Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “The Girl in the White Dress”

Theme: The Girl in the White Dress

Many writers draw their inspiration from art or images. This one captivated me, there are so many different stories that could be told from this one detailed picture.

Use this image as inspiration for your story, it can be the image as a whole, a single part of it or several elements inside the image itself. It can be good triumphing over evil or a white witch sacrificing herself, a fantasy wedding, a widow visiting her dead husband in a white dress or even just a model photoshoot crafted by an artists.

Story Requirements:

  • A female (of any age) in a white dress
  • An event/party/gathering

Word Count: 1,200



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172 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “The Girl in the White Dress”

  • Carrie Zylka

    Read the stories here:

    (If you don’t see your story linked here within 24 hours after your posted it, please let us know as we may have missed the comment.)

    • lcvalladareswriting
      Please delete the story by “lcvalladares” and all posts made by them on this thread, if possible.
  • This reminds me of one of my ex girlfriends. The one who used to sleepwalk. She would slowly rise in the middle of the night, and wander around the house wrapped in the bed sheet. She would drift mysteriously around the house in the dark, picking up all the ash trays one by one and pouring their contents onto her chest. Occasionally, she would get ‘teched’ by religion, carry a bible around and once or twice she tried to perform an exorcism on me. If you’ve never had a white woman in a bed sheet try to exorcise your ass — consider yourself lucky. (It’s a disturbing image under any circumstances.)

    I never felt inspired to write about her, in fact, I’m not sure I can remember her name. Forestine? Chlorina? Ah yes, I remember now. It was Ashley. Ashley Droopmore. No. Dreadmore. Yes, that was it. Ashley Dreadmore. (No, no. Sorry folks. This one’s mine.) Ashley — Wait. Did someone say Chlorina? (That’s why her clothes are so white. Duh. I am so dumb.

    Chlorina Dreadmore did her shopping at the 24 hour Walmart on the corner of Heart avenue and Pierce street. They built the store on top of her family homestead. Her father’s grave was under the sporting goods department. And her grandfather was buried under lingerie. Which was fitting, but that’s another story altogether.

    to be continued…

  • RM York
    Wait – her grandfather was buried under the lingerie department, which was fitting. God, I hope so. Buried in ill-fitting women’ undergarments throughout eternity would be uncomfortable, not to mention humiliating.
  • Not sure whose comment is funnier, but by the sounds of it there’ll be some darned amusing stories! 🤣
    • RM York
      Well, Laurel and Hardy are dead, so the Cartisano and York (he got top billing – don’t ask) Duo will just have to do.
      • One of us needs a shorter name for this duo to catch on. I suggest Cartisano and Roy.
        • RM York
          Yeah, that works. You can be Siegfried. By the way, the little girl was sent to see grandma and her last line is I’m going to see Grandma. You need to look deeper into my stories. Thanks for your optimism on the congratulations, but you grabbed the gold ring this time.
          • Roy,
            Siegfried, Cartisano & Roy? Sounds like a group of Jewish proctologists, but hey… if it’ll make us money, I’ll give it a whirl. As for your story, I’ll read it again. I suspect that with all that sex, glitter and rock ‘n’ roll, details like the fate of the little girl got lost in the mix.

            As for Harlan Ellison, I recall his remarks about other authors more fondly than his stories. He was called on to
            provide the introduction to several anthologies and his comments and introductions were very short, but almost
            always funny. It’s reported that when he first ‘saw’ Isaac Asimov, he said, “Hell, he’s not so big.” The joke was
            in what he was implying. ‘…for a God.’

            • RM York
              When I was about 10 or so, my father used to work out of town and come home on weekends. I would be waiting at the door for him because he always gave me his copies of the science fiction pulp magazines he would read at night while on the road. I read them from cover to cover and discovered that Asimov, indeed, was the kind of writer I wanted to be one day – although I never pursued it – a good read and prolific, not necessarily science fiction. I have many of his nonfiction writings and they are excellent. Harlan Ellison was also a favorite, although he was much harsher in his dealings with his critics. I seldom write science fiction, although maybe I should give it a try. Perhaps thar’s gold in them thar hills for me.
  • Can the event be inn the characters head or does it have to be a physical gathering
    • Carrie Zylka

      It can totally be in the characters head!

  • Roy
    I re-read your story.
    I guess you’re right, there’s much more to it than meets the eye. Your challenge to look deeper into
    your story allowed me to see a few details I hadn’t noticed before. Not all of them positive. A key point within it,
    is that the little girl (the narrator believes) knows or suspects her own fate. (You have no idea how
    close to home this hits.) This tells me that the story is really about her.

    What threw me off (I guess) is that you mention that she (Ellen) has ‘a rare form of cancer that would be terminal’
    but for a transplant from a matching donor, which can’t be found.
    Then later in the story you question how you could ‘discipline a deathly sick child?’

    Sorry, but a ‘deathly sick child’ with a ‘terminal’ disease sounds pretty fatal to me.

    All of this happens: (BTW), first date, second date, marriage, happy family, terminal diagnosis and glitter sex
    before the girl turns eight years old. That’s faster than most Mike Tyson fights. (It would be better if you didn’t
    mention her age at all later in the story. There’s no reason why she can’t be 8 years old.) Also, as far as a
    donor is concerned, I’m not sure why a mother or sibling wouldn’t work as well as a father.
    But like me, most people will assume there’s some logical reason for this. So that’s not a problem.

    And if having a baby is the solution, which it appears to be, it’s a pretty utilitarian reason for
    having a baby. Which is totally cool as far as I’m concerned. They love Ellen so much, that they’re
    desperate to have a child just to save her life. If that was your intention, then that angle should be played
    up a little. It adds depth and complexity to the characters.

    Emphasizing the calculating intention to create a child partly as an organ donor is a perfectly diabolical
    and beautiful plot, because really, that’s what humans do. But that fine point is lost somewhere in the
    goody-two-shoeiness of the story. Not that the goodness is bad, or undesirable, it’s perfect, it’s the
    perfect counterpoint to the proletarian approach to pro-creation.

    Obviously, you already know all of this. After all, it’s your story. I just thought the emphasis was slightly misplaced, but you were
    right in that I needed to look a little deeper into the story. (I hope I didn’t go TOO deep.)

    • RM York
      Obviously, your in depth critique of Ellen and her plight is on the money, and you do point out a few things, that in retrospect, i would go back and change. It was a delicate balance of celebrating New Years Eve with joy, while having a possibly terminally ill child. I guess I wrote ‘deathly ill child’ because she is. No sibling, no bone marrow transplant, it’s sayonara for Ellen.

      I could have said it differently, however, and your words have given me a chance to go back and make what I think is a good story into a really great story. It will be one of the short stories I put in my anthology of contemporary Americana fiction. Soon to be published by a publisher near you. Well, maybe.

      I think there’s a market for night time quick-reads for people who want to read when going to bed, and that would offer them a chance to read complete stories before nodding off. Especially the younger population who want all the joy of a novel without having to spend days reading it. Sort of like News Briefs and sound-bites. Why wade through 1100 pages when you can do it in three and have a sense of completion and satisfaction?

      Having said all that, one of the problems with 1200 words is 1500 to 2000 would be better. If only to flesh out those areas such as how much time passed between ‘After that, he three of us were inseparable and we were soon married.’ It could have been months, I didn’t have the word count to make that possible without giving up some other important line somewhere else, I would prefer we do stories with 1500 words because it gives us greater depth, but I also understand it would increase the reading time of 10 stories every two weeks by 25 percent, and time is valuable to all of us. I also know, because I’m in another writing site that has a 1500 word limit and I always manage to wish for more.

  • Capturing Perfection

    It wasn’t the kind of thing I saw every day in London. A young Chinese woman in a wedding dress, balancing precariously on a narrow bollard on Horse Guards Parade, while two men took photos of her against the backdrop of historic buildings. One of the men, I guessed, was her husband, dressed incongruously in a frock coat and baseball cap.

    I smiled as I stopped to take in the scene. The groom was taking pictures on an iPhone. Their friend was snapping away rapidly with some expensive-looking kit he clearly didn’t know how to use.

    “You look wonderful,” I said on impulse to the bride. “But what on earth are you doing?”

    They all laughed. “We take photo for our wedding!” said the groom.

    Well, obviously. “You just got married? Congratulations!”

    “No, not yet,” said the bride, or rather bride-to-be, teetering on top of the bollard. I held out my hand to steady her. “We get married in six months time in China. We just take photos now. For the wedding.”

    Well, this was new to me back then, in 2010. I’m more acquainted with Chinese nuptial rituals now. Taking fabulous pictures in exotic locations to decorate wedding venues, even projecting them on the sides of buildings. Glorifying the couple both offline and online. They explained a little of this to me then. I was a little slow to grasp the need for it.

    “But can you really take good enough quality pictures like this? With mobile phones and … ”

    “Oh no, it’s good,” insisted the groom. “See, we have this setting for ‘beauty face’. And this app does – ”

    Actually, I can’t remember what the apps apparently did. But the results they showed me looked horrendous. And the ones taken by the guy with the expensive kit – the composition was all wrong, he hadn’t thought about the light, he hadn’t a clue about focus and depth of field. It was painful to see such beauty betrayed by idiots.

    “OK,” I said. “You know I do this for a living? Architectural photography, office interiors, and so on. But I’ve done fashion shoots in the past. Even the occasional wedding for friends. How about if I do a few photos for you?”

    They looked hesitant.

    “Don’t worry, I won’t charge! Consider it a wedding gift. I’ve just been working over there,” I said, pointing to the grand façade of the Treasury building, “so I’ve got my cameras with me. We can do it right now.”

    And that was that.

    I took them back to Parliament Square, where they’d taken some dreadful pictures swamped by tourists and with Big Ben cut off at the top. I got the protesters perpetually camped there to move aside to get the best shots. It became a kind of party, as the protesters joined in enthusiastically for some photos. A policeman came across, so we got him involved too. We had some unique pictures for their wedding. Even a red bus or two passed by in the background. Perfect.

    Most perfect of all was Meili. She was a vision to behold in her white fishtail dress, with it’s train spread in a semi-circle behind her, her white three-quarter-sleeve lace top veiling her delicate shoulders, and holding a bouquet of red roses.

    Then we did the sights, shooting around London in a taxi. Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, top of the Shard as the sun was setting. The young couple were very happy.

    And I was happy too. Over the next couple of days I worked on the photos and sent them the best shots. Meili looked radiant, exquisite. I’d made her intended look much less of a tosspot that he was in real life. In some photos he looked quite the man, in fact. Without the baseball cap, of course.

    So that’s how we became friends. Of course, I didn’t go to the wedding. But Meili sent me photos showing how my work was used on the day, and included me in the WeChat group for the wedding.

    And then, a couple of years later, when she came to Manchester to work in the university, I visited her from time to time.

    – – –
    The woman sitting opposite me nodded as she listened to my account, now all on the record.

    “So,” she said. “You kept in contact.”


    “And you took more pictures of her?”

    “Yes …?”

    “We’ve been to your home. And the apartment you rented in Manchester. There must be more than two thousand photos of Meili. Walls covered in them. How do you explain that?”

    “It’s how I work when I’ve got a project on. I get totally immersed in the subject and – ”

    “And what exactly was the project? I mean, what were all those photos for?”

    “Possibly an exhibition, or a chapter in a book I’m working on. Some to include in my online portfolio. Some to sell as stock images …”

    “The thing is, Martin, you have photos here from her holidays in Paris and Dubai. And taken through her apartment window in Manchester. I believe you rented an apartment in the block opposite.”

    “I do get quite a bit of work in the area, so it makes sense to rent somewhere there …”

    “And Meili knew you were taking these pictures?”

    “I did talk to her from time to time.”

    “Hence the restraining order.”

    “Ah, I thought you’d bring that up.”


    “I accept I was maybe a bit of a nuisance at one point. But when I saw how he was treating her – ”

    “You knew how he was treating her because you followed him, Martin. Took photos of his meetings with another woman, and sent them to Meili. Is that right?”

    “She had a right to know.”

    “But she didn’t react as you expected.”

    “No. But her loyalty to her man – it impressed me. I know I interfered too much. Maybe it’s because my own marriage was in trouble at the time.”

    “And why was that?”

    “Oh, spending too much time away. And my wife didn’t like my projects. They way they took up so much space …”

    “And maybe the wall of your home office covered with photos of a beautiful younger woman, one you were completely obsessed with?”

    “I know where this is going. You must know, I would never, ever have hurt her. Never.”

    I became a little emotional at this point.

    “So tell me, how was it you came to break into the funeral parlour last night and were found beside her body?”

    I shook my head, trying to regain my composure. “I had to see her one last time. It was so sad. You’ve arrested her husband?”

    She waved my question away. I continued. “Laid out there all in white, she was a vision of perfection, even in death.”

    “Why the white chrysanthemums?”

    “In China they’re often part of funeral attire. They’re also a symbol of loyalty and devotion. But more than that.”

    “Go on.”

    “Holding a white bouquet made for the perfect final photo. Now my project is complete, and I can rest.”

    [1191 words]

    • RM York
      OK Andy, you took me kicking and screaming to a place I didn’t want to go with that ending, but I admire how you got me there, and then left me wondering … did her husband actually kill her … does the photographer get divorced … did the police arrest the photographer on suspicion? See, like any good writer, you left me wanting more. Loved the flow of the story, but, as I said, kicking and screaming, about half way down because I wanted it to end differently. Good job man.
    • Andy,
      Diabolique. (I can invent words as well as anyone.) Great story. The weird music started with all the photos on the wall. Great way to convey obsession. Masterful transition from ‘la-dee-da’ normal, to ‘reet-reet-reet-reet’ nuts. (See ‘bat-shit crazy.) Very entertaining story.
    • Hi, Andy, good to read your story once more. I like the names – Meili and Martin. But I am not sure if I am drawn more to the Chinese beauty or the lovelorn photographer. I find it easier to identify myself with the photographer. The bouquet of white roses makes me feel that instead of expressing her loyalty, she was ruing the lack of love in her life. That is where the crazed, married Martin comes into the picture.
      Was he her murderer? If so, what made the love ravaged photographer let Meili hold the bouquet for One Final Photo? There are endless possibilities and that is what makes your story a success.
      Good luck and happy to have you back, dear friend.
    • Phil Town
      A really well constructed story, Andy. In the first part, we get a sense already that the narrator might have some personality issues with the arrogant way he dismisses the quality of the photos being taken (that the couple are probably quite happy with). Then the careful unwrapping of his obsession in the second half through some great dialogue. And the ambiguous ending (did his search for perfection lead him to …?). Great story, great to have you back.
    • Amy Meyer
      Just about the right amount of unsettling weirdness at the beginning to intrigue, but not to give away your twist. I really liked the sudden change in style, it felt like cold water being thrown over the story. A great murder story!
      • Many thanks Amy – and Roy, Ken, Rathin and Phil for your comments. Glad you liked it!

