August 11 – August 31, 2022 Writing Prompt “War Paint”

Theme: War Paint

It can be a reference to makeup, a Halloween costume, or facepaint that represents a warring clan.

Use your imagination.

Required Elements:

  • the war paint must be an actual point to the story line. You must explain the significance of it.
    • i.e. it can’t be: “He went to work and the receptionist’s makeup looked like war paint” (unless the receptionist is a mental hospital escapee about to wage war on her husband’s mistress…or something like that.)

Word Count: 1200 including the required words.

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Please Note: Comments may be considered “published” with regard to other contest requirements.

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

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one, but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must stay within the word limit set for each contest.
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  5. You cannot vote for yourself.
  • Stories must be posted no later than Wednesday morning at 8:00am PDT / 10:00am CST / 11:00am EST / 10:30pm IST / 4:00pm WET/GMT/ 6:00pm CET/1:00am AEDT (Thursday)
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106 thoughts on “August 11 – August 31, 2022 Writing Prompt “War Paint”

    • August 30, 2022 at 3:28 pm
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      Jagan, I’m moving this to the bottom of the page.
      You posted it in reply to the stories comment.

  • August 11, 2022 at 7:02 am
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    This is interesting! Should be some varied storylines. I’m in.

  • August 11, 2022 at 8:12 am
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    Signing in!

  • August 11, 2022 at 11:46 am
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    I’m pretty excited, I’ve always wanted to do Wasteland Weekend and the costumes/paint people come up with are absolutely EPIC.
    So it’ll be interesting to see the stories people come up with.

  • August 11, 2022 at 12:47 pm
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    Transformation

    Adrienne (Adi) Riggs (1,198w)

    Mary looked at herself in the mirror, something she didn’t like to do anymore. She could not bear to look at who she had become, the person she had allowed herself to become. Correction -the person she had allowed him to make her into.

    She took in the dull eyes, limp hair, pale skin, and fading bruises of all colors in her reflection. Her sky-blue eyes welled with tears. Stepping back from the mirror, she could see her body shivering under the shapeless dress she wore. How had she come to this? No wonder he called her ‘Mousy Mary’, if people only knew.

    Every day she would apply some make-up to cover the bruises, painting on a happy smile, acting like everything was ok in her world but she never could hide the pain deep in her eyes. They always gave her away, like bottomless wells of despair. She felt like a clown behind the make-up. Hanging her head, the tears fell, her hair hiding her face. Something had to change. The shadows stretched into a darkness so deep it engulfed her soul.

    Ron was gone. She wouldn’t be coming back here again. It was time to take back control of her life. She threw everything she owned into her bag. Sliding her sandals on, she slid quietly out of the low-rent apartment and rapidly slipped through the shadows to the street. She didn’t stop or dare to breathe until she was safely several streets away. The sounds of the street covered her movements – screams, fighting, babies crying, breaking glass, the squeal of tires, and sirens. The noise was unending. She made a phone call and then hailed a cab in the early morning to take her to a destination outside of the city.

    “Here Lady?” the cabbie questioned her. “There ain’t nothin’ here but this diner.”

    “Yes, I know.” She passed him some bills.

    Mary dragged her bag inside the diner and looked around.

    “Rose! Over here!” Her brother rushed up to her. “You look like hell! Where have you been?”

    “I’m ok, really” but the tears welled up anyway.

    William put a finger under her chin to raise her face and his body stiffened. “Who has been hitting you?” he said with a deadly calm in his voice.

    She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter anymore. He’s gone. I’m done. I just want to start over.”

    “Rosemary, I swear I will kill him!”

    She gave a bitter laugh, “You don’t need to. He’s gone now. For good.”

    William hugged her tight. “Let’s get you some food and get you home so you can get cleaned up. Mother will want to see you.”

    When they got to the house, Rosemary excused herself and went to her bedroom. She wondered why she had ever left. She stood in front of the floor length mirror and looked at her dull appearance. In rage, she ripped off the shapeless dress and flung it to the floor. Her youthful body, long legs, and sensual curves were mottled with old bruises. She threw her undergarments in the trash.

    Walking into the adjoining bathroom, she took a long, hot jacuzzi bath which did wonders to her sore and aching muscles from the last beating. When she finally emerged from the bubbles, her hair was a clean, shining honey blond again and her skin was rosy, diminishing the color of the fading bruises. She rubbed herself dry with a gloriously soft towel and slipped into a pink velour robe, tying it about her small waist.

    She sat at her vanity table with her head in her hands reflecting over the past four months. What had she been thinking? Why had she let herself get caught up with a loser like that? She’d always had everything she’d always wanted. Sure, he was handsome, in that rugged, down-to-earth sort of way and the sex was great. He was so different from all the other guys she had dated. Was that the draw? Had she been rebelling from her “perfect” life when he asked her to run away with him? She didn’t know what she had been expecting but she sure had received it! Abuse, cursing, belittlement, and more. How stupid she had been! He expected her to pay for everything. He bragged about his little ‘rich’ girlfriend. She’d had to tell him that she’d been cut off from her family and her money which only made the abuse worse! It was a lie, but she couldn’t let her family know where she was or let him have access to the family money.

    At first, he’d liked showing her off but then was jealous when other men hit on her. He forced her to wear ugly rags and little make-up. He beat her to make her less attractive. He tried to force drugs on her, but she had ways around that. He kept her prisoner in the apartment. He forced her to … no! She wouldn’t think about it! She didn’t want to be seen in public anymore. She became a beaten, ashamed, damaged recluse. Until that last night. Until she’d had enough. If he wanted war, war he would get.

    Months later ….

    Rosemary was preparing for the family’s annual Christmas dinner and dance for a children’s charity. She was already dressed in a daring red velvet dress with a low décolletage, slim waistline, and flowing skirt with a slit up one shapely thigh. A diamond necklace circled her neck with a large teardrop ruby nestled in the soft cleavage of her full breasts.
    She was strapping her dancing shoes around one delicate ankle when William knocked at her door.

    “William! Don’t you look dashing!” she gushed as her brother walked in wearing a silk tuxedo.

    “And you, my dear Rosemary, look as ravishing as ever” he returned with a smile. “I’m afraid I must ask you to come downstairs a little early. There are some policemen here who have some questions for us.”

    “Oh really? Whatever about?” Rosemary turned to the mirror to place delicate ruby earrings into her ear lobes.

    “Something about a carpenter or workman who may have worked here some time ago.”

    “My goodness! What does this person have to do with the police or with us?”

    “It seems he may be missing, though I don’t know why they would bother us with that” William stooped to the mirror to straighten his tie.

    “Oh, well we must help in any way possible, but I’m sure I can’t think of anything that would be of any use to them. Tell them I will be right down.”

    “Of course, my dear sister.”

    Rosemary waited until the bedroom door closed then she turned back toward the mirror.

    ‘Time for the final battle’ she thought as she put the finishing touches on her perfect make-up and added a sultry shade of lipstick to her silky lips and blew her reflection a kiss.

    There was nothing to tie her to that loser – that was another place, another time, and she had been a different person.

    No one knew where she had been.

    That was one body that would never be found.

    • August 22, 2022 at 10:49 pm
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      Phew! Quick off the blocks there, Adi! (Good to see you writing and posting regularly again!)

      A relentlessly heavy set-up, the effects of the abuse on Mary/Rosemary well laid out. I think it was a good idea in the first part not to specify Ron’s fate – that becomes clear later, but once again, it was a good idea not to go into details about it. We reach the end with a sense of relief: the protagonist is out of trouble and can now get on with her life.

      I got a little bit confused with the name – Mary/Rosemary. I suppose the intention is to show that ‘Mary’ becomes a new woman, but I’ve never heard ‘Rosemary’ shortened to ‘Mary’ before (normally it’s ‘Rose’, isn’t it?). No big deal, but I did have to go back and check. Maybe the time change in the middle could be done with a separator?

      A good, realistic (I imagine) portrayal of abuse, with a happy (albeit a bit sinister) ending.

      Just me and thee this time, it seems… I had trouble posting with Google Chrome – maybe others are having the same problem? If so, and you read this … use a different browser (as suggested by Carrie).

      • August 23, 2022 at 8:34 am
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        Thanks for the comments Phil! The use of Mary was deliberate. She didn’t want any strong ties to her real identity – rich family and all that. She didn’t want to be recognized. Rose is the more common short usage of her name as her brother used, but she chose ‘Mary’ when with the despicable Ron. He would have known she had ties to the house, but not necessarily that she was the daughter of the family.

