September 1 – September 28, 2022 Writing Prompt “The Cost of Living”

Theme: The Cost of Living

(Interpret this absolutely any way you want.)

Required Elements:

  • A complex or dysfunctional relationship

Word Count: 1500

*enjoy the increased word count and an extra week, as Carrie will be out of town the week of the 14th through the 26th. Please note that responses will be delayed that week.

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  1. One story per author. You may post more than one, but only the first story will qualify for voting.
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161 thoughts on “September 1 – September 28, 2022 Writing Prompt “The Cost of Living”

  • September 2, 2022 at 1:10 am
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    Yep now this is a hard one….topical though.

  • September 2, 2022 at 1:41 am
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    Hi All, i didn’t get to the last few, but I will try this one. I agree it is a topical one if you look at it in the obvious way, but open to vast interpretations by us all. Looking forward to reading how we all have thought about these four normal average words.

    • September 2, 2022 at 5:43 am
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      Exactly so, John. All kinds of interpretations and genres possible, I think.

  • September 2, 2022 at 6:33 am
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    I’m going to try this and thinking I should start early, not later. Maybe I can get it together this time.

    Roy

    • September 2, 2022 at 11:33 am
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      Hey Roy, ‘the cost of living’ is a great prompt, until you throw in the dysfunctional relationship. But… most people have ‘experience’ with dysfunctional relationships, even if they’re temporary. I (in all honesty) have too much knowledge and experience with this topic. It’s really not fair to the rest of you.

      How dysfunctional is my family? Which nut do you want to talk about? (The artist, Van G’Nut? The patriarch, Scrooge McNut? W.C. Nutfields? Nut-in-my-job-description? Nuts Ahoy? (That’s me.) Or, Star Nuts? Or his friend, Ivanna Trip-the-Nut-Fantastic?) These are all actual family members. I may just as well write about a family of squirrels.(If I can get them to sign a release form. Absolving me of all resolve.)

      Ever notice how talkative I get when I got nothing? It’s all part of my strategy of putting out all these smoldering resentments so I can see where the typewriter is, metaphorically speaking. It’s all good.

      Have you seen Vickie? Heard from her? I’m worried. She better read this and comment… or Pyrenees, here I come.

  • September 2, 2022 at 8:21 am
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    Wow. Not sure about this one. Will have to think this one through. Adi

  • September 2, 2022 at 11:04 am
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    Hello children, adults, aliens, worms, and were-others. Well, I have some news that may bring joy to some of my biggest fan-worms, I caught ‘The Covid.’ The Covid-19 in 2022. Omicron variant B-1ba-stealth, chop-chop, df4-A9.

    It wasn’t that bad. If you’re accustomed to riding through the gates of hell on a French poodle made out of bone spurs. Actually, it was more like lying under a large sweaty house, in a pool of mud. And then the poodle came along and tried to rescue me. Stupid poodle. Sweaty mud. It was not as bad as the ‘Biltmore Flu’ of 2018. But I wasn’t vaccinated for that bug. Damn near killed me. Glad I had the vaccine for this one, though.

    All that having been said, I had a great idea for the last prompt, a surefire winner. The whole story, plop, fell from the sky and right into my lap, but, being the outstanding individual I am, (secretly outstanding), I thought I’d take two steps back and let someone else take the fifth-place honors.

    You’re welcome, Adi. I confess, I was so sick, yours was the only story I read, and then after the poodle, the bones, the gates of hell, the heavy house on my head, and let’s not forget the mud—I forgot what it was about. Something about war paint, I imagine.

    That’s the first time in years I haven’t gone to the site and laughed at everyone else’s pathetic stories.

    Except for Vickie. Where’s Vickie? What have you bastards (and balustrades) done with Vickie? Am I going to have to track her down to her hide-away in the Pyrenees, coax her out of her calcite-covered cave and prod her, (oh so gently) back to the virtual round table of this esteemed writing grupe?

    What? Oh. She left to get away from me? Oh. Okay. Balustrades be damned then. It’s good to know that everything is back to norbal.

    I think.
    Congrats on your win, Ilya. (Assuming that’s your real name.)

    • September 2, 2022 at 11:51 pm
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      So that’s where you’ve been, KenC! Glad you got through it okay though, and with all your faculties intact (as demonstrated by your perfectly lucid posts here).

      Now, off your sick bed and get a-tapping!

    • September 3, 2022 at 5:51 pm
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      Ken
      I know where Vicki is and she is safe in a small energentic homeland of holiness and absolute beauty. Not the Pyrenees, although I am sure we would not be adverse to a trip there for a creative writing weekend. Your shout? I have not won Lotto yet, nor received an offer of film rights or publishing offer.
      Do you hate me? My real name is Ilana as you well know. Ilya is the first two letters of my first name Il and Yael my second name so that makes Ilya. 🙂
      It is the month of Elul and Vicki is probably busy as her child will start school soon and yep she is probably enjoying life and chilling out.
      Did you think I deserved to win? Probably not as I felt there were flaws in my story and I nearly took it down to rewrite but there was not time.
      I hope to do better with this prompt. I am thinking along the lines of people putting an old person, a parent or elderly relative in an aged home and deciding after the exhorbitant cost of the home to put their relative down. I am sure my relatives would love to do this to me once I am old and useless and people chase them down to make them feel guilty for me being related to them by some shred of biological linkage DNA based. Euthanasia is far cheaper than keeping the old and useless alive for some.
      Or it could be a girlfriend deciding that her useless boyfriend or husband who expects her to keep them (being him and a side mistress) in a style to which they would like to be accustomed, needs to go, because of rising utilities costs, emotional costs and shouldering the rent and other related costs alone because ….. Yeah, let’s not go there.
      Or it could be a positive story about a child wanting to help parents with the cost of living and helping them surivive by a selfless offer that jeapardises their own future.
      There are endless opportunties for writing something mediocre or brilliant. What can I say?

      • September 3, 2022 at 5:57 pm
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        And yes Ken echoing Phil’s comment, get off your ass and start tapping away. We need competitive stories this prompt and I am sure you and Vicki will come up with the goods.. . 😀
        Glad you survived. I am getting my fourth booster over the holidays. I had Covid in June. I got it on the Long Weekend Queen’s Birthday weekend. It was a pain in the arse and I was also glad I was triple boosted. Felt sick, but there are times in my life that I have been sicker. Won’t go there. But like everything I survived and did it by myself without BS or pampering myself. We have to be tough in this life to survive. I am glad you are back with us.

        • September 4, 2022 at 12:12 am
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          Ilansa, Hey, what are you trying to pull? If I did to my name, what you did to yours, I’d be Keph Cartistopherson. (The third.) But… are you trying to outdo my bleating drivel with your super sardonic wit? Yes? Get off it.

          Well, I suppose one good insult deserves another so, I don’t hate you, I was trying to get a rise out of somebody, I guess, but I didn’t read any of the stories, except Adi’s, which I don’t remember, and frankly, I don’t feel guilty at all. Not after all the stories I’ve read, and written on this site in the last 300 weeks. I deserved a break, even if I was delirious, (and mostly dead.) I read some of the comments. Okay, parts of some of the comments, the gist of which indicated your story was salacious. That was enough for me in the state I was in.

          Which inspired me in a way. Imagine me, if you will, a limp pile of homunculus, lying in a pool of my own sweat, (and drivel, and drool, I admit) shivering as I tried, with both hands, to open my laptop, but it was upside down, and backwards, and slippery, and I couldn’t figure it out. I swore at van Gogh’s ear, or what was left of it, hanging on the mirror. “Kiph!” I croaked incoherently. “What’s with the ear?”

          She comes in with a pint of blueberries, dumps them in my pants and says, “These are from Mike Pence.”

          The moral of this story? Who’s Vickie? And don’t try to out-drivel me. I will drivel you–to death.
          And then some. Do you yield?

          I didn’t think so. You’re awfully stubborn.

      • September 21, 2022 at 12:47 pm
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        I wrote my story before I read this post from Ilana … the part where she says … “Yeah let’s not go there.” Dang, that’s eerie seeing that plot line from someone else.

    • September 20, 2022 at 11:33 am
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      KenC,
      It’s good you caught the covid. I did too. Easy peasy.
      Cerebral lucidity emanating from extreme clarity of eye and nose are some of the spill outs, I hear.
      So you’re good. Just keep them, eye and nose, going round from east to west.

  • September 4, 2022 at 1:51 pm
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    Hi Ilana,

    Well, after all of my ‘Darth Vadering’, I realized I owed it to myself to read your winning story from last week’s contest.

    This is what I think. It’s beautifully written, wonderfully descriptive, great use of the prompt. Visually arresting. Your clever use of language pulls the reader into the story by evoking the visual and olfactory senses. And… It’s a great story that is very well told.

    Great opening paragraph.

    This is a very nice line:
    ‘Her face is a chiseled study of aristocratic elegance. Her dark eyes are predatory – hawk-like.’

    In the middle of the story, in one paragraph, you use the words ‘hips’ twice, and ‘lips’ twice.
    Such as: ‘He licks his lips and tastes the sweat beading on his upper lip.’ (With the tip of his tongue he licks the salty sweat beading on his upper lip.)

    Further into the story you use the word ‘paint’ three times in one short paragraph and you have mixed your tenses in one instance. Despite those two or three miscues, it’s an excellent story. An enjoyable read. Very well done. And that’s the truth.

    I’m certain that this would have beaten anything I might have written, even in the throes of delirium.

  • September 4, 2022 at 3:04 pm
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    @KenC, hope you’re feeling better! Sorry to hear you got hit with Covid.
    I’m touched by your concern for my whereabouts despite the Corona. I’m not in the Pyrenees. I wish I were in the Pyrenees; or better still, that someone paid me to be there … I can think of many other locations I’d happily be at, if only someone paid me to do so (see ‘cost of living’).

    @Ilana, my time off has been less fun & chill than you think. 🙂 And my son is only 4, so even if he’s a supergenius we’ll hold off on school for a bit longer & let him have his childhood. 🙂

    For both of you and anyone else who’s interested, the last few weeks have included moving house, a semi-enforced vacation (no kinder or any summer program for the kid, and all the grandparents live on different continents), and various other bits & bobs (s.a. the washing machine not working). So it was part fun, part nightmare, lots of heat, and not a second to myself to write in.

    I’ll try to get back into writing now that the kinder, work, etc. have started again; but I feel that my creative gears are rusty after not being exercised. I mean, I can’t even come up with a bedtime story about Spiderman on the spot. Shame on me.

    • September 7, 2022 at 5:51 pm
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      Vicki,

      I just really enjoy your stories. Your talent. You’re not the only one I miss, but I’m not about to make a list.

      As for Spiderman, ‘he does whatever a spider can.’ Do a little research on spiders, that’ll add some grist to your bedtime story mill. Just remember, Spiderman is a good guy. Although I suspect you’re exaggerating your shortfalls.

      Nice to hear from you.

  • September 4, 2022 at 3:42 pm
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    PS. Ilana, congrats on your win with your lovely, gentle story – yes, despite the raid, kidnapping, and battle, the overall mood of the story is rather lyrical. It even has a happy ending!
    Judging by your comment above, though, looks like we’re in for a complete reversal this round. The gentle, poetic Ilana is about to give way to the brutal, take-no-prisoners Ilana.

  • September 5, 2022 at 2:58 am
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    Hi Ken – my commiserations on catching the dreaded virus. It’s a shame, as I know you were taking all the right precautions, touring around the country wearing a hazmat suit in a Winnebago stuffed to the gunnels with hand gel and anti-septic wipes, visiting regions where the custom is to lick handrails on buses and eject people from stores for wearing a face mask. Unless they’ve just rode into town out of a dust storm.

    The little microbial devils are persistent – they’ll get even the best of us in the end. But better so at the end, well vaccinated, than at the beginning. Glad to see you’re back and, as Phil observes, your sanity and lucidity are unaffected …

    Ilana – I’m sorry you had it too, and glad you beat the little blighters. With a cricket bat, no doubt. Caught during the Queen’s Birthday weekend? I imagine you were up carousing till dawn, toasting Her Majesty. Talking of dysfunctional relationships, the royal family could make a good case study. E.g. when the lights go out in the UK, and the family, Meghan, Andrew, and all, have to move in together to a three-bed semi in Swindon to cope with the cost of living. Nails the prompt. Any takers for that one?

    • September 7, 2022 at 5:58 pm
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      Andy,

      Your comedy is so natural and refreshing. Not sure when your teasing me or not, but I laugh anyway. It’s true, Kim and I have done more than our fair share of traveling, but I assure you, as tough as I like to pretend to be, I did not want to catch that dad-burned thing. I really didn’t. And I was foolish enough to believe it was not inevitable.

      As you say though, better to have gotten it toward the end, well-vaccinated and boosted, then at the beginning.

      • September 8, 2022 at 8:32 am
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        So glad you are back Ken! I’m happy you are better and just as funny as ever. Stay well and get back to writing! Hugs! Adi

        • September 10, 2022 at 10:12 am
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          Thanks sweety. (Yes, you Adi.) I’m slowly coming to terms with the failure of my ‘invincibility shields.’ What could’ve gone wrong? Short circuit? Too MUCH power? Andy thinks I had my foot on the wrong pedal. I don’t know how to tell him that my ‘ship’ has no pedals at all! But yes, as you can see, I’m totally back to normal. (Or, as I’ve heard the occasional porpoise say, cutting a fine wake with my dorsal.)

          I actually have been writing, and I already wrote a story for this prompt. 1501 words. (Right? But that includes the title, so–I could probably get away with it, except that no one seems even slightly dysfunctional.) But the story is so depressing, dark and dreary, it deserves to be sent to some horrid fiction site where they pay trolls to undress. So I’m intent on writing another story for the site.

          Something whimsical and lighthearted, like, a man’s goat getting stuck in an elevator, and everyone’s afraid because it’s a talking goat from the planet Fartsalot, and on the planet Fartsalot, giggling is a grievous insult. All things being equal, is probably the dumbest phrase ever uttered. I shall never use it again.

          Cheers doll, and wish me luck, with the goat. Still writing, still dreaming.

  • September 5, 2022 at 5:46 pm
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    THE DEAL

    The raspberries – not quite ripe – are sharp on my tongue. I let them sit there, the flavour filling my mouth with summer. Closing my eyes, I remember my grandparents’ farm, sunlit on the hill. I was sent there for the air due to my condition. They grew all kinds of berries but raspberries were my favourite, with the blood-red juice they left on my hands after picking. I could lick my fingers clean then.

    My grandparents came here a month or so before us. They wouldn’t have got much beyond the train yard. My parents lasted a little longer – at least I know my father did. They were separated at selection; I was put in the same hut as my father, and word got through to us that my mother was in another part of the camp. That was three weeks ago; who knows if it was true, and if it’s still the case?

    The milk they’ve given me is warm, and once again I’m transported back to the farm. My grandparents had a dozen dairy cows. I’d help my grandmother with the early-morning milking, though some mornings I preferred to stay in bed, especially in the winter. I can still hear the lowing of the cows; Granny said it was them showing their excitement before the milking, then their relief during it. I always thought it might be because they didn’t want to be locked up in a shed.

    After we finished our work – I wasn’t too much help because my hands weren’t really strong enough – we’d sit on our stools among the straw and cow shit. Granny would dip a wooden ladle in the bucket and let me drink from it. The milk was still warm, which was very comforting in the winter months.

    The milk and raspberries have helped to take away the taste of what I had before; the chicken reminded me of home. My mother would buy meat from Mr Cohen on the corner. I liked him because he always made a point of putting some scraps to one side for Lily. She couldn’t accompany us when we came away, of course. My mother told my father to deal with her. He took her behind the building.

    My mother prepared the chicken in a soup with matzo balls. It was my favourite dish – she let me watch her make it and help. We would always have it on a Thursday, and that routine, with the whole family around the table, warms me now to think about it. My parents, my grandparents when they were in town, my sister Hannah, and Lily near us, looking up longingly for titbits. My father told us not to give her anything, but we took it in turns to distract him while someone else dropped a piece of chicken on the floor.

    The boiled chicken I had today reminded me of those times, but only in that it was chicken. It tasted a little off and had some gristle – not to be compared with my mother’s delicious dish. I ate it all, though, because here you learn to eat everything and anything; you don’t know when you might get to eat again. And I’m one of the lucky ones – if you can call it that.

    I can hear the string quartet outside the window. A couple of their instruments don’t have all the strings, but you’d need to be an expert to notice the difference. I know something about music but even so, to me it sounds like a little bit of heaven – merciful heaven, obscuring for a while the ugliness of it all. My mother insisted I took piano lessons when I was younger. My father was against the idea; he wanted me to be out in the street playing with the other children. I don’t think they ever agreed on how I should be brought up.

    And I don’t think my father ever really liked me, if the truth be told. He was expecting a stronger son, someone who could take over his business – he was a coal merchant – and carry on the family name. As the years went by, he must have seen that neither goal was going to be met. He treated me increasingly coldly, while all the affection I craved came from my mother. You would have thought that given our predicament, and because we were thrown together in this place, he would have reached out and tried a little bit more. It was the opposite. I believe that he blamed me for everything, however illogical that might sound. Once he beat me for no reason. All of my attempts to get close to him failed.

    I’m not proud of what I’ve done, of course I’m not. Perhaps my father would forgive me if he were still here. He knew what conditions were like – are like – in our hut. Every morning when you wake up there’s another body to carry out, sometimes more. The hut doesn’t empty; there are always replacements to take over the flea-infested bunks. And there’s always the same amount of bread and gruel, when we get any, to be shared amongst all. In those kinds of conditions – as well as the digging and rock-breaking, which I’ve been excused from – there was no way I was going to survive; I’ve always been sickly.

    It was Levy’s radio but that day my father had borrowed it and hidden it in his bunk. As God is my witness, I didn’t know. If my father is looking down now, I hope he realises that.

    I will have to live with it, though – this shame. And with the constant nightmares: my grandparents’ faces as they realize it isn’t a shower-room they’re in; my father’s bones cracking as they beat him; the desperate wailing on the train, and Hannah’s tiny, limp body lying in the straw and shit.