        The set-up of the young woman in a wedding dress on the bollard in Horse Guards Parade being photographed by friends – I did actually see that one time when I’d been working nearby!
        But everything else is fiction. (As I told the judge…)

        The whole story is from the photographer/narrator’s perspective. But in the second half with the dialogue, an outside reality gradually breaks in to his self-absorbed world … and indeed pours cold water on his worldview.

    • Andy,
      well done with the well deserved success of your story. I have just read it again and it is a thing of beauty.
      I loved the scenes of London ( being born within the London area) and they made me proud of that fact. The story unfolded beautifully, a slow reveal, almost a striptease, you might say.
      I will be watching out for your next story with great anticipation.
      Give my regards to Lincoln where I lived for over 20 years.

      Ken F

      • Many thanks for the kind comments, Ken.

        Just on the East Coast line down to London now, as it happens – I’ll watch out for more captivating moments by historic buildings while I’m there!
        Will certainly pass your regards on to Lincoln too – been there for 4 years now. Very special historic centre it has. I’ll have to base a story here – or maybe you can?

        Did you mention somewhere you’re living in the west country now?
        I work over there from time to time. Will be back there in March for a couple of days or so. Very nice part of the world too.

  • Phil Town

    Beyaz-Elbise, my sister! Look at her! You would think she’d won the world.

    Not the world, no. She hasn’t won that. But the realm, yes. And who can blame the judges? I mean, just look at her!

    Even with her eyes covered, she’s exquisite. She was easily the most beautiful of the score or so of contenders. That one from the East – what a fright! I don’t know how the East even had the nerve to enter such a … goat! There. I’ve said it.

    The Mountains sent a very pretty young thing, but I think the red hair played against her. The Plains’ was … well, plain to be honest. Not ugly exactly, but she wouldn’t turn your head at the market, let’s just say that.

    The South’s was the toughest competition. The judges don’t normally go for dark skin, so I knew that ultimately she was not a concern. Hers was as smooth as a duzsiyah pond in springtime, though. And those eyes, those infinite black eyes! But in the end, the judges were swayed by their prejudice, I believe. If it’s a choice between a Souther and a Sahiler, then it really is a foregone conclusion.

    So now Beyaz-Elbise is the King’s plaything, and tonight she will bow to his every whim; tonight and every night until the next contest. I’m sure that under the cloth, her eyes are incandescent with expectation. After all, it’s what every one of us girls in the realm aspires to from the moment we learn to reason.

    It’s a shame about the cloth. She told me that she would have preferred not to have to wear it. It’s an unbreakable tradition and there to spare her, but she would have loved to witness the spectacle with her own eyes. She could hear the song of the scimitar, of course, and the sobbing, the pleas for mercy, the screams, but that would only have whetted her appetite for the sights. I will have to recount it all to her later, but we were both in the audience for the last contest – What? Five years ago? – so she will have a good idea of what went on.

    She will also have caught the delicious stench of acid on flesh. That was my favourite part – when the heads were dipped in the pot and the hair, and flesh, and eyes fell away. It was a shame about the Souther, though. She really was very beautiful. But in the end, we’re all white bone underneath; it’s a great leveller. And there they lie, the defeated, under the feet of Beyaz-Elbise Oyuncak, in all her glory. She will be enjoying the crack/crunch as she tramples on them. I know my sister.

    So she has a blessed future opened up to her. All the gold and jewels she could wish for, the finest mink and ermin, rich delicacies from the ends of the world … and the King and his passion.

    All until the next contest, that is. Of course, she’s young enough that she’ll be able to keep her beauty for a good few years and win again, which will dissuade contenders. But seeing her there, hearing the audience’s applause, sensing her exhilaration – all of this has got me thinking.

    I’m from the same stock, and people have always compared me favourably to her. I’ll be 15 next year. That will be perfectly old enough.


    • Well, you have an idea that could add some extra edge to flash fiction contests too, Phil 🙂

      Sharp story, very well-written (as always)

      Beauty contests were used by Byzantine emperors and Russian Tsars to choose wives back in the old days. Though with the latter, winning could be more dangerous than losing sometimes. Said to be a genetically sound practice, though.
      Personally, I picked the most beautiful in a contest of one. (For each marriage …)

      • Phil Town
        We could at least suggest it to Carrie and Alice …

        Thanks for your comments, Andy. I didn’t know that about the emperors and Tsars. In my story, for some reason, it’s a panel of judges that chooses for the King – go figure!

        Re your last comment … you ol’ charmer, you!

        • Carrie Zylka


          ……….um NO

          • RM York
            At least think about it. Maybe not something as drastic as a beheading, but surely, some sort of consequence for the runners-up? Maybe just a finger? Or for the guys, keeping the Me Too movement in mind, maybe their … um … nope, bad idea … but I’ll bet for a minute you thought about that idea having some merit.
      • Andy,
        You’re back.
        Byzantine? Sounds complicated to me. (Heh-heh.)
    • RM York
      Great story with unexpected results, and a great ending. At 15 thinking when it’s her turn she will win; or course, we are all invincible at 15, but when the whine of the blade on its way down reaches her ears, chances are she regret her decision. It will be a short thought, however, should she lose. Loved the line about ‘Hers was as smooth as a duzsiyah pond in springtime,’ because it let me pick the smoothness I wanted, not the author. Nice touch. I try to include little things like that in my stories, as I feel the audience of readers like making their own choices when they can. It’s why I’m usually disappointed when I go to a movie and see who they cast for a role from a book I’ve read, when the character doesn’t match up to my expectations. As always – I never get tired of saying that about your stories, and I bet you never get tired of hearing it – another very good job, Phil.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks (as always too) for your kind words, Roy! (And you’re right – of course I like people to say nice things, but critical things are good too, if reasonable.)
    • Dear Phil,
      You know that I think very highly of you as a short story writer. I have read all your story published on this site till date since I joined. I didn’t comment on your last two stories, though they were among my Top-5, if my memory serves me right.
      Two things that draw us to your stories, are their readability/lucidity and simplicity. Your stories are special as they are so readable and easy to understand. If you don’t mind my saying this, my friend, I found the simplicity bit missing in your last two.
      While going through the present story, I felt for sometime that you seem to have lost your Midas Touch. But your ending brought me back on the track. You must be tired of hearing people using the choicest words of appreciation for your stories. Let me be no exception in this regard by saying: Well done, Maestro for never letting us down. Good luck with your story.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks for your kind comments, Rathin. I write ’em as I feel ’em, and it may not work sometimes (or often even). But I’ll never hold it against you if you point out faults (like the lack of simplicity in recent stories) – it’s one of the reasons I’m here.
    • Susan WM
      Yikes! that took a turn I wasn’t expecting. It was a little difficult for me to get into at first, but then I could envision the scene very clearly. Almost too clearly! You have a gift for describing scenes and personalities. …a goat! There. I’ve said it. Pretty funny. Quite an enjoyable story.
      • Phil Town
        “Yikes!” is good Susan. Thanks!
    • Juergen
      Phew! Cruel story. Very well told. Yes, and I did not see it coming. Maybe a bit too cruel for my sensitive soul.
    • Amy Meyer
      A short punchy story Phil. I liked your very vivid descriptions of the ‘stench of acid on flesh’. Great!
      I was a bit confused by parts of the story, but I liked how you rushed us through the story without too much hand holding.
      I was a bit unclear about the motivations for the women wanting to ‘win’- you said- ‘After all, it’s what every one of us girls in the realm aspires to from the moment we learn to reason.’, but I wasn’t sure why. Maybe I just missed something in the story. It meant that I wasn’t that emotionally involved in the story. But I was very intrigued by your descriptions of this contest.
  • Phil,
    Liked your story. Don’t know what a ‘duzsiya’ is, or was. Looked it up. Nothing. ‘Course, they shut the government down over here, so none of the dictionaries work.
    • Phil Town
      Thanks, Ken!

      (I’d give him a wall, but insist it’s only a metre high – just to say that one exists so that he opens up government again. The people – and KC – need to get their dick ‘n’ harries back.)

  • But I enjoyed the story except for that one word, Phil. A bit subtle for my clumsy ass brain, but wonderfully creative.
  • To all,
    Okay, I bought a used computer a few weeks ago. And as I type, the cursor begins to jump around randomly, insertininttentded to go. As yg letters in places they weren’t as yo correct what i’ve typed. at it looks like if I don’t stop and carefullystrating. And this is whu can imagine, this is extremely fru

    Do you all see what I’m dealing with? This is driving me fucking crazy. I want to SHOOT this computer with double-aught buckshot and take a sledge hammer to the shards. The thing is, I might do it. If so, I’ll post the video on facebook. (The good news is, no, just kidding, being sarcastic. There is no good news.) I’m tired of trying to be an optimist anyway. Too much delusional work.

  • The Prayer (Of A Beautiful Woman):

    As I look down on you, dear Samir, my husband, I am overcome with the warmth of love, longing and kindness for you. Like I always was whenever our eyes met. Let me dig down into our love story a little deeper then.

    Samir in the meanwhile is digging too. To have my statue installed near my freshly laid body. He is keeping a promise he made to me during my last hours at Appolo Nursing Home.

    Oh, to talk about the promise – I made that request to you while I could cry, vent out my anger and frustration, swallow my ego and pride, just like you all do. I told you, the struggling sculptor that you were then, not to waste yout time and try to make my statue instead. I firmly believed that his sculpting of my statue would bresk the jinx of his bad luck and bring him recognition and fame. I should be dressed in a white gown, in a white gown because white, the color of bliss and purity, was my favourite color; I should have a white starstick, some kind of firework that sprinkles sparks of light in my right hand. By looking at it in my raised hand, the viewer will get to know about my fondness for life and laughter, for fun and frolic. My hand should be upraised like the way I waived at you, from up right to down left in a curvy way, every single time you decided to distance yourself from me or had to go away on business. I wanted you to place my statue in front of my permanent place on the lap of Mother Earth. I did that thinking you would wish to see more of me after I am gone, but the tomb and the deathly silence and emptiness all around will remind you of how I tried to add colour to this otherwise colorless world.

    Samir never trusted me because he found the whole world in love with me. Nor did any of his people either. I regretted having fallen in love with a rogue, who made me lose my virginity with false promises every single minute. I regretted it even more after my marriage with Sam. For he was the most innocent grownup I had met in life. I regretted how less attached he was to the opposite sex, other than to his mom and sister, despite his striking handsomeness. I hated it when he lost his cool and made a scene when my cousin put his hands around me in front of the guests, on his wedding night. I managed to keep the smile on my lips while my heart was breaking into pieces inside with an unspeakable hurt.
    I always had his best interests in my heart. I loved Sam as I fondly called him, for being my Prince Charming from the day we met. I remember how I hurled at my mom, bedridden for long, something bordering on near abuse when she tried to pinpoint Sam’s faults. I simply couldn’t stand the sight of people who criticised him, rebuked him even at the risk of being at the receiving end of his anger later as he always took their side. I loved it when he learned to add s green chillie to the lentil or finish the kshir I served him in s bowl. He would finish it at a gulp and relish it like he couldn’t ever do before.
    I wish I was better, lighter, more mature than what I had been in life for him. Oh, all I wished to accomplish was to see him swallow his pride for once and put his strong hands around me to show his love for me intuitively, as if without a care about the reaction of the rest of the world. But he was so different from others. I was never ever in doubt about his love, despite all his efforts to befox me, all our silly quarrels, queer ways and months of childish quietness, I mean, trying not to talk to one another.

    I want to wind up with another request, Sam. Please, please don’t give me that lost, compliant look now. It doesn’t suit you. I want you not to waste your life coming to this Valley of Death. There is so much to do. Sangita is still a child though she goes to college these days. She will be missing her mother. Don’t let her by being both her dad and mom simultaneously from now on. Please don’t shout every time she comes back home late after partying or assignments. Don’t tell her that she is lovesick just like you thought her mother used to be. She will need all your love, understanding and guidance doubly from now on.
    And finally, do you know Sam, why Kaveri, our next door neighbour, stayed a lifelong spinster? I guess you do. She has been head over heels in love with you all these years, even after our marriage. Though she tried to hide it from me, her love for you was so palpable to all and sundry. I like your childhood friend, though I could never admit that while alive. Sangita and Kaveri get along quite well. No, no, no. Don’t give up on me with that ever-so-familiar, arrogant shake of the head, hubby dear. For I don’t want Sangita to be deprived of the love of mother, though you will spare no efforts at mothering her. Kaveri will be good in that department and s perfect foil. Marry her. Sam, for I don’t want my husband to heave a long, lonely sigh every now and then some years down the line. I want you to be happy. And if it is any comfort, let me tell you, Sam, that I will always be with you, God willing. For in your happiness and Gita’s as well, lies my true happiness.
    So, look up now, embrace me for one last time and say “Au revoir” for the time being. If there is life after death, I wish to be your mate again, for better or worse.

    • RM York
      Without a doubt in my mind, in my humble opinion, this is your best story ever. You channeled the woman in the picture and gave her a melancholy life of her own that was excellently described. You could probably have trimmed it a bit, but overall, I liked it very much. And, there is no doubt in my mind you will not end up on the bottom come voting next week. Good story, Rathin, and well delivered. Your writing in English is getting better and better. I would suggest you go back to this story, take it sentence by sentence and see what you can delete and change for better flow, but in spite of that, a very good job.
      • Love it, Roy. You are s character. I wish to be someone like you right from now. Completely devoid of flattery as it is alien to your nature, ruthlessly honest, with the best interests of all and sundry at the back of your mind always and so on.
        I could read the prompt for the first time today. Didn’t really try to find out more. Came out with the story within a very short period of time. Something is dreadfully wrong with my mobile. My a’s invariably land up as s’s most of the times. And how some totally different words come up, I have no ides at all! I wanted to write to Carrie something skin to: I wanted to make s promise not to contribute to thus site.., but when I looked at the published product, imagine my surprise at finding the ‘not’ missing in the sentence. I think God wants you people never to think highly of me.
        Anyway, thanks for all your encouragement. You are, don’t you forget, my dear, s blessing in my life.
        With love and regards.
        • RM York
          With a critique, I find honesty is the best policy and people will always know where I stand. I think it does authors no favor to flatter when it isn’t true. Regards to you, Rathin. One day, you will spend a little more time on a story and blow us all away. I’m counting on it.
          • Thanks, Roy. Somewhere deep down, I am counting on that thought too. Regards.
      • I agree with Roy on this. And Ken too. An engaging story that holds the attention.
        Wistful, melancholic atmosphere with a viewpoint from beyond the grave that worked well here.

        “If there is life after death …” is an interesting comment at the end, from a figure who does seem to have a consciousness after death. As if the narrator is not sure of her own reality. (Which is a feeling I often have myself.)