        I tried a separator line of asterisks but it didn’t copy over so I settled for the “Months later …” bit in the middle. I love these exercises! Always learning something new and trying something different! Adi

        If we are the only 2 competing, we are ensured the top spots!! LOL

        Come on everyone, where are you? Phil and I need some competition!

        • August 23, 2022 at 9:54 am
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          Started mine. No idea where it’s going tho’.
          🙂

          • August 23, 2022 at 2:37 pm
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            Get scribbling (tapping) like crazy, Marien – it finishes tomorrow!

        • August 23, 2022 at 2:36 pm
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          Yes, the site doesn’t like asterisks for some reason. I’ve used xxxxx in the past.

          Gotcha (re the names).

      • August 26, 2022 at 6:33 am
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        Posting problem – yes, I had that too with Chrome….

    • August 26, 2022 at 6:32 am
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      Strong story, Adi. So well-written and carries the reader along. And it draws us onto Rosemary’s side, even though she has crossed a moral line – an ethical challenge to the reader, but maybe would also be to Rosemary herself in the longer term.

      Would she feel any guilt over time? And how would her story – and nerve – hold up in the face of a dogged investigation by one of those Netflix cops who never gives up? As well as being good in itself, I can see potential here for more episodes!

    • August 26, 2022 at 6:53 am
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      Adrianne,
      Had a bit of time while waiting for the auditor. Was able ti go through “transformation.’ Powerful and realistic portrayal of domestic abuse and its effects on Mary/Rosemary well laid out. As Phil says, Phew.
      Jagan

    • August 29, 2022 at 12:07 pm
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      Hi Adi,
      Well done, this is a really good take on the prompt. I’m glad that Phil is so thorough in his remarks as, for some reason, the change of name was missed by me. The title gives a clue but doesn’t make it too easy.
      I like the way we find out what she has done but without using the actual words.
      There was only one flaw as I see it. The period of time that she was with Ron was four months. That would seem a bit short to get to the point of doing what she did bearing in mind that some people put up with years of abuse. Small point.
      The dialogue was a bit too clipped for me but then, in my story, there is no dialogue at all so who am I to comment?
      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

    • August 29, 2022 at 11:02 pm
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      Dear Adi,
      I read your story real quick last week and now I find it intense.
      Nobody should put up with abuse.
      Her measures of retribution are hinted at- they are extreme, sinister in being unspoken.
      Rosemary ‘blew her reflection a kiss’ makes the cut of a Bond scene.
      How does she deal with her guilty mind? Yikes. How can live through it?
      Even makeup can’t hide her enough.
      Truth will out.

      • August 30, 2022 at 9:52 am
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        I truly appreciate all of the comments on my story! It is hard to portray so much emotion and its effects in 1200 words. As a survivor of long term domestic abuse, you never know to what limits you can be pushed. No, I didn’t kill anyone! LOL. I was the one nearly killed before I escaped with my children with the help of my parents 30+ years ago. That monster still rears his ugly head now and again, but he has no power over me. He wonders why our daughter hates him and why our son has nothing to do with him and whines about it on FB. He is in a hell of his own making. I was lucky. I escaped. I moved on to become a much stronger and more confident woman.

        I guess I’m just saying, when someone is pushed to the end of their rope – something has to give. You reach a point of no return. Sometimes it is either kill or be killed – the stories are in the news all of the time. In my story, we see where Rosemary went. Will she regret it later? Will she feel guilty? We don’t know the depths to which he degraded her. Was she justified in her actions? Hmmm. Perhaps I’ll make this a longer story later. So much to build on!

        Thanks for the feedback and additional ideas!!

    • August 30, 2022 at 3:23 pm
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      Adrienne,
      A great and moving story about domestic abuse. War paint to get rid of the oppressor is very apt.

      Jagan

    • September 1, 2022 at 6:34 am
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      Great story Adi. I thought he might have died, but then realised at the end she had knocked him off. How did she hide the body? You have left me wondering about that.

  • August 11, 2022 at 12:49 pm
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    Ok, I don’t normally post a story so soon but when a story just begs to be written, you have to write it. I hope it fits the prompt. It came to me quickly so I had to write it down. Hope you enjoy it!

  • August 21, 2022 at 4:21 pm
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    Test

  • August 21, 2022 at 4:30 pm
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    PAINT TO THE RESCUE

    Once upon a time, there were two kingdoms side-by-side. One, Nukeria, was peaceful; the people just wanted to get on with their lives and have a nice time. The other, Susria, was much bigger and rather belligerent. The King – a very nasty man – was not satisfied with what he had and was forever eyeing Nukeria, with dreams of one day possessing it (as nowadays a rich man might yearn to possess yet another luxury car when he already has dozens).

    There came a time when this yearning blossomed into actual plans and the bad King – Tinpu was his name – sent this armies across the border to seize Nukeria’s lands. Now, although the Nukerians were an easy-going lot, they didn’t take kindly to having these savages claim what wasn’t theirs, so they put up a brave fight – so brave, in fact, that before long, the war (because that was what it had become) ground to a tight stalemate.

    However, King Tinpu had a secret weapon for just such an occasion: a fierce, fire-spitting beast called Menrikl. Once engaged, Menrikl began cleaning up all the resistance along the extensive battle-lines.

    The King of Nukeria, Dylmorvoy – a much-loved man but new to this fighting lark – called his war cabinet together and asked for suggestions. ‘Surrender’ and ‘retreat’ were dismissed out of hand, but then a minister called Olaf came up with the idea of confronting Menrikl’s fire with fire.

    “Do we have a beast that spits fire?” King Dylmorvoy asked doubtfully. This was where Olaf’s plan fell to the ground, of course.

    “Not as such,” he admitted, then added: “But we do have Arbez!”

    Arbez was quite a large creature – larger than a human, anyway – with a strong body and legs and large teeth; he was normally used to pull the King’s carriage.

    “How can he help?” the King wondered. “Menrikl will roast him alive with one spit!”

    It was true; Arbez, like the Nukerians, was a peaceful soul and wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a goose.

    The council went silent, but if you’d listened closely, you could have heard the cogs whirring, especially from Olaf, disappointed that his suggestion had bitten the dust before it had even taken flight. Then a figurative bulb went on above his head.

    “We can make him look fearsome!”

    “Arbez? Fearsome?!” the King scoffed.

    Olaf had to agree that the idea was actually quite ludicrous. Then another bulb went on.

    “Paint!” he exclaimed.

    The King and the other ministers looked at Olaf as if he were from another planet, but he was excited now.

    “I have some in my shed,” he said. “Bring Arbez to the courtyard and I’ll meet you there.” On that, he jumped up and rushed out of the room.

    Ten minutes later, the King and the council were in the courtyard with Arbez, scratching at the ground absent-mindedly. Then Olaf appeared with two pails.

    “Hold him steady,” he said and began daubing the paint onto Arbez, dipping the brush into the two pails in turn.

    It was soon done and Olaf stood back proudly. The others weren’t so sure.

    “I’m not so sure,” said the King, putting voice to everyone’s scepticism.

    “It’ll work, you’ll see,” Olaf said, and his enthusiasm went some way to winning the others over.

    The next day, the King and the council stood on a ridge watching Menrikl wreak havoc on the Nukerian soldiers below. Then, out of the tree-line to the left of the battle-field strode Olaf with Arbez, who was sore afeared and came out of the trees backwards.

    As best he could, Olaf guided the backwards Arbez to where Menrikl was causing his mayhem. The beast paused when he spotted Arbez.

    (I haven’t told you this yet, but both creatures were capable of speech, and it was Menrikl who broke the pause.)

    “What the …” he began, an evil grin playing on his hideous lips. “Did you forget to take your pyjamas off this morning?”

    Menrikl was so pleased with his joke that the grin became a giggle, then a guffaw, then a series of snorts. It was while he was snorting that one of the fireballs he was meant to spit went down the wrong way.

    His eyes widened when he realised his mistake. There was a huge rumble as the fireball found the fuel stored in his gullet.

    It took just a moment; when Menrikl exploded, parts of him flew across the battlefield, a length of skin and flesh flopping down on the head of King Tinpu, who was observing the battle from the ridge opposite.

    It was such a comical sight that the Nukerian soldiers broke into uncontrolled laughter, followed almost instantly by their Susrian foe, despite themselves.

    In the confusion of hilarity, the Nukerian side charged the Susrians; it was all over within minutes.

    The humiliation – of the defeat and the King’s accidental headgear – was felt throughout the Susrian forces, and in no time at all they withdrew to the other side of the border with their tails between their legs.