    Just as I will have to live with the others in the hut – those bedraggled, walking skeletons, with their eyes full of hatred and death.

    .

    • September 7, 2022 at 5:40 pm
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      Spoiler alert. Don’t read Ilana’s comments before you read Phil’s story. (Like I did. Doh.)

    • September 8, 2022 at 8:38 am
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      Powerful story Phil! It touched all of the emotions. It made me stop. Think. Cry. Be grateful. Say prayers for those that experienced what your protagonist did. You have truly caught the experience of the cost of living. Masterful work, well done. Adi

      • September 28, 2022 at 12:44 pm
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        Thank you, Adi.

    • September 21, 2022 at 10:05 am
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      A very powerful story that stirs one’s emotions. The meaning of cost of living is brought out poignantly. Great job.

      • September 28, 2022 at 12:44 pm
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        Thanks, Jagan.

    • September 22, 2022 at 1:46 pm
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      Phil, you were first off the bat and already set an impossibly high bar for the rest of us. (Sorry for the terribly mixed metaphors.) Your story has the emotional impact of a punch in the gut (in the best sense).

      I’ve no idea if you have a Jewish background, or have simply done your research really well. Anyway, you’ve nailed it.

      • September 28, 2022 at 12:44 pm
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        Thanks, Vicki! No, no Jewish blood (that I know of!), just smidgeons of knowledge gleaned from documentaries and films mainly.

    • September 27, 2022 at 9:45 pm
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      You’re a terrific writer, Phil Town. Enjoyed the heartbreak story you’ve written, its theme veering off on another stream of consciousness, about the agony of living and the memories.
      On my first reading, I pondered on the economics of matzo soup +chicken. 🙂
      Brilliant!

      • September 28, 2022 at 12:42 pm
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        You’re very kind, Marien. Do you mean it would be hard to come by chicken in the war? I’m thinking the memory is of family dinners before the war (?)

    • September 28, 2022 at 12:07 pm
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      Hi Phil – I said before that I wasn’t making a full comment, as I didn’t want to throw in any spoilers before people had had a chance to read it. Main thing, I think it’s brilliantly written and constructed. So a top story for me.

      Two things tripped me up a little bit. One is the diet he has, which bears little relation to a diet at a death camp. Milk, chicken, raspberries (though they may have been picked wild, I guess) – even if he’s become a Kapo it doesn’t sound right. Everyone was desperately hungry on an insufficient, thin cereal/vegetable-based gruel diet. But it’s needed as a device to trigger the memory, I know. The second thing was the improbability of passing a radio around, and in particular of hiding it in a bunk. Even a crystal radio at the time, if it were to work at all, would be a fairly bulky item, and with the regularity of camp searches it would be just about impossible to smuggle in or hide. I only know of one radio, which was a fairly big beastie built bit by bit within the camp movie theatre at Buchenwald and used to communicate with advancing US troops, if I remember correctly. Maybe some other small forbidden item might work better?

      • September 28, 2022 at 12:55 pm
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        Thanks as always for your positive and constructive comments, Andy. You could be right on both counts (food and radio).

        For the former, I’m thinking a reward for snitching about the radio (so it’s not ‘a regular diet’ as such, and could be leftovers from the guards’ meals … and maybe retrieved from the rubbish in the case of the chicken – hence the fact that it tastes ‘off’).

        For the radio … I actually wrote it in and researched it retrospectively (fearing what you pointed out) and found this on-line:

        “In other concentration camps in Germany and beyond the information [about the Allied advance] only filtered through to prisoners via clandestine and dangerous channels.

        Where the deportees were organised, in camps like Birkenau in Nazi-occupied Poland, a hard core of prisoners managed to break the isolation by making makeshift radios.”

        These would be the so-called ‘foxhole radios’ – rudimentary and relatively small.

        But maybe I could have used something else, as you say, because you wouldn’t be the only reader to doubt the radio angle.

        Thanks again.

    • September 29, 2022 at 3:09 pm
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      Phil, I’ve run out of superlatives for your stories. Let’s just say they’re damn good. This one is no exception. Your story is well told and well constructed, although I would have written — My mother insisted I take piano lessons instead of — My mother insisted I took piano lessons. You’re the teacher, though, so that could be one of those things I’ve always been wrong about, past tenses, etc., etc.

      While I know, as Ken and Ilana said, you’ve had better stories, I think you nailed the prompt. here’s why I think that. I thought I was pretty clever and was going with the dying is the cost of living and then build on it. Then you come along and show me in a most eloquent and subtle way that the real cost of living sometimes is … living.

      Well done, Phil. Not sure you’re going to be beat, but it could happen. There are some pretty good stories this week and. as in most weeks, it was tough to vote.

      • September 29, 2022 at 5:03 pm
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        Thanks very much for the kind words, Roy!

      • September 30, 2022 at 5:59 am
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        On your grammar point, Roy … you’re right, but I’m not wrong (if that makes sense). From the Longman English Dictionary:

        “In formal English, you insist that someone do something, using the base form of the verb (=infinitive without ‘to’): I insist that he wait. You use the base form of the verb when talking about the past: I insisted that he wait. In everyday English, people also say: I insisted that he waited.”

        So strictly speaking, yes – it should be “My mother insisted I take piano lessons”, but as the narrator would be using everyday English (he uses contractions, for example), then I think “My mother insisted I took piano lessons” is acceptable, or even preferable in the context.

        But well spotted!

        • September 30, 2022 at 6:23 am
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          “as the narrator would be using everyday English” – or everyday Yiddish, Polish, German, Dutch (etc) …. I wonder how much we can be a stickler for English grammar when in reality the speaker would be using everyday speech in another language? So I think it’s fine to depart from best practice grammar, except when it is particularly grating or stands out like a sore thumb, which I don’t think this does.

  • September 7, 2022 at 7:24 am
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    Phil your story starts out brilliantly and I love your turn of phrase, “the flavour filling my mouth with summer”.You take your readers to a very beautiful place. The writing is very sensory.
    But then I am filled with horror as your story unfolds and I realise he is in a concentration camp.
    Excellent writing. One of your best.

    • September 28, 2022 at 12:40 pm
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      Thanks, Ilana!

  • September 7, 2022 at 5:43 pm
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    A brief but horrible story, Phil. Good writing of course. I’ll say no more at this point.

    • September 8, 2022 at 5:15 am
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      Likewise, Ken – I read Phil’s powerful story a few days ago, had a comment prepared but held back on posting at this stage. It (my comment) is solidly appreciative, though there was one thing that tripped me up on the reading. For now, I’ll just say I do think this story has one of Phil’s best characterisations, so well interwoven with a) the prompt and requirement and b) something primeval about the narrator’s outlook, choices and will to live. Memorable and kept me thinking. Definitely my favourite story so far!

      I have a story bubbling up – glad to see we have 3 weeks for this as I’ll be away next week. In Barcelona. Apart from the sun and the fun, I think it’s cheaper to go there than pay for utilities here in the UK … Hmm, maybe we’ll stay there … 🙂

    • September 28, 2022 at 12:40 pm
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      Thanks, KenC!

  • September 8, 2022 at 3:59 pm
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    My condolences to those of you across the pond on the loss of the Queen. Please don’t laugh, but I am mourning her loss here. Presidents come and go, some good, some bad – no comments there!! But the Queen has been consistent for 70 years. I mourned Diana and I will mourn the Queen.

    I don’t how you all feel about Charles, but I have my own opinions of him, formed over the years and all I can say is – God save the country!

    Seriously, God bless Queen Elizabeth II.

    • September 8, 2022 at 5:38 pm
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      Thank you, Adi, on behalf of my country (!).
      It’s actually a very odd feeling, as well as sad at a human level. Very much the passing of a generation, and an icon of continuity and stability when all else is changing.

      Charles – I quite like him actually. Even though he and Camilla chose to try to upstage us on our wedding day in 2005 by moving their wedding to the same day and time! We’ll have to see if the new Carolingian era matches the passing Elizabethan one. I think he’s had time to train for the role.

      • September 9, 2022 at 8:27 am
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        Andy,
        You are right. Charles has had more than enough time to train for the role. LOL. I had been wondering if he was going to choose another regnal name but it appears he is going with King Charles the III. There was a great deal of speculation prior to the Queen’s passing about what name he would choose since the prior King Charles’ in history had very poor reputations. I hope Charles does his mother and his country proud as this is his moment to shine. I am going to miss the Queen.

  • September 8, 2022 at 11:05 pm
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    My story title will now come with a differing meaning since the news of the passing of HM QEII. I may have to reconsider the title and some of the content, or just write something else.

    • September 22, 2022 at 1:51 pm
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      Werewolves and the cost of living. Hoping to see a story with this title from you.

      BTW, your throwaway comment from about a year ago about ‘werewolves in space’ stuck in my head and became a story. Now I’m trying to find it a home (so far – one rejection, one pending submission). So you’re an inspiration, mate.

  • September 9, 2022 at 12:08 pm
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    Damn. I’m sorry Ken – I hate that The Plague tried to get you … but I am glad that it failed!
    I’m next, I just know it.

    Trying to not say things as much, which is against my nature, but you will all appreciate it!

    Just everyone know that I am here, somewhere in the distance, watching and enjoying (almost) silently.

    Not trying to be cold, just emotionally drained (a new development, right?) and tired of failing to express myself correctly, talking too much, etc. Sometimes it feels like it is more depressing to hear from me than it is to not, you know? So just insert something waxing witty as a placeholder for my predictable messages!

    My condolences to you all as well, she was a good person I think, and it is sad to see her go.

    Good luck with everything and let us hope that it goes uphill (for a little while) from here!

    • September 24, 2022 at 10:26 am
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      Dude, Rumples, you are so emotionally distant. But ‘waxing witty’ is a wonderful placeholder. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, (a terrible habit that I must work harder to break) ‘There’s nothing quite so exhilarating as having been given 3 shots without much result.’

  • September 9, 2022 at 12:09 pm
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    Hi All,

    I have been able to catch up with all the comments and I did read Phil’s story first. There is little to add that moves us forward except to say that just when you think pretty much everything about this horrendous period of history, man’s inhumanity to man exemplified, has been said, Phil writes this and makes us think again.

    There was an air of disbelief this week as the news of The Queen’s illness then death filtered through here in the UK. Of course we knew the end would come but it’s still a shock. She was pronounced Queen three months before my wife was born and crowned when I was three. She has quite literally been there just about all of our lives and our parents’ wartime years too. She will leave a void that Charles will struggle to fill even though he is a good man and he has certainly had a long apprenticeship.

    Ken C great to see you back in print, so to speak. No one but no one writes comments like you and thank goodness for that. I remember my first exposure to your commentary when you insisted that I should not use the word “Fug,” I did anyway and you probably still hate it and I’m still going to use it whenever I go into an overheated pub or coffee house. At that time I hadn’t felt the humour and the warmth behind your words. ………..still waiting! Joking! Get well soon.

    So we seem to have all of the team I have grown to admire and respect so let’s get cracking and get some stories out there.

    Ken Frape

  • September 9, 2022 at 12:11 pm
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    I tried to send a heartfelt message but it got censored I think.

  • September 10, 2022 at 10:36 am
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    Rumples,

    So nice to see the word ‘werewolves.’ From you. I was watching a Russian made movie the night before last, with English subtitles, and said, right out loud, to no one at all– ‘were-dragons.’ (Fug.) You’ve infested me, all of you. With your goats, and fugs and were-things. I think, we are all making some progress, with ourselves, and each other.

    I don’t think you’re being censored Rumples, except by the very Universe itself. (Oh yeah, universes can get testy at times, they’re so underappreciated.) If possible, try saving it, then post, if it fails, post again. We’ll distract it while you post. It’s wonderful to see your distinguished face on my screen again.

  • September 10, 2022 at 7:44 pm
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    I do not know what happened to my original comment but it failed. Goodness knows why. I have been in a state of sadness and depression since the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II whom I deeply admired for her decency and devotion to her country and her people. She was unique. She has gone to the great country in the sky to join her consort and rock Prince Phillip and for that I am happy for her.
    Long Live King Charles and his Queen Consort Camilla. I feel for him and his family as she was just such a matriarch – a woman of absolute valour. It must be incredibly daunting to have to deal with the death of a beloved mother and grandmother and great grandmother to your family and you are thrust into the spotlight after so many years in the background, around you is sadness and grieving people, but you have the duties of a high office thrust apon you at the moment of one of the greatest sadness in your life – losing a parent and such a parent.
    I can unashamedly say, I loved the Queen. She was unique and an icon of the second half of the twentieth century and the first nearly quarter of the 21st Century. Brits are amazing and they do pomp, honour and ceremony like no other nation. There is nothing to compare.
    I wish Charles III well. G-D save the King. The other british kings named Charles had unfortunate lives. One was beheaded and the other was a notorious rake.
    Let this Charles live long and well. Third time lucky.

  • September 10, 2022 at 7:46 pm
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    And yes Ken C there are errors in this post. I was in a hurry and “sadness” should be “sadnesses”. I hope someone takes on the corgis and they have more corgis. I miss seeing them. I may get one. For my son of course.

  • September 13, 2022 at 1:06 am
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    Ilana,
    Yeah, well, it happens. (Mistakes.) I used a there when I meant they’re or their, somewhere back there in the thread. But these are just comments. I don’t mention mistakes in your comments, if that’s what you’re implying. Only in the stories. Glad no one does that to me either. What would be the point? They’re just comments.

  • September 13, 2022 at 2:13 pm
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    Onion Pie.
    By Ken Cartisano

    Zeke was beat when he got home. It was late-summer in Florida, and the heat was still oppressive. He’d put in a ten-hour day, and even though it was close to 8 pm, the sun wouldn’t set for another hour. At least he was done working. He opened the side door and stepped inside. He had a view of most of the house including the kitchen, and caught his girlfriend, Mindy, in the act of checking a pie in the oven.

    “Hi, how’s it going.” He said, looking for a chair.

    She turned around at the sound of his voice and said, “Whataya mean by that?”

    “What do I mean by what?” He sunk into the first available chair and started to unlace his sneakers.

    “That remark. ‘Hey, how’s it going.”

    “Oh that, of course. I meant, Hello, how are you?”

    “Uh huh.” She was sipping on a glass of wine, wooden spoon in her other hand. “Where’ve you been all day?”

    With one shoe off he started working on the other, leaning forward, slowly undoing the frayed laces. “Working, whattaya think I was doing?”

    “Why didn’t you call me? You couldn’t call me once all day?”

    “I never call you.”

    “I know. Why not?”

    With both shoes off, he padded past her and extracted a pitcher of iced tea from the refrigerator: poured himself a glass. “I don’t think of you during the day. I’m busy.”

    “How much effort would it take to pick up the phone and call me?”

    “Well,” he took a long drink of the iced tea and said, “not that much, but I’m busy, most days I feel like I’m in the middle of a work tornado. Notes, papers, signs, numbers flying around me, I ain’t got time to call. I barely have time to call the people I need to call.”

    “So, I’m one of the people you don’t need to call.”

    “Well, I guess it sounds shitty but, I’m busy.” He went over to the couch, she had music playing on the stereo, so he left the TV off. The house was nice, neat and air-conditioned. It was her house. He paid her half the rent. They slept together. She would drift in and out of sight from behind a dividing wall in the kitchen. Something clanged. He said, “You can always call me, can’t you? If you need to.”

    “Fuck you,” she said. “It’s not about calling you, it’s about you never calling me. Or did you forget already?”

    Oooo, he thought, it’s gettin’ nasty already. “No, I didn’t forget.”

    Zeke was a freelance sign artist that worked for several different shops, and much of his work was done outdoors, often on ladders, lettering cars, trucks, semi-tractor trailers, walls, windows, even the occasional railroad car or private airplane. ‘They have to be parked, folks,’ he liked to tell the customers.

    Mindy worked in the comfort of her home, on her computer doing data entry. She had an upturned nose, curly brown hair, teeny-tiny tits, and the best damned legs he’d ever seen. They were an item twenty years ago, when she was still in college, but they went their separate ways, she married a musician, a bass player in a jazz band, whom she seemed unhappy with, and then he died. Zeke had met him a few times and he seemed like an okay guy. Nothing much to look at. Mindy said she fell in love with his fingers. He never asked her to elaborate. She kept a calendar on the wall and even after four years continued to mark the date of her late husband’s death.

    It bothered him a little, after four years, so he asked her about it once. “Why do you do it?”

    “Why? Does it make you jealous?”

    “No,” he shrugged, “just seems a little morbid.”

    “How is remembering his death morbid?”

    “Because you’re celebrating it, his death.”

    “I’m not celebrating it, for God’s sake, I’m memorializing it.”

    “Oh, okay. Is that different?”

    “I would mark your death on a calendar.”

    “That’s reassuring…”

    “And I hope you would mark my death on a calendar.”

    “Yeah but, what if we both lived? What do we do then?”

    This was met with silence. She stepped out of the kitchen holding a steaming pie pan with two oven mitts. “You’re the most irritating man I’ve ever met.”

    Zeke ignored the remark and said, “What ‘cha got there?”

    “Onion pie,” she said, with a defiant tilt to her head.

    “Onion pie, huh. What’s in it?”

    “Onions…

    “Well, yeah.”

    “And sour cream, and bacon.”

    “Mm, is that it?”

    She set it on the small kitchen table. “Try it.” She fetched some plates and utensils; he grabbed a napkin holder and the salt and pepper shaker. “Smells good,” he said, without much conviction.

    She was so proud. “I found it on the Internet. It has all the things you love, bacon, onions, sour cream, butter…”

    “Uh-huh.”

    She plopped a steaming orange slice onto his plate. He attacked the quivering mass with fork and teeth. His face went through an intriguing series of expressions, ending with a frown.

    “Do you like it?” She hadn’t tasted it herself yet. She was so hopeful.

    Zeke’s face twisted comically of course, and shook his head. “Not really, no.”

    She reacted as if doused with ice cold water. “What d’you mean? It has everything you like. Onions, sour cream, bacon…”

    “Yeah,” he said, “I can see why you’d think that, but—I don’t think they’re that good together.” He took a second bite, chewed it slowly, thoroughly, and shook his head again. “Nope. Definitely don’t like it.”