        • Thank you, Andy. I always get greatly encouraged and inspired by such comments. The feeling that there is ‘Life after death’ is ingrained in many people I’ve met. Even in my second home, Bhutan, some people seem to share the belief. You might be told, if you have spent some time with someone, that you have met again in this life because of your previous meeting and togetherness, even if that happened for a short time. How would you view the thought that, out of millions of people in the world, we two are communicating at this moment (from as far a distance as hard to express, especially for someone like me, who has only visited three countries in his entire life) due to some kind of our previous ‘karmic connection’?
          Lucky to have you back as a friend. Love and best wishes.
    • Ken Frape
      This is a powerful story that creates a truly melancholic atmosphere. The sense of helplessness of the dead wife, looking down at her beloved but flawed husband and wishing him well in spite of everything.
      There are some aspects of your writing that don’t flow as well as others but that is a criticism that could be directed at us all, certainly me. I think it has to do with the choice of words and / or the length of your sentences.
      “I remember how I hurled at my mom…………………………………………………as he always took their side.” I think you could have broken this into several shorter sentences to increase the impact. I could suggest where to start and finish each shorter sentence but I think that is something best done by you, if you think there is any merit in my critique.

      I can still feel the keen sense of loss and helplessness and love in this story so I think it’s a good job.

      • Thank you, Ken 2. You are another welcome addition to the site. You know, my friend, that English is not my mother tongue. Besides, my extreme lethargy makes it impossible for me to spend a lot of time on a single story. But I am a keen learner and learn mostly by observing people, trying to incorporate their good practices in my writing. I’d really appreciate it if you can teach me how to break that long sentence into various simple and short sentences, time permitting. One of my great drawbacks is my fondness for using complex, lengthy sentences. If I have started using simple sentences lately, it is due to the writings of people like Roy, Phil, Ken, Robt , Andy, Ilana and a few other friends. Please feel free to refine, rectify me. I don’t mind being corrected by even my students.
        Thanks for your encouragement. God bless.
    • Phil Town
      A very lovely story, Rathin. Despite Samir’s flaws, we’re touched by how much his wife loved him – and still loves him, in this ‘life after death’. The little details of their differences are swept away by the purity and depth of this (eternal) love. Her hope that he hooks up with the neighbour is very admirable. The whole perspective – of her looking down (from heaven!) on him – is very striking. I think it works that she’s addressing her thoughts to him, but then at several points she refers to him in the third person (e.g. “Samir in the meanwhile is digging too.”) Who is she speaking to here? I think those third-person bits could probably have been in the second person (i.e. addressing Samir directly). But a very warming story.
    • Susan WM
      I wish I had chosen to read this while alone. What a touching, warm yet sad story. I think you went from first to third person, so I had to go back and reread to be clear, but that would be a small fix. Your character is so loving, forgiving the flaws of her husband and not wanting him to be alone. I like the incorporation of the picture as a statue marking a grave and her description of it. I have a problem with writing sentences that are too lengthy and find it best to go back and see which words I don’t need, sentence by sentence. Of course this does nothing to help me see my typos. I think this is my favorite of your stories. Very, very well done.
    • Amy Meyer
      What a lovely lyrical story with a real heartfelt punch to it. I loved your use of language here- “For he was the most innocent grownup I had met in life.” I thought that really gave a very intriguing vision of Sam. And “befox”. I’m going to have to start using that one myself. It felt like part poem, which worked wonderfully with the wistful story. You really painted a picture of two very intriguing characters.
  • Dear Carrie,
    I don’t know what is wrong with me. I made s promise to contribute to this site till the next solar eclipse. I didn’t even bother to find out about the prompt. And even if I did at times, I wanted to read the stories of the greats first, for a better grasp of story-writing.
    I have just posted my story. I saw two other stories of Andy and Phil but am left with no time to read them. Whatever, I am here at the most famed Bhutanese college called CST ( College of Science and Technology) for marking. Will be here checking papers without any respite, for very good money, till the 23rd. I’ll try to read some stories for qualifying for the last place as usual. In fact, I have started relishing my day by day demotion or defame, whatever you call it. Even if I die as a ‘record breaking story teller’, whose record of holding the bottom place, couldn’t be surpassed, I’ll die a happy man. For the lure of writing a story at any cost is too great, not to keep me away from you all time and again. That is a big positive, don’t you agree?
    With love and best wishes.
  • Hey all, just an FYI that I’m in Louisville this week for an archery convention, so if you need anything I may be delayed in responding.
    But I think Alice will be around too!
  • Yes, I’m here. We’ll let Carrie have her time off, she deserves it. If you have any questions ask me, I’ll do my best to get to things quickly.
    • Ken Frape
      Hi Alice,
      I have been made aware of a tiny but significant plot hole in my story The Angel In The White Dress. Can I repost an amended copy please and remove the other one or do I need to leave it as it is?
      Ken Frape
      • Alice Nelson

        Yes Ken, re-post the story at the bottom of the story thread after the last story on the page, with the corrections, and when you do, let me know I’ll delete the old version.

  • Ken Frape
    The Angel In The White Dress.

    This incident happened almost a lifetime ago and it still haunts me.

    For those of us who live those run-of-the-mill, everyday lives, our first meetings with people should really take place when they are alive. However, the young woman in the magnificent white dress in front of me was clearly dead. You didn’t need to be a detective to know that but if you were a detective there was ample evidence to back this up.

    Clue 1 lay in the fact that this first meeting was taking place in a funeral parlour.

    Clue 2; this beautiful young woman was lying horizontally in an open, polished walnut coffin. The lining was white silk. Her arms were folded across her chest and her hands clasped a small spray of flowers. They were powerfully scented, as I discovered when I leaned over them but on stepping back, the oppressive funeral parlour odour reasserted itself, making me nauseous.

    Clue 3 was apparent at the v-shaped neckline of the young woman’s white dress. It revealed a row of stitches where she had been sewn back together by the pathologist. It was a poor choice of neckline as no one wants to see those stitches, even skilfully completed. After all, the rest of the dress, pure white and with tiny glittering sequins in small, apparently random clusters, was stunningly lovely. Many metres of expensive fabric must have been used and around her feet there was a huge gathering of the material, like a bride’s train. Perhaps this woman was being buried in her wedding dress. But how would I know? I was only seven and I should have been at school that day. However, I clearly remember that there were no tears or sadness that day because in our family we had been taught to believe that death in this life is not the end of all life, just another beginning.

    The fourth clue to death was the damage to the skull, just above the right eye and thus impossible to hide completely. It was a semi spherical indentation as if a golf ball shaped object had embedded itself halfway into the skull. It must have been monstrously painful, perhaps for just a brief moment before death. I certainly hoped that she had not suffered. Even though we had never actually met, I knew her. I knew all about her and her life.

    Her pallor was the next clue. The term “deathly white” is much overused but here it was perfectly appropriate. The ivory complexion was evident on all of the exposed skin, like applied make-up. I later suspected that the mortician must have been following strict orders as I am sure he (or she) would have hidden the stitches and the damage to the head had they been instructed to do so.

    A final clue, if one was needed, was the tag hanging from one of the coffin handles. It contained typed headings with pertinent details. The tag stated:
    Name: Angela Morrison
    D.O.B: 21/06/ 1991
    Cause of death: Blunt trauma head injury.

    So my aunt Angela was 27. It was the first time I had actually seen her in the flesh and she was the first person I had ever seen dead. She was my beautiful aunt, a doctor working in paediatrics in Wisconsin, in the USA. I had heard so much about her. I felt that I knew her as she bore such a striking resemblance to her older sister, my mother.

    Although my aunt and I had never met, my mother had told me all about her little sister Angela. “My Little Angel,” she called her. Some of the other girls at school, perhaps jealous of her unconscious beauty and her popularity, mocked Angela and christened her Saint Angela. Angela was renowned for her kindness and selfless behaviour and my mother told me that the family was unsurprised when she announced that she was going to become a doctor, specialising in working with sick children. Now, as I looked at her in her coffin my mother slipped her arm around my shoulders and drew me to her in a warm and comforting embrace. I pressed my face into her dress, inhaling her warmth, her very essence and her perfume. So much about Angela and my mother was similar, it was as if I was hugging my dead aunt. I shuddered at the thought.

    My family linked hands in a tight circle around the coffin as the funeral director discreetly left the room leaving Dad, Mum, me, my brother Jake, Angela’s husband Tom, my grandparents Bob and Mary and my Uncle Robert. My father, a deeply religious man, performed the service, talking of resurrection and eternal life. His words meant little to me but I fixed my eyes upon Angela’s face as I had been instructed.

    The changes were not immediately obvious, more like a slow time-lapse sequence. Gradually we became aware that the colour of Aunt Angela’s skin seemed to bloom, to become suffused with a pinkish, healthy glow. Then the depression in her skull disappeared until her forehead was unblemished again as it had been in life. My father continued to pray, his eyes closed as we unconsciously squeezed each other’s hands ever tighter. I was terrified.

    Within minutes, which seemed much longer, I saw the stitches begin to fade until they had disappeared completely, leaving unblemished flesh. There was a gasp from within the coffin and from the family gathered around as Angela’s mouth twitched and opened. My parents were true believers and their faith was now being richly rewarded.
    As Angela took a breath her eyes opened, her head lifted from the silk cushion and then, “Glory be,” my mother exclaimed, she seemed to float upwards with her arms outstretched.

    The huge white wings that were miraculously unfurled were a final and total shock to me. They seemed to fill the room with a soft, downy light as Angela hovered there, inches above the coffin, with swirls of silky white material around her feet. She was perfect! Beautiful! An angel! Her wings curved around to embrace her family. Her gaze swept the room as she made eye contact with each of us in turn. As she did so, I felt a sense of calm and contentment, the like of which I had never experienced before or since. I was bathed in warmth and love. It was the only way I could explain that feeling at that moment. Later, we agreed that we all felt the same as we looked up into Angela’s beautiful smiling face. We continued to gaze upwards as she rose higher and higher towards the ceiling and passed through it and was gone.

    All these decades later, I still find it hard to believe what I saw that day. I am the last remaining family member. I’ve been to all the other family funerals where nothing unusual happened. Perhaps Angela was the only angel in our family.

    I am waiting now to see what happens when my turn comes.

    I’m not hopeful.

    I’ve tried my best but I’m no angel.

    • Gripping story, Ken 2. The smooth flow of the story made me read it at a go. I really appreciate your taking some parts of the prompt initially, adding stuff like the stitches and the bump on the forehead ( or were they there in the prompt as well? I never bothered to look at the picture in great detail.) and shedding the extra bits towards the end to let everything boil down to the basic requirements. Great job, buddy. I like your style, language, descriptions and finally the portrayal of the angelic aunt, Angela.
      You have won me over with this beauty, buddy. Keep writing to entertain. All the best.
      • Ken Frape
        Thanks for your kind words.
        The initial prompt with the picture got me thinking ( well done, Carrie) as it had an angelic female figure, blindfolded and with a collection of skulls around her feet.Not an image I want to contemplate when I am trying to get to sleep.It is an excellent prompt and of course, the required gathering mentioned in the prompt is the family gathered around the coffin.
    • RM York
      Ken, what stands out about your story is the matter of fact way it started, and the autobiographical tone it set, that led me to believe this was a real life experience you were describing in vivid detail. Then, you completely led me down the path that many wish was true – that there is an eternal after life that promises us something after death and that there are angels. You did it very nicely, I might add, with a well written story.

      Good job. I have no quibbles with content, flow, punctuation, grammar, etc., although I think if I went back and dissected it I could find some things. Sometimes, however, with a well written story by someone else, am I nit-picking? In this case, I think I would be.

      I think a funeral counts as a gathering. I know in our families there are usually only two things that cause us to gather in any sort of completeness; weddings and funerals.

    • Susan WM
      Ken 2, It’s hard to pinpoint what I like best about this story; the last line, the autobiographical tone, the tension the praying scene with the family creates, the vivid descriptions of Angela, or the subject. I would not change one thing. Love it.
    • Very much liked the story, Ken2. This is the second one I’ve read of yours, and I do like the richness and texture of the language, the way you’ve built up a scene set in one location, and the voice of the narrator.

      One thing did slightly puzzle me, and that’s the chronology. Is the narrator looking back from about 70 years in the future? His aunt’s date of birth is given as 1991, she’s 27 when she dies, and that brings us up to 2018 when the incident seems to be happening? The narrator then would be 7 in 2018, but is looking back to something that happened ‘a lifetime ago’. Couldn’t see a reason why it would be set in the future, but it seems to read that way.
      The ‘D.O.B: 1991′ and ”so my aunt was 27’ just jarred a bit as I read it. And perhaps I’ve got something wrong?

      • Ken Frape
        I did post a reply after your last observation but I can’t see it yet. You are absolutely right about the chronology issue. I’ll need to sort that out once I have finished kicking myself.
        Thanks for that.
    • Great story Mr. Frape, entertaining plot gracefully delivered. (This is a fiction site you know.) I don’t mean to get off track but, the only problem with angels is that, pretty much everything has an opposite. Which leads me to wonder what is the opposite of a platypus? (A unicorn? I don’t know.)

      You’re one of several contributors in this group who writes exceptionally well but claims to have won no contests. (More proof of my thesis that stupidity might be contagious.) I too have won no writing contests…but, I ……. have a tractor. And that makes awards seem puny by comparison. (It’s a small tractor too. Amazing what a little bit of tractor can do.)

      I realize this is not a universal solution to achieving happiness, (tractors) nor a cure for stupidity, (tractoring). It’s more of a diversion. A completely unintended diversion. (Okay sure, my critique sounds a little flaky, but I think the tractor makes an important point.)

      And the point is, if guys like you and Andy and Philip aren’t winning contests, what’s the point of me even entering any in the first place?

      And the answer of course, has to be, because of the platypus. Does everybody get that? Or am I the only one?

      Back to your story. Phil’s observation is intriguing, I didn’t notice that. (Not disagreeing with him, just didn’t notice it.) I guess I didn’t think the narration at the beginning was especially flippant. He was just young, not certain of what was happening. But Phil almost always gives great advice. And you can always blame him if you follow it. I do. On rare occasions. (Don’t tell him I told you that.)

      • The joy of tractors, eh, Ken. I’m guessing Phil was giving you some advice on how your writing could gain some traction in the market, but you were only half-listening ….?

        I once rode on a combine harvester in France, which was unexpected, and a rare joy.
        So I know where you’re coming from.

        • Andy,
          I used to own a 5 ton bucket truck. Was forced to sell it to pay the rent during an unexpected downturn in business. Felt a lot like I did during my divorce. I was angry, depressed, sad… for months afterward. Had dreams about it. (Had big dreams for it when I owned it. I had a vision of it being candy-apple red, new lights, chrome rails and aluminum trim. I could SEE it. A show stopper. I just couldn’t – didn’t have the resources at the time.)
          I also had an opportunity to drive one of those huge articulated front-end loaders once. (So big, it had a hinge in the middle, to make it more maneuverable. (I suppose.) Had to climb a ladder to get into it. The customer even let me operate the gigantic bucket. I couldn’t believe how precise and delicate the controls were. As for ‘tractoring’ in general. Please see my response to Ken2.
      • Ken Frape
        Hi Ken C,
        Thanks for the kind words about the story but let’s address the serious stuff.