    His personal humiliation cost King Tinpu dear; he was soon ousted, replaced by a kinder King, meaning that peace reigned in the region.

    Arbez was proclaimed a national hero and was given three wishes.

    The first he made was that Olaf (they’d become good friends) be appointed Chancellor, which was granted immediately by King Dylmorvoy.

    The second was that he would have a lifetime’s supply of top-grade hay, which was also granted.

    The third was that he and his descendants be allowed to keep for all time the design that Olaf had painted on his coat (because he was very proud of it and thought it quite becoming). This was more tricky, but the King called the court wizard to see if this could be done without recourse to the frankly impractical paint. After some experimentation, a special spell was cast to this end.

    And so those in the kingdom lived happily ever after. But, more importantly perhaps for the purposes of this story, Arbez did too. In fact, he was such an important figure in the history of the country that while he was alive, he was showered with love, and he gained an affectionately-given new name, based on his backwards entrance onto the battlefield that day.

    The people called him ‘Zebra’.

    .

    • August 22, 2022 at 8:47 am
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      Clever, very clever, Phil. I can honestly say that you never disappoint! I was eagerly waiting to see what the painted design was on Arbez, (thinking it would be a tiger or leopard) but knew that him coming in backwards had to be a clue. And I still missed it! I’m blaming it on the fact that it is early morning when I’m reading this and I’m not fully up to speed yet. Great read! This would make a wonderful children’s story! My grandsons would eat this up! Adi

      • August 22, 2022 at 10:52 pm
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        Thanks, Adi! Glad you missed the clues! (Helps the surprise). But a leopard pulling a carriage …? 😉

        • August 23, 2022 at 8:23 am
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          Well, you know what they say, anything can happen in fantasy. I’ve seen all types of creatures pulling things into battles in fantasy tales – perhaps Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, etc.? Maybe others. Fantasy can bend reality. But you are right, I wasn’t fully awake when first reading your story. It was a mesmerizing tale. I love puzzles. I should have caught on. LOL

    • August 26, 2022 at 6:25 am
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      A thought-provoking story from Pint Howl in the land of anagrams.

      Told as a kind of children’s fable about an against-the-odds triumph of an underdog, it has a sharp contemporary relevance, while also incorporating an aetiological myth (or maybe shaggy equine story) of an animal’s origins.

      You earned your stripes with this one, Phil!

      • August 29, 2022 at 6:51 am
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        Thanks, Andy! Can’t get anything past you! 😉

        (Had to look up ‘aetiological’ – learning every day.)

    • August 29, 2022 at 12:19 pm
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      Hi Phil,
      Another cracking story from the pen of Town. How do you do it, I ask?
      I really like this funny and tongue in cheek take on the prompt.
      It’s a great ending, very cleverly done.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • September 1, 2022 at 1:22 am
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        Thanks, as always, for your encouraging words, KenF!

    • August 30, 2022 at 11:43 am
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      O my gooness gwacious! That’s so putinacious of you! You’ve nups a fantastica tale of the origin of the zebra! Ha ha ha..
      Yesterday driving back from Austin, I saw a big sign asking to pray for Nukeria.
      And everyone should say yah to hay, the answer to world peace.

      At the zoo here in San Antonio, I saw this strange mix of donkey + zebra. It’s called zedonk or zonkey.
      Your tale reminded me I need to go back to the ooz.
      Enjoyed it mucho.

      Tho’ I was lost at my first two readings. What the heck? Concentrate we must 🙂

      • September 1, 2022 at 1:25 am
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        “… everyone should say yah to hay” Ha ah!

        (Funnily enough, the Portuguese do write ‘ah ah ah’ to represent laughter!)

        Thanks, Marien!

    • August 31, 2022 at 7:07 am
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      Phil,

      Clever. You always have a repository of tricks which comes out as needed. Just fabulous.

      As Adi says, my grandchildren would just enjoy it.

      Jagan

      • September 1, 2022 at 1:27 am
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        Thank you, Jagan! Do tell it to your grandchildren (But don’t tell them it’s true! 😉 )

    • September 1, 2022 at 6:41 am
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      And the vigorous clapping and laughter was heard throughout the land. Well done. Loved this take on the prompt Master storyteller- P. Town. Yes and Yes!! A great children’s story and lovely … Never disappointing your stories.

      • September 1, 2022 at 5:32 pm
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        Thanks a lot, Ilana!

  • August 22, 2022 at 10:50 pm
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    I had trouble posting with Google Chrome – maybe others are having the same problem?

    If so, and you read this … try using a different browser (as suggested by Carrie).

  • August 23, 2022 at 4:33 pm
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    Hi all,
    Just a note. I am having eye surgery tomorrow (Wednesday, 8/24/22) and will not be on the computer much for the next few days. So, if this contest is not extended, I will not be able to vote. (Phil, since we are the only 2 so far, you have my vote!)

    Be back soon! Adi

    • August 23, 2022 at 4:38 pm
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      We can probably extend it a week, I’m working on a story as well and could use the extra couple of days, and since we only have a couple of stories. That would be fine with me.

      • August 24, 2022 at 1:50 pm
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        Thanks, Carrie. I can use the time, since I’ve been dilly-dallying instead of writing.

        Roy

        • August 24, 2022 at 2:09 pm
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          I have been slacking as well, my new boat arrives next month, so I have been obsessing on how to set up a smaller boat for big water salmon trolling.
          I swear these days, besides working, all I do is play video games and watch fishing and hunting videos 🤷‍♀️
          I’ll sit down to work on my story, and then get distracted by a Fishing Anarchy YouTube video or something.

          The struggle is real….

    • August 23, 2022 at 4:38 pm
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      And good luck on your eye surgery!!

      • August 25, 2022 at 4:21 pm
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        Thanks Carrie! I can only see out one eye and I look like I’ve been beaten. Every muscle in my body hurts. How does that happen during eye surgery? My throat is killing me from the breathing tube. Ok, I’m done whining. Praying for a speedy recovery. This sucks!!

        • August 30, 2022 at 11:47 am
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          Hope you’re seeing bright and easy, Adi. Feeling good once more.
          Take care.

    • August 26, 2022 at 4:29 am
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      Good luck with your surgery Adi. I hope all goes well with it. Looks like I can do a story after all. I was just logging on to read the stories. Been so busy and have to do my business tax over the weekend.

    • August 31, 2022 at 7:10 am
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      Adi,

      Hope your eye surgery went off uneventfully and you are completely OK.

      Take care.

      Jagan

  • August 23, 2022 at 11:27 pm
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    More Than Enough
    by Marien Oommen

    Andy stroked her forehead as she lay there silent, not a word from her mouth.
    He wasn’t used to this silent treatment.
    He felt some strange sensations in his gut. Was it relief? Was it pity? Was it emptiness?

    Until today there wasn’t a minute gone when Livia wasn’t opening her mouth to utter some wisecrack, or prove he’s wrong. For 37 years he had borne the brunt of being inferior in status, not fluent in the ways of the world or in language. Pretty much a village bumpkin who did pretteh good for himself, working, studying hard, and managing to get a scholarship to an elite institute.
    That changed it all for him.

    Those days the norm was for young ones to just get married to whoever their parents matched them with. Nobody rebelled and life became a series of discoveries, good and awful, from day 1. Even ugly moles in overt places were accepted in the grand scheme of things.
    She had one huge purple mole on her chin.
    He had two medium sized hairy ones somewhere else.
    Anything she had, he could do better.
    Just so you get the idea.

    Today they had smeared some hideous paint on her face so she would appear lifelike. But it was nothing like reality. The eyebrows were highlighted, the hair was puffed up, long earrings dangling on her pale short neck. Her cheeks were an unnatural pink, nothing at all like the real her. Even the huge mole had disappeared.
    It was like some war paint on her pallid face, except her war had ended forever. It was unnatural and quite ugly. Her war with him.

    Andy wanted to look away, but stroke her forehead he must. What would people say otherwise? How many knew of his rottenness, he had no idea. He looked around to see the crowd that had gathered in the room.
    Nobody was mourning.
    Some bystanders had burst into a sad song of hope beyond the skies. It made sense. We were not made to end like this.

    Their cat came into the room.
    “Miaawwooo!”
    He seemed to know something was wrong. Not smelling right.

    Near the large bay window was that awful woman who had come just to observe the goings on. She was Livia’s gossip buddy, Nita. Together they had nibbled out juicy gossip of many a good woman. They harped on and snarked on the who’s who of runaway husbands, errant wives, jobless youngsters.
    When truths are told with bad intent, they beat all the lies you can invent.
    (Yes, William Blake, I get ya)
    As if only they had it altogether alright and perfect 10 in everything.