    “You’re such an asshole,” she said. “Couldn’t you just pretend to like it? Like most guys would?”

    “Most guys are idiots. Then they end up eating it once a week, pretending like they love something they hate.”

    She got up, took the pie, without eating a single bite herself, dumped it in the sink and poured herself another glass of wine. He couldn’t stand the smell of wine, especially stale wine. She followed him to the couch, he was trying to be nonchalant, looking for the tv remote, while she was glaring at him over the rim of her wine glass.

    “What’s that?” She said.

    “What?”

    “That light, on the couch behind you.”

    He turned around and remembered his most recent plan.

    “Is that a TAPE recorder?”

    “As a matter of fact, yeah,” he admitted.

    “You, you’re fucking recording us?”

    “Yeah, I am.”

    “How long has it been on?”

    “I don’t know, it’s voice activated so I assume it just came on when we started talking.”

    “I don’t believe this.” She became animated and indignant. “You’re actually fucking recording me, in my own home.”

    “Well, I live here too. The idea was to get a recording of the way you start fights. You start a fight with me every time I walk in that door. Every fucking night, Mindy. I wanted to record it, and show you what you’re doing.”

    “What I’m doing?” She screamed. “What I’m doing is nothing compared to being secretly recorded. I can’t believe this. I don’t believe what an asshole you are.”

    Zeke pulled the recorder from between the cushions and was trying to get it to work, but it appeared to be malfunctioning. “I don’t think it’s working.”

    “Oh, boo fucking hoo,” she said. “I’m so sad.”

    “I know,” he said, “me too. This would’ve been a classic example.”

    “What are you talking about?” She downed her wine and got up to refill the glass.

    “I walked in the door, said, ‘Hello’, and you asked me what I meant by that.”

    She returned with a full glass of wine, which Zeke suspected she might throw at him, at any moment. “But you didn’t say hello, you made some snarky remark and it wasn’t very friendly.”

    “No, Mindy. That’s not true, I…”

    “Do you remember what you said? Huh? Do you?”

    “No,” he said. “Not exactly, but I know what I meant. And the meaning was, ‘Hello.’ Nothing more, or less. Just, hel…”

    “You are a fucking asshole, do you know that? I’m going to bed, and I never want to see that thing in my house again.”

    She disappeared down the hallway, cursing to herself.

    Zeke set the recorder on the coffee table. “Well, that went well.” And the recorder’s red light came back on. It was recording again.

    The classified section of the newspaper was lying open on the table, (a sign from above?) He turned it to the rental section and heard a noise in the hallway behind him. It was Mindy.

    “Are you coming to bed?”

    “In a few minutes,” he replied.

    “Fine!” She stormed back to their bedroom, and when she slammed the door her morbid calendar fell on the floor.

    Zeke got up and pinned it reverently back into the corkboard. “Sorry pal,” he said to her dead ex, “you’re not coming with.”

    • September 16, 2022 at 3:21 pm
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      You got me to laugh out loud in the end (a real one, and not one of my cheap lols that was really more of a giggle out loud or a guffaw or chortle out loud)!

      Me and my wife went through a short period of Franzia indulgence … before we learned better. That was probably 15 years ago. It was horrible. Box wine makes you irritable and in search of a fight, but the same goes with a lot of alcohol I guess, even the more expensive stuff that doesn’t give you a Franzia hangover. We tried to warn her sister and her husband about the dangers of drinking box wine instead of beer or doing shots, but they didn’t listen and fell into the same weekly cycle of fights and addiction to the stuff … which I think starts out stale when it is fresh … and just gets worse.

      It is all about moderation and temperance, waiting long enough for the next glass, but who can do that? Especially if you are legitimately sad about something, like your Mindy (and my wife and I). You are going to get me in trouble (looks both ways), but you captured a true moment that I’m sure a ton of couples can identify with (or they are from another planet). Nail on the head.

      It made me sad though, because of that very truth coming from your experiences and the sadness hanging there. I hope you wanted to make me feel that sadness, and I am not just being all wishy washy again and reading stuff that ain’t there. It was like the session was a representation of all of their sessions together, and also of all couples everywhere throughout time. I didn’t get confused by the flashback bit, because I just mentally indented everything after “This was me with silence” so it just flowed right back to the story. I only noticed that it did what Phil said after he pointed it out!

      I wanted them to make up, but that ain’t how it goes all the time, and sometimes people shouldn’t make up, or pretend that they like food that they don’t. And the combativeness makes it hard to be the one to reach out and ignore the mean stuff. And the wine doesn’t help with the combativeness (I know from experience).

      I know the other stories are dark, but this one also felt dark in a lesser way. Not genocide or religious execution, but the sad truth about dysfunctions in romance in general. It reminds me of that song by They Might Be Giants called “They’ll Need A Crane” and that kind of annoying song by Cake (“She’ll Hang The Baskets).

      Good job and sorry for being a Debby Downer!

    • September 19, 2022 at 12:11 pm
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      Hi Ken,

      As a man who has been married ( to the same woman) for getting on for 45 years, you have touched on some oh so real moments in your story. I have lost count of the number of times when I just know that my wife said something and she says she didn’t. I can never prove it. Oh, my wife days the same about me too. The tape recorder could be a good idea BUT if either of us could prove that we were right then we wouldn’t be able to just shrug it off and move on as that’s what sensible couples do. Being proved right or wrong in such a way is not healthy. Long-lasting relationships work because we learn what happens when we press certain buttons buttons and then choose when not to press them. Is it worth the hassle, the upset? Probably not .
      As you have mentioned in your replies, there is a lot of your own backstory in here and the dialogue is spot on, as if you have actually lived through the argument.
      It’s sharp, true to life and backed up by your clearheaded take on relationships.

      A really great effort, Ken,

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

    • September 21, 2022 at 1:08 pm
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      Well, Ken, a truly dysfunctional relationship. And a “sliding doors moment” that revolves around an onion and bacon pie, that’s unique. (Actually, can sliding doors revolve? I feel a patent coming on …).

      Yours and Adi’s aversion notwithstanding, I kind of like the idea of a bacon, onion and sour cream pie, though my cardiologist has told me to go easy on the dairy, so maybe some soy substitute for the sour cream. No, sour cream it is. And maybe leeks instead of onions. Possibly shallots. Not keen on raw onions, but baked onions can be very tasty indeed. Back in the day when I used to be vegetarian (seriously, I was), I would bake a large Spanish onion or two with a white sauce, maybe with a hint of white wine. Or we’d make a vegetable pie, complete with vegan pastry, very nice. Is this MasterChef? Am I rambling?

      Yes, about the pie. I think you should have given it more of a shot, anyway, as you speculate. And the morbid anniversary – that’s a tough one. I have a friend whose husband died when he was just 34. He and I were best man at each other’s wedding, in fact. The three of us used to sit together in college lectures, and then go out for coffee and cake. He got the girl, as it were. Anyway, her second husband gets very antsy at any reminders of her previous husband. Because it’s not like they fell out of love and separated – he died, I guess, at peak love. So the love loomed, perhaps, as much as the death, and spent most of the year unacknowledged. So she liked to talk with me at the anniversary of their marriage, and even more so at the anniversary of his death, as I was someone she could talk to, who knew her first husband well.

      So, what am I saying? Yes, these things are complicated, and you capture that. But I can relate to the girlfriend here as well, in wanting to keep a memory alive. Us older re-marriers and many-time-arounders always come with the baggage of former lives and loves, and it’s not always easy. Though my current wife (current wife?) is different. She’s endlessly nosey about my past relationships, in a good-hearted way, but that can be a bit trying at times too!

      What else? The dialogue is convincing. But of course, it’s by you! And some nice lines, like this bit of dry wit: “Mindy said she fell in love with his fingers. He never asked her to elaborate.”

      As for recording their conversations to prove a point – maybe the title could have been Dork and Mindy. But it’s consistent with their deteriorating relationship – though I’m sure it’s something neither you nor I would ever do …

      OK, in a nutshell – a great story (with some odd punctuation), good characterisation that emerges naturally from the dialogue, and one that is actually quite thought-provoking. About both recipes and relationships.

    • September 27, 2022 at 10:17 pm
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      This love-hate relationship ‘tween the two is much too painful to digest. Who can survive?
      She needs him more than he does her, seems to me.
      Personally, I can’t stand foul language. So a huge clean up; chlorox the ugly words and you could zeke away ‘not guilty’.

    • September 29, 2022 at 3:18 pm
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      Ken, my man, like Phil’s, this isn’t the best story you ever wrote, but the dialogue is as good as it gets. Damn, made me jealous. My wife and I (as Ken F. mentioned) have often said to each other, “I wish I had a recording of what you just said.” I, of course, say, “So do I, because I know what I said, and it isn’t what you just said I said.” She of course, says the same. As Ken also mentioned, it probably is best we don’t have recordings, because I can see the treacherous path that could create and then the rocky road to divorce. I’ve probably been married 57 years because we don’t have recordings.

  • September 14, 2022 at 4:46 am
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    So good, KenC (autobographical?). A really realistic-sounding relationship, warts ‘n’ all. Apparently years of each putting up with the other, but underlying that, a resilient kinda loving. Many great lines, this being my favourite: ” ‘They have to be parked, folks,’ he liked to tell the customers.” (Is this a joke you used to tell your customers?) We know who’ll win the ‘dialogue’ prize this time.

    There’s one thing only that I’m in doubt about. We start off with him arriving home. Then we get to this point, and it seems to be a flashback (the use of ‘once’): “It bothered him a little, after four years, so he asked her about it once. ‘Why do you do it?’ ” But then the flashback seems to loop back to the opening scene (?) Maybe it’s deliberate, to show that every day a similar thing happens? Or maybe it’s a slip?

    Anyway, a thoroughly enjoyable peek into a real-life scene (as I imagine it happening somewhere in the world, with some couple or other).

    • September 14, 2022 at 3:29 pm
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      Great observations Phil, wonderful really. I would call what I did, ‘erroneous writing.’ Because it is autobiographical, (she’s dead now, but I changed her name anyway, as well as my own) and I was afraid I’d accidentally slip into first person POV somewhere.

      What I did there, accidentally, was this, (I actually only lived with her for six or eight months) who could stand four years of that? What I intended to convey, was that her husband had died four years ago. (She’d been marking his death date on each new calendar for four years. That’s what actually bothered me. The lengths she went to, to insure that she was depressed on that day.) So it seems as though I presented some background on the two characters, reinforced it with an actual flashback of a real argument over the calendar that really did only happen once. (We found so many other things to argue about.) And then I erroneously blended the flashback into the ‘present’ of the story. That was the error.

      You’d make a great editorial consultant. I’ll see what I can do to fix that. Should be a good exercise for me, and then repost the improved version. I’m most pleased with my effort in that, a.) this is my second story for the prompt, (though it’s not as funny as I was hoping.) And yes, I did used to say that line to customers, I had several variations. “You have a cow you want lettered? If you can hold it still long enough, I can letter it, ma’am.” And b.) I did very few rewrites: Two or three. The ending could have been better, in a variety of ways, (I’m sure I’ll hear that criticism.) But I have other shit to do and other stories to write, and books to read into the night, “and miles to go before I sleep.”

      By the by, that book we discussed on FB? By Ken Webster? Fabulous. I love it. It’s ca-RAY-zee. You’d probably hate it. But you can get a copy of the reprint for twenty bucks on Amazon, if interested. Thanks for the quick critique, Phil. You’re a gem.

      • September 16, 2022 at 5:19 pm
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        Hi Ken
        Great dialogue there. That will be hard to beat. Realistic and sharp edged between two people who are living together for the convenience of it all. No love lost on either side.
        You can do without the short sentence, “She was so proud.” because what she says afterwards indicates real pride. We, the readers, get the message loud and clear.
        Well put together and I can visualise the next day, he goes to find another more suitable and harmonious rental.
        I had a husband once who before he would agree to a divorce wanted the return of four months half rental that he paid for the house we had in Sydney when I was not working but taking care of his children from a previous marriage. He was quite emotionally abusive. I borrowed the money to pay him as I would rather have been in debt than live with continual never ending arguments and emotional harrassment. It was so draining I think i aged ten years in two years of marriage. He never had a kind word for me and it was just like living with my mother, continual criticism and depressing.
        Great story.

        • September 18, 2022 at 8:39 pm
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          Thanks for noticing and mentioning that. You’re right. I painted the blueprint right into the story. It happens more often than I like to admit. (So I hardly ever admit it.) There’s a few mistakes I hope to fix, (Before Roy even posts a story.).

          As for Mindy, it’s complicated. We had a lot of laughs together. She was super smart but physically she was dangerously delicate. She was an anxious person with a bad heart. It’s fair to say that I fell in love with her twice, in our twenties and our forties, and she betrayed me twice, well, once. She pushed the self-destruct button the second time around. She tried to back me into a corner, but I was just acting dumb. It’s all water under the bridge now, see. But I’ll never forget that onion pie, If I’d just pretended that I liked it, how different might my life be? Who cares, right? I’d have gone crazy. She’d have pushed me over the edge. Exactly. that’s why there’ll be no sequel to that crappy story.

  • September 15, 2022 at 2:26 am
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    All Hallow’s Eve, 1679 and I am awaiting my demise. The man I had called my husband for the past decade has decided my fate. These words echo through me, not recalling the legal speak of the day only the religious moralistic rhetoric repeated over and over.
    My beliefs squashed to meld into a society that would not, and could not understand. My husband, the town preacher, a man of one god. I knew that the universe was created and nurtured by a multitude of gods and goddesses, I am but an earthly witness to it all.
    My husband having arrived home earlier than expected, and finding it empty, and the oven fire almost expired, as only a few glowing embers glistened upon his entry. I being nowhere to be found, the kitchen stove without a meal at the ready, he was most displeased.
    He recollected calling me, by my name, saying he had wandered into our garden. He presumed that I may be collecting the garden produce or herbs and may be delayed in cooking of the evening meal. Again, he was most displeased. A woman, and especially his woman, should be in the home, tending the fire, cooking, cleaning and washing. I was not, and this was not the first time he had been displeased, when I had meandered from my wifely chores.
    He stating next, to the assembled court that, “I came upon her in the neighbouring woods chanting godlessly to the sky, scantily clad and seemed delirious, obviously maddened. Smelling fragrant herbs burning, some kind of concoction or spell, I was taken aback”.
    Not being given an opportunity of reply, as in this patriarchy, women were the possessions of their father, then upon marriage, of their husband.
    Courts folk and the jury, of course, being all men of the higher echelons of the community. The judge, being both ancient in his physical features and his morality was in control of the hearing and trial. The prosecution were poised for a victory, even before the trial began, as it was inevitable.
    My defence lawyer being appointed as per legal requirements in the farce of having a fair trial. He had not bothered to prepare, these trials were just a mere practicality, as I would be found guilty.
    That being a few weeks hence passed, now the October moon was in my mind and the Hallow would be nigh. I pace my confined jail attempting to summon the courage and heed advice from my gods. I would need their help through this night.
    My husband has not set foot here, since my arrest, trial and conviction, having already declared me deceased. He would be out with his cronies celebrating their win, then to witness my end.
    Church bells rang throughout signalling that justice had been served, the heathen had found guilty and, due to meet the almighty’s judgement.
    My friends who share my belief, forbidden to attend the trial or to visit me. Also women and seen as part of my coven, considered lower humans than men. I am alone. My beliefs are not bound in the good book, I am a believer in the universe, nature and the astral and planetary guides above. This was never acceptable in this place where the one god ruled so forcibly.
    Having never used my beliefs for unkindness or crime, the curses and unspeakable habits of which accused were not my fault, and beyond my control.
    I am Wiccan, a believer in spirituality, the universe being in control, not one invisible man in the sky. I had to hide this from everyone, especially my husband. I would secretly commune with others like me, or alone, and that had been my downfall that evening, my husband home earlier than he stated he might be.
    I do not cast spells or hexes, make sacrifices or other such ceremonies they had suggested. The moon, the stars and the sun control all things. The seasons would dictate when to plant, when to sow, that was all. My life simple, using the power of the ‘gods’ to help myself and that of those in need.
    I married the preacher, as the arranged betrothment between my family and he, a well-to-do gent, a man of god, was to be. He was some twenty-five years my senior when I wed him at seventeen. This was the way of the community, to pair without love. I had never grown fond of him, it was just duty and destiny.
    I became suspicious and cautious of his preaching and witness to his sermons. It could be heard that I was not fulfilling my role as the dutiful wife and was becoming an ungodly citizen. I was not named, but knew I was the source of his ‘fictional’ examples in the sermons he spouted weekly.
    In recent times these became the focus until the parishioners twigged making me become the subject of town whispers and gossip. I knew that he would never allay their suspicions, and was most likely feeding into them.
    He has not supportive through the trial and my captivity. I am on my own. Would true justice come? Hallow’s Day arrived after a restless, sleepless night, I am exhausted as the dawn arrives.
    The heavy door unlatches with an audible clanking, the turning of the ancient key. The giant, metallic hinges creak, and the patchy dawn sunlight enters to add some minute warmth in an attempt to invigorate me.
    The inaudible grunts of the huge thugs startle me into action. They grab at my hair and arms, as I am made to stand.
    “Come wench witch”, the head ogre grunts, “Judgement time awaits you”.
    I know I am being prepared for death, as all my possible escapes, legal, moral and ethical, to rightful justice have failed. Now I rely on the heavens to spare me, I am unafraid of death, this life being just one in many that had been and were to come.
    Standing strong, but weakened by lack of food and nourishment. There had been a recommendation for my starvation and dehydration, so as not to waste food, and hoping hunger would make me admit guilt. Ardently denying guilt, I was given one slice of bread and a cup of water each day. If I admitted my guilt they would then be free of the farce they called a fair trial.
    My fate had been determined as the accusations accumulated. Following my captors, I am led to a room where I am to be confronted by my accusers, the judge and my husband.
    A final opportunity to admit my guilt, ask for God’s leniency and forgiveness so as to enter heaven. Remaining defiantly silent, I allow the next act in the falsity begin.
    “Madam, Sarah Goode, you have been accused and found guilty of witchcraft, which is a sin against God and the community’, I hear the arrogance and the satisfaction in the judge’s voice.
    “Casting hexes and spells on our vulnerable community and committing the most heinous of crimes, casting hexes”, he versed.
    “Here, here”, grumbled the assembled mob in unison, awaiting her persecution.
    Drowsy from my insomnia, hunger and thirst, I am motioned from the cell to the courtyard, the building’s public square.
    I am tied to a large, rough-sawn tree trunk, erected into the ground. My bindings are entwined materials of jute, leather, and wool. Once I am firmly bound, the throng of onlookers increases to watch. They help surrounding me with by kindling, faggots and twigs. Then larger branches and small logs are piled around my feet.
    The judge walks towards me with a flamed torch, I bow my head then I raise up to meet his angry stare.
    Yelling to the crowd he raises a rabble of chants from the assembled, “ Justice has been yielded, we must see that the witch dies”.
    Loud raucous chants reciprocate and repeat, “Burn the witch”, “Justice must be had”, “Die witch die”.
    Lowering his torch asking once more for me to admit my sins and crimes, and to repent.
    Not being guilty of any of these crimes or of witchcraft and staying silent, I show my defiance to this farce.
    “No words from you woman?”, he yells.
    Silence, turning my head from him.
    “Silence is guilt, silence is guilt, burn witch burn”, touching the flame to the bracken and twigs, catching quickly the fire begins.
    Remaining in my silent repose, unable to move due to the binds that tie me, the flames rise to meet my ragged garments The gentle winds blow the flame to and fro, the dancing of the fire reaches a crescendo, and I am engulfed. The smoke would kill my lungs long before I would feel my flesh burn, this earthly body will continue to char long after I depart it.
    The crowd cheers, my husband remains hushed, he does not look my way, or at the flames.
    The fire rages, a skeletal frame dangles from the trunk, the ties burn through and bones holding the remaining flesh collapse into the ash and embers. I have since gone.
    Ninety days pass, the preacher receives official words that the case against his deceased wife has had new evidence, new findings and therefore a different outcome had been delivered. Any guilt attributed to his late wife is found to be negated. No crimes had been committed, and her accusers had no course but to renege their accusations.
    Sarah had been innocent.
    The preacher accepted this new outcome, as expected. Awarded a hefty compensation for her wrongful death, he is now a rich widower.

