyes wider adjusting to the new source of light. The firefly hovered right in front of her face, long enough for her to recognize its familiar shape and to feel the warmth of its presence.

    She laughed out loud. “Thanks, Sarabeth. I love you too!” Smiling to herself, she knew this was a birthday she would never forget.

    • Hi Heather,
      Sweet colorful writing and a very enjoyable story. Your exposition is beautifully done. The purple winged dragon is, indeed, rare. (I’ve never seen one, but I know they exist.) The colored and textured stationery is an interesting way of adding vivid imagery into your story, which didn’t lack for any in the first place. (Was the stationery a deliberate tactical deployment?)

      Despite all the pretty shapes and colors, I sensed intermittent waves of melancholy. Am I off base on that? They’re separated, the sisters, but we don’t know why. Seems like there was some mysterious undercurrent… (I could be wrong. What time is it? One a.m.? I could be wrong. — But I don’t think so.)

      On the technical side, the first five sentences are long, which is okay, but the fifth sentence, the last sentence in the second paragraph is really long, and has no commas. Egads! None! (People say I have a comma fetish but it’s not true. I’m just a fan and a supporter. Kind of like a comma promoter. Use ‘em or lose ‘em, that’s what I always say.)

      • Heather Austin
        Thanks for reading my first attempt at ever writing a short story! That feels like a win to me! I agree there were a few sentences that were a bit lengthy – a good reminder for me to be mindful of that. You posed some good questions. Is it necessary to know the time of the events? Is it necessary to know why the sisters were apart? Isn’t it the mystery what keeps readers engaged and contemplating? Or would it be better to be more forthright?
        • Ken Allen
          Hi Heather, I think where Ken C is going (on much reflection) is the reason behind their separation given their amazing connection and “want” to be together. I don’t think this would need to be spelled out in any great detail though, nor would it distract from the story. You use some fantastic descriptive phrasing. Ken mentioned some of the early sentence structure (agree there). For me the biggest distractor was fuddling my way through the changes of POV (but don’t take my word for it – any story with greater than three characters confuses the hell out of me) …
        • Heather,
          That’s a really good story for a first attempt. What I think I was trying to say was, No, it’s not necessary to fully inform the reader, (that can be tedious and forced), what I was suggesting, is that the absence of this information gave the story an element of mystery, secrets. Did you mean to do that? As far as your question about being forthright, you must do what you think is right.
    • Hi Heather.
      I could feel Sarabeths sadness that she couldn’t be at the party, and I thought the firefly was a magic touch. Well drawn characters and good powers of description. Ken C has already remarked on the sentence structure, so I won’t go there. Anyway, I enjoyed it.
    • Alice Nelson

      Wow Heather, I can’t believe this is your first attempt at writing a story, it has such beautiful sentiment, and you were able to convey so much emotion in it.

      I love the descriptive language in your story, and the obvious closeness of the sisters. But I agree with Ken C., we need some explanation as to why Sarabeth misses her sister’s birthday, especially since they are so close.

      You don’t have to spell out every aspect of a story, because you’re right, leaving some mystery does keep a readers interest. But I think this does need at least some explanation. Like Ken A. mentioned, you don’t have to spell it out for us, but it would be nice if there was some reason why Sarabeth is absent from Maddy’s big day.

      Maybe, that is the essence of your story, Sarabeth is dealing with some issues (emotional, mental), we aren’t sure but that could’ve been the whole basis of your story.

      Ken C. already mentioned some technical things, long sentences and no commas, but all in all this is a wonderful story, whether it’s your first one or not. Thanks for sharing it, and welcome to the group!

    • Ilana Leeds
      Nice story Heather and a very good first attempt. I really liked your story and I got the feeling that Sarabeth has more than a touch of high functioning autism. Am I right? Did you intend that to be something a reader picks up on.
      Also don’t get me wrong, but in this day of instant communication and texting, wouldn’t Sarabeth text her sister with a few hearts and unicorns and birthday cake icons if she could not reach her sister on the phone. I know that is what I would do to wish a friend or family (when my son is finally allowed a phone again – when he can pay his own phone bills) a celebration.
      I love the firefly images. Did she collect 12 of them one for each year of her sister’s birthday?
      Very promising and yes, I will not go with the grammar corrections as Ken has already done that and even the experienced, competent writers make mistakes in tenses, spelling, punctuation and grammar at times. You get better with practice. Also one of Australia’s top writers, Patrick White who won a Nobel Prize for literature, had long cumbersome sentences that often took up a half page or more in his books, despite being incredibly well written and enthralling texts.
      • Heather Austin
        Ilana, yes Sarabeth has high anxiety, OCD, perhaps falls somewhere on the spectrum, and is very homesick. It was intended to give her depth of character. I debated about the cell phone thing…but she is only 9 and it didn’t seem too unrealistic for a 9 year-old to NOT have a phone…although the age of cell phones users gets younger and younger every day.
    • Phil Town
      Welcome, Heather!