    Those days had passed when life had become too complicated, Livia was throwing her charms around, and arms in wild abandon.
    Andy gritted his teeth silently. Often his stomach rebelled.
    Her lah di da friends drove him crazy. They laughed, giggled and joked about everything in town. It was he who was bringing in the butter with his clever investments. Did nobody see that?
    She just made masala chai. He was decent enough to admit it was good.
    The truth was he had nobody he could call a friend. Yet he was the brilliant one if you considered the brain. But what good is a brain without a heart?

    Every night Andy cried out to the Lord to save him from his heavy burdens, half of them imaginary, the other half brought on by his own waywardness.
    Livia never failed to smirk each time he prayed. She didn’t think him good enough to seek the Lord.

    “God is too far away to listen to you, Andy! He has no time for losers.”
    But Andy, like the tax collector in the parable, beat his breast and cried out his heart to a Redeemer God.
    It was the story of his brokenness vs her complacence.
    Complacent because she did all the right things as law would dictate in no uncertain terms. In tune with all the societal niceties.
    So that should satisfy him, right? But no! For then to spoil it all, was her constant nagging about how less he was in everything.
    Life is never perfect.

    It was her ‘born to endless night’ attitude that got his goat. Her what ifs and if onlys was driving him nuts.
    If only we had the same car as Kala.
    If only we could go on a trip to Thailand. Kala did.
    If only I could have that home on the hill. Kala’s kind.

    Now she had passed onto some endless night. But for him joy comes in the morning.

    As he looked up, he saw Nita approaching him… with more than a smile.
    No tears. Her sari was much too dressy for this sombre occasion.
    She reached for his hand. Her eyes with blue green undertones looked catlike.
    Their cat was nestling against her chin.
    This cat was made for joy and woe, just as Andy.
    He saw its fur on fire for an instant in his mind’s eye.

    “From the frying pot into the fire…” he said to himself as he steered clear from Nita. “I’m not falling in. That’s for sure.”
    The cat let out a squeal and jumped out of her hands, following Andy. She has nine lives, Andy thought: I only live once.

    “Whew! I’ve had more than enough for a lifetime. God meant for us to be free and whole.
    Was I ever free?
    Let freedom ring down through the ages as it did from a hill called Calvary
    Let freedom ring wherever hearts know pain. Like mine does, right now.”

    “Miaaawooo!” Their cat leaned on him happily.

    • August 26, 2022 at 6:52 am
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      Interesting story, Marien – at one level is form and convention, and underneath a world of feelings. Especially, in this case, feelings of frustration (on both sides) and in the husband’s case of being trapped. Not exactly a happy marriage, is it? He has to put on a show of mourning, where underneath what he feels is relief, the prospect of liberation … I’m sure that can be true, or part of the truth, in many cases.

      Hey Marien, how did you know this about me: “Every night Andy cried out to the Lord to save him from his heavy burdens, half of them imaginary, the other half brought on by his own waywardness”? … I must have inspired the name you chose for your story, lol!

      • August 30, 2022 at 11:57 am
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        Many lol icons. 🙂 🙂 😉
        Now how did I choose that name Andy. No idea! I guess it sounded innocent and harmless for the long suffering guy.
        Whereas I had to check out ‘bad girls names’ and found Livia. It sounded horrible enough for my character.
        Crying out to the Lord is the only way out when ‘the world is too much with us; late and soon,
        Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;’
        So Andy, rest easy, you’re on the right track. 🙂

        • August 30, 2022 at 12:59 pm
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          Innocent, harmless, long-suffering – that’s me! 🙂
          The name means ‘manly’ (from the original Greek) – my wife and kids find this hilarious, however. Not sure why …

    • August 29, 2022 at 6:48 am
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      Hi, Marien. As always, I love your use of language – unique really. And this story is pretty focussed (sometimes I feel they drift a bit). It’s the age-old story of two people being forced together by custom (arranged marriage) and not really suiting each other (what are the chances anyway?!). As Andy (our Andy) says, Andy (the Andy of the story) seems relieved that Livia has gone (good idea not to mention how, I think, because not important), though it isn’t so cut-and-dried perhaps. At least you get the sense that he doesn’t want to appear relieved. Nice touch for the cat to tag along with Andy (of the story) – it knows which side its bread’s buttered! Speaking of butter … is this you being creative with the idioms, or do you actually say these things where you come from? “…bringing in the butter…” (‘bringing home the bacon’ in the UK). And “From the frying pot into the fire…” (‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ in the UK). Enjoyed your story.

      • August 30, 2022 at 10:44 pm
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        Ahh there is hope then for me. Thank you for your positive feedback, Phil. I did try very hard to stick to the topic and not sway. Taking your tip.
        Wrote it real fast too.
        Arranged to meet, greet, get to know before tying that knot -that silences one forever- has almost 80% success as the actors are from similar backgrounds. Royalty believes in it too 🙂 A princess can’t marry a chimney sweep, can she?
        Yes, butter was my creative genius.
        And anyway they use pots in traditional kitchens. Pan is blasé, don’t you agree?
        Thanks again.

    • August 29, 2022 at 12:31 pm
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      Hi Marien,
      I agree with the other comments that you do a great job in telling a story about a very unhappy (arranged) marriage. I wonder how many are happy or custom and tradition makes people stay together. Whilst this in not the custom, per se, in the Uk I think our Royal Family does it. An heir must be produced, preferably male and as they say, another one is good too so that there is “an heir and a spare.”

      Your style is unique, Marien and makes for interesting reading.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • August 30, 2022 at 10:57 pm
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        Thank you, Ken, for your kind words. Yes, the situation is tough and usually it’s the woman who’s the underdog. I thought I’d turn it around. 🙂
        Yup! Arranged marriages are still quite the order of the day. Nobility, aristocracy, caste, religion- all these factors come into play. So the bride doesn’t wake up shell shocked one day to see she married ‘just a poor tailor’. Even he has the right to happiness. Remember Fiddler on the Roof? 🙂

    • August 31, 2022 at 7:19 am
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      Hi Marien,

      I really enjoyed your parody. As always, you have a great sense of humor.

      “When truths are told with bad intent, they beat all the lies you can invent.
      (Yes, William Blake, I get ya)” Wow!

      Jagan

  • August 26, 2022 at 6:14 am
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    Hi Carrie,

    Thanks for the extra time. I will try to get something in.

    Ken Frape

    • September 1, 2022 at 6:48 am
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      Interesting story. But not all arranged marriages are unhappy. We westerners think we know so much about freedom and the idea of ‘love’ but I have several friends who had arranged marriages and they are quite happy. It is not about sex and lust and love as we see it in the west, but about duty. responsibility and commitment. Too many people do not understand commitment and are stuck on the idea of a fantasy ideal life with a fantasy partner. Reality is far more substantial an element.

      • September 2, 2022 at 10:53 am
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        But it’s forced commitment, Ilana. It’s a lottery whether you even like the person you’re marrying, let alone love.

        Would you be happy to be forced to marry someone (who you may not even have met before)?

        I’d rather there be freedom to choose … and freedom to fail, if that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

  • August 29, 2022 at 11:16 am
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    King’s Blood

    by Ken Frape

    The fighting is over but the dying is unfinished. The once green field is now a sea of red, the blood of the fallen darkening and crusting in the last shafts of daylight. Soon, darkness will be the shroud of the dead.

    On the brow of the hill that glowers over the battlefield the last few survivors are dragging themselves away from the horrors they have helped to inflict, carrying with them the last glimmers of the day. Some still grasp heavy, blood stained weapons in weary hands, others shoulder the burden of a wounded comrade, honouring the pact never to leave a friend on the battlefield. Their footsteps are slow, uneven, uncertain.

    Soon, even they have gone, trailing far behind the victorious vanguard with the all conquering King and his remaining knights, wagons and the retinue of wives, children, animals and the cacophony that accompanies every battle. The hood of darkness should settle over a silent place, this battleground forever in future history to be remembered for the deeds of bravery done that day, the name of the victors forever printed in books or whispered around campfires.

    And yet, this is not as silent as a graveyard for amongst the torn and dead victims of hand to hand savagery, there are many sounds. Many soldiers are wounded, moaning and crying out in agony, their lifeblood perhaps pumping the last few minutes or hours of their lives into that green turf. Some are trapped under their horses or beneath the bodies of fallen comrades or simply unconscious and yet still alive.

    There are other sounds too as the crows feast on blood and eyeballs. They feast whoever wins the battle.