    • September 15, 2022 at 2:10 pm
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      Talk about a dysfunctional relationship! Excellent story and I really loved the way you worked in the systemic misogyny and his anger at her shirking of her “duties”. I just read a story about a woman getting sacrificed on another site, and they were making good points about reproductive rights and women’s rights( through horror). I think you made your underlying points with more subtlety and grace, and in far fewer words.

      It is also a rich and dark, atmospheric kind of period piece, which reminds me of my favorite game (it has a struggle between peaceful pagans and an organization of witch-burners who seek to industrialize everything).

      I made a reference to witches with lifesaving medicine getting burned in that one vampire story on this site, but it got buried under all of my other comments and I don’t think that it got recognized or read by many lol. Plus, I had four vampire stories, so it gets to be a blur of blood-sucking bs (b.s.b.s.).

      Well done! I like horror (and fantasy and scifi) that has some kind of “deeper” point inside of it, overt or covert, you know? You didn’t beat me over the head with anything, but I feel like a reader would have to work hard to not see some of the things you did there, even if you were just basing it off history!

      It is horror, much like the historical reality, but the witch is the least scary thing about it. It was tough to see her go, but impactful I think.

      • September 17, 2022 at 1:40 am
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        Thank you for the positivity towards my return to writing in months. I do take on board everything that I receive, and find compliments the hardest to take on. I don’t often write this kind of genre but it has some basis in truth for me. In researching my family tree, I have a distant relative Sarah Goode who was tried and found guilty of witchcraft in that year, 1679 in the USA. I am in Australia by the way. She was later found innocent and her widower was indeed awarded compensation for wrongful death. In reality, she had a very supportive and loving husband and he was devastated by the wrongful trial and by her death. He fought for her innocence and her death and the trial are on record as one of the first cases of wrongful death in the witch trials. To satisfy the story here, I had to have the dysfunctional relationship and did not think that a dysfunctional society would play out well enough, so the husband, who is never named, togiv him more sinister foreboding, unfortunately becomes the ‘evil’ one.

      • September 29, 2022 at 3:50 pm
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        OzJohn,

        Glad you ventured back into the fray. Welcome. Good to see you after a long absence. I didn’t think it had been that long but, I’ve been missing from these pages, too. Good job on the story, even though I’m not one for horror and fantasy, mainly because I can’t write it that well. Thought the ending could have been a bit better but it might have upped it for me in the rankings had there been a killer ending – no pun intended. I shudder when I think of the inhumanity we humans are capable of. Reading first hand accounts of the atrocities going on in Ukraine right now are horrific enough, without thinking back to actually burning someone to death at the stake because you believe all the misinformation being spouted by others. Wait, isn’t that a bit like what we are seeing today. Alternate facts are becoming the new rage over here, I don’t know about in Australia. We have a new news station over here (I haven’t watched it) but their selling point is — Watch our station and you’ll get the news from both sides. That shouldn’t be the way news is presented. Either print the truth or print or video nothing at all. Unfortunately, most news today is opinion, not news.

    • September 17, 2022 at 12:46 am
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      I am not sure that I like this story. It seems rather mean. I mean the poor girl was only following her beliefs and then she is punished as a witch and burnt at the stake to be exonerated a year later and the bastard who allowed her to be burnt receives compensation.
      This needs a sequel. Perhaps he is a warlock and gets rid of his wives this way? Is this the first one he has had killed in this manner. Poor girl. There is an element of sadism here.

      • September 17, 2022 at 1:44 am
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        Thank you for the feeling that you got from the story, it was meant to come across that way, I think. See my comments above to Rumplefinkies, I think it may explain it somewhat. Also, as mentioned above, I have not written anything for months, or even a year, so this just came to me like that. I have not written this genre at all, and there is the usual ‘part fiction’ aspects to it, by being somewhat family history.

    • September 19, 2022 at 12:40 pm
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      Hi Ozjohn,

      I have read your story and the comments with great interest. It’s a sad fact of life that so many women were accused of witchcraft simply because they spoke up, or made remedies from natural herbs, or, in some cases, simply because someone started the ball rolling because they didn’t like someone, a witch hunt , eh?
      I guess the same sort of stuff happened in other countries too but The Witchfinder General was actually a royal appointment when the ruling class ( men) were scared of things they didn’t understand and this included healers who made remedies ( mainly women) Things got so bad that it was virtually a death sentence for a daughter to learn this kind of knowledge from an older female relative. Usually, a simple accusation by a man was enough as other people were terrified to protest and bogus evidence was readily manufactured.

      But you probably know all this already. One of the outcomes was that so much healing knowledge was lost for generations whilst men, the so-called doctors, could carry on purging and bleeding and poisoning their patients with impunity..

      I was surprised by the ending, I hadn’t heard of anyone in this situation being declared innocent but you may know better. Of course, the woman was dead by then and no longer seen as a threat, if ever she was. And of course the husband, the preacher got rid of what he saw as his troublesome spouse. Hefty compensation to the husband, oh well, that’s alright then. Win, win for him. Her children would have been really pleased, I say, sarcastically. No mother, a bigoted father but hefty compensation. Happy days.

      A really thoughtful piece.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape .

    • September 20, 2022 at 11:26 am
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      A well-rendered slice of horror, John, mixed with some political comment perhaps? I mean, wives aren’t burnt at the stake any more, but they are sometimes beaten in western societies, and stoned to death in others. You effectively maintain a very doomy tone which suits the gothic (if I’m using that word correctly – I’m never sure) nature of the story. Like KenF, I wondered about Sarah being found innocent after the fact; it would be more normal – wouldn’t it? – to sweep up the ashes and forget about her. And in fact we know that she’s not ‘innocent’ (by the laws of that time). But I suppose that if you want to compound the injustice by having her husband benefit financially from the execution, then a bit of poetic licence can be given. I like the fact, though, that she wins in the end. She’s through to the other side without renouncing her beliefs. A very strong character in fact.

    • September 21, 2022 at 3:56 pm
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      That’s an interesting take on an historical incident, John. You’ve captured the false accusations and their impact well. Interesting that you find there’s a family relationship.

      There’s a Sarah Good (no ‘e’ at the end, I think, though spelling was a movable feast back then) accused during the Salem witch trials in 1692. She was hanged rather than burned – and her husband did indeed receive the largest amount of compensation given in relation to such trials. Historically, the most problematic element is the reference to being Wiccan, which is a 20th century recasting of some pagan practices. So that’s a little anachronistic, but this is of course fiction and Hollywood plays faster and looser with history for dramatic purposes – so why not?

      There’s a bit of tidying up needed, editorially, to make it read more smoothly and in complete grammatical sentences, but the story has an evocative atmosphere and emotional impact through the first-person view of Sarah’s suffering and the overall sense of injustice. It stayed with me after reading.

  • September 17, 2022 at 12:36 am
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    One Egg a Week

    “I think we are done here.”

    I haul myself to my feet. My legs numb from sitting cross-legged before the closet holding my late father’s clothes. There is are two neat piles of his work shirts and trousers. My mother wants to send everything to the op shop.

    She is sitting supervising my diligent sorting of things like shoes, clothing and other personal effects.
    “Some lucky person will be glad of these things.” Her lips clench together as she says this. I ponder this statement before I reply. She may be feeling the sadness of his recent passing and while part of her does not want to part with his possessions, another part of her wants them done and she wants at 80 years of age to move on from his death. I do not want to deny her this right. However, I do not want my father discarded like so much trash she needs to erase from her life.

    I pick up a pair of trousers so patched, the patches are more evident than the original material and hold them up for her.
    “Mum, this is a schmutta – a rag. Do you really think anyone will want these?”
    Her eyes narrow and her lips pinch together. Her hands grip the arm rests of the chair tightly as she sits up.
    “Of course, someone will. Your generation is so spoilt!” She sits back. “Someone who hasn’t trousers, will be glad to have them.” I could have them, I think.
    I try to visualise a trouser less individual walking into the shop in search of just these trousers and matching them with a patched shirt.
    “But, Mum I think they’re better as rags, just because a person’s impoverished doesn’t mean…”
    She cuts me off.
    “They’re too proud to wear patched clothes? Everything should become a rag, because people want new? Have we forgotten how to mend broken or torn?”
    She is warming to her topic. I crumple into a pile of raked leaves before her grief-filled rage. She is a torrent of words that flurry over me, swirling and buffeting.
    “Your father and I scrimped and saved to buy this place. After we were betrayed by his brothers. Robbed. Robbed.” She slaps the arm of the chair. “No help from anyone.”
    She is very angry now and stamps her feet on the worn carpet of the homestead.
    I want to cry. I don’t dare. But I know what is coming next. That is why I am silent.
    “I know what’s suffering. We’d had a war. That taught us… the value of things.” She now clasps her hands together and wrings them tightly.
    “We had rationing. Food. Clothes. Wood for heating and cooking. You think it was easy?”
    I said nothing. Sitting back on my heels, I listened, knowing a wrong word could send this conversation into the pits of hell.
    “One egg we had, our weekly ration. One egg per person and one ounce of butter. Milk for children. Starvation rations during the war. Starvation rations after. One egg for each person. Per week. One egg. How I enjoyed that one egg. People gave their souls for an egg.” Then she pounded the arm of the chair vigorously. “And the bloody Americans took advantage. Took advantage of our poverty. Our hunger. Girls gave up their chastity for chocolate Hershey bars.”
    She glared fiercely, as if defying me to say something derogatory about starving good Catholic Austrian girls who had given up their virginity for a bar of Hershey Tropical chocolate or nylon stockings.
    “Did you?” The question hung answered between us. She snorted.
    “Bloody Americans. How we hated them!” She waved one hand into the air. “They came into the war late. When everyone was tired. Everyone was hungry. Then they took the credit for winning the war.” She laughs a bitter sound that cuts the air between us. I remind myself this is the woman who wanted me to go back to the husband who beat me up on a regular basis and said to me, “If you are a good wife, he won’t beat you.”

    Unfortunately, that was not true. My American ex-husband grew up in California and had had a problem with drugs, notably cocaine since the age of eleven or twelve. His father was onto his sixth marriage, remarrying his first wife twenty years after divorcing her,.
    Of the wives in between him recognising that his first love was his true love, he had married a half Cherokee Indian woman and taken the boy from her when he was born and given him to the paternal grandparents to raise. His father was apparently too busy finding women to marry and divorce to raise a child. He took custody of the boy when his parents passed and took him to Australia where he worked on the Snowy Mountain Hydro project.

    My ex-husband did get the benefit of a private school education and did a course to become an electrician but he tended to squander anything he earnt on substances that numbed him to the world. A fan of Kurt Vonnegut Jr whose books I despised, we married and discovered what we knew before the ceremony, we had nothing in common. I worked two jobs; he spent the money on drugs and bashed me regularly to let off steam and assuage his wounded masculinity.

    I escaped back to my parents’ property. He followed and my mother wanted me out of her life permanently, so she tried to make me go back to him, possibly hoping he would put a permanent end to her problem daughter by killing her. Then he would go to prison. Problem of daughter in life, solved for good. She never existed except for seventeen and a half years and a boarding school bill that had to be paid off.

    Now thirty years later, my father has died. Lung cancer. We sort through his things. I feel immense guilt as always. The patched pants and shirts stand testament to the poverty they lived in to pay for my education and my brothers’ education at private boarding schools.

    The clothes still hold the scent of my dead father. Clean, with a mixture of eucalyptus wash, smoke and a spicy male smell. I want to take some of them back with me to remember him. Patched, precious pants and cotton shirts – the armpits still smell of father. She wants everything out. Clothes of sacrifice and scarcity. She will move to town. Although she talks about managing the property herself with my brother’s help, I know this won’t happen. Like me, he does not exist except as a moon to the “true son”, our younger brother who is her god.

    “One egg.” She repeats. “How I loved that egg. Every week I picked it up with the rest of my rations. It was my weekly feast.”

    I gathered up the clothes from the bedroom floor and packed them into boxes.

    Later, she tells me, “Those girls were starving. Don’t judge them.”
    I did not. Instead, I thought of those inmates in concentration camps – the walking skeletons and felt pity well up for both.

    • September 17, 2022 at 12:52 am
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      Bother. I have typed too fast and yes, well, I’d better point it out before Ken C gets to it. Plus the change to present tense which was deliberate near the ending.
      “There is are two neat piles of his work shirts and trousers.” should be “There are two neat piles of his work shirts and trousers”.

    • September 21, 2022 at 6:48 am
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      Hi Ilya,

      I suspect that many people of my age, 71, have been through the experience of sorting through our deceased parents’ possessions and, or making the decision regarding home care or care home.
      You touch upon some very tender spots in your story. It might be sadness and sorrow, almost certainly but there is also the ever present guilt that those adults who gave us life and undoubtedly made sacrifices for us, were not paid back in full.
      A poignant story, Ilya. Well written.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

    • September 22, 2022 at 2:11 pm
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      Hi Ilana,

      My prediction was off the mark – you’ve written another gentle story, though this one has a much more melancholy bent.

      For me, the sentence “Later, she tells me, “Those girls were starving. Don’t judge them.”” really makes the story. It’s so poignant. It humanises the mother and makes her character a lot more nuanced.

      I find the wording in the last sentence kinda awkward and a confusing. I understand what you’re trying to say: that the narrator recalled that these nice Austrian girls had had to sell their bodies because their country (and its main ally) had put a whole lot of other people in concentration camps – but she still feels sorry for both. Just something about the current wording doesn’t quite work for me.

      “The question hung answered between us.” Should that be “unanswered“?

      Despite these minor quibbles – a great story.

      • September 27, 2022 at 3:01 am
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        I get where you are at Vicki. It always makes me feel uncomfortable when people in Germany talk about how tough the war was in WW II for them. The spectre of the holocaust, extermination camps and forced labour hangs heavy hands on shoulders and leans in to us all. While I am aware of the Germans and Austrians who did not support the genocide and the death camps, I am aware, all too aware of what many turned a blind eye to or how they failed to see what was happening under their noses.
        I remember once as a taxi driver having a passenger and I was studying History at Monash and somehow we got talking about the second world war. She was from Dresden which was carpet bombed by the allies at the end of the war. She deplored the actions of the destruction and yet when I mentioned the camps she exploded at me. I could not help saying, “Well you did elect Hitler and his murderous Nazis to power. And it was Germany that started the war.” It did not help. People create their own narrative and paint the other side as the baddie in the story. It helps them justify where they are at.
        Now in Russia, many young Russians who have been conscripted are streaming out of the country. Many Russians do not want this terrible war and the suffering being inflicted on the Ukrainians is without measure and they have found mass graves. I think Putin has gone mad. I used to think he was very smart and a sa’avy leader. Now I think he is a madman. It is so depressing. I can no longer watch the news.

        • September 27, 2022 at 7:16 am
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          I recently did an interview with a band out of Russia, the stories they told me were horrendous, some of them they asked me to edit out because it would put them in harm’s way if it aired. It made me very glad to be living in a country like the United states. Where people complain about oppression and censorship, but they don’t actually know the true meaning of it.

        • September 29, 2022 at 7:10 am
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          Isn’t that what you meant by the last sentence? If so, it would need to be reworded to make the meaning clearer. (Sorry, this comment comes too late in the proceedings.)

          As for Putin – I used to think he was a smart, stone-cold dictator; but now he comes across as a crazy dictator.

    • September 24, 2022 at 1:21 pm
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      This is a very relatable story, Ilana, and well-written too. Believable dialogue moves the story along.

      The mother’s “you have too much” attitude was shared by my mother – though she was also a sweetie! She kept a store of memories from when we children were young, which included the ration card I was issued with when I was born – Britain still had elements of rationing many years after the war. After Germany, even.
      And my kids – they had far too much! There is a kind of truth to it, but how much is too much?

      The story also raises the issue of moral relativity in hard circumstances. I guess if the mother didn’t like the Americans, she could have tried the Russian sector …

      The dysfunctional relationship is characterised by continuing grievances – and yet there they are together, with a common bond of shared history. I agree with Vicki about the reveal of a different side of the mother’s character near the end being important to the story, and makes the mother a more rounded character.