      This is a lovely story. The connection between the two sisters is almost as if they were twins – a kind of magical, innate knowledge of the other – and you show us this by what they do and think, rather than telling us overtly. The ordering of the paper is a really nice detail and, as Ilana says, probably speaks to some kind of condition, but once again, you show us the manifestation of that conditions, and that works really well. The firefly symbol is well chosen because they’re magical little creatures anyway. I didn’t mind that we don’t know why the sisters are separated – not really necessary, for me anyway.

      Maybe the two perspectives could be separated? e.g.

      … she returned to her friends outside.
      Sarabeth screwed the lid tightly …

      Really enjoyed the story.

      • Heather Austin
        Thanks for the feedback. In my original draft I did offset the changing POV with ******, but then I removed them. Should have gone with my gut!
  • Force of nature

    She parked her Landrover and made her way down to the lakeside. The man sat on a wooden bench, lost in thought under his straw hat. The shadows were beginning to lengthen in the late afternoon, and the water shimmered under the intense summer heat.

    “Good afternoon, sir,” said Linda. “Everything OK here?”

    He looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun. He studied her green forest ranger uniform, her intense but firm expression, her hair tied back under her peaked cap.

    He smiled. “Any reason I shouldn’t be?”

    “No, not really,” said Linda, raising an eyebrow. “Old Bobby across the lake called me and said you’d been sitting here alone all day. Just neighbourly concern, is how I’d put it.”

    The man nodded. “I’m fine.” He looked back out across the lake. “Just a beautiful place to be. And a long way from other people.”

    “I get it, you want to be alone. All the same, do you mind if I join you? I’d like to take a break from my rounds and just sit a while.”

    “Sure. I don’t own the place.” He gestured for her to sit. “I’m Mike. Mike Doherty.”

    “Linda. Linda the Forest Ranger.”

    “Is that hyphenated?”

    Linda chuckled softly as she sat down on the bench. It felt hot to touch, even though it was now in the shade of the forest.

    “I’ve been watching the birds diving underwater,” said Mike. “Those coots make helluva splash when they go down. Same when they come back up. They always come up pretty much in the same place.”


    “But those grebes, the ones with the fancy crest on top, they dive down so smoothly. And stay under a looong time. You never know where they’re going to come up. Could be 50 yards away. I can never guess the right place.”

    There was a long pause, then he added. “My life’s been a bit like that. Sometimes I go down. A long way down. I come up again, but I can never tell where that will be.”

    Linda looked at him. “You’ve been through some hard times, and now you prefer to be alone?”

    “I wouldn’t say ‘prefer’. I’ve tried being with people, and it doesn’t work out.”


    “Not really. No kids. That’s probably a good thing. Been married twice, but … You?”

    “Well – an in-between stage, you could say.”

    “You’re young. You’ll do alright. Just keep away from bad folk. And folk like me.”

    “Why do you say that?”

    Mike thought for a while, and then rested his chin on his clasped hands. “Some people are just unlucky to be around. My first wife, she left me. I don’t blame her, it was the right thing. My second wife, she died. That was my fault. And maybe not my fault.”

    “An accident?”


    “I’m sorry, I’m not following,” said Linda.

    “OK. Here’s a small experiment. When I hold out my hand, touch it quickly.”



    Linda touched it, and immediately recoiled. “Yow! You’ve got some serious static there! Neat party trick, though.”

    Mike laughed. “That was maybe 20,000 volts.”

    “C’mon, that would kill me.”

    “Unlikely! It’s very high voltage, but only for a microsecond. It can heat the air and cause a flash, sometimes damage electronic equipment, and …”

    He stopped to think, and then changed tack.

    “I used to think I was some kind of freak, but after … well, long story short, they dragged me in for some experiments. Seems there are just some people who get this kind of electricity all balled up inside them. And the science of it is, under some conditions – the things you wear, the things you touch, hot and dry atmospheric conditions – pow! Sparks fly.

    “Well, Mike, are you sure being out here in a tinder-dry forest is the best place for you to be?”

    “You’re right. But the dust-dry city, alongside all the man-made stuff, fabrics, flooring and everything, that’s no better. So I wanted a break somewhere near water. I never expected it to be so hot and dry out here.”

    “You sound like a walking fire hazard, if what you’re telling me is true. What did you mean about your wife, by the way? Being your fault ..?”

    Mike hesitated. “It sounds nuts but it’s true: spontaneous combustion. I wasn’t even in the same room. But I must have brushed past her, and … No one believed it. They questioned me for days. Our living room was completely burnt out but the rest of the house was fine …”

    Linda stood up. “You’re weirding me out, Mike.”

    “Forensics showed no man-made cause. Like an intense ball of lightening, they said. Even so, they locked me up for a while. All kinds of psychological tests. And then that research team came for me. After that, I decided it’s best be alone. Can you smell something?”


    “I smell burning. You’ve got a fire about 500 yards that way. Maybe I brushed past something earlier, and the breeze is fanning the flames. Or perhaps it’s not me at all …”

    Linda rushed back to her vehicle to radio in the fire. She could see smoke along the western shore, just as Mike had said. She ran back and took a picture of Mike with her phone. “You’re the fire-starter we’ve been looking for, aren’t you? What did you use?”

    Mike shrugged.

    “Don’t go anywhere. We’re going to have another talk about this. With the police.”