    There are other more subtle sounds too as robbers search soundlessly for booty amongst the fallen. Coin pouches are sliced from belts, crosses are ripped from chains, rings cut from fingers, earrings torn free, weapons collected and throats slit if the wounded cry out. The robbers know they will be killed if their presence is detected by the few unfortunate guards commanded to keep watch over the dead until dawn. There is scant chance of this for the soldiers are weary and sickened by their day’s work, their eyelids and limbs leaden as they lean on each other and whisper in the darkening evening of the horrors they have witnessed.

    But there is another presence too, flitting silently, stealthily, a wraith-like figure, dressed in a dark grey habit, the cowl hiding a face that would curdle milk. This figure darts from body to body, its ear pressed to the chest of each soldier, seeking a heartbeat. At each pause, this creature hisses in disappointment, or coos quietly in contentment, its long pink tongue slavering across thickened, crusty lips.

    On detecting a heartbeat it runs expert hands over the body seeking an open wound. Then, a small glass phial is whipped from a leather bag and filled with blood. Quickly the hideous creature goes about its gruesome business, topping each blood-filled phial with a tiny cork. If the fallen soldier has armour, indicating a higher rank, then this creature fills a larger phial and clenches its fists in silent praise. Thus he skips across the battlefield like a ghost as he seeks out ever more senior ranks to capture some of their blood; blood that can only be taken from a living, defeated enemy soldier.

    As he progresses up the chain of command it becomes ever more difficult to find the blood he needs. There are many common soldiers but far fewer noblemen. King’s blood is almost impossible to find, even for this cunning creature. He is the King’s Apothecary, old beyond counting, old even when the King’s father was on the throne. Very few have had the misfortune to have set eyes upon his fearsome visage, certainly none living, people say. Some even say the King himself turns away when Restigius, for that is this creature’s name, is called into the King’s presence. Yet, none can be sure, for the King and his Apothecary only ever meet in Restigius’ cell where the two talk in whispers and no one can hear and none dare to listen. The dark arts are at work behind the heavy wooden, iron-studded door to the apothecary’s cell, they say.

    Restigius has many duties to perform with potions and tinctures, leeches and tree roots, remedies and cures but one duty dwarfs all others. The face of every soldier in the King’s army must be prepared for combat by being daubed with the blood of a living, defeated enemy. The blood of a dead soldier simply will not do and only Restigius is commanded to gather this prize from the battlefield. Before every battle, a bloody cross is painted onto the face of each common soldier, every noble horseman and, especially, upon the King. Every man, according to his rank is painted with the blood of an equal defeated in battle.

    Wearing their “paint for war,” every soldier feels protected, invincible.

    They are protected.

    They are invincible. Restigius assured them.

    The King’s apothecary keeps the phials of blood in rack upon rack in his cell and only the King may enter. The phials are stored in a pyramid shaped structure with many thousands filled with the blood of common soldiers at the bottom, narrowing with each row of more important soldiers until the final peak.

    One phial.

    Kings’ blood.

    But this phial is empty. Every last drop was used in this last battle and unless more King’s blood if gathered, then the King cannot be allowed to fight another battle unprotected, without the paint for war.

    Today’s battle raged for many hours, commencing with the first surprise charge by the King’s heavy horses at dawn, when the enemy fires were still smoldering and all but the night guards were still a-slumber. The enemy swiftly and skillfully realigned their forces and mounted a counter attack. They charged forward only to find that a trap had been cleverly set and they ran straight into it.

    Hours of hand to hand fighting ensued before the remnants of the defeated army were chased from the battlefield, some cut down as they tried to retreat. Many prisoners were taken but glory of glories, the enemy King was captured as he tried to hide in a tree.

    Tonight would be a night of dancing, loud singing and wild celebrations as the victors assessed their spoils and savoured victory. Then they would raise their cups to their fallen comrades and later, much later, amidst much cheering and joyful thanks to the Gods, the enemy King would be paraded for all to see.

    His future was assured. Admittedly it would be a life in captivity but he would be well cared for and his life would be a long one, something he could never have been guaranteed when he went into battle. No more of that danger for him.

    All he had to do in exchange would be to give his blood from time to time, not that he would have a choice.

    Not much to ask, surely?

    A King’s blood for a King.

    Ken Frape August 2022 1192 wc

    • August 31, 2022 at 7:43 am
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      Ken,
      I admire the way you depicted the gore and horrors of war with the underlying theme of privileged vs. the common.

      A powerful gut wrenching tale beautifully picturized.

      Jagan

    • August 31, 2022 at 7:58 am
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      Hi Ken – Once more excellent and atmospheric descriptive writing. It really brings the aftermath of a battle to life (if ‘life’ is the right word here!). The whole story, in fact, has a very visual quality.

      The semi-vampiric acquisition of blood taps into some of our darkest fears very effectively. Taking the power through blood of one’s enemies, or of people sacrificed, seems to be found across all cultures at some point in history. Maybe it’s as old as humanity. And I really like the way this is used to reinforce the social order and hierarchy.

      Restigius is a truly creepy character! Great stuff, and I’d love to see more stories from this world.

    • August 31, 2022 at 9:03 pm
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      Fantastic description, KenF – the battlefield post-battle … we often speak of glory in those historic battles but rarely of the harrowing reality for the soldiers involved. You’ve found a really good angle on the theme: blood as war-paint. And that Restigous is some creepy dude. The defeated king … what a fate! Life, yes, but as a constant blood donor. If there’s one thing I’d mention, it’s that at times the description might be just a little overdone (“…its long pink tongue slavering across thickened, crusty lips.”). Oh, and the detail of the battle, beginning “Today’s battle raged for many hours…”, which doesn’t seem really relevant and kinda put a brake on things for me. But that’s only me trying to balance my comments. A great read.

      • September 1, 2022 at 6:54 am
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        Well written and descriptive story, Ken. It held me, but you may need to work on the tenses as something did not jell there. I would love to see this story extended into a small novella. It could be very interesting and Young Adult fiction. The mid teens love this sort of story.

        • September 1, 2022 at 7:22 am
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          HI,
          Thanks for those comments. I need to do a more thorough check in my tenses as I am aware of a possible lack of consistency.
          Glad you liked it though.
          Ken

  • August 30, 2022 at 3:30 pm
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    Donna dons the war paint
    Donna donned the war paint reluctantly and got her tribe ready for the battle ahead. She told the elder “Ronoka! Please bless us all. We have a fight in our hands.”
    Her mind went back to the happenings of past few minutes that had led to the present crisis.
    Muzungu! Muzungu! The shouting and accompanying screams and sounds of clashes woke Donna up from deep slumber and she took stock of the situation. It was clear that the Kalenjin people she had been teaching were under attack and the war cries of their traditional enemies Luo were clearly audible. The cries of her tribe ‘Muzungu’ indicated that the well organized and coordinated attack on them was led by a white man.
    Her hand on her hips, she tremulously examined the Luo leader and exclaimed, “Oh God! Is it him? Is it John? Has he gone to the dark side?”
    Her remembered vividly meeting him at the athletic field almost a decade ago. They were both practicing strenuously for being the ‘Greatest Athlete in the World’, he at decathlon and she at heptathlon.
    “Hi! I am John.” He introduced himself with a cocky smile. “I am Donna. Pleased to meet you, John.”
    The kept meeting each other while at practice and discussions slowly turned to mutual attraction and later love, as they set out to conquer not just the National events but also Olympics and all other relevant competitions. It was a tumultuous and eventful courtship that lasted through their college and extended during their work assignments.
    They had joined peace corps together and assigned all around the world but always ensuring that they were assigned at the same place. Both enjoyed visiting various countries and helping people. While Donna was content to spend her time with various people at different countries, John was more ambitious and always on the lookout for get rich schemes. Despite the differences in outlooks, they were in love and together at all possible moments and times. Their courtship had lasted a little over five years till she came across him in flagrante delicto with their beautiful neighbor when they had been back to their hometown in USA. She was heartbroken and immediately called off their engagement stating “John! Here is your ring. This is the end. I don’t want to see you ever again.”
    Discussions with her friends and further investigations indicated that John had been cheating her for quite some time. She also broke off all contacts with him by quitting her job and taking a teaching assignment in Kenya with Kalenjin tribe. It was a peaceful but uneventful life, and the love of her pupils kept her happy and contented.
    She had assimilated herself with her people. Their simple way of life, friendship and camaraderie was a balm for her wounded and bruised heart. She immersed herself in the new surroundings. After a few years, she was treated as one of their one and close confidant of the chief Ronoka. Realizing her commitment and capabilities, Ronoka, called her one day and said, “I am getting old and don’t see any worthwhile heir apparent except you. I need you to takeover. From now on you are Uku, or “First Beloved Man.”
    She was flabbergasted. “Ronoka! Will others accept a female leader?”
    He smiled indulgently and remarked, “Already discussed and surprisingly it was welcomed by one and all.”
    She realized that it had happened in a male dominated society with full consent of all. This itself was a resounding approbation for her position.
    Slowly she was trained to lead the team whenever necessary and took over day to day leads.
    Every day started with the Kalenjin special prayer “Give me strength, not to be better than my enemies, but to defeat my greatest enemy, the doubts within myself. Give me strength for a straight back and clear eyes, so when life fades, as the setting sun, my spirit may come to you without shame.”
    Their peaceful life was shattered by a most unlikely reason. African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) had struck gold in the neighboring region and were interested to extend their activities. The tribal elder and honorary Uku were not interested but there was enough restiveness amongst the tribe, some of whom were looking forward to easy and comfortable life of luxury based on the possible mineral wealth. It also attracted the attention of Luo, their traditional enemy. The politicians were also sniffing around to get their greedy hands in the take.
    Portends were clear. There was every indication that either the politicians or the neighboring Luo tribe could start the strife. It was in this perilous situation that Donna started martial training. She had studied Kalenjin mores and customs particularly with reference to their fighting abilities and was aware that the tribe needed a talisman to enthuse them and get them focused on the fight ahead that she clearly saw coming. She consulted tribal healer. Together they came up with an idea of Kalenjin magic utterances in keeping with their mores to whip up the war frenzy and getting their people focused and ready. She called upon all her training in martial arts to be mentally ready herself and inserted ‘War Paint’ and ‘War Chants’ as the magical rousing battle cry.
    Kalenjin led by Donna went and met the Luo hordes led by John. The fight was fierce as no quarters were given by either side. Both sides used whatever weapons they could lay their hands on, guns, machetes, swords, claws and even bare hands, Hand to hand combat went on for hours with no side showing signs of withdrawal.
    Luckily one of the gun shots fired hit John fatally. Seeing their leader fall was all that needed to demoralize Luo forces. They fled the battlefield leaving the Kalenjin victorious.
    To ensure that this situation was not repeated, Donna started negotiations with local politicians and a metal and minerals company rival to ARM.