        Suddenly, I feel bereft due to my lack of action in obtaining a tractor. I now realise that this has left a huge ( tractor-shaped) hole in my life and I seriously ask myself, “What have I achieved In life if not a tractor?” It is one of the great unanswered questions of life. In the farming county of Gloucestershire in the UK where I live, if you don’t own and drive a tractor ( with road-blocking arrogance) then you are a nobody and that’s what I am. Members of our Royal Family (God Bless ’em all!) live in this area and whilst they all drive Range Rovers and Aston Martin DB7s I suspect they have garages or barns full of tractors for the week-ends. This is, I am sure, part of their plan to blend in with the common folk and it’s working. I haven’t seen a Royal in Primark for several hours.

        I wanted to do a bit with words that rhyme with tractor but there aren’t many so I gave up almost before I started. Perhaps someone else can give it a go?

        Ken F

        • RM York
          A writer once owned a good tractor
          But thought talent would not be a factor
          His wife laughed at his tale
          which sent him to jail
          because he stood up and smacked her.

          For what it’s worth.

          • Ken Frape
            In response to RM York

            Does spelling really mattor?
            ( When you’ve got a big yellow tractorre.)

            I could have been a famous acterr
            Although lack of talent was always a facter
            So I bought myself a big yellow tractorre
            That stands out in a crowd like a nuclear reacterr.
            It’s got a dore either side and at the back, it’s got a back dore.
            Anyway, one day a gal in a car cut me up so I smacked ‘er
            In her rear end with my tractorre
            That really cracked ‘er
            She was real mad but I said it doesn’t really mattor
            Here, you can cover your cracks with this tub of Max Factor.

            I send this with my most sincere apologies to poets and good spellers on both sides of The Atlantic.

          • Roy,
            That’s terrible. You’re a horrible poet. (That’s a compliment, where I come from.)

            There once was a farmer from Kent,
            Who earned so much less than he spent.

            But happy he was, and you know it because,

            His wife was a factor, and built like a tractor,
            With a face like an old Pteredactor!

    • Amy Meyer
      Funny and sad all at the same time. You managed to tell a funny story about death that was also very hopeful. Quite a mixing pot of emotions. Your last sentence wrapped the whole parcel up neatly, and made me smile.
      • Ken Frape
        Hi Amy,
        Thanks for your comments.
        It is quite a strange thing to think that several people found the story funny. When I try to write humour it often escapes me and then, on other occasions, it seems to be there without me even realising it.
        Happy writing,
        Ken F
  • Thanks for the comments, they are much appreciated. I read all comments and reflect upon them.

    One question just to play Devil’s advocate, what makes you think that this story isn’t true?

    You are right in that we can always find something in other people’s writing that we would change in order to improve it, in our own view. I have entered short stories regularly in the town where I live and the “best” ten as chosen anonymously by the judges, are read out loud at a special event. Some of these stories send me to sleep!
    Such is life. I am still waiting for one of mine to be chosen and then I’m sure the whole evening will be wonderful and everyone will be on the edge of their seats!
    Ken 2

  • Adrienne Riggs
    Can’t believe I’m so far behind in catching up on the stories and prompts! Where has the time gone? I might have to tackle this prompt!
  • Phil Town
    Smashing story, Ken. The descriptions are terrific. The ascension is really beautiful. Andy has already mentioned the timings, so I won’t. One thing I wasn’t so sure about was tone. I think you can draw a line across the middle of the story and split it into two. The first part, with the clues, is very funny. (“But how would I know? I was only seven and I should have been at school that day.”) But then it pivots into the spiritual, and that part is also impressively rendered. I’m just not sure they go together (tone-wise). If you’d continued as you began, that would have been one style of story, and if you’d begun as you finished, that would have been another. Then again, I could be talking out of my …
  • Ken Frape
    Hi Phil,
    Your comments are always well thought out and I will read and reread my story with that in mind. As I am sure you are aware, this kind of critique is extremely valuable especially to someone like me who is a relative newcomer to short story and flash fiction.
    Ken F
  • Greysolon Ballroom
    by Robt. Emmett ©2019

    As I arrived, he one-gulped the last of his whiskey sour. “Sit down and I’ll buy ya one.” He flagged the bartender. I slid onto the cracked leatherette covered stool and rested an elbow on the bar rail.

    He’d asked me to meet him in this seedy little back-alley bar squeezed between the rundown warehouses on West Crescent Street. I don’t know why.

    He’d spent the three previous days delivering cookies to the small stores along the coast of northern Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan. He needed a place to unwind and get the three-hundred miles of bad road and worse drivers out of his head. The bartender’s ear at the Western Bar was his usual place to unload.

    “The damn tourists on those back roads drive with their heads up there asses,” he said more than once. But that’s not what he wanted to talk about tonight.

    “She tell ya ‘bout the spring dance yet?”

    “Yes and of course I’m going to take her.” I serious about dating his daughter. “Why’d you ask?”

    “Drivin’ all the miles I do, a body gets to thinking ‘bout all kind’s of things; some good, some not. Things a person wonders ‘bout and the meaning. Ya know what I mean?”

    I didn’t, really. “Ah yeah, kinda.”

    “This afternoon, drivin’ back, I got thinking ‘bout dancin’.” He stopped and shook his head.


    “And I remembered.” He downed half his drink. “My wife and I did a lot of dancin’ in our courtin’ days. Back then, I could really cut a rug. I think it was my dancin’ that attracted her to me.” He drained his small glass, held it a moment and swallowed. As he flagged the bartender, he looked at me but said nothing. Rapping his fingers around his new drink, he looked at it. “Something I’ve never told a livin’ soul.” He cracked a smile, “Ha, I didn’t mean to pun.” After a small sip, he looked me directly. “Not even my wife.”

    Strange! My future in-laws had, I thought, a strong honest marriage, one without secrets.

    “It was one of those muggy damp evenings and I’d just dropped off my rig at Moland’s lot on Camden and First Street. I kept a set of my good duds there and changed into them. The fog was so thick I couldn’t see the neon window sign in the Diner across First Street. I needed to eat. As I handed the cashier my meal chit, she told me a new band playin’ at the Greysolon.

    Looking at me, he asked, “You ever hear of the Dreamland or the Greysolon?”

    “No, what are they?”

    He took another small sip. “Back in the day, they were the most popular ballrooms in town. Dreamland had dime-a-dance girls and public dancin’. The Greysolon was public only. The admission to either was halfa-buck. The Greysolon has a colorful history. It was first opened in 1921 as an outdoor dance pavilion by some immigrant. He’d purchased a large wooded lot on Kendrick Avenue where he planned to construct a vacation home. His son, however, was a frequent customer at the Dreamland Ballroom, downtown. He son convinced his father to open an outdoor dance pavilion and name it after the city’s founder, Greysolon DuLuth.

    I waited for him to continue. The bartender cleared his throat. Harold looked up, finished his drink and handed him the empty glass. I covered mine. I didn’t want or need another drink.

    Harold looked at his fresh drink, thinking I assumed.

    “I hunched my collar up against the early snow and walked to my nearly a year-old ’32 Ford parked behind the Diner and drove to the ballroom. The minute I walked into the Greysolon I noticed her. She was a blond, with short, bobbed hair. I usually didn’t give blonds a second look. Her, I did. Her dress was a semi-transparent, over a pale pink chemise. The style was something outta the twenties. A short thing with a drop waist, a belt around her hips. The hem ended at her knees. It fit her boyish figure to a T. She was a little shorter than me.

    “At the bar, I ordered a small glass with a little water, no ice. My buddy, Jim, from Chicago, had given me a coupla bottles of bootleg Scotch from downstate Indiana. I poured a shot from my silver flask. I took a sip. It was smooth as silk. I found an empty table, sat and looked for the lady in white. She was talking to the barkeep. The band started. They weren’t hard on the ears. She looked my way. I stood. She met me halfway across the dance floor. We introduced. Her name was Ann. We danced a coupla tunes. The band took a break. At my table, we sat. I signaled the hostess.. She put two set-ups on the table and left us. I showed Ann my flask. She smiled and nodded her head. We chatted ‘til after the band started up again. She indicated we should dance some more. She was good, very good.” Harold sighed and rolled his empty glass between his hands and stared into space.

    “You done drinking or do you want me to pour ya another?”

    He nodded and set his glass on the bar. The bartender fixed him one and freshened mine.

    Harold ran his thumb around the rim of the glass a couple of times. “I don’t know where the time went, but to soon we were bein’ given the bum’s rush out the door. I knew the buses had stopped runnin’ hours ago. I asked if she needed a lift home. She said she lived in Hunters Park and told me the address. It was quite a ways up Woodland Avenue. As we walked to my car, she held my arm. On the ride, we held hands. Passing Forest Hill Cemetery, she suddenly shouted for me to stop. I turned onto Fairmont Street and stopped. She jumped outta my car, across Woodland Avenue and through the gates of the cemetery and disappeared.

    “Huh, what?” I asked. “Disappeared? through closed gates?”

    Harold looked at his glass, at the bartender, and finally at me. “Through … closed … gates.”

    A chill shot up my spine. “No shit! So what’d you do?”

    “That night … nothing. But the next afternoon, I went to the address she’d given me. I knocked and knocked, but no one answered. I started down the steps when an older woman answered the door. She invited me into the foyer because it was lightly snowin’. I asked her if I could talk to Ann. She said there was no Ann living there. As I turned to leave, I noticed Ann’s photo on a tiny side table. I pointed and said, ‘That’s her.’”

    “’No, impossible’, the woman said. ‘She is dead. Five years ago an automobile struck her as she crossed Woodland Avenue. She’d taken the bus home after an evening of dancing at the Greysolon Ballroom.’ The woman pointed, ‘She’s buried over there, in Forest Hill.’”

    The bartender set three fresh glasses on the bar, filled them full and neat. Lifting one, he said, “On me!”
    — Ԙ —
    [1200 words]

    • “The bartender set three fresh glasses on the bar, filled them full and neat. Lifting one, he said, ‘On me’!”
      What a way to finish, Robt! Had you been anywhere near me, there would have been one more coming your way on me, for the story.
      So Ann went to Greysolon, found in Harold a perfect partner, had a nice time dancing with him till late in the night and aroused our expectation of a sizzling romance or another one-night-stand. Everything was very credible and interesting till she ‘disappeared through closed gates.” The story that held my attention till then, didn’t seem all that plausible any more. Stories like Harold and Ann’s are mere stories, my friend, and have very little to do with reality, if you’d allow me.
      Your dialogue, characterization, setting and the ending are as good as they get. My only regret is that what promised to be a gripper became a little less convincing at the point of Ann’s disappearance. Though you were able to put it back on track with the nice ending. This is just a personal opinion and please don’t take it to heart.
      Keep writing for I love your style, the crispness of your stories and the devil-may-care kinda attitude most of they convey.
      Take care and all the very best.
      • Thanks Rathin, your comments, from a writer like you, make my morning. You and your critics commented on overly long, complex sentences. It is a problem for many writers. One attempt to correct this I’ve been told is – the more intents the scene, the shorter the sentence should be. I’ve tried to implement this idea. I hope you have better luck than I’ve had.
        • Your time, my friend, is bound to cone sooner than later. You are a gifted writer and your natural talent and instinct as a writer, show through your writings. Just stick on to the task and never ever give up.
          Wishing you Luck, Success and Happiness.
    • RM York
      A lot less dialogue, a lot more description that shows without telling, and all in all, the best bit of writing I’ve seen you enter, Robt. I enjoyed your story very much, even though it is a worn out plot, you gave it new life. It’s in the crisp writing, my man. Great job.
    • Susan WM
      I have heard this tale several times with slightly different variations. I like your setting and the characters. The dialogue is real, but in a few instances some of the phrases seem better suited to a third person narrative instead of words in the first person, like ““I hunched my collar up against the early snow…” I hope I’m making sense. But I can ‘see’ the interior bar and the intense attention of listener. For me, the test of a good story is when the scene is in my head as I’m reading, as with this one. A very enjoyable read.
    • Mr. Emmett,

      I don’t know if this will be helpful or not but, you certainly have a flair for dialogue, and setting the scene, and especially in this story the plot moves along nicely, despite the fact that the story really takes place in a bar setting.

      In essence, what you’re doing is overplaying a modest hand. It’s a good little tale, but you give it too much build up.

      I felt that you overused the pouring and drinking, and you were using it mostly as a plot device. You didn’t need it. In fact, less drinking (in a bar) would build more tension. In fact, in the end, when the barman picks up the tab, it would be even more dramatic if both main characters already feel like they’ve had too much. And had one more anyway.

      On the other hand, the part where one character runs his finger around the rim of the glass without picking it up, or drinking any. That’s good. That builds tension.

      The only other suggestion I would give, and I give it because you like doing nostalgic or historical stories, when a character is recalling a memory, try to infuse a little uncertainty in the peripheral details. You know? Like: “I drove over, I think I had the ’32 Ford at the time, not sure, anyway, when I arrived…” etc.

      Or: “The dance hall was located in the business district, no, that’s not right, it was across the street from the auto dealership, that’s right, always lit up…”

      Whatever the fuzzy memory, it shouldn’t be an important part of the story, for obvious reasons. (In most cases.)

      This would be especially appropriate if the teller had not (as in this case) ever told the story before.

      It’s an enjoyable story, regardless of its shortcomings, and it has your signature sound and voice.

      • Robt.
        I’m sorry. I have to correct my own comment. (Shit happens.) Where I wrote: ‘In fact, in the end, when the barman picks up the tab, it would be even more dramatic…’
        What I meant was: “In fact, in the end, when the bartender buys all three of them a round, it would be even more dramatic…”

        sorry about that.

        • I liked the sense of history as told through the older man’s tale, and creates a good atmosphere for the spooky story that follows. Good use of dialogue, and the writing flows pretty effortlessly. I’m inclined to agree with Ken, though, about overdoing the build-up a little, in terms of the overall balance of the story.

          This exchange about the cemetery gates: “Huh, what?” I asked. “Disappeared? through closed gates?” – Is it natural for the listener in the story (or the reader for that matter) to assume the gates were closed?
          That line could be left out and the storyteller just conclude his previous comment with an emphatic ‘“Through … closed … gates.”’

          I have to say that when as a younger man I used to work in bars, I heard a fair few stories about unexplained happenings* from people propping up the bar. Ghosts, UFOs, giant fish, platypi riding their nemesis, the unicorn, and so forth. So both the context of the conversation as well as the content have an air of authenticity for me.