    As Linda drove towards the smoke, Mike jogged along the shore towards the same point. He saw Linda with a fire blanket trying to beat out new fires starting up from the embers. “Come to admire your handiwork have you?” she shouted to Mike.

    The fire was really taking hold now, the heat becoming intense. Linda retreated to the shore, her face smudged by smoke. She looked defeated. “You get a kick out of this?” she asked angrily.

    He sighed and walked towards her.

    “Keep away from me!” she cried.

    But he headed past her towards the fire.

    “What are you doing! Are you completely insane?” Linda shouted above the crackling of the flames.

    Mike advanced, raising his arms. A huge cloud of fire and smoke leapt engulfed him with a loud swoosh, sending him flying backwards into the lake. Standing chest deep in the water, clothes burnt and hair singed, he weakly gestured to Linda to go deal with the smouldering undergrowth.

    As she did so, she called out to him, “What the hell just happened here?”

    He didn’t answer, but instead swam out further into the lake. Finally he turned, placed his hand on top of his head, fingers splayed and pointing upwards, imitating the crest of a grebe. Then he dived under the water. She looked hard, but did not see him surface anywhere.


    “So tell me about this weirdo you called in,” said her boss. “You think he’s the arsonist?”

    “I’m not sure what he is,” said Linda. “Other than some kind of force of nature.”

    “Think of something better for your report, OK?” he said, patting her on the shoulder.

    “Ow!” they both cried, leaping apart from each other.

    (1195 words)

    • What an imagination.That ending was unexpected.You created a likeable anti-hero.
      • Hey Andy.

        Fabulous writing, terrific idea, the dialogue is superb. Took me a moment to realize his condition was related to electricity rather than heat or fire. (Not your fault I’m slow.) The beautiful dialogue and changing attitudes of the two characters towards each other is the real beauty of this story.

        ‘Those coots make helluva splash…’
        ‘…as a huge cloud of fire and smoke leapt engulfed him…’

        I wasn’t sure what happened near the end with the swoosh. (I transferred out of chemistry before I failed it.) Was he still trying to be helpful? His character suggests that he was. (But I wasn’t sure.) I don’t think he should have given the Ranger his full name but that’s a minor issue.

        The ambiguity at the end does not diminish the overall brilliance of the story. A smooth, fun read, with a very ingenious plot, Andy. The jolt at the end is perfect.

        • Many thanks, Ken. I came bottom in Physics and Chemistry too, and dropped them soon after in favour of artsy subjects.
          The idea in the story emerged after I was driving and listening to a radio programme about static electricity. We have interesting radio in the UK 🙂
          But the storyline went in a different direction to my initial intentions.
      • Many thanks, Maud
    • Alice Nelson

      Andy loved this story, and that ending -Ahhh!

      As usual great flow to this story, easy to read, smooth and memorable characters. I wasn’t sure about Mike, is he a good guy or a bad guy, and I’m still not sure, but that’s not a complaint, in fact it just makes me want more. I want Mike’s history, who he is, where he came from and how he became the way he is.

      You gave us just enough to understand what’s going on, and left me wanting more.

      Great job Andy!

      • Many thanks, Alice 🙂
        I don’t know if he’s a good good or a bad guy either, or just someone struggling to live with a ‘gift’…
    • Ilana Leeds
      Ahhh Andy, Andy, this story was a real treat to read. It sets one to thinking and the ending was just perfect. I love the way you have developed your characters and plot line. A darn good read.
      • Many thanks indeed, Ilana!
    • Phil Town
      A brilliant story, Andy, starting with a perfect opening paragraph: they ought to teach that in writing school – such economy to put us in the story – location/characters. The plot is ingenious and mysterious, the dialogues excellent, the characters really vivid. The guy submerging as a grebe … that was the icing on the cake for me; a real wtf moment, but in a good way. And then that ending … so it was catching?! Fantastic.
      • Thanks so much, Phil – very kind words.

        We have a lot of water birds as neighbours here, and they kind of worked their way into the story 🙂

        Just playing a bit with ‘magical realism’, if that’s what it is. A guy who is a kind of force of nature, a bit like a creature in an old legend or fairy tale, who has his own logic in what he does – but is also human and maybe in some way a victim of his mysterious gift, isolated and brushing past others as he goes through life, with unexpected consequences.very glad you liked it.

  • Ilana Leeds

    It started as a fiery tear drop. A pipe knocked out at the gate. A hot smidgeon of coal glowing in the dusk of a summer’s day. Tobacco ash red hot fell on dry grass mid-summer when temperatures rose to 40 C plus in the daytime shade and cooled to the mid-twenties at night. Then, sleep did not come easy, twisting in bed; sheets wet with sweat under stifling mosquito nets.

    The two men travelled home in their ute from the gate which was a good five miles from the homestead. Behind them the flames began. Small red tongues that licked hungrily the dry wire and spinifex grasses; they jumped from tussock to tussock, growing more carefree and joyful by the minute. They leapt up box gums and currajong trees, crawling up the dry bark hanging from the gums and crackling through the dry undergrowth with ever increasing abandon.

    At the house paddock gate, the younger one of them turned to the other and spoke.