      A real and touching story.

    • September 29, 2022 at 1:32 pm
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      Very powerful! We need to never forget that the concentration camps existed, and that they can exist again. The Nazis are never far away, and we are all supposed to learn from history to keep them a thing of the past. Ignorance can do awful things and lead to worse with time and some hatred, and no country should tolerate any ideology that shares even a trace of commonality with the Nazis.

    • September 29, 2022 at 3:58 pm
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      Great story, Ilana. And, by the way, a great win last time around. I didn’t have a chance to comment on it. I’ve been busier than a Kardashian posing in a roomful of cameras. I like how you took a simple egg comment and made it into a powerful story. I’m glad I was able to get a story in this time around, though. Now, I’m just killing time waiting for the votes to come in and see how middle of the road I did this time. Sure am feeling better about writing, though. Feeling a lot better in general. Just spent a few days with family, going to a wedding and having all three of my kids together for the first time in years. Like I said I’ve been busy. Spent some time at Niagara Falls, too. Really enjoyed that.

  • September 17, 2022 at 1:56 pm
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    I haven’t received a single comment or that little reminder about following a post, (I think that’s why) and I need to catch up. I’ve got four days. Maybe tomorrow. Just up to my wicked little tail in stuff to do.

    • September 24, 2022 at 10:51 am
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      You haven’t replied to the email I sent you three weeks ago either. I thought you were in a coma or suffering from the Covid. Or worse, traveling to see your grandkids.

  • September 19, 2022 at 1:05 pm
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    Hi all,
    I am trying to finish a story to enter just for the sake of having written something. I’ve been working on my novel as well but life has gone sideways as it usually does in my life and work has been $%#$&%#! I’m also trying to settle my stomach after reading Ken C’s story. Onion pie of all things. ICK! Seriously, the story was good but the description of the pie made me want to hurl. Phil’s story made me want to quit before I even started – it’s just that good! They are all top notch stories this go around. I recognized Sarah Goode’s name from history and the tale told here was so descriptive of the life and times in which she lived. Ilana, your story made me cry. I still have Mama’s boxes from the nursing home sitting in the closet and she passed 2 years and 5 months ago. I haven’t been able to open them yet and go through them. I was at the nursing home almost daily with her and Daddy sat with her daily. Of course, Daddy is still living in their home and it is all Mama – her decorating, her artwork, her books, her essence, and it is hard. Ok, that’s enough. I have to go. Great work everyone! If I don’t get a story in this time, I’ll catch you next round. Adi

  • September 19, 2022 at 10:42 pm
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    Do You Still Need Me?

    (Words 1018)

    Randy held me close in his hands.
    He was staring me down with deep desire writ all over his face, spreading even to his ears.
    I had only to be still. His fingers magically ran through what he aspired for most and the rest is not history.
    I cost him money. Ahaaaa. The bane of modern living.

    I must now speak for myself. I have absolutely no clue how these things happen. Yet I am instrumental in everything that takes place under his prodigal roof.
    Yay! I, the guilty one. The blame is all mine. You probably know how every stud always needs a softie to heap blame on. And I’m his punching bag.

    Yet after all that, when he holds me aloft, I forget all the hurt of being left behind. The other day he forgot I existed, left me alone and just walked away, leaving me solitary on the park bench for a few hours. Till a kind soul took me to his home across and figured how to get me to mine.
    I’m kinda lost on my own, can’t ever find the way back all on my own.
    Dumb, right?
    And that was not the first time. My memory takes me back to the time we got separated at the busiest airport terminal.

    I gotta take you back to the ancient days, way before my time and his. Around the 1960’s. When times and desires were simple.
    Don’t go as far back as the 1500’s, puleese!

    His grandpa was a good man, who lived his life well with meager needs. He was a judge and a writer and those days the long missives he penned, full of godly wisdom, traveled to his children far and wide.
    All his worldly belongings were two pairs of sandals, some dhotis, and a few spotless white jubbas, neatly hung up or folded in his little space. Extremely white and neat. That’s what I remember Mina, his sister, relating. Gran’ma too wore simple clothes. But then life was uncomplicated and unornamented.
    You could get plenty rice and lentils with just one annah.
    Go figure how much one annah is.

    Today I’m sure you agree it’s another ball game.

    Talking of ball games, Randy dresses extravagantly for every show or game in town. Costs were skyrocketing and he cared little, it seemed as if he were living for the day.

    Of course, I’m not complaining. I do like him looking dapper.

    Now you’re thinking of how I dress, aren’t you? I do like looking trendy but then I just show up in my everyday, matter of fact outer cover. Randy hardly notices it anyway. He’s such a busy guy.

    And most important of all, he needs me like no other.

    As long as I don’t slip away from his sometimes grubby fingers. Oftentimes he likes to wind them tight around my middle as we go everywhere. He’s mighty possessive. Sometimes he’d show me off to the women in charge, at the checkout lines.

    In fact, that’s the only time he kinda gives me a boost. It’s an innate desire to be satisfied. Contentment was to him the spice of life and that meant he had to buy, buy, and more.. buy.

    Yes, so now your conclusion is that I am a slave to ‘his royal highness’. Partly true.
    A smooth slave, working real fast at his beckoning and every call.
    There are soft and hard sides to me, integrated perfectly well. You could call me amazing and you won’t be wrong. I was introduced to him around his 50’s.
    So he does treasure me.

    Last week something really funny happened. He wanted to get his vaccine shot. The latest in the country, just out.
    As luck would have it he told me to call the number last dialed. It was his expensive masseur.
    “Can I come for my vaccine shot?”
    I heard a muffled snort on the other side and quickly switched off just to save him more embarrassment. But I was so snubbed.
    Life is like that. I get all the snubs.

    So why do I need him? Because he gives me life. Plugs me on for my total well being and sustenance every night.
    Why should I complain? Would you? Anyways he spends more time with me than any other in the home. Especially that other being who inhabits this dwelling.

    Truth is we need each other. He can spend hours just gazing at me, chuckling at any nonsense I spew out. That does make me happy.
    To his gentle touch, I go blink blink blink. He just stares at me up and down in awe, I reckon.

    The others in the home notice this obsession but don’t say anything. Everyone is lost in his own world of getting sucked up by worldly cares. That’s the world we live in these days, guys!

    But yesterday, the worst happened. He got on his wild horse and dropped me proper.
    It was a heartbreaking day for me.Things are changing. You can blame it on that horrible disease that reigned supreme for a time. I think he’s had enough of me. He’s searching fresher pastures… for a sleeker friend, I hear.
    That only means one thing. I’ll soon be old hat. Discarded, left to die. Trashed. Men!!!!!!!

    ‘I just called to say I love you’. I wanna sing that song to him now. Does he even care to listen?

    Once upon a long ago, I was everything to him. Hearkening him to every alarm, telling him the latest gossip. World news. I could show him the world. The Queen’s dead and the bees have been told. The corgis stand to attention.
    And he actually turns me on. Whenever, wherever.

    But today he wants bigger things. Just as the world is changing. So she won’t slip away as easily as I did. I’m just a 10, he wants the latest 14 now.
    And he’s using me to get at her. His fingers are busy again.

    I feel as betrayed as that first apple that Eve bit into.

    • September 21, 2022 at 7:06 am
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      Hi Marien,

      A very interesting take upon this prompt. I gradually fell in as I read your words for the first time and then, upon my second reading, everything became so much clearer.

      It was very clever to never mention what you are, the narrator that is but to just leave us breadcrumbs, admittedly quite big ones by the end.
      There are a couple of places where the words you use left me slightly confused as they were written in an unfamiliar manner. For example:
      “He got on his wild horse and dropped me proper.”
      “his beckoning and every call.” At his beck and call?
      I didn’t understand the section about the airport, going back to the 1960s and the price of rice, one annah. Didn’t get this. Can I assume it’s a cultural reference to how much things cost way back.?
      “Don’t go back as far as the 1500s, puleese.”

      Any lack of clarity is surely due to my ignorance, so don’t take offence. It’s not a criticism of the quality of your writing.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • September 30, 2022 at 10:37 pm
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        Thanks, Ken Frape, for your kind words. Yes, it’s my style. To bring change to what’s natural and accepted. Ergo beck becomes beckoning! Likewise with the wild horse!
        I didn’t expect anyone to get the flashback- coz I didn’t elaborate. Coulda, shoulda…’twas about the price hike.
        Pre industrial revolution, pre phones… but didn’t want to say no mo’, no mo’. 🙂

    • September 21, 2022 at 7:18 am
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      Me again,
      An annah was one sixteenth of a rupee, according to my Concise Oxford English Dictionary. In other words, a very small amount of money?
      Ken F

      • September 21, 2022 at 2:03 pm
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        Marien,

        I didn’t have a chance to tell you about your last story, which, I personally believe is the best story of yours I have ever read. I’m not sure what’s happened in your world, but your writing lately has been friggin’ awesome. I always liked it, but it was always disjointed in some manner and hard for me to follow, but I liked the sing/song rythm of it. I always likened it to poetry and that it was on me, not you.

        Loved this story, even though I had to read it twice before I figured out who you were (first person) and how it related to the cost of living. Then, when I figured it out, I went, Doh! Good job.

        • September 30, 2022 at 10:27 pm
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          Million thanks for your lovely comments on my tales, the last and this one. It makes me want to write again. I could be very disheartened but there’s a few of you who keep me going. The stories this time have been stark, almost brutal. Help! I need fresh air.
          Bless you!

      • September 30, 2022 at 10:43 pm
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        Yup, I’ve heard of this annah from my grandparents. Seen it too. Things used to be real cheap and huge families were fed joyfully around the table with grace being said. There were ‘servants’ in the kitchen who did all the work.

    • September 22, 2022 at 2:15 pm
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      Marien, a very clever take on ‘modern romance’ :), especially working a reference to an apple into the last sentence – for readers who still haven’t guessed who the narrator is.

      There’s something I find confusing, though: the first paragraph is in the past tense, while the rest are in the present (apart from recounting the events that happened ‘last week’ or ‘yesterday’. Is the first paragraph also a flashback, or is this an oversight?

    • September 23, 2022 at 8:22 am
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      Hi Marien – that’s a clever story, well-constructed with the gradual reveal of the narrator’s identity, a constant companion taken for granted then discarded. You’ve made me reluctant to upgrade my devoted partner now!

      Is this a highly functional or a dysfunctional relationship? We can see though, that the family relationships seem to be disintegrating, each member being absorbed in their own world.

      Like Ken F, I didn’t get the wild horse and the 1500s, so look forward to being enlightened. I enjoyed the read, and smiled my way through it.

      • September 30, 2022 at 10:51 pm
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        Ha ha… let me tell you, I just upgraded my 2009 ancient.
        That horrid ‘wild horse’ got me into trouble. 🙂
        I meant just doing something wild, uncontrolled and so dropping the phone.

    • September 28, 2022 at 4:25 pm
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      A wonderful riddle that had me thinking a kite or balloon, then a mask or a vaccine card, and then a woman again (you had me doubting myself – which means that you did it perfectly), and finally a cell phone. Mine just finally broke to the point where I can’t read the screen, but it is still chirping at me, so this came at a perfect time. I will have to get it replaced, and let us see if I can go longer than a month before I drop it or get it wet (I have little faith in myself).

      It also was a nice palette cleanser after so much abuse and misery – but I guess your main character gets knocked around pretty badly too!

      Lyrical and upbeat as always, you played with the dynamic of owner and master (who is who?) when it comes to phones, which is something that I think about a lot!

      And you always make me hungry.

      A very enjoyable read!

      • September 30, 2022 at 11:01 pm
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        Absolutely love your word, Mr. Rumplefinkle!
        That was my intention, riddle me dee… keep away from the dark and dreary themes.
        The world is too much with us,( anyways) late and soon…
        What do we dood?
        Hurricanes, despotic regimes, queens dying, while a Danish ( not the pastry) grammaqueen strips titles off her grandkids!
        I’m glad you called it enjoyable…
        Now I’m pumped to write on ‘a lonely room’.

  • September 20, 2022 at 8:33 pm
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    FOR A FEW CREDITS MORE

    “Mum, don’t be so selfish!”

    I’m selfish??? You’ve got some nerve, Xenia! Are you saying my life is worth less than any of yours?”

    “… No, of course not! But you’ve lived a full life already. … And anyway, it’s not like you’ll be killed; just put in stasis until we can afford to bring you out … Look, we don’t have enough credits for everyone right now.”

    “I’m not that old, you know. I’ve got a lot of life left in me. And I pull my weight, more than some I could name.”

    “Oh come on!” my daughter rolls her eyes. “Your little hobby farm doesn’t bring in that many extra credits. Most people prefer generated food – it tastes better.”

    “What do you know about the taste of real food,” I roll my eyes right back. “In any case, my food earns at least as many credits as your dance lessons … not to mention Abebe’s ‘art’.”

    “I’m an artist!” my son-in-law objects heatedly. “I have to be true to my vision.”

    “You spend more on materials than your art sells for. … Um, anyway, I wasn’t talking about you. Why doesn’t anyone talk of putting Muffy in storage?”

    The mutt in question wags her fluffy tail at the sound of her name.

    “We can’t!” Xenia exclaims, horrified. “Lili is so attached to her!”

    As if on cue, my granddaughter rushes towards Muffy and hugs her so tight she makes the dog squeal. Lili looks up at me with her large brown eyes, already filling up with tears. Of course, in a five-year-old’s eyes, Nanna is no match for a dog. Never mind all the stories I told her, all the owies I kissed better, all the lullabies I sang … Xenia and Abebe look at me like I’m the world’s most selfish creature. What a way to make a person feel expendable.

    I stare hard back at them. I won’t feel guilty. Something niggles at me …

    “… Hang on. Since when can’t we make ends meet? The Department people told us we could live here like royalty on our UBI; that was their main selling point.”

    “I’ve already talked to the Department,” Xenia replies defensively, “they said the whole settlement isn’t economically viable.”

    “I want to talk to them myself.”

    It’s not that I don’t trust my daughter … OK, I don’t trust her.

    I log in on the console and bring up the Planning Department’s chatroom.

    “Ms. Yanna Gretzko. How can I help you?”

    The voice is perfectly modulated and impersonal. The face on the screen is completely neutral and bland, devoid of any distinguishing features; although they tend to match the colouring to the customer’s. I’ve heard plenty of rumours as to whether there’s a real person or an AI behind the avatar. I’m still none the wiser as to which is true.

    “I’d like to inquire why our UBI doesn’t cover the living expenses.”

    “The projections against the Universal Basic Income are over a decade old. Since then, it has transpired that the settlement on Labruxia-CK15 isn’t economically viable,” the CS rep’s voice is full of exaggerated patience. Was it designed on purpose to be so infuriating? “You don’t realise how much it costs to run a settlement like that. There’s terraforming; generating air, potable water; food, clothing, household items for every individual. The UBI doesn’t begin to cover all these; and it appears that your chosen extra activities don’t earn enough additional credits. In fact, the Department is considering shutting down the settlement completely, and relocating the populace somewhere more suitable.”

    “Of course, you could choose to relocate voluntarily, ahead of time,” the rep continues in the same even tone. “This would be the sensible option, don’t you think? Would you consider it?”

    Not bloody likely. Relocation always involves going into storage for a time, which I hate. Besides, you never know where they’ll send you. What’s the chance the new place will be as nice as Labruxia? Or that we’ll get plots of land as large as these? I’ll miss growing my plants if I end up in some metropolis. Speaking of which, the garden needs watering.

    Pottering around in the garden does wonders for my mood. Let’s face it, though: if I refuse to go into storage, every day I’ll be facing Xenia and Abebe’s pointed looks, their expectation for me to stop being “selfish”; knowing all the while that I mean less to my family than the damn dog. What’s the point?

    My cabin – I’ve always insisted on my own – looks gloomier than usual. One last thing before going down to the cellar: log in to the account – and lock away my credits. If the young ones want to live it up, they can earn their own credits; they can’t touch mine now unless they bring me out.

    The stasis chamber is tucked away in the corner of the cellar, out of sight. It looks like a storage container, or perhaps a freezer. … Well, here goes nothing.

    ###

    “Mum?”

    I have to wait for the wooziness to recede, and for my daughter’s face to come into focus. I really hate stasis.

    “Xenia? How long have I wasted?”

    “Only four months.”

    “Good to have you back, Yanna,” says Abebe with a smile.

    Lili’s eyes alight on me. “Nanna!” she squeals excitedly, running towards me with a huge smile. Oh no missy, don’t you think I’ll forget so quickly. The little girl’s smile gives way to a look of uncertainty. “Nanna?” the asks tentatively, hugging my leg; soon, her eyes are brimming with tears. Well, what am I supposed to do? Lili’s my granddaughter, after all. Plus, she’s only five. Of course I hug her back.

    “So what’s new?”

    “They need people for maintenance work now – with so many in stasis. We thought you might be interested …”

    ‘Maintenance work’ is mostly just supervising the machines for a few hours a day. Still, someone has to do it.

    “It’s boring,” says Xenia with a grimace.
    “What, you signed on?”

    “We both have. … No-one takes my dance classes now.”

    The last bit seems to upset her the most. What did you expect, girl? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess how people will choose between dance classes and a bit more time out of storage.

    “How much do they pay?”

    “Five extra credits per hour.”

    “That’s ridiculous! You’ll never break even. Have you tried to negotiate?”

    “But that’s the official rate!” both chorus in bewilderment.

    Young people can be so naive sometimes.

    ###

    “I’ve heard you have some maintenance work available,” I tell the Department’s avatar.

    “That’s right. It’s a good way to earn some extra credits. Would you like to sign up?”

    “I’m not sure. The rate is too low.”

    “The rate we offer is reasonable.”

    How do they make a perfectly neutral voice sound so patronising? Must be a talent.

    “I disagree. I’ll do the work for,” I glance at my calculations, “100 extra credits per hour. If the Department doesn’t agree, I’ll just go back into stasis. And you can do maintenance yourself. If you’re even a real person.”

    I log off without waiting for a response.