          (*well, unexplained happenings that a more cynical person than I might put down to their being extremely inebriated by the end of every evening, if not already at the start …)

    • Phil Town
      Great description, Robert (“I slid onto the cracked leatherette covered stool” tells us all we need to know about the place). Unlike Ken, I like the way the drinks punctuate the story. I also like the use of proper names for the locations, lending a bit of authenticity. The ‘in’ to the story proper – the younger man going to the dance with the driver’s daughter – is well designed. I’m a fan of your dialogue … usually. Here it doesn’t always ring true for me: “Her dress was a semi-transparent, over a pale pink chemise. The style was something outta the twenties. A short thing with a drop waist, a belt around her hips. The hem ended at her knees.” This seems like something a fashion critic would say, rather than a trucker. And I think the reveal feels a little bit clichéd – perhaps you could have supplied a twist on the twist? Having said that, I did enjoy the journey.
    • Amy Meyer
      Really liked your narrative style with this one: the parallel stories, on in a bar and one in the past. It worked well how you weaved them together. But I felt like they needed more glue to thematically tie them together. I wasn’t clear why this man was telling this story to his daughter’s boyfriend. Or why he’d wanted to meet in that particular bar. Maybe I missed something, but I thought with a few tweaks, you could give both stories more resonance by pulling them closer together. e.g. a lesson in the past inspiring a change in the future. Anyway, I enjoyed the story and the voice of the story teller. And I always enjoy a ghost story.
  • lcvalladares
    Yakushin Yurievich eagerly awaited her arrival; the famed White Lady would make her final appearance here and it was undoubtedly a moment of celebration. It had been difficult for Yakushin to purchase an entry ticket considering the crucial significance of the event albeit, fortunately, the affluent Mr. Valentionovich had provided numerous tickets to the entire selo which had granted even the poorest families access to the celebration. It was the greatest event Yakushin would presumably ever witness and he shared that with the entirety of Catholic Russia. The Catholic community was so minuscule and consequently, the announcement that this decade’s White Lady would be sacrificed in Russia was overwhelming with shocked bliss seeping into the souls of every Catholic citizen.

    Yakushin lingered by the entrance, despite his seat’s location near the back of the hall. He wanted to maximize this opportunity and consequently be one of the first to catch a glimpse of the famed Maria. He could only wonder about her; She was said to be someone of insane grace and beauty – A true goddess among mere humans. The air glistened as the heavy thudding of horses suppressed any conversations. It was then when he saw her.

    “Please welcome the White Lady…” The firm tone of her spokesman flooded the clean, bleached walls as the immense aura of their saviour enveloped the captive audience. Her porcelain face and whitened skin portrayed her as a doll providing a beautiful contrast with her flowing brown hair. She was the epitome of almost lifeless beauty, and despite the cloth obscuring her eyes, she strode with God-given grace through the doorway. She lacked any possession except an intricate beige fan and twig yet still radiated wealth and fortunate. It was truly remarkable.

    Yakushin resisted the urge to extend his arm towards her glowing dress as she altered her direction with ease towards an angel statue positioned in the far side of the glorious monument. The statue had specifically been built for the occasion, and considering the vitality, it had an unquantifiable number of detailed markings composing it; It was intended to mirror how she would stand before her symbolic execution. Yakushin was illiterate albeit his parents had read to him about the legend of the White Lady; Her title was rooted in mythology where she faded away absolving all attendees of their sins albeit in reality she was merely burned to a crisp after igniting herself; she would become a sacrifice like Christ himself, absorbing all sins as she burned. Hypnotically, Yakushin observed every movement; every magical motion further entranced him and probably the rest of the crowd. He would divert his attention to look if he wasn’t already so intensely pre-occupied. The White Lady danced towards the statue with multiple fantastical pirouettes and cavorts which eliminated even the slightest sentiment of distraction from solely focusing on her. No one could deny every perspective centred around her and it was that realization which disrupted Yakushin.

    He understood the sheer importance of her sacrifice and its reasoning. So why? Why did unease gradually consume Yakushin with every step taken by the woman? He couldn’t know and didn’t know, so he attempted to suppress it. However, regardless of his efforts, he couldn’t replicate the purity of the hopeful joy he’d experienced prior. In response, he didn’t entirely understand how to act.

    Yakushin had always been taught to respect authority above all whether that be the God, Pope or Government however he’d simultaneously learned from experience to trust his instincts. With that in mind, he gazed at the surrounding crowd; starry-eyed, they remained glued to the White Lady’s inspirational and alluring performance as she cornered the igniter. Yakushin had known this opportunity wasn’t one to waste and had studied the White Lady for hours before which led to his confidence that she had approximately four minutes left until ignition. Thus, he had four minutes to investigate what was upsetting him. Four. He wanted to laugh – He was being ridiculous, surely; this was and should be the best occurrence he would ever be fortunate enough to personally view and consequently why wasn’t he just relaxing and enjoying it? When he’d originally thought about attendance, he’d worried about the suffering of the White Lady however supposedly they never uttered any sounds of agony during their deaths. It was meant to be spiritual, as the Lady would rise as a spirit towards Heaven leaving the ash of our collective sins on Earth. Thus, any notions of upset he’d experienced had been eradicated abandoning his enjoyment and hence it was devastating he wasn’t blissful. He could only blame himself.

    The silence of the hall as merely one minute remained felt ethereal considering the liveliness the monument typically possessed and Yakushin pondered if that was the sole source of his agony. He wished that had been true, however, he knew the genuine source was more sinister. He had to hope he could pinpoint it as rapidly as possible. His curiosity and internal conflict regarding the origin of his worry was shattered by the seizure of the flame by the Lady and her branch. A clergyman walked behind her holding a single steel cross. They moved in harmony until they were right by the statue and upon reaching it, she lifted her burning twig in the symbolic act of touching haven.

    Yakushin leapt from the crowd as an emotional eruption occurred within him, moments before the lady brought her torch down. He sprinted out of the door just as she was meant to light herself on fire. Meant to. His head spun and his vision flickered as an impossibility happened before his eyes.

    Why wasn’t the Lady on fire? Her arms began to tremble with the ember mere inches from her dress. It was then when she swung it directly into the clergymen. Yet… The man hadn’t begun to burn – He’d merely faded until he left nothing more than a lingering skeleton. The cross released a tiny clunk as it dropped instantly to the floor. A collective scream emitted by the crowd was rapidly muted as the orange wood was flicked into the crowd. It took seconds.

    Yakushin had to blink. It couldn’t be real. It was impossible. The wealthy Valentiovich, the Igorievna sisters, the irritable Yakovna. They were all dead. Reduced to skulls before he could even process the first death. Regardless of it, the White Lady seemed unaffected. Yakushin was forced into engaging with her again as the sole survivor of her audience as she walked serenely towards the sea of skulls, leaning only to clutch the still-burning branch. It was unholy. She lifted it back towards the sky and utilizing spiritual power she transformed the room. The floor disintegrated to give way to the wild green, and the cross rose to pierce the ground with a gravestone now attached. The White Lady, blindfolded or not, swivelled towards him as she committed her final action. She brought the flame towards herself and in one movement hurled it towards him as she herself disappeared into ash. I could only watch as I awaited death. She was more than a lady – An angel. No, the angel of death.

    • RM York
      My, my, my. Interesting story, but I noticed a few things. One was heaven was misspelled as haven at one point, I think, or, as I prefer to say, a typo, and the other is this: She brought the flame towards herself and in one movement hurled it towards him as she herself disappeared into ash. I could only watch as I awaited death.

      There is a switch from 3rd person to 1st. I couldn’t put my finger on it right away, then suddenly realized what had occurred. It happens. If it was intentional, please explain your reasoning. I think you could clean the story up a little, but all in all, a good plot that turns the tables.

      • lcvalladares
        Thank you for your critique, RM York. Sorry for the typo, that was a poor error and I hope I can iron out typos in the future. The switch from 3rd to 1st was intentional, although re-reading it renders me unappreciative of its portrayal in reality. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of this, but many near-death experience survivors recall almost zooming out of their lives seconds before the event and thus you could consider the entire story narrated in the final moments of Yakushin’s life. I’m glad you liked it.
    • LC, your story is one that really builds on the detail of the picture prompt, and in an evocative and original way. The distortion of a religious ceremony for expiating sins creates a surreal and dream-like atmosphere, paving the way for an explosion of horror.

      I enjoyed the story, it flowed well and captured the imagination.

      As Roy says, there’s a bit of cleaning up to do. “Mr Valentinovich” has two different spellings for his name, neither of which I suspect are likely to be correct. Some sentences seem a bit long. I’m not one for making sentences too short and staccato, but e.g. “The White Lady danced towards the statue with multiple fantastical pirouettes and cavorts which eliminated even the slightest sentiment of distraction from solely focusing on her” seems a little convoluted (and a bit like it’s been through a translation engine?)

      • lcvalladares
        Many thanks, Andy! I appreciate the compliments. I am unfortunately not Russian and consequently used a name generator for Valentinovich’s name and thus I feel slightly idiotic for spelling it incorrectly. Regarding my flowery sentences, it’s a habit of mine which I must suppress but no, no translation engine. The only translation I utilized was ‘selo’ which just means a town with a church (Primarily Orthodox).
    • Susan WM
      Excellent description of events and the setting with an ending I didn’t see coming. There is a belief that when you are dying, you refer to yourself in the third person. I didn’t know if you were doing the opposite here with Yakushin, or if it was a mistake. I would have liked some voice or interaction with at least one other person there, but the listing of those who succumbed to the angel of death was spot on. I always appreciate any amount of dialogue, when appropriate, but having only his thoughts works too. I think you used the prompt nicely (if that is an word that can be used with such a dark enjoyable story). There are a few typos or spelling inconsistencies, but none so blatant as to detract from the story (for me). Then again, I have a personal battle with my typos getting past me. A couple of sentences required me to reread them as they almost seemed to ramble, but I’ve read the story three times and liked it more with each reading.
      • lcvalladares
        Thank you, Susan. I’m actually extremely appreciative someone picked up on that idea; I actually referenced my disappointment in it’s portrayal on another reply. Spelling/Typos are upsetting and I hope to suppress them in the future but I’m glad to be informed of them as they aid my future improvement. With the longer sentences, I have made a note to shorten them in the future.
    • Phil Town
      A rich story, lcv, with a very good premise for the White Lady: she will sacrifice herself and thereby save the souls of those present. The idea to locate the story in Russia helps to validate its mythological power. Then the very good ending, like the opening of the ark in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (beauty becomes something very terrible). Just to pick some holes … you use the conjunction ‘albeit’ three times. It’s not such a common conjunction, so it sticks out a bit. And I don’t think it’s used correctly, I’m afraid. Also, this: “It was truly remarkable.” Your description has already shown us this, so you don’t need to tell us. A very creative story, though.
      • Sarig Levin
        Enjoyed the story very much. The ending is powerful, though what I truly enjoyed was the somewhat Russian feel to it, taking your time in developing the story. I myself am fond of words that are not necessarily up-to-date, though personally felt the word albeit was over-used and could have been replaced with ‘Even though’ at places. Know what I mean? Anyway, very nicely done.
  • Alice Nelson


    Finding the Stairs Unlit
    By: Sarig Levin

    (And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
    Enacted on this same divan or bed;
    I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
    And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
    Bestows one final patronising kiss,
    And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .

    T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

    I was a young man once, long ago; a young man of Thebes who roamed the forests without a care in the world. Had I known then all that I now know, would I have at least watched my carefree amble as I stepped out of the thicket in search of bathing wood nymphs? Had I not been blinded, would I have had the foresight to stay clear of the god infested forest altogether and be spared all the menace bestowed upon me?

    I am an old man now, shivering in his bed. This age is foreign to me, and has been for much longer than I care to remember. In my feverous visions, however, I am still the beautiful young priestess of the Goddess Hera I used to be all those millennia ago.

    Oh, hot-tempered Hera; queen of the gods… You who thought to punish me by turning me into a woman for as inculpable an act as disturbing copulating snakes. You are long gone, you spiteful bitch; gone from the hearts and minds of the mortals you so scorned but on whose faith your very existence depended, while I’m still around. In a couple of decades or so, a young writer will base her phenomenal book on the story of my gender transformation, while an aging poet will include me in epic rumblings that would usher in a new era.

    Seven long years I spent as your priestess. As a tender maiden I made sweet love to men and bore their children as a blooming woman. And then you again punished me by taking that gift away from me. It is still as that alluring young woman, however, in her lily-white gown that I see myself in my visions of the future, her eyes dwelling under the cover of a silk scarf. For in my dreams she is blinded, as I later became at the exquisite sight of the bare Athena bathing in a forest stream. For with my blindness came the sight of things to come, while as a woman I had been blessed with seeing only the things that had already come to pass.

    Oh, Athena; the fairest and most unfair of all the gods… Was it not punishment enough that I lost my sight at the sight of your divine curves in the bristly morning mist? Did you have to grant me foresight as well, so I would be able to see all the balefulness the future holds? Alas, you are also gone, as I could have foretold had you only bothered to ask. You are long gone, you vestal shrew, while my visions continue to haunt me to this very day.

    Seven generations I’ve spent among the living, prophesizing the doom of fools and kings, never once setting foot outside the gates of Thebes, my home and sanctuary. Poor King Oedipus called me a fraud, for I could not bring myself to speak of what a renowned Austrian goat is now declaring to be a universal complex. Now, here’s a mother fucker if I never did see one.

    When I finally left the sturdy walls of my beloved city, so as to journey to the sacred spring at Tilphussa, Apollo’s arrow found me and put an end to my mortal life. Why the god of light and prophecy would want to kill a blind prophet forever remains a mystery to me. Nevertheless, when my own time thus finally came, Hades himself ushered me into the Underworld. Of all the gods, Hades alone was capable of compassion, for in his realm we were no longer mere mortals, and it was in his Asphodel Meadows that I’ve grazed for a timeless eternity.

    When visited by the legendary hero Odysseus, I have foreseen his escape from the Netherworld, and in his path I myself followed when it was time for me to ascend from the Underworld and resume my earthly being. For I had foreknown of the birth of an omniscient mono-god, and saw in my visions how the spreading belief in his earthly-spawn would in time conquer the hearts and minds of the people on whose faith the very existence of Hades depended. Thus, the realm of the dead, with its countless inhabitants, also faded out of existence, and there were no more gods to treat us mortals as their playthings.

    Only that I, as it turned out, was no longer mortal. The years caught up with me, as I ascended, and into this world I emerged the old man I had been when I had departed it. Nevertheless, I have not grown a day older in the two millennia that passed since. The old gods left me with this one final curse, and the new Gods do not care one way or the other about an old Thebesian and his visions of the future at the break of the twentieth century.

    To this very day I reside in Thebes, surrounded solely by my many offspring; no longer equal to the task of journeying away from this decaying town and seeing the world as you see it in my visions, gracious priestess of a long forgotten goddess. For even from behind your silk scarf you’ve seen swarms of invaders in red turbans washing over our beloved lands; heads being chopped off left and right in the land of the Gauls and the name of liberty; a titanic vessel made of steel and steam clashing with an icy Dracaenae in mid-ocean…

    In vein I tried to warn my fellow men, but who could hear the feeble voice of an old, bedridden man? More importantly, who would bother to listen? An occasional farmer would sometimes seek my advice, a hesitant bride; the mayor of a nearby town come election time. But only I am aware of the futility of endeavors to navigate their lives in this rushing stream. For a dark cloud is now brewing over Europe; covering the entire world in darkness that shall consume us all; filling my antiquated heart with so much terror I dread the hour of sleep.