    “Geesus Mate, the sunset is red tonight, ain’t it? The older man turned to view the glowing western sky. His shock at the red glow did not bode well.

    “That ain’t no bloody sunset! That’s fire. And it’s a big front.” His arm swept out over the horizon. “Look. It must already be at the Lake paddock fence. We’ll need help with this one. Cripes. How did that start?” The younger man kept a guilty secret close knowing like a hungry beast tearing into his chest. He felt he already knew.

    “We’ll have to ring all the neighbours and let’em know. And the CFA. This one already has a big start on us.”

    They gunned the ute down from the house paddock gate which they left open. An older woman met them at the house fence; fearfully wringing out a dishcloth, her mouth pursued.

    “Judy, get onto the CFA. Tell them there’s a fire on the top end of Jaynella. Then, ring Boyds, Kellys and Ryans. Brody and I will get the tanker ready. We will need the flame throwers to burn back from the Tank paddock. If we can build a big enough break before it takes hold; we have a chance to save the house. We’re going to burn back from the mulga line into the spinifex patch up through to the tanks.” He paused, turned to the younger man. “Brody get the paddock gates open. Take the bike. I’ll get the truck ready and the throwers.”

    The young man turned half ran into the big shed by the house yard gate and roared out on a trail bike a minute later. He hunched over the bike. His task, to open all the gates and allow the animals to run through. Still they would find in the fire’s wake, sheep protected by their wool dying in agony by the fence lines, melted hooves, the flesh on their faces shrivelled and blistered from the heat, ears burnt off, the cattle – their hides blackened and red raw flesh hanging from their flanks, their bodies hurting, heads turned back in anguish, mouths open in a silent bellowing, swollen tongued they lie against the stronger fences. If there are enough of them and the fence is weak, they will pull it down with the weight of their bodies or the pile up of the dead will allow others to escape over the fence. It takes him the best part of an hour to open all the gates wide.

    Already the roar of the fire is filling the air. He returns hurtling down the narrow-overgrown track to the homestead. A heavy cloud of smoke seeps down from the darkening sky. The glow of the fire is making visibility poor and giving the landscape an eerie glow. His father is already burning back with the Boyd men who have raced fifteen kilometres from the neighbouring property. Jan Boyd is already with Judy his mother, in the kitchen making sandwiches, thermos flasks of strong black tea and coffee. They cut thick slices of fruit brownie and wrap it into packs for the men to take. Amy Boyd her daughter is going with her father and four brothers. Every hand is on deck. She cuts bags in half, then throws them into an overflowing trough of water in the outside laundry. One of her brothers is putting four halves of two forty-four galleon drums onto the back of a ute. The drums are filled with water from a hose that splashes over the tray.

    The Ryans arrive. A mother and father with two fourteen year old twin boys and a girl of twelve. Judy tells the girl to turn the sprinklers on all the house hoses and to train three hoses onto the roof of the house. The electric pump is started.

    Although it is probably not necessary. The draft from the fire is driving the big windmill to pump furiously. Soon there will be ash and sparks flying. The smoke clouds the vision, burns the eyes and throat.

    The short wave radio in the nearby office crackles.

    “Come in Jaynella. Come in Jaynella. Over.”

    Judy dusts off her hands and walks swiftly to the office off the kitchen. She picks up the mic.

    “Jaynella. Judy Robinson, Roger.”

    “Judy. CFA Lieutenant Thomas Jones. We’re at the north end of the fire front. Front approximately three kms wide. Increasing with the wind. Your homestead is safe for now. We’re calling in the big birds with water hoses. Is your water tank full? Over.”

    “Roger. Pump’s going. Tank’s full. Send the bird. How long? Over.”

    “Rog. You’ll hear it in five to ten minutes. She’s heading your way now. Over.”

    “Good. Does your team need some food? We’ve packs prepared here. Sandwiches. Fruit brownie. Thermos of tea and coffee . We’ll make up a pack. Tell them to drop a line with a hook. Over.”

    “Thanks Judy. You’re a mate. It’s gunna be a long night. Over and out.”

    She marches back into the big kitchen.

    “Jan. We need to make up a food back for the CFA team. Make it up for ten people. Give them some thermos. I’ve some old ones in the back of the pantry. Just for occasions like this.” She smiles grimly.

    Meanwhile outside, Brody is helping with the burn back. The horses have been driven off towards the lake paddock. The dogs have been brought into the house yard and chained to the fence there. The thrumming whirl of the helicopter blades is heard in the distance. Moving in.

    Brody looks up. Then he looks across at his father. The tears in his eyes unshed.

    “I’m sorry, Dad.” His father glances at him. Then pausing, he angles the flame thrower away. He goes to Brody and claps his shoulder.

    “It’s ok son. We all make mistakes.”

    Brody puts his head in his hands, tears run through his fingers. The fire roar grows louder. Smoke swirls around them.
    “I said, it’s ok. Now get up. We have a fire to fight. You’re not giving up. Are you?”

    “No Dad. I’m not.” He gets up wearily. Lights the flame thrower, because the fight has only just begun.
    He must fight fire with fire or die.