    • September 21, 2022 at 7:29 am
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      Hi Vicki,
      Such a clever take and one which absolutely nails “the cost of living” as the prompt.
      This is a really well written piece interspersed with realistic dialogue.
      It projects an extremely uncomfortable picture of the future.
      Really enjoyed the conversations with the computer person. We are already finding it increasingly challenging to speak to an actual person, so your take is spot on.
      Well done,

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • September 22, 2022 at 2:20 pm
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        Thanks, Ken!

        This story reflects some of my skepticism about planned economies and the UBI (Universal Basic Income) as the supposed panacaea to all of society’s ills. The computer person is a ‘faceless bureaucrat’ taken to the next level :).

        Originally my story had a more upbeat ending, but it ran way over the limit. So as it stands, all Yanna can do is give the bureaucrats the metaphorical middle finger. 🙂

    • September 21, 2022 at 1:41 pm
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      Great story. That’s a winner for me. Love the way you bought the prompt into it. Well done!

      • September 22, 2022 at 2:22 pm
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        Thanks, Ilana!
        But really? Phil’s story gives me a major inferiority complex. I just can’t see how my story can match that.

        • September 27, 2022 at 2:48 am
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          Phil’s stories always give me an inferiority complex. LOL

    • September 23, 2022 at 8:37 am
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      I really like this story, Vicki. For a start, I like speculative fiction that paints a recognisable world building on current trends and interests, highlighting the potential human impacts. And my day job involves writing and researching about the future of work, so the inclusion of Universal Basic Income and your later comments about bureaucracy seem very relevant to me – most futures (like in Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists) see a critical role for UBI plus very large roles for the state in managing our future lives. Which I am also sceptical about.

      Popping into and out of stasis – or popping your expensive relatives into stasis – sounds socially dysfunctional although also practical, and I think it’s clever the way you bind this social and family dysfunction in with the cost-of-living issue.

      Dealing with a departmental avatar seems to be edging closer already, and is a nice touch – but then the story seems a bit anticlimactic and seems not to pick up on the earlier issue very much. You mentioned originally having a different ending, and I think you have the wordcount available to do something a bit differently if you want to.

      So, the story presses my buttons, and I want more of it!

      • September 29, 2022 at 7:31 am
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        Thanks for your comment, Andy!

        Your day job sounds interesting.

        I didn’t notice the increased word limit until you pointed it out in response to my comment to your story. In any case, my original version ran to nearly 2,000 words. Plus it’s too late to do anything about it now.

    • September 29, 2022 at 9:25 am
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      Put me in storage right now! Don’t wake me until we have nuclear fusion and personal jetpacks. And don’t ever put me in charge of the people in stasis, because that will not go well.

      Good sci-fi! It kind of reminds me of “The Obsolete Man” Twilight Zone episode, but I have probably said that a dozen times. It is a great episode with a cool monologue at the beginning and end. But she ain’t a man, or obsolete!

  • September 21, 2022 at 5:42 am
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    The Shadow of the Father
    Vienna 1912

    Father Fabian noticed her, as he always did. She glanced up from the table where she was arranging the flowers, and briefly caught his eye.

    “Perfect,” he said softly. Then as she looked up again, “The flowers will be perfect. As always.”

    She nodded her head in acknowledgement. Her smile expressed her thanks for the compliment, yet with a reserve appropriate for her status as a young widow, still in mourning.

    As Father Fabian moved on to spread his approval equitably amongst the other ladies placing flowers around the church, the image of Helge Bergmeier’s profile stayed with him: the slight upturn at the edge to her lips, the way a few strands of hair were breaking loose from her precise chignon, the purposeful incline of her slender neck, and the colour rising delicately in her perfect cheeks.

    At the same time, in the centre of town, Dr Leopold Schwarz walked excitedly from the Café Central, basking in the glow of his rendezvous with his mentor, Dr Sigmund Freud. He paused on the steps, looking up at the exuberant Italianate façade of the café, glowing in the low October sunshine.

    It was always a joy for Leopold to go there, where the lofty ideas of the world’s most pre-eminent thinkers mingled between the arches of the high vaulted ceiling. Glass-fronted counters displayed Vienna’s finest patisserie, and the coffee was exceptional.

    Leopold walked briskly along Herrengasse, studying the faces in the crowds. People rushing about their business. Families chatting happily. Visitors gazing up at the fine buildings. Young couples gazing longingly into each other’s eyes, older ones walking arm in arm in the mellow comfort of a life lived well together. There was so much in this city to enjoy, indeed to savour. The world held so many possibilities, yet there were still many people who were lost, whose suffering made their life unendurable. He was determined his life’s work would be to help them

    Leopold carried these thoughts into his consultation with Frau Bergmeier that afternoon. She sat elegantly on the edge of the sofa, dressed all in black. Despite her poised demeanour, Leopold could see the tiredness in her eyes. She looked up at him, in forlorn expectation of a solution to her deep distress.

    “Frau Bergmeier – how has the last week been? Have you thought about what we discussed in our first session?”

    “Nothing has changed, Doctor,” said Helge. “At least, not for the better. I’m spending more time at the church. There, I am busy. I’m even helping with organising the church office – Father Fabian is not a very organised man, he lives on a higher plane …. There, I can keep my mind on – other things. But when I return home, each time I feel I’m sinking further. I see no way forward, and no thought brings me any comfort.”

    Leopold had spoken with Dr Freud, in general terms, about his widowed patient who was extremely devoted to the church, but fell into the deepest melancholia as soon as she left there. “Ah, religion! his mentor had exclaimed. “The totems and taboos that bind us and blind us. This kind of religiosity is usually a symptom of something deeper. You must dig further, like an archaeologist, to unearth the cause of her dysfunction. Explore her relationship with her father. And remember, the urge to sex and the urge to self-destruction are, in my view, often intertwined.”

    “Last time, Frau Bergmeier,” said Leopold, “we explored your relationship with your late husband. You told me he was a cold man. Very correct, but not affectionate. We didn’t discuss – intimacy. How satisfactory was that side of your relationship?”

    Helge looked down, blushing slightly, though she had been prepared to talk of such private matters. “He did what men do, I suppose. But I felt no warmth from it. I didn’t expect more.”

    Leopold looked up from his notepad, raising an eyebrow.

    “My father arranged the marriage,” she continued. “It’s advantageous for our families to be connected.”

    “But, as a woman, you have remained unsatisfied?”

    Helge thought for some time, then said, “I am loveless and childless, and that side of life is closed to me. Yet to play the sorrowful widow is one more daily torment. Every door is closed to me, and I can see no hope in life. I would like to live my life in service to others, but …” She trailed off, lost in thought.

    “You are yet a young woman, Frau Bergmeier. You see no possibility of a future, happier, marriage?”

    “I cannot think of it,” Helge said sharply. “It’s impossible, and I am trapped by my own – desires.” She looked down, and began to weep.

    “Your desires?” said Leopold gently. “You can be open with me. That is why you came here, to explore your deepest feelings.”

    Helge gathered herself, and took a little notebook from her purse, which then she did not consult, but held tightly to herself.

    “You asked me to record my dreams,” said Helge. “I am reluctant to speak of them, for they become ever wilder. I see myself doing things I have never done before, or thought of doing. With Father Fabian.”

    She bowed her head in shame. “I … I have daydreams about our being passionately intimate. In the church, even! In the park, behind the trees as respectable people promenade past on the other side. Of his coming to me in my chamber at night. These things I cannot say at confession, how could I? Then I daydream about becoming his wife, of having children, of our life in old age. Then I think how impossible it is, and the tears begin to fall. Then I sit and wish myself into oblivion. The next thing I know it’s past midnight, and another day is gone to no purpose.”

    She took out her handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. “Today I felt – that he might feel something for me too, the way his eyes lingered on me … So – I’ve resolved to find another church. One with a priest who is old and ugly!” She gave a short laugh. Then she shrugged. “But I know tomorrow I will go back. I cannot be with him, yet I must!”

    Leopold smiled sympathetically. As he was about to speak, Helge interrupted him. “Don’t dare to offer me any hope! What kind of life could we have, knowing I had turned him against his vocation, made him break his vows? The guilt would destroy us, as the very thought of it is destroying me now. The cost of a happy life is too high to endure.”

    In the bishop’s palace across town, Father Fabian was meeting his bishop.

    “I’m happy to see you, my son,” said the Bishop. “Though your note said it’s a matter of great urgency, which is a little worrying. You seem to be in some distress.”

    “I apologise, Your Excellency,” said Father Fabian. “I am in indeed some turmoil, with doubts about my calling.”

    “It is natural to have some doubts. Faith – ”

    “No, no. My faith is not in question,” said Fabian firmly, shaking his head.

    “Ah. A woman, then.”

    Father Fabian then proceeded to outline his predicament, with his growing affection for the young widow, whom he tactfully declined to name, and her many virtues, as he saw them. “She is intelligent, devout, kind and very capable.”

    “It sounds like she would make an ideal nun,” said the Bishop, with a friendly laugh. “Ah, you look shocked. Or a perfect wife.”

    “So – I wish to request a transfer. Somewhere far away.” Fabian looked firmly at the Bishop, who paused for some time before speaking.

    “My predecessor would have speedily granted your request. He believed the devil comes to tempt priests in the form of women. But I am of a more modern persuasion. The world is changing fast, being turned upside down and inside out. And not all of it is for the worst. It sounds like your virtuous widow has much to offer the world, as do you. The priesthood is not the only calling.”

    Father Fabian looked at the Bishop, somewhat startled by his words.

    “Perhaps this is indeed a test from God. Not one that you pass or fail, but one where you choose a path most suited to you. There are many ways to serve God, and to serve people in need. Is it necessary that the path you choose is the unhappiest one?”

    “I have thought about that,” said Fabian. “But I did not take my vows lightly.”

    “No, of course.”

    “I always knew that the path I chose involves sacrifice. Can I break my promises to God and the church, abandon my calling, in return for earthly happiness? ‘For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?’”

    “My son, are you sure you would lose your soul, rather than be faithful to it?”

    [1494 words]

    • September 22, 2022 at 2:38 pm
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      Hi Andy,

      What a beautifully written story! It would be ashamed if it were disqualified from competition for being over the limit. Now that we have an extra week, do you think you could trim it down to size? (Though I don’t see any extraneous parts that could easily be cut.)

      If, conversely, you decide to leave it long, could you please please please add a more definite ending to let us know whether Helge and Father Fabian decided to get married and combine personal happiness with service to community, or to live a life of self-denial far away from each other? Right now, you just leave us hanging.

      The Bishop sounds unusually sympathetic (actually, I don’t know how willing Catholic bishops are these days to release priests from their vows), but I’m willing to suspend disbelief since it doesn’t remove the conflict. Even if the Bishop gives permission, would Fabian’s – and Helge’s – own conscience let them seek personal happiness in marriage?

      BTW, how many times was Helge married before? Leopold refers to her “first” husband. If he was her only husband, then ‘late’ would be more appropriate IMO. Or was she widowed more than once?

      • September 22, 2022 at 6:24 pm
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        Thanks for your comments, Vicki!

        The word limit this time is 1500 – not sure why but grateful for it, as I excised a big chunk (centred round a conversation between Leopold and Freud, plus something about Helge’s childhood and deceased husband).
        What amongst other things I was trying to do is to present several perspectives around the same people – in Fabian’s words, Helge’s and their two mentors – one secular and one religious. And a little bit of colour from the narrator. Helge and Fabian each have a view of their own position, and also in different ways put the object of their affection on a kind of pedestal. And Leopold’s positive outlook when walking through the streets is a kind of counterpoint to the angst of the central protagonists.

        “First husband” – hmm, yes, I could try and wriggle out of that by saying Leopold assumes she will marry again, but actually “late husband” would be so much more accurate and appropriate. Many thanks for spotting that! Perhaps it will miraculously change in the text in the week ahead:-)

        I wanted to leave the dilemma hanging, as it’s kind of central to the story and sets a challenge to the reader rather than providing a happy or unrequited ending. I don’t know if that’s the right choice or not. In a longer story, it’s 1912 and the war will break out soon – they could both end up working in an Austrian hospital tending to the wounded, and the relationship take on a new dynamic …

    • September 29, 2022 at 10:53 am
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      She has Father issues, not daddy issues. Excellent writing and I liked the sort of romantic suspense mixture.
      It reminded me of The Thorn Birds miniseries, except that one showed you their whole lives … and it went down one of the sadder routes that you mentioned.

  • September 21, 2022 at 7:47 am
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    Hi Andy,

    I think this story has everything. It is a realistic comment upon the frailty of man or men, in this case the priest, Fabian. I like the way he tries to deal with his dilemma, with honesty and with respect to his temptation. In recent years we have heard many, too many stories of men in the priesthood who simply gave in to temptation but not this man, Father Fabian. That restores a little of the balance. Many priests are good men, dedicated to their calling but they don’t make the news.

    It’s also a good story, not an uncommon one but the advice of the enlightened Bishop is I suspect, less common in that there are many ways to answer the calling of God.

    I would like to think that there are many wise and devout individuals in the church (in its broadest sense). If not, then we really are in trouble.

    Having spent much longer watching the State Funeral on Monday than I intended, I was reminded of the arms of state, the church, under such scrutiny these days, Parliament, seriously discredited, the Royals, seen by some as an anachronism and by the military, much reduced in number but very much in evidence at the funeral. I wonder which of these four I would join if I was a young person starting out in life.

    Another thought-provoking story, Andy.

    Kind regards,
    Ken Frape

    • September 22, 2022 at 6:20 pm
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      Hi Ken – many thanks for your comments! Glad you like it.

      As you say it was not uncommon for clergy to give into temptation – the main thing not being caught! Someone could have advised Fabian to do likewise! But he’s genuinely torn and sees in Helge more than a mistress. I was kind of interested in the psychological and conventional barriers we sometimes put up to happiness, and different ways of approaching that.

      The enlightened/more liberal bishop – Vicki makes a similar observation about his being unusually sympathetic. Vienna at this time was self-consciously very modern and challenging of convention. Though conservatives were in the ascendancy, there were liberal clergy who wanted a different direction. So, such a bishop is a possibility (though I don’t know who the bishop actually was then!)

      And Ken – are you going to get a story in yourself, now that we have extra time?

      • September 23, 2022 at 4:35 am
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        Hi Andy,
        I have made use of the extra week to get a story together and it will be posted sometime today.
        Cheers,
        Ken Frape

  • September 21, 2022 at 9:57 am
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    Carrie, I’m having a bit of a tussle with my internet right now. I’ll hopefully be posting my story in a few minutes.

    Roy

  • September 21, 2022 at 10:14 am
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    Payment Due
    by RM York

    As he passed through the outer doors of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Muncie, Indiana in the arms of his grandmother, it was Wilson Brownfield’s last contact with Christianity.

    Greeted at his new home by his unwed mother (who was not allowed in the Catholic church) and Mark, her current boyfriend, Wilson was promptly placed in his bassinet in the soiled diaper he wore during his Christening ceremony. He was left to his own devices as his mother and her lover embraced a bottle of cheap gin purchased to mark the occasion of the baby’s baptism.

    Angela made a face as she finished her third gin fizz. “What kind of crap did you buy, this tastes like kerosene.”

    “With the cost of livin’ being what it is, Angie,” said her on again, off again, boyfriend Mark, “I couldn’t get the good stuff. This set me back almost $17.50 as it was.”

    Anglea poured herself another drink. “Ahh, go on you cheap bastard. Cost of livin’ my ass. You didn’t have to pay for it anyway. It was my mother who gave you the money, almost a hundred bucks.”

    “See, that’s the problem. You don’t understand the cost of living. I do. We can’t afford expensive stuff, but we can get by if we’re careful. The cost of living is going up, but we don’t have to buy high priced things. One of these days you’ll understand. Or, I can make you understand.” Mark lifted his glass and tossed down a double shot as he tried to focus on Angela’s face.

    Angela waved off his veiled threat. “You probably spent the rest of it at the race track or on Ellie Mason. Didn’t think I knew about her, did ya?”

    “I was just taking care of my … umm …personal happiness while you were otherwise occupied carrying that shit-producing diaper filler who’s squalling in the other room. The one you tell me is mine.”

    The alcohol was beginning to find its mark, as it always did with Mark and Angela. She sat down on the tawdry couch they’d found on the parkway – plastered with a sign that said ‘Take Me’ – and started to cry.

    “Stop your blubbering … you’re making more noise than the kid. Why don’tcha do something useful and see why it’s crying? Then, maybe you can make lunch.”

    Angela looked up from the couch wiping the tears with the back of her hand. As she stood up. “Tell me you didn’t mean it about the baby. You know he’s yours.”

    “For all I know that kid could belong to any man in this county. Now go do what I told ya to do. Don’t expect me to do it. I already told you I don’t do diapers. Be glad I’m sticking around for now.”

    “Mark, there are sometimes you can be so mean. So help me, one of these days … “

    Mark slapped her hard across the face. “One of these days what, Angie?” He always called her Angie when he was angry with her. He knew it bothered her.

    It was what her father had called her. The father that had abused her sexually from the time she was eleven until she was fifteen. He only stopped then because he pissed off the wrong guy in a bar one night and took three bullets in his chest in the parking lot outside. No one attended his burial except the two men that put his wooden casket into the ground.

    Angela’s head snapped hard to the left and she stumbled as she hit the edge of the end table by the end of the couch. It turned over, taking the lamp, a leaded crystal ashtray full of cigarette butts, and her now empty glass to the floor. As she tried to right herself Mark hit her again. “See what you made me do? When you get this mess cleaned up, take care of that brat in the other room.”

    Angela picked herself up from the floor and rubbed her right cheek. Mark stood there glaring at her. She picked up the ashtray and set it on the couch, then righted the table and put the lamp back in place, straightening the shade as she did. Nothing was broken except one corner of the ashtray. “I’ll … I’ll clean up the mess when … after I take care of Wilson,” she said.

    Mark walked to his chair and sat down grabbing the remote as he did. “Fix my lunch.”

    “In a minute,” Angela said.

    She picked up the ashtray to put it on the table and still had it in her hand when he roared,”Goddammit, I said fix my lunch,” and turned his attention to the remote and the television.