    • August 31, 2022 at 5:31 am
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      Hi Jagan,

      A nicely written piece that certainly meets the requirements of the prompt.

      It’s a kind of saga, covering many years as the two main characters grow up and into their new lives first together then apart, the time serving to distance them still further.

      Sadly, for the world, this is not an uncommon theme. You have, on the one hand, an honest, moral and dedicated elder / leader/ politician ( yes I know they are few and far between, it seems in these modern times) and on the other there are the people who see money and riches easily earned and their greed allows them to justify almost any actions. This is just a wonderfully topical tale, well written and clearly set out.

      Good even wins over evil.

      Nice one, Jagan.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • August 31, 2022 at 11:33 am
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        Ken,
        Thanks for your remarks.
        The prompt reminded me of America Indians or African tribes, But you can not logically show war here unless you go back to 17th or 18th century.
        I wanted a quick fill in.
        Jagan

    • August 31, 2022 at 9:26 am
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      Hi Jagan – I always love reading stories from cultures and countries quite different to my own. The references to the two peoples, Luo and Kalenjin, as well as a real-life mining company give a realistic edge to the story. Are you based in East Africa?

      There’s ambition, corruption, a rapacious mining company interwoven with a love story – so a lot going on here. I wonder if more of the story could have been told through dialogue, e.g. when Donna consults the tribal healer. This would have helped to make the local people a little more solid in the narrative, I think, in addition to the two central characters.
      Expanded, I could imagine a great series built around these characters, the mining company and the rival tribes..

      • August 31, 2022 at 10:25 am
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        Andy,
        I am from India and later here in US.
        I researched Google for authenticity.
        Kalenjin and Luo are the names of two warring tribes in Kenya.
        I agree about your point of telling the story through dialogues. This time I was rushed since I could start on the story only yesterday. (I had told Carrie that I will not be participating till first of Sep. Luckily I got time in between the audit I was doing.
        Thanks for your detailed comments.

        Jagan

    • August 31, 2022 at 9:23 pm
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      Hi again, Jagan. I really like how this story begins like an ancient rivalry (except for the name ‘Donna’), then flips into athletics and we realise it’s the modern day. I agree with KenF and Andy that the introduction of the mining company makes it all very topical (and infuriating!). I also like the Kalenjin special prayer (is that your invention, or an actual prayer?) Since Donna and John were in love beforehand, I thought this was perhaps a little perfunctory: “Luckily one of the gun shots fired hit John fatally.” But you’ve found a good angle for the theme here, and as Andy says, maybe something to extend.

      One final thought … perhaps use double return to separate paragraphs more (see KenF’s story above and Andy’s below). No big deal, but it makes it easier on the eye.

      • September 1, 2022 at 5:40 am
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        Phil,

        Thx for the observations, Will use double return for spacing.

        I was rushed for time. So googled my way. The prayer is real and belongs to Kalenjin.

        Needed something authentic.

        Jagan

        • September 1, 2022 at 6:56 am
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          Great story telling. All my potential comments have been said. Very good.

  • August 31, 2022 at 3:55 am
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    Direct Transaction

    “You’re sure you won’t join us?”

    “Not this time. In fact, I’m done with all that. From now on, I’m staying behind the scenes. Too many scars from being in the front line.”

    I looked at Josie. She glared back at me, and raised her eyebrows. I sighed and returned to applying my makeup.

    There was no point being annoyed at Josie’s intransigence about this. That’s how she is. Takes her time to make up her mind up on something. But when she does, she’s immovable. And when I think about it, I have to say she’s been a stalwart for the cause over, goodness, some thirty years or more.

    She was still looking at me, and decided to break the silence. “You’re different from me, Georgia.”

    “I’m different from most people, dear!” I said.

    “You enjoy confrontation. But for me, it’s torture. It just makes me so stressed. Before, during and after. Then I’ll think about it, overthink about it, for weeks afterwards. So I – ”

    “OK, OK. I’m not going to force you. Have I ever? It’s just – I like having you there. It won’t be the same without you.”

    “You won’t miss me. You have your new friends. The new generation coming through, all fired up and primed for action. Besides, you’ll need someone outside to bail you out after it all goes pear-shaped.”

    “Oh, don’t be such a Jeremiah. I’m a changed woman. Older, wiser, calmer.”

    “Hmm,” said Josie, doubtfully. “I’ve seen you when you reach your tipping point. Something flips, and then anything can happen, except a good outcome!”

    “Well, I’m glad you care,” I said, through gritted teeth.

    “You know, it’s not only you who worries me.”

    “No?”

    “It’s all these Generation Z-for-Zealots who’ll be there. Too many moving parts, too many variables. They don’t always have the same agenda as we do.”

    I nodded slowly to signal I was still listening, as I studied my face in the mirror.

    “It’s just a different culture now. I mean, back in the day a micro-aggression was getting your nose broken rather than being beaten to a pulp. For these fragile kittens, if someone looks at them ‘the wrong way’, whatever that is, they’re both scarred for life and ready to pour boiling oil over them on social media.”

    I looked across, feigning puzzlement. “You can do that?”

    “Figuratively speaking, of course. But makes everything so volatile. Maybe we’ve had our day, and should just leave them to it. After all, we’ve gained so much over the years. But I don’t think you can – you love the limelight too much.”

    “Indeed I do. And we still have more battles to win, so no one pulls the rug out from under our feet. Can’t you see, that’s what tonight in particular is all about?”

    My phone buzzed, and I checked the message. “Our battle-bus has arrived. How do I look?”

    Josie eyed me up and down. “Honestly? Outfit – magnifique! Make-up – you’re not auditioning for Ru Paul’s Drag Race, are you?”

    “Well, really!” I gasped, but had to smile. “Just preparing myself to be in the limelight. If all goes well, I’ll be up on stage. We’ll hit the headlines. Lights, camera, action! Must dash!”

    It felt great to get on the minibus, and be greeted with a friendly cheer by accomplices old and new. I could feel the excitement, the anticipation in the air. This opportunity had fallen into our lap, and we were going to make the most of it.

    I mean, it’s rare for an awards event like this to come to our town. And to have a celebrity of her standing give the keynote, that was the icing on the cake. Making a stand at this event would send ripples of enlightenment and controversy around the world.