    (1207 words including title)

    • Heather Austin
      I love how everyone fights this fire in their own way, taking care of their neighbors, a community coming together under dire circumstances. It is clear this isn’t the first time they’ve gone through this. And the Dad’s forgiveness is touching. I enjoyed it!
    • Alice Nelson

      Ilana good job of showing the preparation and the fear one must feel when a fire starts in those remote locations. You seem very knowledgeable about a fire of this type and what to do with the animals, and how it might be handled by the authorities. This gives your story some depth.

      I enjoyed the story, but one thing I noticed was at the beginning of the story, you hint that Brody might know how the fire started. It’s mentioned in a way that seems as if he had some nefarious part in the starting of the fire. I got the sense that there’s this mystery that Brody was a part of. But there is never a resolution. The whole mystery with Brody is dropped until the very end, and still we have no idea what his part was in the fire, or why.

      Sometimes leaving that open ended mystery is great, other times the reader should be given something, but it seems as if your story was never meant to be a mystery, even though it begins as if it is one.

      Also, I wasn’t sure what you meant with this sentence; “The younger man kept a guilty secret close knowing like a hungry beast tearing into his chest” seems a bit awkward.

      Still a nice job Ilana.

    • Phil Town
      This is tense stuff, liana. As always, your descriptions are really vivid – how the fire takes hold, then the nightmarish scenes of dead animals. There’s a well-created sense of desperate bustle to get this fire fought. The “A pipe knocked out at the gate.” confused me at the outset, although it came to me later what it was referring to. (In your reply to Alice, you mention a cigarette butt – that might have been less ambiguous?) I found the radio dialogue with the CFA lieutenant a little too drawn out and possibly superfluous – it doesn’t really add to the tension (detracts from it a little, I feel) and could have been telescoped by someone saying “Been on the blower to … and he says …” Very atmospheric, authentic-sounding story, though, and well rendered.
  • Good story IIana, you nailed the tension. I guess Brody learned his lesson.
  • Fire Opal

    The huge fire opal sat on a bed of black velvet in a glass case, its radiance reflected in the mirrored surface. Shimmering and glowing, throwing different colours from whatever angle Melanie viewed it. She longed to take the gem out and touch it, imagining how it would feel in her hand. Stretching her fingers out in front of her, Mel visualised the stone set in gold. No filigree or ornamental setting, just plain heavy gold. The stone needed no embellishment, it stood alone.
    But its heart was black.
    Egypt 1918.
    A merciless sun beat down as Hassan laboured with blunt tools, hewing blocks of granite from the unforgiving earth. Behind him he could hear the shouts of the gang master and the stifled cries as the whip landed on some unfortunate prisoner. Two years Hassan had been held prisoner; in that time he had seen comrades succumb to the harsh regime. Whether it was cholera, exhaustion, starvation, or pure despair, one by one the band of prisoners had grown smaller, yet still the edifice must be built.
    Sweat drenched Hassan and dried in salty crusts as he struggled to move a boulder from his path. One desperate heave and the rock moved, unbalancing him. Falling into the crater he lay stunned, sharp stones tore at his flesh. Brushing aside debris he clambered out, fearful that the gang master would look in his direction.
    A flash of fiery red caught his attention, and, stooping down, Hassan picked up what looked like a fragment of rock, but at its heart a fire glowed. Secreting the rock in the folds of his ragged tunic, he carried on with his backbreaking task.
    Later that evening in the communal tent, Hassan took out the rock and examined it closely. His pulse quickened as he recognised the opal at its heart. He knew now that he must escape. The gem spoke of untold riches if he were only free to find a merchant.
    Hassan pondered and plotted; the one thought uppermost in his mind was how to escape. The camp was guarded day and night by soldiers with their rifles and vicious looking blades. Only once had Hassan witnessed an escape attempt, the whole group had been forced to watch the execution. The prisoner’s body had been left to rot in the burning sun as a reminder to his comrades.
    Nevertheless, the thought of a new life built around the wealth that the opal could bring became an obsession.
    The day the typhoon came to the desert Hassan saw his chance, under cover of darkness and a blinding sandstorm he made his way to the camp perimeter. The wind howled and the sand stung his face as he attempted to scale the wire fence, the opal hidden in the folds of his robe. Hot winds dried the sweat as he gathered his strength and made a desperate leap for freedom. Landing on rough ground, he lay motionless, listening for sounds of pursuit. Slowly, silently, the cobra uncoiled itself, aroused by the heat of Hassans body. At the moment of his greatest triumph, the snake struck.
    The opal lit up the dark desert.
    But its heart was black.