    In my visions of late you have fallen back into the bleak, lifeless chambers of the Underworld, my poor priestess; your lily-white gown smeared with ashes and your delicate face now ghostly and pale. The floor of the shattered Hall of Judgement has sunk in many places, and from those sunken trenches human skeletons now disgorge, piling higher and higher in muted screams. You climb the mounding skeletons on your hands and knees, reaching up with the palms of your hands, as if desperately trying to warn the world of its pending doom. But only I know that the world does not listen; does not pay heed to the warnings of prophets and the wisdom of the ages.

    As it never has before, my dear;

    As it never will.

    • RM York
      A political comment at the end? If not, one could take it that way. At least in this country they could. I always feel I’ve opened a book obtained from an old dusty library when I read your work. Your style is reminiscent of writers from another time, almost etherial in it’s descriptions. Nice story, Sarig. Kept me interested.
      • Sarig Levin
        More of a comment about the human condition, but one is welcome to read into a story as one’s heart desires. My style, largely shaped by classic English literature and rooted in a novella I’m hoping to get published, I am most eager to diversify. With this specific prompt, however, which drew me into myth and legend, i couldn’t help myself. Thanks for your kind words, RM.
    • A very literary story, Sarig – a veritable torrent of cultural allusions pointing beyond the story, from Greek myths to Freud and various modern historical references such as the French Revolution, the Titanic and WW1, even gender politics. Tiresias the blind seer having an extended life. Cleverly done.

      There’s a great flow to the language to savour here, powerful imagery, epigrammatic sentences, all within a well-constructed narrative.

      I also think there’s a bit of an echo of Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach”, with its classical reference to Sophocles (who included Tiresias in his plays) and in its reflecting the ebbing of a faith, while “ignorant armies clash by night”.

      The narrator’s tone is high-flown and epic, as if spoken from the stage in a Greek tragedy. But this is punctuated with bathetic moments of everyday insults: “bitch … shrew …mother fucker” (the last an Oedipal joke) – these offer a counterpoint to the high dramatic language. Or perhaps jar a little, depending on how as a reader one responds.

      “The world does not listen” – or you could say/add that the world does not see, which would pick up on the blindness motif. The blind seer watches the days go past, same as it ever was.

      • Sarig Levin
        Thanks, Andy, and thank you for introducing me to Dover Beach. It’s a wonderful poem I have yet to have come across. Aye, slight jarring is what I had in mind. I believe that it is the purpose of all art, literature included, to challenge its audience; to provoke an emotional reaction, even if said reaction is shock or irritation.
    • Phil Town
      A very elegant story, Sarig. Your use of language is a pleasure in itself. I like the sudden bits of invective, making the reader, lulled into a trance by the language, sit up and react (although ‘mother-f*cker’ is a bit of a neologism, isn’t it? – maybe ‘b*st*rd’ would have been more appropriate?) Does it make sense to be addressing Athena when “You are long gone”? I must admit to being a little lost and frustrated with most of the classical references (not being very widely read), but that’s my fault really, not yours. Yes – elegant and meticulous, but a bit over this reader’s head.
    • I always enjoy your stories Sarig, even when they’re just okay, like this one.

      That’s because I really enjoy your writing. It’s incredibly elegant. I’m trying to build a functional hen house over here, and you’re right across the street trying to decide which type of architectural columns you wan to go with your decorative cornices on your two-story mansion. To finish the analogy, I don’t even know what a cornice is, and you’re carving them by hand in your front yard while talking on your cell phone. (It would probably piss me off if I wasn’t so good-natured and easy-going. (I’m exercising my hypen’s. Do you mind?)

      Which reminds me. When it comes to large houses, what I wonder is, do you necessarily require an extra large mailbox? If you live in a 22-bedroom mansion, does your mailbox have to be the size of a car? That’s what I’d like to know. I only say that so you won’t feel sorry for me.

      Normally, with a story like this I would say, ‘Don’t let your story get lost in the words.’ But actually, you have really good words, so you can get away with it. I’m familiar with T.S. Elliot nor ancient mythology, and so I imagine there were references to things that I didn’t get. (But I could be wrong. Don’t know.)

      Regardless, you have a wonderful writing style, Sarig, very distinctive, descriptive and entertaining, in and of itself. If it wasn’t for my tractor, I’d be terribly discouraged at this point.

      • Sarig,
        Here again I need to correct mistakes in my comments. I meant to say that ‘I am NOT familiar with T.S. Elliot,’ nor ancient mythology.
    • Amy Meyer
      I liked this whistlestop tour through a life. I felt like it was more like a summary than a complete story through, so it didn’t really grip me as much as it could have. Your writing is strong with an almost poetic cadence which I enjoyed. Well done!
  • Susan WM
    Enchanting Isabelle-1139
    Isabelle heard music coming from the ballroom. She raised herself from the bed and walked to the door of the small room where she had been sleeping. They were playing a waltz. She opened the door, walked out and looked over the balcony, keeping herself hidden behind a stone pillar. She saw the dressed-up party goers dancing and mingling, the sounds of their laughter reaching all the way up to where she stood. She crept back into the room, tip toeing even though she knew they couldn’t hear her. She sat on the bed and considered what to do. She wanted very badly to get closer, to dance among people. She ran her hands along the silky long white gown she wore. Her pretty dress for only her to see.

    She put her ear to the door. The music seemed louder, but she knew it was only her desire that made it seem so. She hummed the song she was so familiar with. Her voice like a heavenly bird. A sound that enchanted even the most hardened heart. When people heard her sing, arguments ceased, frowns disappeared, and laughter followed, even though they weren’t consciously aware of hearing her. Blessed with a great gift from birth, she knew if she could make her way down to the guests and sing, she would bring happiness and contentment.

    She picked up the silk fabric from her pillow. With trembling hands, she tied it around her head, covering her eyes. She mentally counted the steps from her room down to the ballroom. She had done it many times before. Before she opened the door, she turned back to the bed and retrieved her light from under the bed, not removing the blindfold to get accustomed to moving without sight. As she opened the door, the music reached her giving her the courage and determination to continue.

    She counted the steps to the staircase. Finding the banister where she knew it would be, she began her decent. She heard a woman laughing on the stairs beside her, the clinking of glasses and rustling of heavy silk and taffeta skirts. She smelled rich perfumes and cigar smoke on the fancy clothes. She walked back toward the dining room feeling fabric brushing her body and her out stretched hands. Isabelle stopped at one of the large pillars where she could hear the music as the orchestra played mere feet away. She moved her hand in time with the waltz, holding her light down low, behind her back. There was no need to show it yet.

    Someone had opened a door to the outside. She felt the breeze lifting her gown, the nice cool air in sharp contrast to the heat in the room. She made her way outside, bumping into a table that was not where it normally sat. She turned her head up to the sky and tried to envision the stars that must be out. What she wouldn’t give to see them. But not now. She heard raised voices coming from the trees away from the house. As she made her way closer to them, she stepped on leaves and small rocks, but barely felt them.

    The voices belonged to a couple. They were arguing. The woman was upset that the man was leaving on a trip. He was angry that she questioned him. Isabelle could hear the tears in the woman’s voice and began to softly sing to the couple. Before long, the man apologized, and Isabelle could hear the sounds of him whispering lovingly to the woman as he hugged her close. Isabelle smiled and stepped closer. How she longed to see them, to see what her gift had accomplished. But she didn’t dare. She peaked under her blindfold, seeing their feet close together. As she turned to go back to the house, she caught sight of a pair of familiar gray lace-up shoes from an era long ago. She stepped back and pulled the blindfold back down.

    “Hello Isabelle. Are you enjoying the music?”

    “Rory? Why are you here? Leave me alone. I’ve done nothing wrong.” Isabelle began to walk backwards toward the house, holding on to her blindfold.

    “I knew you couldn’t resist the music. You consider yourself a miracle worker, don’t you?”

    “No, please go. I’ll go back to my room. Please leave, Rory.” She heard her chuckle.

    “You are in no position to ask me to do anything. You will never be free of your sins.” Isabelle started to cry. “Weeping won’t help you. Careful, you’ll have to dry your eyes and remove your silly blindfold.”

    “I promise I’ll not leave my room. Let me go back now.” Isabelle gripped the blindfold and backed into the table as she tried to go back inside.

    “Aww, my little songbird. You want to leave the party already? Don’t you want to see all the guests in their pretty frocks? And more importantly have them see you in your beautiful gown? Come on, uncover your eyes so you can appear to them”.

    Rory mocked her as she backed into the staircase. Isabelle sobbed as she touched the sleeve of a woman talking to a group on the stairs, the woman oblivious. She felt the tears running down her face. As she reached up to wipe them away she felt Ro snatch the cloth from her head. She quickly covered her eyes with one hand and raised the torch with the other. She stretched her hand as high as she could, hoping the guests would look up at the strange light she held as a decoy. They needed to see anything except her eyes. She felt Rory try to pry her hand away. She made her way up the stairs, holding onto the light and covering her eyes. She ran up the stairs as best she could without tripping.

    “Aww, poor thing did you think I would forget? Get tired and move on to someone else just as despicable?” Ro called out.
    “Please, Rory. They are innocent, as was I.”
    “You were never innocent. Adulterers never are. And others will always pay. I bet you regret looking at the love of another now, don’t you? Your singing and batting of your eyes served you so well with my Stephanos. How do you like your pretty eyes now?”

    Rory was the most powerful and dark goddess and her vengeance upon Isabelle was swift and vicious. Isabelle could never look upon mortals without causing their death. She was doomed to forever wander blindly and only imagine the sights and smiles her singing created.

    She heard Rory laughing loudly as she slammed the door to her small room, kicking the aside the skulls of the poor innocent souls who were unlucky enough to have looked into the beautiful gray eyes of the cursed Isabelle.

    • RM York
      Interesting, Susan, you and I looked at the picture and reached different conclusions on the fact of the light and the blindfold. I like what you did with it, and your story is well done and well written. Only thing I really noticed was using Ro a couple of times. Was that intentional, or typos? I think Rory should have been used exclusively, as seeing Ro made me think a new character had suddenly been introduced. Not a big deal, but it did interrupt the flow for me. Nice original writing, (well, there was Medusa – but is there really anything new under the sun that someone hasn’t used, somewhere?)
      • Susan WM
        Thanks Roy. I started using Ro and then decided to use her full name – Rory. The ‘find and replace’ feature made a mess, so I tried to find all instances and missed a couple. That is annoying! One thing I hate is working too hard to keep track of too many different characters introduced too quickly (or at all). Much appreciate the feedback.
    • One more nice story from you, Susan. From the time Isabelle got up from bed till we got to know about the reason of her blindfold, you were able to hold my attention.
      I knew she couldn’t be a mere mortal, from the way she walked past the laughing woman on the stair, with out her knowledge. The last couple of paragraphs about Rory, the dark goddess and her great control over Isabelle simply strengthened my notion. Though I must state, in this context, that the conclusion turned out to be a hasty one as if you were running out of time or being mindful of the word limit.
      Whatever, Isabelle’s turns out to be, finally, both a credulous and creditable character. That’s what mattered to me and held the story together.
      Good luck with your story.
    • A very visually engaging story, Susan. This also picks up well on many aspects of the detail of the picture prompt. And a nice twist that I wasn’t expecting at all.

      Though – one of the reasons I didn’t suspect it is because until the end I assumed Rory was a boy. In the UK and Ireland the chances of finding a girl called Rory are extremely small. It means ‘red-haired king’. So I was assuming Isabelle was a former lover of Rory, or ‘he’ was a cruel father or something. I was way misdirected!
      I googled to see if Rory was ever a girl’s name, and apparently it is in about 1 in 4 instances in the USA. So I learned something as well as being entertained 🙂

      One other little thing something like 9 of the first 12 sentences begin ‘She’. Probably needs some variation.

      • Susan WM
        I agree – I only noticed when I pasted the story all the sentences beginning with “she”. Yep, I know two women (in the USA) named Rory, which is where I got the name. I wanted it as my daughter’s name but my husband had a vote. I never knew it was a male name in the UK and Ireland, so I learned something new today. Thank you for the feedback!
    • Phil Town
      A really great premise, Susan – with similar elements to the Medusa, only kind of reversed. Most of the story is us trying to figure out (and this is very pleasurable) who Isabelle is, why she’s special, what’s with the blindfold, etc. You give us little clues and we piece together the situation. Like Andy, I was a bit confused by ‘Rory’. And like Rathin, I felt the reveal of the curse at the end seems a little rushed and expositional – perhaps it could have been revealed through dialogue? But the basic premise is really strong.
    • Good story Susan. I like the way you have built up the suspense. All other comments have been said by Andy. A great read.
    • Amy Meyer
      Ooh I really liked this story and the concept. I was very intrigued from the start about why she couldn’t go downstairs and why she had to be blindfolded. Birdbox challenge maybe? Anyway, I really loved the sensory descriptions you gave and the way she was able to make her way around through knowledge of the building. I felt a little confused about exactly what was happening where, but I think that worked as a way of pulling us into the POV of someone who can’t see anything.
      I thought you answered my questions about why she was blindfolded as a great twist at the end. But I thought the way you presented it was a bit on the nose:

      “Isabelle could never look upon mortals without causing their death. She was doomed to forever wander blindly and only imagine the sights and smiles her singing created.”

      I thought you could have incorporated that information more subtly at the end.
      A wonderful gothic story!

  • RM York
    Gathering Spirits
    1196 words

    We were in the meadows picking wildflowers for my older sister’s impending wedding when we heard the low and distant murmuring of the village bells. The tones were soft at first, but gathered strength as the bell ringers warmed to their jobs. We stopped chattering and strained to hear the sound over the whispers of the wind as it chased itself through the forest beside us.

    Norah listened for a moment as the peal of the bells became louder, suddenly dropping her basket, wrapping both arms around her abdomen. She started to cry. I didn’t understand – what could be wrong?

    “It’s only the village bells, Norah,” I exclaimed. “Why are you crying?

    “I’m sorry,” she sobbed. She stood and wiped her eyes, her voice clearing. “It’s just … it’s that … I think I know why the bell are ringing; I … I fear it means Grandmother is dead.” As I listened, I thought she must be right.

    The sound was low and mournful, with only the large bells ringing in long, deep tones surrounding us as we stood knee deep in flowers, bursting with new life, while we may soon mourn the loss of another life, the Mother of the Village.

    “Come, Pareen,” she said. “We can come back if I’m wrong. If I’m right, there will be no wedding until after the Mourning Period. Instead, we must be ready for the Gathering.”

    ‘The Gathering?” I questioned.

    “Yes, where a new Mother of our Village will be chosen. You and I must be prepared to be selected.”

    “Selected? Me? I’m not old enough.”

    “Of course you are. Grandmother was younger than you when she was chosen.”

    As Norah said those words, I couldn’t imagine my grandmother as young as I. Now, she was but a husk of the grandmother I remember celebrating with on Harvest Day, just months ago.

    Then she started to be consumed with the wasting disease and it took it’s deadly toll quickly, leaving nothing more than pale, papery skin wrapped over a fragile pile of knobby bones. Tears came to my eyes as I thought of the beautiful woman my grandmother used to be. As we walked down the mountainside, I turned to Norah. “Perhaps now Grandmother will regain the beauty she once was when she crosses over to the other side.”