    I looked at the eager and motley crew around me. We’d all been through so much, in our different ways. There were old warriors like Alana, who like me had endured decades of abuse, scorn and rejection.

    The last few years we’d seen much greater acceptance, not least because of the efforts of young campaigners like Kesia. She first identified as female five years ago, but rejects the surgical approach. With her slender shoulders and petite frame, she lives as a woman and looks every inch the woman. But she’s been unable to change her sex on her passport so far – the bureaucracy seems endless.

    Arabella’s different again. She had medical gender reassignment in her late teens, and has been on a harrowing regime of drugs to fulfil the requirements of the international cycling federation. And then, just like that, they turn 180 degrees and ban her from competing altogether. It’s appalling. We’re supporting her in getting the ban overturned – but it’s going to be an uphill battle now that every ambitious politician and would-be influencer is jumping on the backlash bandwagon.

    We arrive. A banner at the front of the venue proclaims the’ 2022 Crime Writers Conference & Awards’. We park in a side-street, and I motion everyone to hush as we get out. I’ve messaged my contact inside, and he’s letting us in through a delivery entrance. We file through the kitchen. The staff look a little nonplussed, but are too busy to take much notice, apart from a single wolf-whistle. Probably ironic, but you never know.

    My contact, Ben, a dashingly waistcoated barman, waves us through towards the ballroom where the awards are taking place. “JK’s on table 1, right there by the stage, with her coven of TERFs*. The MC is just introducing her. Good timing, ladies!”

    As the famous author rose to rapturous applause, it struck me how incongruous it was for such a transphobic woman to pose as a man when writing crime fiction. But there you go.

    Alana gave me a sharp nudge. “Security coming. We’ve been spotted!”

    How could we not be? I was counting on it. “Forward, ladies,” I commanded.

    We surged forward, shouting “Transwomen are women”, “Turf out the TERFs”, and then singing “You can shove your broomsticks up your arse, up your arse” to the tune of Bread of Heaven.

    Chairs and tables were overturned, drinks and food crashed to the ground, outraged authors milled in confusion, as the security folk tried to grab us. The paparazzi – and in fact, half the audience – were on their feet, competing for the best pictures to tell the story. A stray arm smacked me across the face.

    And I was fine. I just wanted to get up there and make my speech. But then …

    It was JK’s withering look of disdain as I fought my way onto the stage that lit the fuse. I’m not entirely sure what happened next, but it involved much screaming, several people wrestling me to the floor, and apparently an ambulance.

    Then this police station.

    Still, we’re on every front page and headlining on the 24-hour news channels. They’re lining up to interview me once I’m out of here.

    Five minutes of constructive mayhem has achieved more than the previous thirty years of campaigning. Job done. And where’s Josie?

    [*TERF = Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, in case you’re not sure – Ed.]

    • August 31, 2022 at 3:57 am
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      The title of the story should have a capital T – Direct Transaction …

    • August 31, 2022 at 5:56 am
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      Hi Andy,

      Such a wonderfully topical tale that drops the reader right into this murky world inhabited by your two excellent characters. This is such a minefield to navigate. Whilst I try to understand and listen to the various arguments and to my 38 and 39 year old children, I am really glad that I am no longer in a professional role where an unguarded word out of place can spell disaster. I think it is a sad indictment of our society that sometimes it is safer to keep one’s thoughts and comments to oneself . Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every view and every opinion could be heard and respected but I know that is a naive pipedream. For example, we know many people who voted differently, for or against Brexit but now they don’t dare about it for fear of causing a rift. And thus, we, people that is, surround ourselves with like minded friends who simply confirm our own views and never offer alternative arguments that might just be enlightening.

      Clever use of the author’s initials (JK) but without further confirmation of the surname. I can only assume who it is.

      Very realistic dialogue between Josie and Georgia that sets the scene and tempts the reader without giving away the full monty..

      It is also an intellectually stimulating piece. I think you are a master of this genre.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • August 31, 2022 at 7:31 am
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        Many thanks, Ken.

        Your comment about “an unguarded word out of place can spell disaster” – I almost didn’t write it, then almost didn’t post it, for the same reason! A minefield of ever-evolving terminology and sensibilities. Maybe it will come back to haunt me. 🙂

        Now to read the stories I haven’t read so far … and any others yet to come in!

    • August 31, 2022 at 7:40 pm
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      Andy
      Timely story of great relevance to present times. Complex story beautifully handled.
      Jagan

      • September 1, 2022 at 4:05 am
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        Many thanks, Jagan

    • August 31, 2022 at 9:46 pm
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      Great opening, Andy. The realistic dialogue (including the bold use of a first-person narrator) whets our appetite and raises loads of questions that we read on to answer (Who are these people? Where? Why the ‘war-paint’?, etc.). The references to ‘war’ are sprinkled in expertly. Then we find out the context and we’re with the protagonist in their ‘battle’. A couple of observations: The use of ‘JK’ jarred a bit for me; could have been a fictional personality with the same outlook (?). Then Kesla and Arabella’s stories, though valid and interesting, kinda change the tone to more of a newspaper article. Finally, from this point on – “As the famous author rose…” – the narrative switches from the present to the past tense. Having said that, it’s a very well rendered and human handling of a controversial issue.

      • September 1, 2022 at 4:13 am
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        Thanks for the comments, Phil. And glad you liked the opening dialogue.

        Good catch about the tenses. Yes, there are two paragraphs where I switched to the present, and in an initial draft that carried through to the end. But it didn’t entirely work, I thought. Nor did my subsequent editing, it seems!

        Hmm, sorry that the use of a real person grated. I thought it anchored the story in reality. Personally, I don’t think JK Rowling is transphobic – I think she’s a generally good egg! But she is a target for people with certain viewpoints, and I was trying to get inside that. Without someone very eminent an event like this is not likely to get many headlines. And she is subject to such harassment.
        The other thing was the personality of Georgia. Earlier in the story she’s critical of people over-reacting if people ‘look at them the wrong way’. Then she reacts in just the same way. Perhaps JKR wasn’t actually looking disdainfully at Georgia (might have been bemusement, or fear even) – it was maybe just in Georgia’s head as an expectation. People project all kinds of things onto celebrities and icons, and the narrator’s viewpoint here may not be reliable.

        • September 1, 2022 at 7:03 am
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          Great story Andy. Lovely use of dialogue. You got me there. I liked the way you handled this topic. Also glad you clarified that you did not consider JK Rowling transphobic. I think she has been unfairly targeted by zealous or should I say over zealous people.

          • September 1, 2022 at 7:50 am
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            Many thanks, Ilana.

            I have to admit to never having read any Harry Potter. My kids were well old enough to read for themselves by the time he came on the scene. I’ve read a couple of the Cormoran Strike crime books, which I liked. However, I’ve come to admire her a lot, having seen or read a number of interviews, and speeches she’s made, and got to know a bit about her philanthropy and support for other writers. She seems very balanced, compassionate and insightful.
            So in the story I was definitely not wanting to attack her, but rather trying to get sympathetically into the head of someone who isn’t me, while creating a character with their own quirks and traits rather than a type. Hopefully that was to some extent successful …

        • September 1, 2022 at 8:02 am
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          Phil – just to add – I greatly appreciate comments that critique like this. I hope you see my response more in terms of a conversation than being defensive! Keep the insightful critiques coming!