    Dawn broke red and gold over the desert. The guard patrolling the perimeter fence sounded the alarm as Hassan’s lifeless body lay in the sand. At his side, half hidden by his cloak, the opal nestled, fire and ice. Ahmed, the guard, recognising the gem as something of value, hid it away from the greedy eyes of his colleagues. Back in Ahmed’s village, Ishmael, the money lender, eyed the stone. His watery eyes lit up as he calculated the value of this find.
    “This is a gem, but it is of inferior quality. I can maybe offer you E£100 for it.”
    “Surely it’s worth twice that amount, look how it glows, look at the colour.”
    Ahmed bargained with Ishmael, but he was outclassed. Ishmael had been dealing in ‘discovered’ gemstones all his life. His shrewd eye detected Ahmed’s lack of expertise, and so the fiery opal found a place among his store of treasures, where it languished, exuding menace.
    Ahmed left the small back street shop, disappointment warring with anger; he felt cheated and helpless to gain redress. Head down, lost in his thoughts he didn’t see the carriage come careering round the corner, the horses spurred on by the driver’s whip…

    A strange thing happened that day; in years to come Ishmael’s family would look back on that day as the start of their troubles. Ishmael’s beloved wife fell ill, the business suffered as he struggled to nurse her and run the shop. His precious only daughter ran off and married a grossly unsuitable man. To pay for his wife’s care he had to sell the business for less than its value. The money soon ran out and Ishmael found himself in a damp and tiny cell in a debtor’s prison.
    All the while the fire opal gleamed.
    We hear nothing of the gem for several years. What havoc has it wreaked? How many more lives have been destroyed?

    London 1973.
    In a muddy field somewhere in Essex Sarah and Tom pick their way through various stalls of bric a brac. Old toys, faded lace, empty perfume bottles and endless paperback books.
    “Come on” Tom grumbles. “We’ve seen all this before, how much tat do you need?”
    “Just this last one” Sarah grabs his arm, “then I promise we’ll go for a cup of tea.”
    Resigned, Tom shrugs his shoulders and follows her, his feet dragging.
    The cardboard box sits under the stall; Sarah stoops down to examine its contents.

    “50p the lot,” the stallholder tells her. “It’s the end of the day, love, and I’m packing up. Go on. Try pot luck, you never know what you may find.”

    Sarah hands over her 50 pence, while Tom rolls his eyes.
    The opal nestles at the bottom of the box, its fire dimmed by dust and grime.
    Back home in their terraced house in the suburbs, Sarah examines the contents of her box. One or two old comics, some well worn leather boots and a nondescript stone, its beauty hidden under years of grime.

    “This is quite pretty now I’ve cleaned it up a bit.” Sarah remarks as she places the opal on the window ledge.
    The suns rays, magnified through the glass, settle on the fire opal. It generates heat, and the stone comes alive once more. A tiny spark emanates from its core and lights on the gauze window curtains. Nothing of the house is left standing as the fire takes hold.
    The opal shimmers and glows, drawing new life from the flames surrounding it.

    Tom, devastated by the loss of his home and all his possessions, takes the opal to a pawnbroker, maybe it will fetch a few pounds. Heaven knows, they need the money. The pawnbroker eyes the gem shrewdly, sensing a profit. Handing over a paltry sum to Tom he places the opal in his velvet
    lined case. Its scintillating beauty enchants Melanie.
    But its heart is black.

    • Ilana Leeds
      Oh Maud magnificent story. Loved it.
    • Alice Nelson

      Well done Maud, love the way you showed how that opal ruined the lives of all it came into contact with. Wonderful flow, a very fine job of storytelling, I really enjoyed it.

    • Maud,
      Great story, Maud! Your writing is excellent, taut, yet vibrant. You write like my father, crisp, an economy of words that achieves a maximum effect. Wonderful use of the prompt. I like the refrain, ‘But its heart was black.’ This story reminds me of a book I read last year. ‘All the Light We Cannot See,’ by Anthony Doerr
    • Heather Austin
      I love how you transported us through time and space!
    • Phil Town
      Great story, Maud, with a structure that works well – following the gem through its various owners. By the time we get to the end, we know its powers and you can merely suggest what will happen to Melanie if she buys it (but I suppose something’s going to happen to the pawnbroker, too?). The repeated sentence (about the black heart) works well, too. I’m not quite sure why the story should finish in 1973 and not nowadays, though.
      Great stuff.
  • Alice Nelson

    Fire and Rain
    By Alice Nelson ©2017

    We sat on the beach for most of the day, and Greg, like he used to in high school, had his boom box playing softly in the background.

    “James Taylor,” I said, “Nice.”

    Greg nodded, he hadn’t said much since I got back into town.

    We were sitting on the sand at Mission Beach, Greg’s favorite place in the world, particularly now, during the off-season when it wasn’t bombarded by tourists who flocked to town during the summer months.

    I convinced him to go with me to the little amusement park next to the Beach, like we used to, and Greg looked more like himself as we risked our lives on the rickety roller coaster, then ate those weird tacos and a couple of orders of fries at the Jack-in-the-Box across the street. For a few moments, I imagined us back in school —what I wouldn’t give to have those days back.

    “Ready to go now?” I asked him.

    Greg shook his head, he was particularly non- verbal today.

    “Alright,” I said. I understood why he wasn’t ready to face it yet, I wasn’t either.


    Greg Holloway and I met in middle school at Tammy Thompson’s twelfth birthday party.

    Boyd, his big brother drove us home when my ride, which was supposed to be my mom, didn’t show up.

    James Taylor was on the radio, I remember Fire and Rain was playing because it was one of my all-time favorite songs.

    “Ooh, I love this tune,” Boyd said, turning it up way too loud.

    “You like this!” Greg had to yell over the music.

    “It’s one of my favorite songs!” I yelled back.