    “Hush that talk, Pareen,” she scolded. “Our grandmother is beautiful as she is. You must look deeper than skin and bones to see her beauty. Don’t let me hear such foolish talk again.”

    We saw our older sister, Jaldin, running toward us, holding the front of her skirt off the ground with two hands to prevent tripping as she ran. She was crying. We hurried toward her. “Norah, Pareen,” she cried. “She’s dead, she’s dead.”

    Norah and I hugged her in the midst of her sobbing. “We heard the bells; it’s something we’ve been expecting, Jaldin. Grandmother has been sick for several months now. We need to be strong.”

    Jaldin shook her head sobbing, “No, Norah, it’s … not Grandmother. It’s … it’s Mother.”

    “No,” cried Norah. “But how… why?”

    “I don’t know. I was told to fetch you. It was some sort of dreadful accident. Father is at the house waiting for us. We must hurry.”

    Breathlessly, we opened the door to the cottage and were immediately embraced by our father. “We do not have time for tears.” His voice was soft, but broken. “The ceremony is set for dusk this very evening.”

    “The ceremony?” I questioned. There would be no gathering, no choosing of a new Mother of the Village, since Grandmother was still with us.

    “There must be a ceremony. Your mother was to be the spirit guide for your grandmother’s soul to cross over. We now need a new spirit guide.

    “Yes, Father. Will Grandmother be going with us?”

    “She must make the journey on her own. Jaldin, you will assist Grandmother to be ready for the trip. Pareen, you will come with me to bring your mother home and help prepare her for the journey.”

    “Father, I cannot. I … I can’t, please don’t ask me to do this.”

    “Pareen, it is your duty. The highest honor a family can bestow on a mother is to have her youngest child be the last one to prepare and touch their Mother’s hand before she crosses over. Norah will assist you.”

    Numbly, I did as my father asked. I have since put the procedure from my mind. But I shall always cherish that last touch of Mother’s hand.

    The journey to the burial site was arduous. Our mother’s body was carefully borne on the back of a horse drawn cart, while Grandmother sat in the front with Father. We three daughters followed behind, wearing traditional white gowns. Following us came every villager as we all made our way through the canyons to finally gather at the family sepulcher.

    Grandmother asked Norah and Jaldin to take our mother’s body to her final resting place. Dusk was descending.

    Grandmother carefully climbed down from the wagon seat and started toward the sepulcher, slowly at first then moving gracefully, her white gown trailing, as she made her way.

    Reaching the site, she addressed us in a strong clear voice. “In the way of our Village, Diaya’s soul will soon cross over. We all bid her a pleasant journey. You were a faithful daughter. Farewell, my Diaya.” Then she turned to me. “Pareen, come and stand by my side.”

    “Yes, Grandmother.” As I approached the fading light played tricks on my mind. My grandmother appeared as young and beautiful as ever. There was no evidence of the sickness.

    Norah fitted a jeweled glove to my hand and placed a fan in it, as Jaldin blindfolded me with a soft white cloth. I could hear the hiss and feel the warmth of fire as a torch was placed in my hand. “Why are you doing this?” I whispered. “Was it not enough I had to prepare Mother for her journey?”

    My grandmother’s voice was clear as she helped me turn to the gathered villagers. “Hold the torch high,” she said. “So they can see that you carry the talismans for us.”

    My grandmother went on. “Pareen bears the symbols for our Village. The White Dress represents the absence of darkness. The jeweled glove shows the riches we create with our hands, The fan keeps away those spirits that would harm us.”

    I trembled with pride. “As the daughter of Diaya I am honored to be the Sprit Leader for her journey as she crosses over.”

    “Pareen,” she said to me, “I am to be Spirit Leader for Diaya.” Speaking to the assembled villagers she said, “The blindfold is to show us that those who truly see, do not see with their eyes, but with their heart.”

    “But what of the torch,” I whispered.

    “The torch is for you, Child, to light the way as our new Mother.”

    Grandmother started to walk away. She stopped, turned and reached for my hand. “It is my honor.” she said, “to have you be the last to touch my hand,” then she turned and walked into the sepulcher to join her daughter.

    • A touching matriarchal tale which does indeed have a timeless, mythical feel – a tale of transition and continuity with the torch being passed on to a new (#metoo?) generation.
      Elegant and deceptive simplicity in the writing – takes talent to achieve that, Roy, and makes for such a smooth read and great flow.

      (I guess the writing would be perfect but that for that missing question mark … And a missing hyphen … 🙂 …)

    • Ken Frape
      A beautifully drawn scene that I can see in my mind’s eye. I am sure this represents the cultural traditions of many people over the centuries where death was but a transition from one place to another. Blazing torches, blindfolds and other symbols add to your evocation of that time, that place.

      Father…..”his voice was soft but broken.” I love that phrase.

      Lovely piece of writing.

      Ken F

    • Phil Town
      A very nice mythical creation, Roy. You’ve used the picture well to imagine a coherent ceremony that’s really rather touching. I really like how you begin the story in the meadow and then take us, beckoned by the bells (although can bells ‘murmur’?) to the village. I wonder if there might not be one ceremony too many mentioned (Jaldin’s forthcoming wedding). I also wonder how all of the ceremonial elements are entirely new to Pareen; she would have heard about them before, wouldn’t she? (Although we don’t know how old she is – could we have been told?) But it’s a lovely story, with a positive feel, despite the deaths: there IS something beyond, and passing over is gentle.
    • A gentle mystical tale Roy. Great atmosphere.
    • Amy Meyer
      Great pace and dialogue. An intriguing story with a nice twist at the end.
  • You Leave me spell bound with this apparently mythical, mystical, magical story, Roy. There are times when I want to hate you as a writer. You are so far ahead that you seem to be an out of reach kind of star. But then I realize, after your story has soothed the heart that you are a guardian, guiding star, showing us the way to immortality (Forgive me if I am being too emotional here).
    I love all your stories. So far as this one is concerned, I like the names of the characters to begin with, Pareen, Norah, Diyah. The names add a touch of sublimity to this special family saga. The twists and suspense till the end, turn it into a cliffhanger. When I was preparing for the demise of Grandmother, I am met with the news of the sudden yet terrible loss of Mother. The restraint with which both the daughters react to Jaldin’s news teaches me that death is normal and has to be accepted as such as a result. I like the brief funeral speech of Grandma as well and Pareen’s appointment as the successor.
    You know, Roy, that given the time, I could have written more. But let me conclude by simply Thanking You for all your stories. God bless you and your progeny (?). Love you.
  • Amy Meyer
    by Amy Meyer (700 words)

    “Don’t look back,” warned Hades. He smirked at Orpheus and lounged back on his dark throne. “Such a delectable wife, you have. Sweet, sweet, Eurydice,” he said, his tongue flickering to his lips. Hades continued, “I know turning back will be deliciously tempting. So this is your test. You may leave underworld with your mouthwatering wife following just behind you. But don’t look back. Or she’ll be sent right back down to the underworld.”

    “How will I know she’s following me?” asked Orpheus.
    “Because I told you she is,” said Hades, standing up and taking a step towards Orpheus, who stood his ground. Hades sat back down on his throne and smiled, “And you’ll be able to hear her dainty little feet, walking just behind you.” He pointed to a narrow jagged passageway to the right of his throne dais. “That is the path to the world of the living. And here is your wife.”

    Eurydice stepped forward from behind the throne, her ghostly white dress matching the grey pall of her skin. Orpheus remembered finding her in the forest; her dress pulled own, the mud on her thighs, her death-cold skin, her swollen leg where the snake-bite poison had gripped her. He remembered the shouts as the servants found Aristaeus, the bee-keeper nearby, with a guilty face, muddy hands and no good reason to be running in the forest.

    Orpheus dragged his eyes away from her and walked to the passageway. He hesitated at the pitch black entrance.
    “Such a baby,” sighed Hades. He waved his hand and an intricately carved wooden torch appeared in Orpheus’ hand.

    Orpheus held up the light, revealing a rough stone stairway that snaked upwards through a stalactite-pockmarked cavern.
    “And remember, don’t turn back,” called Hades, as Orpheus stepped into the darkness.

    “Eurydice?” he called,”Are you there?”
    “I’m here, Orpheus,” she replied simply.
    Their footsteps echoed around the cavern as they walked. His fingers twitched to touch her.
    “I know, Eurydice,” he said.
    “What do you mean?”
    “I know what you were doing in the woods. I know about this sordid affair with the bee-keeper,” he spat on the floor, “Pathetic. Did you really think you could keep it from me? How dare you betray me like that. It was my birthday party. And you go wondering off into the forest with some peasant,”
    “I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you,”
    “Thing are going to change. I will not be cuckolded and humiliated. No! Do you know how I found out about the affair? The bee-keeper was found near your body. I questioned him about why he was there. ‘Oh, just a stroll,’ he says. So I fed him a few of his own bees. That made him change his tune! After that the whole sorry story came out.”
    “No, Orpheus, how could you? You tortured him.”
    “Save your tears for the trial. You will tell everyone how he attached you in the woods, how you fled from him,”
    “No!” her footsteps stopped. “I will not renounce Aristaeus. Never. You don’t understand. I love him,”
    “How dare you? I’m giving you a chance here. I came down here to give you a chance to redeem yourself. After all I’ve done for you. I’ve come to the very gates of hell to bring you back. Ungrateful girl,” he shouted. “I will not be made a cuckold! You will renounce him. Or I will send you back to hell,”
    “Please Orpheus. Was I not a good wife to you. Have you no mercy?”
    “You will renounce him!”
    “No, never,”
    “Then I have no use for you,” he said finally.
    He looked back.

    For a split second he saw her. Then, an great wind picked her up and pulled her back down the long passageway, down, down to the underworld. She tried to cling onto the stones of the path, but she was swept away out of sight.

    He smiled and walked on up the path to the light above. He had a bee-keeper to torture.

    • Lovely story, Amy. Towards the fag end of the contest, the word length of the story also helped.
      Your story based on Greek Mythology is brief, direct and takes us to the scene of action right at the start. The characters seem more believable than mythological in your hand. The dialogue and ending, just great.
      Enjoyed your story, Amy. Keep writing. Good luck.
      • Amy Meyer
        Thanks for your encouragement!
    • Phil Town
      That Orpheus – what a skunk! As soon as Hades tells us about the condition – Orpheus must not look back (why not? Seems like a bit of an arbitrary condition, really) – we know that he’s going to … just not for the reason he eventually does. Very economical writing (though maybe we could have had more description?), with a great last line.
    • Nice take on the Orpheus and Eurydice tale, Amy. Orpheus cast as a controlling and brutal man whose ‘love’ is bound up in his sense of self, his woman being valued as a possession. And Eurydice who stands up for herself, refusing to be an object of his desire. Very on point currently!
      • Amy Meyer
    • RM York
      Brevity can be a good thing, Amy, sometimes, and I think this was one of them. In general you had a tidy little story and I loved your ending of a lover spurned and cuckolded getting sweet revenge.

      The story has a couple of things you could fix, a typo here (an great wind) and I don’t think you need the word ‘simply’ after ‘she replied’ because we can see that it was a simple reply, no need to tell us, although conserving words wasn’t a necessity in a 700 word story with a limit of 1200.

      One of the things I think writers should be careful about is using descriptive phrases and trying to be original because they can get tripped up. The use of the phrase stalactite-pockmarked canyon is such an instance in my humble opinion. I read and reread that several times trying to envision the canyon. Stalactites in caves always protrude from the ceiling and stalagmites protrude from the ground (remember this memory mnemonic and you’ll always know which are which – the c in stalactite – ceiling and g in stalagmite – ground) and therefore are not pockmarks. Had the sentence read differently you might get away with it, but here stalactite and pockmarked being hyphenated makes them opposing modifiers tied together. Stalactite studded canyon, pockmarked canyon all would have worked.

      And, I had to laugh when Eurydice tells Orpheus after he confronts her about her adultery, “Was I not a good wife to you?” Yeah, that was LOL for me.

      • Amy Meyer
        Thanks for your comments! Good to know about the wording issue with the ‘stalactite-pockmarked canyon’.
  • Niall Richardson
    Final Remarks

    Words: 1199

    “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord.” Slowly I opened my eyes. What was this? The booming voice seemed to be projecting proverbs directly into my ear canals. It was as if the words were seeping into my very bones and awakening them. What was I doing here? The chanting, the piercing lights, it didn’t seem very… me. The world was a white wash of shapes, everything flowed around me in a river of haze.

    Okay, so sight wasn’t going to be much use. Why was I in a church? It had to be a church, didn’t it? No sane person would dare speak such nonsense in public. The last thing I remember is… driving- no, there were flashes. Flashes of blue and white and terror and… a hospital! Yes! That was it. Oh wait. Oh no. Does that mean…? Suddenly my thoughts came to a halt.

    I opened my eyes again and this time images flooded in. I was in a small, stone-walled church, hovering above what must have been two dozen dejected-looking people. Their suits, although fittingly dark, were fraying at the hems and one or two hadn’t even bothered to wear a jacket at all. At the front I could make out my mother and father, each holding on to the other in that way couples do when they don’t like something. My father’s shoulders were shaking, low sobs were issuing from his audibly contorted face. I wanted to tell them that it was okay. That I was here, beside them and that I wasn’t going anywhere. But of course, I was.

    Before me there laid a body which had once shown such promise. One which I had carried through the world in search of love and happiness. Where were those things now? Only now could I see how pathetic I had been. Someone had done me up like it was my wedding day. The white, moth-eaten dress hung loosely over the sides of the coffin. Yes. I was going somewhere alright, somewhere far removed from this crude world of unhappy endings.

    Hanging there, suspended in an air of dense sorrow, I began to feel the atmosphere change. What before had been solid, tangible objects became blurred. The macabre box my body laid in started to shimmer, drawing me closer. There was a new presence in the room. A new community of presences. I couldn’t see them or hear them, but they were there. I felt it, just as I had felt the vicar’s words alight me. As the sobbing crowd drifted further into their private microcosms of mourning, I became acutely aware that there were other souls around me. Just then my consciousness was flooded with voices.

    How many people had been ‘put to rest’ here? Hundreds, thousands probably, and now they were all talking to me at once. Lives streamed through my mind, each one a flipbook of horrors. These people weren’t at rest. They were screaming- no, shouting for their place in the universe. A relentless flow of heart-wrenching stories passed across my mind. It was overwhelming. Looking down at my lifeless form I tried to concentrate on just one. One valiant voice which might explain to me what was happening.

    There was a soldier, blinded by a mine in Baghdad, who had been killed, homeless on the streets. A 20-year-old paraplegic who had died while working on a major television show which never aired. Authors whose ideas would have changed the world had they lived to formulate them. How could I choose among so many saliently stories? After a minute or so of incessant pleas the reel of lives quieted slightly. They seemed to be scuttling away, and in doing so allowing one voice to preside over them all. My vision blurred. It was drawing me in.