    The gin had done its job and was in complete control. She wasn’t even aware as she whirled and threw the heavy glass ashtray directly at Mark’s head less than ten feet away.

    Mark, who had been searching for a sports channel, didn’t see it coming at first. When he realized she had thrown something it was too late to react quickly enough to prevent getting hit. His hand had only gone part way up to ward off the incoming missile when the broken corner of the ashtray caught him just at the bridge of his nose and his left eye.

    The result was a bursting laceration, a fracture of the occipital bone surrounding his eye, and the severing of the muscle that held his eye in place, with a bone fragment sent upward toward his brain. Blood immediately started to flow as Mark flopped back in his chair unconscious..

    Angie stood there for a moment, dazed, realizing what she had done. At that moment she heard a loud wail from her bedroom and turned walking unsteadily toward the sound. “Hold on Wilson, Mommy’s coming.” Mark didn’t move.

    Angela picked up the baby and held him close. “Let’s get you changed, honey.” A few minutes later, a much cleaner and happier baby was sniffling the heavy sobs of a baby that has been constantly crying. “Mommy’s going to get you a bottle, then we will be leaving for Grandma’s. I’ll be right back, I have to look after Daddy,” said Angela as she lay Wilson down in his bassinet. She leaned down and kissed him on his cheek.

    A few minutes later Wilson was greedily sucking on a bottle as his mother carried him out of the bedroom and through the living room. Mark sat slumped in his chair not moving, blood congealing around the wound on his face, the remote lay on the floor.

    Angela set down the suitcase she was carrying with her other hand. She picked up the remote and lay it in his lap. She then reclaimed the suitcase and walked toward the door. She looked back as she opened it, and said, “Mark, you were right about the cost of living … it has gone up … eventually, the cost of living is dying.”

    • September 28, 2022 at 2:22 am
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      Another smoothly written story from you that flows seamlessly, Roy. An oppressed woman coming out from under, with a bit of violence – it’s kind of a favourite storyline these days, isn’t it?

      Maybe you could have made a bit more use of the available word count for a flashback about Angela’s childhood, in similar style to the present-day story, rather than straight narration of the backstory. Would have added to building the picture of her, I think, in a more involving way.
      Anyway, the story zipped along, very readable and with a kind of satisfactory outcome. Until the police arrest her. Then we have the issues-based Netflix series to follow …

    • September 29, 2022 at 7:14 am
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      Hi Roy,

      Sorry I didn’t get to write a comment earlier. I thought I had done one for each writer.

      Your story certainly hits the mark regarding the dysfunctional relationship. You couldn’t get much more dysfunctional than this. Battered woman/ mother/ partner…….even her status is unclear except that of a weak man’s punchbag. Of course their previous lives have lead them down this dark alley where only drugs and alcohol can lighten the gloom of their awful lives. Into this comes a baby, uncared for, in the main and unwanted by this man who may or may not be the father.
      In the end, I have nothing but sympathy for this woman. I suspect that she might be able to plead self-defence in court ( as in my story) but there’s little chance that justice will be served as the system is stacked against her.
      Good writing, as ever, Roy.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

  • September 21, 2022 at 1:00 pm
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    Hey everybody, I have to extend it out another week, I’m at a conference, and I thought I would have good internet connection but I do not. On top of it I broke my phone and it is going crazy haywire, and I cannot use it to do the voting. So I will have to extend it out another week.

  • September 21, 2022 at 4:43 pm
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    I was hoping I could get out of writing a story! The true cost of living is kicking my tail and I’m really not in the mood to write about it. This black cloud I’m under that Roy refers to is beginning to take on more of the aspects of something more sinister.

    My car suffered a fatal transmission attack and could not be resuscitated necessitating the purchase of a new (used) vehicle. It was a Dave Ramsey special – paid off, 16 years old and 300,000 miles. My air conditioner unit went out for the 9th (yes, NINTH) time this summer (Yes, it’s under warranty and NO, they won’t replace it. Just have to keep fixing it.) Praying for winter and that the heater works. One of the three dogs got backed up (tummy wise) over the weekend and had to rush him to the vet for another bill I wasn’t expecting. Now have to replace two tires on the other car. If I had the money, I would go to court and officially change my name to Murphy, since his law seems to be running my life at the moment.

    My house is another story. The roof leaks, the doors squeak, and the floors are weak. I can hear Tarzan calling through the jungle of my backyard as he swings through the trees because I can’t find a yard man brave enough to cut through it to do the lawn. Something about the heat and the size of the yard and too many trees. Blah, blah, blah. It’s more of a forest than a jungle but who am I to correct Tarzan if he wants to swing through my yard with six-pack abs and a loin cloth? On second thought, I just might keep it that way as long as he doesn’t bring Jane around. There is something undeniably sexy about the glistening naked chest on a muscular man with six-pack abs and nothing but a loin cloth. I think I’ll just turn the dogs loose, let the house rot and I’ll learn to live in the wild back yard with Tarzan.

    I’m sorry, where was I? Does that count as a story? LOL!! Got to run folks. Love the new stories. If I’m not too busy with the T-man outside, I’ll try to get a story in since we have another week. Lots of Luv, Adi

    • September 22, 2022 at 2:50 pm
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      Well Adi, IMO you’ve got the makings of a story right there. A woman with financial woes has to let her house crumble and her garden turn into jungle because she can’t afford to get them fixed. Tarzan moves in. Perhaps he’s also financially challenged – couldn’t afford the rent, or buy any clothes (the loincloth is all that’s left of his clothes from better times) – which led to him turning into Tarzan; at least he’s healthy and has a great body. They meet in the garden/ jungle, perhaps when the woman’s now semi-feral dogs corner Tarzan in a tree, and live happily ever after (possibly). With all the juicy details. This story just needs to be written. 🙂

    • September 24, 2022 at 1:57 pm
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      Adi,

      That almost counts as a story. Tarzan needs to be your next door neighbor. I never heard of a car suffering a ‘transmission attack’. The ninth time the air conditioner broke was the time you should have told us whether it was in your car or in your house. You bought a new vehicle only to discover it was ‘used.’ Your dog didn’t fart so you took him to the doctor. That ominous black cloud might just have some moisture in it. You might welcome it, especially since Tarzan probably needs a bath and his drain field is all clogged up. (Cost of living again.)

      I’m not laughing at your misfortune, I’m laughing at the way you describe it. Clearly, you’re an incurable optimist. But nature is doing its damnedest to cure you after all. To hell with nature. I’m rooting for you, and Tarzan.

      • September 26, 2022 at 4:27 pm
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        Thank you Ken, for laughing! That was my goal. I was hoping I could get someone to laugh. As for the car, I don’t really know what the “heart” of a car is but when the transmission goes, that pretty much sounds the death bells for it -especially for a car with 300,000 miles. The air conditioner that keeps gasping is the 2 year old unit for the house that is still under warranty and should be replaced IF the company was reputable. I’m perfectly happy with my new “used” car – it is a pretty red and in great shape for a 2015 Chevy with 80,000 miles. The dog wouldn’t poop – but I didn’t want to be crass, so tried to be delicate, but he’s back to his fat, sassy self again tearing the house up with his two sisters. The floors are weak and they do creak but I try not to think about them too much. The windows are framed in wood and the house is nearly 50 years old so the wood is rotting and the glass is beginning to fall out of the panes. So, I’m trying to decide if I should tape them in with some really strong clear tape or some clear silicone of some type until I win the lottery (that I don’t play because of religious beliefs) and can afford to buy new windows. I hear DIY is all the rage. The roof isn’t leaking anymore and I can live with the brown spot for awhile longer. Did I mention the ghost? No? Well, he mostly stays to himself. Only small children and cats can really see him and I only catch a glimpse of his shadow now and then. I don’t think he is the one that comes in the night and sits on my bed. I prefer to think that this is my mother, or aunt, or grandfather or at least someone I know that is watching over me. Oh well, gotta run. I’m not going to be able to get a story in but I’m having a lot of fun with Tarzan. We had a glorious night in his treehouse cuddling in a hammock looking at the stars the other night. It was simply wonderful. Sigh…. Adi

  • September 23, 2022 at 6:18 am
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    Settling Your Account.

    An original short story written by Ken Frape, September 2022.

    Harlen Oxford had adopted a defensive posture, stepping back, right arm raised to protect himself from the blow that was already heading his way. His mouth was wide open as were his eyes. But to no avail. The blow, delivered by his much maligned wife, would not be denied its purpose which was to prevent him from killing her. Melanie Oxford had finally snapped after many years of physical and verbal abuse, financial dependency and public humiliation. She was several inches taller than her husband, a small, mean man even on a good day and as he rose from the table and balled his fists to hit her again she raised the kitchen knife in her hand and brought it down with as much force as she could muster. The sharply pointed blade missed her husband’s defensive arm and plunged into his chest, puncturing his heart.

    Moments later, he lay on the floor of the kitchen, the knife handle pointing towards the ceiling as a pool of blood began to spread across the ceramic tiles. He was dead within minutes. The bruises on Melanie Oxford’s face, arms and chest, a rainbow of orange and yellows, half healed from so many previous beatings, gave her a better than even chance of claiming self-defence in any court in the land.

    ……………………………………………………………….

    “Next,” the voice boomed out in the cavernous space in which Harlen Oxford found himself. He was lying on his back on the floor with his hand pressed to his chest. It was a space rather than a room as no ceiling or walls were within view. The air was misty and nothing was visible more than ten feet ahead. Harlen looked around for the origin of the voice.

    “Over here, Mr. Oxford.” He dragged himself to his feet and almost immediately came face to face with the source of the voice, an enormous speaker as tall as he was.

    “Welcome, Mr. Harlen Oxford. Sit, please.”

    The voice was quiet now, free of any accent and strangely soothing but nonetheless commanding. Harlen obediently sat on the chair beside him. His hand subconsciously went to his chest again as he looked down. He saw no blood and felt no pain. His mind found this hard to compute. The words fight, argument, punching, ridicule, criticism, shock and pain came into his head.

    “So,” the voice spoke again, “I see you have just been working through your final moments. Any thoughts?”
    Harlen’s mouth opened but no words came out as he looked all around him.

    “Perhaps I can help. Firstly, I’m sure you are wondering where you are.”

    Harlen nodded.

    “This is part of the Processing Suite for what you will know as The Afterlife. All new applicants pass through here on their way to their final destinations.”

    “ Afterlife? Final destinations?” Harlen’s questions were sharp and fired like bullets. It was a habit.

    “Yes, I’m sure you will understand that we cannot simply allow our clients to pass through here unprocessed, without settling their account. That really wouldn’t do, would it?”

    “What account? I didn’t know I had an account. So what happens here?” His anxiety translated into a verbally aggressive tone as he fired yet more questions.

    “Simply put, we have two main destinations but with many subsections,” the voice from the speaker continued. “You will know the places by their most commonly used names, Heaven and Hell.”

    Harlen went cold as ice and realized that his hand was still pressed to his chest.

    The voice went on, “Things aren’t looking too good for you I’m afraid, Harlen, largely, but not entirely, due to the manner in which you precipitated your death.”

    “I think you’ll find I was murdered!” Harlen Oxford said angrily. “Perhaps you should be talking to my wife, not me. She was holding the knife.”

    “ Perhaps you should watch this,” the voice said without rancor as a screen appeared.

    Harlen Oxford begun to sink lower and lower in his seat like a punctured car tyre as he watched the video. He was transported to his kitchen. He watched the argument he had deliberately started. He heard the aggressive tone in his voice, saw his raised fists and saw the blows he rained down on his wife as she cowered in the corner, her battered face streaming with tears. He saw himself pick up the knife and hold it under her throat before throwing it into the sink, pouring himself three fingers of Scotch and sitting at the dining table. He downed the fiery liquid in one gulp and threw the glass at his wife. She turned away as the glass smashed against the wall, showering her with shards of glass as her fingers curled around the handle of the knife in the sink.

    Harlen looked away in horror as he then saw himself being stabbed to death by his wife.

    The voice continued. “We have many, many other similar incidents, obviously without this outcome but we think this shows a pattern. Wouldn’t you agree?”

    Harlen sat with his head in his hands, as tears dripped through his entwined fingers. “But, but I loved her, that woman. Melanie.” He whispered her name.

    “Doesn’t look like it, I’m afraid, Harlen. However, remorse is good. I hope those are tears of genuine remorse rather than self-pity. Which is it? Remorse or self- pity? Either way it will be taken into account in your final reckoning.”

    Harlen’s voice was quivering with emotion as he spoke again. “So what happens now, you know, to me?”

    “We will look at the evidence accumulated over your life…”

    “Over my life? What, all of it?”

    “Oh yes, it is only fair that we look at everything including any kind acts you may have performed, such as the dropped purse you handed in to the police when you were only seven.”

    “You know about that!” Harlen was astonished and then as a thought came to him, he was silent.

    “Yes and we know about that too, Harlen. We know you never intended to kill your brother’s pet rabbit but setting light to its fur was never going to end well, was it?” Harlen hung his head in shame.

    “Look,” commanded the voice and as Harlen looked up the screen flashed through incident after incident from his life. At the top of the screen was a set of scales, the scales of justice. They tipped this way and that, up with wonderful moments with his wife on their wedding day, his children as they laughed and played with Harlen, hugging and kissing him and then down at those angry and violent moments when he was behind the wheel of his flashy car, or berating his workers, cutting their pay and beating his wife.

    And there was worse. So much worse. Things that he thought no one would ever find out were all laid out in front of him and he was forced to watch.

    “I wasn’t all bad,” he whined as he saw himself at a Charity Ball, paying over the odds for a week end in a hotel.

    “But you did not take your wife to that hotel, did you, Harlen?” The voice probed.

    Harlen shook his head. “No, I didn’t. I took my secretary “

    There was silence for a few moments as he reviewed what he had just seen.

    “So what now?” he asked the voice, his own words quivering with emotion, with fear. For the first time in his life he was being made to look at himself and to see the things he had done.

    “There’s a waiting room just over there in front of you,” said the voice from the speaker. “The Accounts Department. Just take a seat and we’ll let have your bill as soon as possible. Bye now.”

    “The bill?” How can I pay a bill?” He patted his pockets for his wallet but the speaker slid out of sight into the floor. Harlen dragged himself across to the other chair and sank heavily into it. He could feel his heart beating and he even had a moment to think of the irony of such a feeling as only recently it had been punctured by a kitchen knife.

    It wasn’t long until he heard his name called once again. This time he was instructed to move and stand in the middle of a large circle marked on the floor. In front of him was a screen and, as he watched, the screen went from blinding white through every possible shade to the darkest black and back again. He was mesmerized by the changing hues.

    Suddenly, without an instant’s warning, the floor opened beneath his feet and he fell, screaming into a bottomless hole that was the blackest of blacks.

    On the screen a message appeared,

    Harlen Oxford,
    Account paid in full.
    Account closed.
    ……………………………………………………………………………

    Ken Frape
    WC 1480
    September 2022

    • September 28, 2022 at 2:43 am
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      Great writing, and conjuring up both a starkly realistic atmosphere in the kitchen where it all happened, and then a kind of spooky ethereal atmosphere with touches of modernity for the Reckoning. Very visual.

      Had me thinking of Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death (though very different) as I could envisage Harlen arguing his case for a second chance. Interesting Ken C also thought that too. Only I wouldn’t “revoke it at the last minute”. I would have him sent back vowing to improve. Then leave it open-ended, just for KenC: will Harlen be better, can he change?? … 🙂

      Seriously, very good story, and a different take on a familiar theme to make a thought-provoking change.

      • September 28, 2022 at 5:57 am
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        Hi Andy,

        Thanks very much for the comments. I have considered the possibility of different endings but decided upon this one as the man was truly unpleasant. No-one knows what awaits him at the end of the black hole…..perhaps he is still falling.

        When I originally had the idea for a post-death waiting room i wrote a much longer piece (2500 3000 words) where the main protagonist is totally bewildered by his situation. He has to be properly processed by the system managed by two twins who resemble Tweedledum and Tweedledee. When this prompt arrived I could see that I had at least the beginning of a short story and went from there.

        I just loved the alternative endings you have suggested for Ken C. I’ve no doubt he will reply in his own, inimitable style in due course.

        Kind regards,

        Ken Frape

    • September 28, 2022 at 11:53 am
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      Good writing! I liked how his size and attitude didn’t help him much once he got above. It makes you think that there should be a department up there that tries to prevent domestic abuse and some of those other sins from being committed, because the punishment is considered only a possibility by many. I mean … the punishment itself doesn’t serve to convince anyone to change their ways (until it is too late).

      Unless the system is geared towards collecting full payments of this kind? Is there a quota to fill or something? Is there a shortage of screams and misery that can only be filled by a constant rain of sinners from above? Seems kind of like when you go to turn in your tickets at Chucky Cheese and you realize that you are a few hundred short to get the teddy bear (not a criticism of your story or writing, just me picking a sore on the elephant in the room).

      I don’t think I would get to see that many colors, the floor would just drop as soon as I awoke lol.

      (kicks pebble, clears throat, and avoids eye contact by studying a loose ceiling tile closely)

      I once had a dream that I was in the casino of the devil, and I won some game that was kind of like Bingo. I took my ticket to get it cashed (it was a million dollars), and the clerk told me that it was expired by one minute (with a dirty grin).

  • September 24, 2022 at 1:42 pm
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    Phil,
    My father never liked me either, so, aside from the bad food, gas chambers, and clusters of nazi’s, I found a lot of things I could identify with in your story. Like the father, and the son. Have you thought of adding a ‘Holy Ghost’ to this story? Does it hurt to ask?

    John,
    You changed tenses or point of view in the next to last sentence. I would go with, “Not long after my death, the proof of my innocence was irrefutable.”

    Or something like that. Don’t remove the power of the first person POV in the last paragraph. Why should you?

    Other than that, it’s a great story, well-written, a little history, some irony, but your horror needs a little more fear. I was not convinced of the narrator’s fear.