    Greg smiled, and we rode the rest of the way listening to Boyd sing off key.

    Greg was always a quiet kid, if you got two words out of him in an hour, you were lucky. We had friends in common, but hadn’t been friends ourselves until that day after Tammy’s party —thanks to Boyd, who took me home, then invited me to the Holloway house the next day.

    “Hey your name’s Sherry, right?” Boyd asked as I got out of the car.

    I nodded.

    “My little bro here wants to invite you to our house tomorrow for a swim, but he’s too much of a wimpy asshole to do it, so I am.”

    Greg was squirming in the back seat of his brothers beat up Camaro, and I could see his beet red face from where I stood on the curb.

    “Sure,” I said, “Pick me up tomorrow.” I would’ve said yes to hanging out at the garbage dump if it meant being with Greg Holloway.

    “See dude,” Boyd said to the still embarrassed Greg, “I told you she’d be cool with it.”


    I waited on the stoop for Boyd and Greg to pick me up. My mom usually worked on Saturdays, but her drinking cost her another job. Just as the Camaro pulled up to the curb, she came out, plastered, her boobs practically falling out of her tank top.

    “Where the fuck’re you going?” she slurred.

    “Out,” I said, and hopped into the car. I could still hear her yelling at us as we drove off, “Get your ass back here now, you little slut!”

    Greg didn’t say a word, he just awkwardly put his arm around me. And Boyd, who could be a real ass sometimes, smiled at me in the rear view mirror then put on Fire and Rain.

    I had to bite my lip so I wouldn’t cry.


    “Why do you like that James Taylor song so much?” Greg asked as we laid on our towels near the pool.

    “Well, first off, because it’s beautiful, but…” I hesitated for a bit, “That part when he says, Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus, You’ve got to help me make a stand. You just gotta see me through another day. Sometimes that line is the only thing keeping me from slittin’ my wrists.”

    I don’t know why I said it, why I bared my soul to Greg that day, I just felt that he would understand, like it was safe to talk to him.

    That day turned out to be one of the best of my life. Greg and I didn’t become romantically linked or anything like that, but that day cemented our friendship for sure. From then on he was always there for me, and now I was there for him.


    The waves were pounding the shore, as seagulls swooped down and picked off their prey. A boat was gliding on the horizon, the sun slowly setting behind its sails. The day was almost perfect —almost.

    “How’s your mom?” Greg asked, he was still staring at the waves.

    “Fine, I guess.” I didn’t want to talk about her, not today, not here with Greg.

    “Have you gone to see her yet?”

    I was getting irritated, why was he bringing her up?

    “No.” I said flatly.

    “You should,” he told me simply.

    “Sure Greg, we’ll have a real mother/daughter bonding moment over coffee.” I said.

    Neither one of us spoke for several minutes. I knew she was dying and that’s why he wanted me to see her, especially since…

    “Alright, I’ll visit her.”

    “Good,” Greg said nodding, “Good.”

    “Well, it’s getting late,” I told him, “We should be going.”

    Then almost to himself, Greg said, “Yeah, I guess it’s time.”


    I wasn’t surprised by the turnout, Boyd was loved, in spite of himself.

    I was last on a list of dozens of people who spoke at his funeral.

    “Boyd was my friend,” I began, “He saved my life. On top of that, he introduced me to my best friend, Greg, when he was too shy to ask me to a pool party.”

    There was a smattering of laughter.

    “On the surface, Boyd Holloway was a brash, loud mouth who loved to hear his own voice, but underneath all that bravado, he was one of the kindest people I had ever met in my life.

    “Once when my mother took off on one of her boozy lost weekends, Boyd showed up at my door with a bag full of groceries. I burst into tears, and when I kept thanking him, he said, Don’t thank me, I’m no good guy, I just hate motherfuckers is all.

    There was more laughter.

    “I can’t believe you’re gone, Boyd. You will always be remembered, and forever missed. Here’s to you my friend.”

    I sat down next to Greg as Fire and Rain began playing.

    And when James Taylor sang, Just yesterday mornin’, they let me know you were gone…, Greg cried for the first time since his brother’s death.

    I held him tightly, and realized that when I left town to escape my life, I also left my two dearest friends in all the world. Now Boyd was gone, and there was no way I would leave Greg again. Unfortunately, it took Boyd’s death for me to realize where I belong.

    Rest in Peace, Boyd, and wherever you are, thank you.

    • Ilana Leeds
      Poignant and bitter sweet. Well done Alice. Very readable. There are too many good stories this week. Ken C, Maud, Alice, Andy, Heather and we are waiting on some of the others. Ms Carrie where are you? Have not heard from Randall Lemon for a while and a few others.
      • Ilana Leeds
        And Phillip nearly forgot Phil’s story. Actually remembered the story but forgot by whom.
        • Ken Allen
          *cough* *cough* … I can’t help but notice my name wasn’t on your list, Ilana. Nor on the second ‘I forgot’ list. And I know that it just can’t be true, because everyone loves me.
          • Alice Nelson

            Ha Ken, you’re a hoot! 🙂 I think though, she meant you when she put Ken C. because Mr. Cartisano doesn’t have a story this week. So you are on the list…but at the same time you’re not.