  • August 31, 2022 at 6:41 am
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    War Paint Revelation
    Mato Sapa watches her walk through the forest. The gentle sway of her buttocks under the soft folds of her summer dress, swirling about her lithe tanned legs excites him. She is a graceful fawn, like her name, Tacha Cikala – Little Deer. As she collects plants she bends at the waist, pinching their blooms and tender shoots and placing them inside small woven grass baskets that hangs from a belt clinched at her waist.
    He wants her to stop and notice him. But he knows he cannot risk her seeing him. He should be guarding the horses tethered near the encampment. He holds his breath for some moments and then dribbles air out his nostrils and draws oxygen in through his half-parted lips.
    The light splashes a dappled pattern over the leaves of the tree where he lies across a limb. She stops her easy gathering and looks back towards the tree where he lay. Mato Sapa knows she cannot see him through the thick foliage, but she seems to have an instinctive animal awareness – a knowledge of being observed. And her long stare at the tree where he is hiding makes him uneasy.
    Then, she gathers up her bags of herbs and blooms, places them in a larger bag hung on her shoulder and strides off.
    Mato Sapa waits some time and then slides gently down the trunk of the tree to land softly at its base. He dusts his knees off and touches the knife tied with a thong at his side.
    He pads softly to the hollow tree trunk where he has hidden his bow and quiver. He squats to retrieve his weapons. He puts his hand into the log and feels the end of his bow.
    A twig snaps.
    Mato Sapa turns, his knife spins in his hand, as his legs propel him up and round and he lands at a crouch to face Tacha Cikala who is standing before him, arms folded across her chest.
    “So, you were watching me. Why?” Her face is set and her eyes hard black stones.
    Mato Sapa does not answer. His face flushes red.
    “A snake nipped your tongue?” She plays with him. Then she pulls his quiver out from behind her back and hands it to him.
    “You think you are a warrior yet? Ready to wear paint?” She laughs harshly. Shakes her head, swinging her braids which reach down to below her waist to brush her hips. Those beautiful curved hips he thinks, his mouth dry. He licks his lips and tastes the sweat beading on his upper lip.
    “Well?”
    He takes the quiver and then retrieves his bow from the log. He does not want to look at her, but he does. Her face is a chiselled study of aristocratic elegance. Her dark eyes are predatory – hawk-like. He is a rodent, hypnotised by more than just her beauty. Crushed lavender and rosemary scents filled his nostrils. He wants to reach out and stroke the smooth strong arms and hold her slender fingers in his, crushing his mouth down on her full red lips, trailing that same mouth down over the swanlike neck to caress the swell of her chest with his tongue. The images that invade his thoughts have dire consequences for some other parts of his body. Embarrassed, he frantically tries to hide the physical reaction to his erotic flights of fancy by bringing his quiver down to shield his crotch.
    A hint of a smile touched the woman’s lips for a fleeting fraction of time. Then her eyes hardened again.
    “Go. Now. Be a warrior. Not a dreamer.” She goes with a swish of her skirt padding softly between the bushes and trees. In seconds, she is lost from his sight. He wants to weep, his heart is heavy, a boulder of stone weighing him down.
    The moon rises full twice before he sees her again. She does not recognise him.
    Mato is part of a raiding party. Thirty young warriors going to ambush a neighbouring tribe to avenge the lost of sixty horses driven off from the main herd of the tribe’s horses. Five young women, including Tacha Cikala, who had been gathering herbs and vegetables near the edge of the herd’s grazing ground had been taken prisoner along with the horses.
    Mato leads the party. In full war paint, he is unrecognisable. Two broad black stripes across his right cheek, and a black hand print on full yellow and red face paint makes him a fierce figure astride his paint stallion also in full paint colours of red and black.
    The warriors follow the tracks of the stolen herd and the captors easily. Mato is uneasy because the thieves have made no attempts to cover their tracks or put their potential pursuers off their trail. They have crossed several rivers and skirted two lakes before the party is sighted across a broad expanse of grassland.
    The pursuers observe them. The captors have tied each girl onto a stolen horse and the horse is linked to a warrior’s horse with a rawhide thong. Suddenly there is a commotion. A horse with a figure on it breaks away from the main group and starts to gallop in their direction. Some of the raiding party pursue the rider who is skilfully guiding the horse with her body and legs.
    Mato grunts approval. Quickly he and five braves race to meet the runaway horse and rider. The other two dozen warriors use the cover of the tall range land grass to move swiftly around to ambush the main party.
    An added advantage for Mato’s group is that when the main party sees the group of six warriors racing to intercept the runaway, they send more of their party as back up to the pursuers of the runaway until arrows cut them down.
    The battle is short and bloody.
    The raiding party flees leaving half their number dead or dying.
    Because of the warpaint, Tacha Cikala does not recognise Mato Sapa the leader of the rescue party.
    “I will be the wife of your leader. For truly he is a chief among men.” She makes the vow aloud for she is the one who ran from the raiding party. She turns and places her moccasins in front of his horse. She stands barefoot before the horse rearing up. It is foaming at the mouth. The sweat of its battle exertions makes the black and red warpaint run in stripes down its chest and flanks.
    Mato leaps from his horse to stand besides her.
    Then she recognises him.
    “You. The warrior pup?” She cries. “You led the rescue party?”
    He nods, a smile playing around his lips.

    • August 31, 2022 at 8:50 am
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      Ilyaleed,

      A cute story of evolving warrior who does his maiden proud on the lines of knights of yore.

      Jagan

    • August 31, 2022 at 9:38 am
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      I’ve very much in accord with Ken on this one, Ilana. The stand-out descriptive writing does give this story a very visual quality. A little bit erotic at the beginning – presumably why the young lad is licking his lips at the end!

    • August 31, 2022 at 12:44 pm
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      Your detailed descriptive writing stands out! Wow!
      Good story too.
      ..’her eyes hard black stones.’ is just one among many.
      I need to learn how to be descriptive.

    • August 31, 2022 at 10:07 pm
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      Hi, Ilana.

      I agree with KenF – excellent description. That woodand scene at the beginning … terrific! And Mato’s youthful desire is really well depicted (this line is great: “He wants her to stop and notice him. But he knows he cannot risk her seeing him.” Which young boy hasn’t been there?!) – although the erection detail risks vulgarising the idyllic scene a little perhaps. The bit where Mato goes to retrieve his … er … weapon, then Tacha creeps up on him is brilliantly done. Then the action scene is really well decribed, too. And the ending is very cute indeed.

      Just a couple of observations (of course). The narration is in the present tense, but you occasionally slip into the past tense. I think that maybe a separator could be used before “The moon rises full twice…”. And a comment I also made to Jagan: perhaps use double return to separate paragraphs more clearly (see Andy’s story above and this comment). No big deal, but it makes it easier on the eye.

      Loved the story, though – one of your best for me.

  • August 31, 2022 at 9:07 am
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    Ilyaleed,

    Beautifully told. A lovely story of a young man coming of age and winning over his bride.
    Some of your descriptive phrases are a joy;
    “Her face is a chiselled study of aristocratic elegance,” is my favourite.
    Your conjure up such a vivid description of Tacha Cikala and of the woods in which she is gathering flowers.
    Great writing,

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape.

  • August 31, 2022 at 12:21 pm
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    AHHHHH crud – I didn’t hit save when I updated the stories in the voting page and closed the tab without realizing it. 1 sec everybody

    • August 31, 2022 at 12:44 pm
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      sent again

      • August 31, 2022 at 1:11 pm
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        Got it, thanks!

  • September 1, 2022 at 10:08 am
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    Carrie,

    What is the next prompt?

    What is the final results of previous one?

    Jagan

    • September 1, 2022 at 11:38 am
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      Jagan, people still have a bit to vote. It hasn’t been 24 hours just yet.

      We’re really just waiting on Marien to vote.

      • September 1, 2022 at 11:41 am
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        Carrie,

        My bad.

        More interested in the next prompt.

        I am enjoying getting my stories critiqued and analyzed.

        Thx.

        Jagan

  • September 1, 2022 at 5:15 pm
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    New prompt soon? Hoping to get in early.
    .

  • September 1, 2022 at 5:38 pm
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    All right writers!!
    Without further ado here are your winners!

    1st Place: War Paint Revelation by ilyaleed
    2nd Place: King’s Blood by Ken Frape
    3rd Place: Direct Transaction by Andy Lake
    4th Place: Paint to the Rescue by Phil Town
    5th Place: Transformation by Adrienne Riggs
    6th Place: Donna dons the war paint by Jagan Parthasarathy
    7th Place: More Than Enough by Marien Oommen

    Favorite character: “Restigius” of King’s Blood by Ken Frape
    Favorite dialogue: Direct Transaction by Andy Lake

    Congrats Ilana on one of your finest submissions!!

    • September 1, 2022 at 5:45 pm
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      Congrats to ilyaleed, ken and Andy

    • September 1, 2022 at 10:00 pm
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      Congratulations, Ilana!

      … and Ken ‘n’ Andy …

      … and all!

  • September 1, 2022 at 10:29 pm
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    Congratulations all. Thank you. I am surprised to be first. Honestly could have looked to more improvement in my story and it was a difficult prompt to write for. I spent a lot of time scratching my head over this one.

    • September 2, 2022 at 4:36 am
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      Well done Ilya and all,
      Great story. It’s nice to be back on the podium for me. It’s been a while. Perhaps I can squeeze some more out of Restigius too as a character.
      For now, it’s onto the next one.
      Ken Frape

  • September 2, 2022 at 8:24 am
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    Congrats Ilana! You were at the top of my list this time around! Excellent story and the descriptive writing was beautiful. Congrats also to Ken, Andy, and Phil – winners all! We had a great round of stories. Can’t wait to see what is next!

  • September 2, 2022 at 10:55 am
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    That was good fun. Congratulations, everyone!
    Especially the three toppers!

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