    Marien,
    While I like your writing, and enjoyed your take on the prompt, I sometimes feel the urge to suspend your poetic license. The practice of harkening back, or obliquely referencing some shared social or racial moment or event, may hit exactly on the mark to those who understand the reference. But others, myself included, are often left completely baffled. In fact, mystified. It reminds me of singers and bands who work so carefully on the lyrics of their songs, only to have them drowned out by the bass, or, worse yet, vocalists who suffer an inability to simply sing their songs without all the emotive ‘twanging and slangin’. (If you catch my drift?) If you’re going to sing me a song, it’d be nice if I understood the lyrics. But it’s true, I’ve enjoyed many a song whose lyrics remain obscure to this day. ‘Inagaddadavida, baby.’

    What flows from your stories is joy, no matter what the subject. You might want to work on that, but I doubt it.

    Vicki,

    Another fiendishly creative take on a dystopian future, or alternate universe, take your pick. (I’m going with the future.) I’d like to read the longer version, but, the whole idea of people opting for stasis, or being forced to hop into the freezer for a while by financial circumstances, is such a big idea, it deserves a bigger platform. (A longer story?) While the UBI plays a large part in their hardship, it doesn’t come across that way in the story. It’s like a minimum wage that is also the only wage. The resentment of the narrator and stupidity of the younger characters is perfectly presented. This is a complex story on multiple levels—but it feels abbreviated, just as you said.

    To pick up on what Andy said, Kim and I were watching a news broadcast the other day. (Disclaimer: It was a cheap, free, T.V. station,) But the guy, the voice delivering the news, was not human, probably not even A.I, and in fact, did not understand what he was reporting. It took Kim and I a full 30 seconds to realize that his lack of syntax made his ‘reading’ of the news largely unintelligible, until one learned to adjust, possibly. I don’t know, because we changed the channel quickly and in disgust. Listening to something that is unintelligible, just because it included video, seemed to be a bar beneath which it was all too easy to let myself pass. We resisted the urge – this time. But if this is the trend, how long can one be expected to resist?

    Andy,
    What a beautifully told story. (Pretty lamely worded compliment, I know, but…) It’s just so beautifully crafted. I think there were about three words in it that I didn’t know and never heard of, but that’s not your fault.

    Vicki is correct, by your own words: ‘appropriate to her status as a young widow, still in mourning.’

    What I got out of this, (please, don’t cringe like that, don’t you realize I can see you? In my mind’s eye?) I got a mixed-up mixture of misapplied devotion. (I am in Vicki’s camp, again, as I was also willing to suspend disbelief at a Bishop who is so generous, or, I should have guessed, so modern that he was already using reverse psychology to keep his priest in his frock.)

    The priest devoted to his church, the woman devoted to her faith and customs, the psycho-analyst, so devoted to his science. How could so much devotion result in so little happiness? That’s people for ya. (As Sarah Palin would say.) This story has much beauty, and elegance. But… for this story to have real power, it must have a fight scene, a car chase, some of Marien’s poetic prose, a sex scene and a couple of lepers. (I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Just warming up for Roy York’s critique.) Honestly, I can only appreciate the story. I enjoyed reading it, and I certainly couldn’t think of any way to improve on it.

    I felt like it was more about devotion and duty than it was about the characters. A story that was so realistic, and the characters so devout, that there could be no happy ending, except perhaps for the therapist and the Bishop.

    Roy,
    A bit predictable in the ending, but it has your signature zip, style, and polish. So the writing carries you along, whether you want to go or not, and delivers you to the ending, whether I like it or not. This story, though not one of your best in my opinion, certainly showcases your skill and talent for writing and telling a story, well. This is no small achievement, nor, I hope, should you take my comments as anything but a compliment. But that, as they say, is up to you.

    Ken Frape gets his own, individual, specific, comment. No reason. Really. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m expecting to be wowed.

    • September 25, 2022 at 1:28 pm
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      Thanks for the kind and thoughtful comments on my story, Ken, within your post. I do like “beautifully crafted”, etc. Likewise for Vicki and Ken F’s comments.

      “for this story to have real power, it must have a fight scene, a car chase, some of Marien’s poetic prose, a sex scene and a couple of lepers.” Perhaps I didn’t make it clear that the bishop moonlights as a bearded lady riding a unicycle across a high wire suspended across St Stephen’s Square? (That adds some tightrope tension, I feel.) And the psycho-analyst became embroiled in a penny-farthing race on earlier that day, which he won, hence his sunny mood.

      I think maybe ‘beautifully written’ etc is shorthand for a 4th place vote. Where’s the plot?
      The plot’s mostly in the subjunctive – what could happen. And, dear reader, that’s for you to ponder. (Anyway, does flash fiction or a short story always need a plot with a beginning, a middle and an end, I wonder?)

      Actually, what I intended is that it’s all about the characters, and their drives. Funnily enough, in my mind the main focus when writing was Helge, the melancholic widow – what drives her? Is it religion, or is that kind of a cover for her drive to sex? Is she as devout as she appears? Or is she attracted to church because she’s got the hots for the priest? Is she looking for a father figure, and is suitably screwed up by that with the combination of desire and guilt? I can guess what Dr Freud would say. We humans are complex creatures. Or maybe just complicate our simple animal natures with a veneer of culture. (I’m speaking for a friend on that …)

      Likewise the priest. Actually, there’s a lot of sex in the story. Underlying everything else. Or maybe not. It’s like we British can’t talk about it. We’re still Victorian, or Edwardian, at best. ‘No sex please, we’re British’. It’s a mystery how we populate these islands, and have pretty much populated two continents. These things just happen, somehow, while we’re trying to do something else. Like building an empire or playing canasta.

      • September 27, 2022 at 10:22 am
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        Hi Andy,

        Man, I’m awfully glad you replied to my critique. (Or am I?) It would seem that there’s a whole lot going on in this story that I simply failed to notice. Most of that is my fault I’m sure. For instance, I didn’t realize until the second reading that the mourning widow was young. I failed to appreciate the care you took in describing her, and didn’t connect her intensity of repression at the psychoanalysts office. And yet, it’s all there, little hints and giant breadcrumbs everywhere I look. The fact that the analyst had brunch with Freud, (or a friend of Freud’s). I mean come on, that was such an obvious clue. The guy’s name ‘Freud’ is a trigger for sexual repression. (And I confess that my mental ears even pricked up when I saw his name in the story, but then I failed to see it as a piece of the puzzle two pages later.)

        As for the fourth-place finish? I hope you’re wrong about that, and it isn’t what I meant to imply by beautifully crafted. Beautifully crafted is what I call stories that are so well written, so entertaining, that I don’t care what they’re ultimately about. Not until later.

        I dislike stories with no clear ending, though, like this one. I want the author to ‘supply’ the ending, not me. No sir. I enjoy my passive participation and intend to preserve it for as long as possible. If I find myself ending stories for various authors, where will it end? (Pun unintended.) Where will it lead? Will I have to finish TV shows, the news, add the last vulgar verse to my favorite rap artist’s idiotic song? Will I have to land this goddamned plane myself? Where-does-it-END?

        “Here’s a needle and some thread,” the surgeon said. “You’ll have to close the incision yourself. You’re still anesthetized, so you won’t feel a thing. I have other patient’s, you know, but good luck. Call the nurse if you need some assistance.”

        “Wait, what? I swear to GOD, I am going to cancel this insurance—as soon as I get done with this, sewing, stuff.”

        Sorry, I got carried away.

        No ending, that would be my gripe. But I see that what you’ve written is deeper and more elaborate than I realized.

        • September 28, 2022 at 3:15 am
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          Love the comments about unended stories, and surgeons. I can counter with the dentist offering me multiple choices – take the tooth out, try to do a root filling and crown, but, hm, might not work, take it out and have an implant, denture, double implant to cover the adjacent gap as well, a bridge …. Life can be full of choices, even when you don’t want them.

          And everything in this story takes place in a day. That happens in shorts stories, just a slice of life. How often does life resolve itself in a day?

          But anyway, Ken, I have some endings for you and you can choose your favourite. I don’t want to leave you with sleepless nights worrying about Helge and Father Fabian.

          1 – He renounces his vows. They marry and live happily ever after.

          2 – He renounces his vows. They marry, but both are consumed with guilt, and a dysfunctional unrequited love turns into a dysfunctional requited but unhappy love. They endure, hating and blaming each other, into a miserable old age.

          3 – They stagger on as they are for a year and a half. Then the war starts (WW1). He goes to the front as a chaplain. She works as an auxiliary nurse tending the wounded in an aristocratic country house converted into a hospital. Two years later, she is tending the new incoming wounded, and finds Fabian covered in mud and blood. She nurses him back to health. And either a) they finally do get together, or b) she’s already fallen in love with an injured captain, someone more of her class and background, whom she later marries. But Fabian is always there as a confidant, a poignant what-might-have-been.

          4 – They both go through with their half-intentions: she to find another church (with an ugly priest) and he to be sent to another parish.

          5 – All that talk about sex worked its magic on both Helge and Leopold. She runs off with Leopold, to great scandal in Vienna.

          6 – To raised eyebrows and wagging tongues, she becomes Fabian’s housekeeper. Or “housekeeper”. They live happily as man and housekeeper into a comfortable old age, though her family disowns her.

          7 – Nothing changes. They remain in an unrequited relationship – can’t be too close, but can’t be too apart from each other, eventually settling into companionable old age. In the last scene they meet in the Café Central in 1955, and remember old times.

          8 – The bishop, a thoroughly liberal fellow of an ecumenical mind, introduces him to the Anglican bishop of Vienna. Fabian converts to Anglicanism. They marry and become missionaries, travel the world, eventually settling in Essex. They have many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, one of whom is the present author … 🙂

          Pick whichever one you like best!

  • September 24, 2022 at 3:12 pm
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    Ken Le Frape

    Great story Ken. Fabulous story-telling. Stark and uniquely modern purgatory, which seems to contain the bulk of the story. I think, if I were running the operation, I would have offered the offensive character a second chance, only to revoke it. But, as Phil says, ‘Write your own damned story, Ken.’

    I really enjoyed it. Enjoyed the writing, the unfolding of the story. It’s like watching a time-lapse movie of a flower opening. Very satisfying to know a story can be so well delivered.

  • September 27, 2022 at 7:18 am
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    Woo hoo and I’m back!
    I had a crazy time at my writers conference, so much crammed into eight days it was crazy. The conference was about 2 hours West of where my mom lives, and I was lucky enough to spend a few days with her too, I’m working on finishing up my story today and hoping to get it in before the deadline.
    I’m looking forward to sitting down and reading everybody’s stories!

    • September 27, 2022 at 8:17 am
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      Sounds fun! Was it a conference where you do a lot of your own writing as well, get feedback etc? It can be energizing and motivating spending time with other writers in real life as well as online!

      • September 27, 2022 at 11:53 am
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        It was! I’m a member of the Great Lakes Association of Outdoor Writers (although we have writers/film producers/authors from all over the world in every subject from hiking to hunting to dog walking). They put on a lovely conference every year.

        A lot of it is learning sessions “how to write a query letter”, “what magazine editors want to hear”, “how to burn corporate sponsorships”, “how to show instead of tell when blogging” etc.
        I spoke at a session called “Taking Your Podcast to the Next Level”.
        Every night there are fancy dinners, award ceremonies for media creators and even an Awards in Craft event where you submit your work from the previous year published article/story/youtube video/radio interview/photography etc. I’ve won several for my podcast, blog and photography. I’m not a trophy chaser, but it’s nice to be recognized for the amount of hours spent and all the hard work you put in.
        The host location, in this case Branson, Missouri, provides complimentary FAM trips for anyone, including spouses. So this area focuses on fishing and on travel.

        If you’re on facebook and search the hashtag #Branson AGLOW2022 you’ll see some really cool posts.

        I even got to take a 10-minute helicopter ride over the dam in Lake Taneycomo, Missouri. A fascinating man-made lake that is now a world-famous trout fishing destination.

        My next conference is next May in Kalamata, Greece for the TBEX conference (Travel Blogger Exchange). Not sure if I’ll be able to fit any fishing story lines in for that one, but half my website is travel stories and destination reviews anyhow.

        I find I get great value in these conferences, like you said, just being able to soak up the creative energy you receive when you get 150 creatives together is priceless.

  • September 27, 2022 at 10:33 am
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    Welcome back, Carrie,

    Andy asks if you were writing your own stuff and being supported by fellow writers. I have never had quite that experience. My local group used to meet every month to critique something we had each had written since the previous meeting. I always felt on the back foot as the other five or six members were award winning short story writers or they had written novels for publishing. It was very daunting.

    I wasn’t too disappointed when the group broke up.

    I did attend a ten week course in play writing though, where were would have perhaps ten minutes each week to write something there and then and read it to the rest of the group. The final outcome was to be that each of us would produce a ten minute play.

    Gratifyingly, I did produce a short play and it was performed at the local theatre festival that year.

    Looking forward to reading your story, Carrie.

    Ken Frape

    • September 27, 2022 at 11:55 am
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      Hi Ken!
      There are numerous conferences all over the world you could attend.
      Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo?
      That is also a wonderful place to meet fellow writers, get feedback and get a lot of group chatter for creatives.
      If you haven’t – I highly recommend it.

      And congrats on the play – that’s actually quite impressive!

  • September 28, 2022 at 1:06 pm
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    Working on the voting page right now – got pulled into a last minute meeting!

  • September 28, 2022 at 1:12 pm
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    All righty then…
    It’s time to vote!
    I’m pretty sure I got everyone’s story, but if I missed anything (a month is a long time and half the time I wasn’t able to keep up with everyone) let me know.

    Here is the voting link: https://fictionwritersgroup.com/cost-of-living-voting-2022/
    You have 24 hours from this date stamp (so tomorrow’s normal voting time + 1 hour).
    Good luck!

  • September 28, 2022 at 10:01 pm
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    Is there daylight saving ending in the USA now? I heard different states are different. Florida is having winds I read online today…

  • September 29, 2022 at 9:58 am
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    I’ve voted. Great stories everyone. I’ve enjoyed them all. Good luck to all of you!
    I’m tired. Very tired. Spent all day at the emergency room with Daddy yesterday. He’s fine and back home. I’m exhausted. I don’t have anything left in me at the moment. I think I’ll be in stasis for awhile.

    • September 29, 2022 at 10:15 am
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      Adi, stop and rest girl. Just sit there for a minute and let the calm wash over you. Just let your mind wander where ever it wants to go. Have a Zen moment.

      I’m rootin’ for ya and thinking good thoughts right now, and that little black cloud up there is heading out for someone new. I’ve got a few people in mind (no one you know) and I’m heading it their way.

      Nice, pleasant thoughts. Ice cream on a hot day, the laughter of a grandchild, and someone saying, I love you girl. I always have. Thanks for being there when I needed you. Now, I’m here for you.

      • September 30, 2022 at 8:17 am
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        Roy, thanks for the kind words! I’m trying. I’m ready for that cloud to move. I hope to be able to get some rest this weekend and recharge. Thanks for thinking of me! Adi

  • September 29, 2022 at 10:09 am
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    Next year if the law ever passes. There are mutterings of going the wrong way because only people care about clocks. Some want no daylight savings time (cows don’t care) but farmers supposedly do so they can work later and for other reasons (they say to save electricity, but if you need lights on in the morning most of the year, what have you saved?

    Different states are different. But then, Australia has a time change on the half hour in one state, which I think is strange.

    Yeah, Florida is experiencing a hurricane, but they’re used to that by now with Desantis running his mouth all the time.

  • September 29, 2022 at 2:04 pm
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    We’re just waiting for John F and Ken C to vote.
    I’ll give them another hour, and then I’ll post the results.

  • September 29, 2022 at 2:56 pm
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    Ken may not have power. Isn’t he in Florida? I’m sure he’s OK, though.
    Roy

    • September 29, 2022 at 3:39 pm
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      oh yeah good point, and I’m not sure where John is either!

      • September 29, 2022 at 7:15 pm
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        Hey Guys,
        I am in Australia, I have just put in my votes. So many great stories that I had to reread and get channelling good vibes to you all. Good luck 🙂

  • September 29, 2022 at 3:42 pm
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    Ok writers without further ado here are your winners!

    1st Place: The Deal by Phil Town
    2nd Place: The Shadow of the Father by Andy Lake
    3rd Place: Onion Pie by Ken Cartisano
    4th Place: For A Few Credits More by Vicki Chvatal
    6th Place: 5th Place: Settling Your Account by Ken Frape
    7th Place: One Egg a Week by ilyaleed
    8th Place: Payment Due by RM York
    9th Place: All Hallow’s Eve by ozjohn66
    10th Place: Do You Still Need Me? by Marien Oommen

    Story with the favorite character: “Sarah” from All Hallow’s Eve by ozjohn66
    Story with the best dialogue: Onion Pie by Ken Cartisano

    Congrats to all!!!!

    • September 29, 2022 at 7:13 pm
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      Thrilled, thanks! I thought my story might have been a bit too bleak, but it seems not.

      And congrats all on a fine bunch of stories.

      So … ‘Lonely Room’, then.

    • September 30, 2022 at 5:09 am
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      Well done Phil, Andy and Ken Cartisano,
      Three excellent stories at the top of a strong group of contenders.
      Cheers all,
      Ken Frape.

      • September 30, 2022 at 6:00 am
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        Cheers, KenF!

  • September 29, 2022 at 4:12 pm
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    Congratulations, Phil.
    Actually, I think this is my favourite story of yours, and was my first choice (as I guess for others too!) Something about the building up of the main character and reveal of both the horror of the place and the horror of what he has done through the well-paced alternating of flashbacks with current realities, all of which made it a very effective and classy piece of writing.
    And congratulations also to OzJohn and Onion Ken for the category wins. There were quite a few memorable characters and many stories had good dialogue, so kudos for reaching the top of the podium in these categories.

    • September 29, 2022 at 7:14 pm
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      Thanks very much, Andy!

  • September 30, 2022 at 12:57 am
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    Congrats Phil really liked your story too. 🙂 Congrats to the other winners in all categories and the rest.

    • September 30, 2022 at 5:59 am
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      Thanks, Ilana!

  • September 30, 2022 at 8:12 am
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    Well done Phil, Andy, and Ken! Phil, I knew yours was a winner from the minute I read it. Great work!
    There were many good stories this go around, it was hard to vote.

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