            Sounds like a good idea for a story.

      • Alice Nelson
        Thank you Ilana, and you’re right, loads of good stories this time around.
    • Heather Austin
      Your story flows so smoothly. I especially like how you revealed that Greg’s friend was a girl – I was guessing at first if the new friend was male or female. The message I got was that being vulnerable allows for friends to step in and help and provides fertile ground for authentic relationships to start.
      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you Heather! I’m glad you got the friend was a girl, I wanted to reveal it without being too obvious. I think the message you got is right on the money. 🙂

    • Phil Town
      This is a beautiful story, Alice – really very moving. The opening section, where they’re waiting for something but we don’t yet know what, is excellent. And then the very carefully-done layers of reveal – about the past and present. And the kick in the gut of Boyd – a character made sympathetic and likeable with great economy. I think this was superfluous near the end, because we already knew this from the car conversation: “… it was Boyd’s favorite too.” I think you might need copyright clearance (the lyrics) to publish this story elsewhere. A very skillful, warm, human story. great stuff.
      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you Phil, and I think you’re right about that part at the end “… it was Boyd’s favorite too.”, in fact I took it out then put it back, should always follow my instincts. Thanks again for the kind words, my friend.

    • Good story Alice. Beautiful writing. I was aware that you were plucking my emotional strings, but it worked to some extent in spite of that knowledge, and despite my superlative skill at masking and controlling my emotions. (Except where cats are involved.) To demonstrate my emotional immunity, I nicknamed this story ‘Boyd Stiff.’ Eh? (I’m joking with ya.)

      As for using the lyrics in the story, a little research shows that Philip is correct. Which is a shocking revelation for me. Since I used one line as the title for every chapter in one of my books. I had about 45 chapters and used about 36 different artists.

      However, I’ll probably die before anyone ever sees or reads my book, if even then. I have no heirs to leave liable, and once I’m dead, it really doesn’t matter who sues me, (unless it’s Tom Petty.)

      Actually, I’m thinking of sending them all a bill for the privilege of being mentioned in such a phenomenal work of literary craftsmanship. I’ll just tell them its product placement, and they can pay, or I take the damn song reference out. It’s up to them. And, to add insult to injury, I’ll use a form letter.

      By the way, I got stuck in an elevator today. First time ever. We were in there about 20 minutes. It’s a very unpleasant situation. (Especially for a smoker.)

      I’m not going to post my story. I chopped it down to 1755 words, but the story morphed from clever and cute, to clever, weird and sinister. It needs work. All the stories were excellent this week, it’s a shame I can’t pick all of them for first place.

      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you Ken, I’m glad you allowed, at least, some plucking of your heartstrings. I think I’ll remove the lyrics in any subsequent publishing, not sure how I would even get Taylor’s permission to use the lyrics.

        Sorry dude you didn’t get a story in this week, maybe next time you can write about your harrowing plight in the elevator, I would love to read that!

        • Ken Allen
          Nezt writing prompt? You are stuck in am elevator with a serial killer, your ex, and a gerbil. What happens?
          • Could be an interesting story, on many levels
          • Alice Nelson
            Ha! I love it!
          • Alice Nelson
            What’s the word count?
          • Ken, a little clarification please. Which one is your ex? The gerbil or the serial killer?
  • That got me, Alice. There’s not much that makes me cry but your story just hit me. Brilliant !
    • Alice Nelson
      Wow Maud, thank you so much, I am so glad the story touched you, my friend.
  • Christopher Smith
    I’ll have to bow out this week, ladies and gentlemen. I had a story started, but things have been terribly busy and posting a story (at least one that has been edited and makes sense) is out of the question for this week…which is a shame because there are so many good ones and I would have liked to have contributed something.
    Impressive writing, guys!
    • Alice Nelson
      Sorry to hear that Christopher, hope you have time during the next round, my friend.
  • Carrie Zylka

    Ahhhhhhhhhh people!!
    I created the voting page and never posted it in the comments.
    Sorry about that peeps, work had been brutal!

  • Ilana Leeds
    And Ken Cartisano we missed your story! 🙁 Naughty, you will be in the writers’ naughty corner next round.
  • Carrie Zylka

    Just waiting on Heather’s votes!

    Ken you should have posted your story anyway – we’d love to read it!

    • Heather Austin
      I voted! 😊
  • Apologies for not commenting on stories – I did intend to but after 3 days in 3 different workplaces and 3 different hotels, plus many hours on the road left me dazed and confused. (I went to the wrong floor after breakfast today thinking I was in the previous hotel …)
    But I did greatly enjoy reading them all – all well-written with diverse and interesting takes on the theme. I voted from a Starbucks at a service station on the M40 in Warwickshire, just after a sign that said “Shakespeare’s County”. So we were in good company,
    • Alice Nelson

      No worries Andy, glad you could get a story in considering how busy you’ve been.

  • Wait for my vote! Wait! Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. (No story leaves me with a surplus of commas, gotta unload some.) Wait for my votes!
    • Alice Nelson

      I think you have time Ken, I don’t believe that Carrie’s getting to the vote count until tomorrow 🙂

      • Okay Alice, thanks. Carrie never tells me anything. I voted.

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