    Suddenly I could see a little boy. He was crouched over in the corner of a small, concrete room. Outside the window I could hear gunshots. People were screaming. There was no mistaking the sounds of war. As if unaware of all this, the boy sat still, hands deep in his lap. It looked like he was writing something.

    Without knowing how I floated over to him, trying to get a look at what he was writing. The screaming had lessened a little, replaced only by an ominous humming sound from high above. This seemed to spur the boy on. His pen frantically tore at the page, making the writing almost illegible. I got closer and began to read. The English was broken, and the letters had a crippling slant to them, but I could just about make out the first line, it read:

    “To Mother, I want to say I love you.”

    There was an address in one corner, an English address. Somewhere in Oxfordshire. That was strange, God knows where this place was, but it certainly wasn’t England. I was about to try and decipher the rest when everything fell silent. It was an eerie, helpless silence. Out of nowhere there was an explosion, and then… blackness.

    I was back in the church. The vicar, now at the height of his speech, was gesticulating wildly, talking of God’s undying benevolence. Immediately the images returned. It was then that I realised what I had to do. What this whole experience was about.

    That poor boy, lost in the anonymity of war, had had one last wish. He had been the small token of love in an otherwise emotionless landscape. Why he had been writing to England I had no idea, but I knew how to make it right.

    The vicar was preparing to give his last remarks, inciting the cacophony of souls to become ever more fervent. It was a warning. Sinking down from my angelic perch on the rafters I raced through the rows of people. There were my cousins, pure boredom diluting their eyes. I looked in their bags. Nothing. The images were almost blinding now. Ah, there was my sister, and… her bag! Unsure of my newfound permeability I reached out to take it, half expecting my hand to pass straight through. Miraculously it worked. I picked it up and carried it over to an empty pew.

    It took me almost two minutes for me to write the letter. I had to pick out each word from a thousand others bombarding my mind. I folded it up and went back over to my sister, placing it next to her bag so that someone would see it.

    “And now, I hope you will join me in putting this beautiful young woman to rest.”

    Oh no. I could feel the air changing again. It was closing in on me, suffocating me. The images stopped. Despair filled my soul. This was it.

    A moment later the vicar bid his farewell and the crowd slowly got up to leave. Had anyone stayed behind they would have seen a small piece of paper dissolve as if by magic into the wooden floorboards below. As it was, however, no one had seen anything.

    • Love the story, Niall. And got even more out of it on the second reading.

      There’s something poignant, wistful, desperately sad too about the idea of a brief connection with all the incomplete lives described, and the wish for a final moment of connection with the living – which in the end is not to be. Also liked the descriptive balance between the parallel worlds of the solemn service in the church and the confused maelstrom of the ‘community of presences’ in the half-world beyond.

      Good and thought-provoking writing!

      • RM York
        Don’t have a lot of quibble with your story Niall, and enjoyed it, but there is one line I would like to see different, “And now I hope you will join me in putting this beautiful young woman to rest.” Somehow, the person who said it man or woman ‘hoping’ they would join him just seemed wrong. Most members of the cloth tell rather than ask. They might be polite, as in “please join me in putting this … and I’m not sure ‘beautiful young woman’ to rest, at this point would be something you would hear in a church. Perhaps, ‘gentle soul’ to rest, or something less #metoo movement than ‘beautiful young woman’. Take this with a grain of salt, it’s your story, but I would fix that if it were mine.
    • Amy Meyer
      An interesting concept- the recently dead attending their own funeral. Well written and pacy. I agree with the other comments- the paper being lost was a bit of a downner of an ending. But I enjoyed it overall.
  • Phil Town
    An inventive scene, Niall. The narrator’s confusion is well established (and why wouldn’t she be confused?!) The narrator’s determination to grant the little boy’s wish is admirable. I like how you describe things elliptically (e.g. the contents of the narrator’s letter; “an ominous humming sound from high above”). It’s a shame in the end that no one sees the letter … a little anti-climactic?
    • Niall Richardson
      Thank you for your comments, I definitely agree that the ending could have been more dramatic, the sense of impermanence I was going for didnt seem work.
  • Carrie Zylka

    Fealty Sworn In Blood by Carrie Zylka
    972 Words

    Ludovic gripped his stomach, desperately trying to keep his insides…inside….

    The sound of swords clashing, horses screaming, and men dying were all around him. He tried to slow his breathing and look for a solution. A French Christian, bright plumage in his helmet cried out and made a bee line for Ludovic, he flinched as one of his brothers appeared, deflecting the sword with his shield and driving the would-be killer back.

    His soul shivered as his ears picked up the faint keening wail from the north side of the battle. “Oh, Gods no….” He desperately looked around, his bloody face a mask of terror.

    There she was. He whipped his head about, lest she notice him. He wasn’t dead yet so she should pass him by if she came this way.

    Kicking his legs and grasping his stomach wound as tight as he could, he kicked himself backwards through the stinking muck. He pushed up against a fallen horse, trying to make himself inconspicuous. Pain lanced through him and he cried out in agony. The sword strike had penetrated his bowels and he knew if he didn’t get it sewn up soon, he would die a long and painful death. He wasn’t quite ready to head to Valhalla, he knew he should be all “fists raised ready to go”, but his Silja had been just a few months pregnant when they’d set sail and he was eager to meet his new son or daughter before he raised a mug with his dead battle brothers. He was surprised at the depth of *want* that coursed through him. He wanted to live, and that meant avoiding Kalma, the Death Goddess.

    He dared to look again and was dismayed to see how close she’d come. He sighed a sad, small sigh as he gazed upon her unholy loveliness. Her fiery locks streamed behind her, witness to the blood that drenched the battlefield. Her lips were set in grim determination as she moved slowly forward, hands outstretched, fingers lightly touching people as she walked. The blindfold across her eyes was black as night and he imagined her eyes to match.

    Her gown was snowy white and as elaborate as a wedding gown, full of strings of pearls and diamonds and expensive lace, with a train that stretched and flowed behind her as the wind frolicked with it. But her bodice was skillfully crafted silver armor, like none he’d ever seen. Her dress was streaked and spattered with blood, she’d been walking through the fallen for almost an hour, deciding which she would claim.

    Her head cocked to the side and he flinched as her blind gaze fell upon him. The deity began moving towards him and he began kicking desperately to get away.

    Dreadfully fast she was standing before him, he was disheartened to see they weren’t strands of pearls at all, her extravagant dress was made of lace stretched from sinew and the strands were tiny skulls laced together with fishing line. He nearly screamed as he realized each skull was still “alive”, like tiny people whose skin had been flayed off, they stretched jaws to scream silent screams and thrashed their heads to escape.

    “Goddess no….” He sobbed, shamelessly fearful before this unholy creature. “Odin protect me…” He begged and squeezed his eyes shut.
    “Begone from here dead wench.” A mighty voice boomed over him. “You are not welcome here.”

    “I’m not welcome anywhere…” Her voice was like honey flavored poison, full of sweet and deadly promises.

    “Begone, this one is under my protection.”

    He cracked open an eye in time to see her hateful face twist in fury, the beauty fleeing, and her lips curving downward like deadly blades. She hissed at the figure standing protectively over him and took a determined step forward.

    Ludovic winced as the figure drew a sword and he heard feral snarling from above the horse under which he’d taken refuge. Hearing the cats scream in anger and fury, Ludovic’s heart lurched, realizing which deity had come to his rescue.

    Freyja threw back her cloak, golden braids streaming in the harsh wind and the sounds of battle grew quiet, he looked up and saw two large cats crouched on the horse corpse, ready to spring at this creature that would challenge their mistress.

    “Tregul, Bygul…” He whispered and both cat’s ears twitched at the mention of their name.

    “If you care to battle then bring forth your hordes of demons, I’ve claimed this battle field for Fólkvangr and will not allow you to defile my warriors.” Freyja took a ready stance, her armor appearing and shield shining brilliantly in the haze of smoke.

    Kalma snarled in rage, knowing she was no match for the greatest of all Shield Maidens. “Have your day bitch, but beware, when you are not looking, I will steal his children out from under your watchful eye.” She hissed in Ludovic’s direction. She began shifting backward. “I’ll eat them in front on him and gut his pretty wife before he joins you in Fólkvangr…” Her voice faded even as her blindfolded form vanished into the thickening smoke.

    Freyja turned to the sound of Ludovic laughing. “I’ll not survive this wound, so the joke is on her!” He chuckled deliriously.

    The Goddess knelt and placed her hand on his stomach. Ludovic was entranced by the Brísingamen, beautiful in the gloom and he did not feel his skin knit back together. Freyja smiled and stood up. “You’ll not join me in Fólkvangr just yet dear Ludovic. But be wary, Kalma the Death Goddess will make good on her curse. Your devotion to me must never waiver. As long as your fealty to me is strong, you’ll not suffer her wrath.”

    Ludovic knelt before her and pushed his head into the mud. “Forever, my oath to you.”

    • A great tale Carrie. This genre is your forte. Blessings
    • Great story, Carrie. You know you people are making it extremely difficult for someone like me to pick my Top-5. I read Amy’s in the morning and thought that with Amy’s, I had finished reading all the great stories. And now you turn up from your self-imposed hibernation to turn the tables once more. And I saw a couple of more contributions from Ilana and Ken glaring in close pursuit on my mobile. I simply don’t know what to do!
      Now with the addition of each new story ( it is really great that F2C is finally gaining momentum and getting the attention it deserves), my loyalty to the stories starts wavering and I find it very difficult to come to a decision promptly without glancing through the stories again. And, by the way, why do some of our friends post their stories at the eleventh hour? Does late posting, human memory being short and what it is, increase the chances of success more? Whatever, let me just tell you that I enjoyed reading your story. It sure is a black, dark beauty
      That’s all I have time for, my friend, as I have no intention of missing out on two of my favourite authors, Ken and Ilana, before I play fire with fire. Good luck.
      • Carrie Zylka

        Hahaha! Thank you for the kind words! Reading through the stories, I am definitely going to have a hard time choosing the top five.
        Work has been running me ragged, last week I was out of town at a conference. I didn’t even think I would get a story in this week, but I’m glad I was able to.

        My New Year’s Resolution should be to get a story in within the first 7 days of a post!

    • Pacey story with a vulnerable male hero and two powerful women with claims over him – works very well, Carrie. I especially like the descriptive language and phrases with sharp contrasts like “unholy loveliness”, and “voice was like honey flavored poison, full of sweet and deadly promises.”
      Ideal tone for the heroic and graphic subject matter.
    • RM York
      I’m reasonably sure you are descended from Viking blood and somewhere in your previous ‘dna’ experiences with those ancestors you were on those ancient battlefields. Either that or the archery tournament got to you and you had an out of body experience to write about.

      As Andy pointed out about this line: Her voice was like honey flavored poison, full of sweet and deadly promises. EXCELLENT and I promise you I am probably going to write a variation of it in one of my stories somewhere. Loved it.

      Good story Carrie, I can always count on you to make blood and guts somehow beautiful. That’s a compliment and heartfelt.

    • Amy Meyer
      Very visceral writing describing the wound and the battlefield. I liked the battle of the gods at the end.
  • The Wedding Dress
    The voluminous folds of the white dress swirled around her ankles as Rachel swiftly climbed the stairway to the attic. She did not want to go up, but had no choice. They were coming. Moshe told her, no demanded she go. If there was to be a future, she must.

    The polished wooden door fitted tight. It could be locked, only from the inside. There was no handle on the outside. Once she was safely inside, she knew that it would become a part of the wooden roof. Moshe would take the ladder away and rest it against the second attic which masked the fact that there were in fact two attics.

    Moshe and her father had made it appear that there was only the one. They had built a wall space between the two attics so that sound would not carry. However, they had made one mistake. There were two skylights. The bigger one on the south side of the roof poured light into the main attic. The smaller north skylight allowed light into their hiding place. That would not become significant until much later.

    A smooth click; then she slid the three beams across and clamped them down. The pantry took up almost a third of the space and was well stocked. The hydroponic garden would take the water from her bath and the washing up. Nothing had been left to chance. The L shaped space had a small living quarters that doubled as a dining and kitchen area.

    Her bed was a sofa during the day. She exercised daily by walking the perimeter of her living quarters through the gardens to her pantry and back at least twice on the hour unless there was someone in the house below or in next door’s attic. The roof of the whole house had been made out of the solar tiles which were her father’s invention. She had to wait until it was safe.

    After Moshe and her father had secured her in the attic, she heard the door to the house being smashed in. She heard the screams. She heard the blows landing on flesh. She heard the demands. She could not hear her father or Moshe’s replies.
    Thud. THUMP! SMACK! SPLAT! THUD! She shuddered with each blow. She imagined the impact on two men she loved more than life itself. She curled into a small ball of fear on the sofa cradling her stomach, biting into the pillow to stifle her fearful sobs.

    Then there was quiet. A deadly calm. Boots thumped around the rooms downstairs. She traced the sound of their progress through the bedrooms and bathrooms. She heard them overturn beds and empty cupboards. They were looking for her.

    “Where is she, Yaccov?”

    “I know not Lord!” Her father’s voice, respectful, even she could not detect the fear he must be feeling.

    ‘WHERE IS SHE? Your beloved daughter? You know what is my due, don’t you? I WILL HAVE WHAT IS MINE!”

    “I am sorry Sire, but she left last night. To the east. To buy goods for her wedding.”

    “So, you would let your precious virgin daughter travel alone? Through the woods to the city, would you?” The voice of the Laird sounded soft and dangerous. “Answer me!”

    “No Sire, she went with her intended’s mother and sister.”

    “NO SHE DID NOT!” The man roared like a deranged bull. “BRING THEM!” He ordered. From above she heard her father’s sobbing wail of grief cut through the floor like a sword, ragged and terrible.

    Moshe’s howl of sheer horror and loathing, made her bite her lips until the blood ran over her chin.

    “We had some fun with them. Before…they unfortunately passed.” The Laird’s leering laughter echoed. “BEAT THEM UNTIL THEY TELL US WHERE THE WENCH HAS FLED. I WILL HAVE WHAT IS DUE TO ME!”

    All she heard for the next hour or more were the blows rained on the two men with fists, boots and cudgels. Occasionally, a grunt or moan of pain punctured the sound of blows, smashing crockery and clang of kitchen ware being scattered and splintering of wood.

    Then the sounds of boots marching to the door as the Laird and his men left the house.

    Finally silence.

    She knew her father and her brother were no longer of this world. She had hoped they were alive, but it was a false hope she knew. She knew she could not descend to the house without them or someone knowing where she was. Someone needed to know where the secret door to the second attic was. There was only one other person who knew. Her betrothed, Josef. She hoped he was far away and not languishing in the Laird’s dungeon. She hoped he had been able to flee.

    She dared not attempt to leap down. It was four metres to the slate floor. She would obviously break an ankle or leg. She lay on the floor of her attic and sobbed, her ear pressed to the wooden floor hoping to hear some sounds of life.

    When signs of life came, it was wild and predatory. Wolves’ feet clicked over the floor to stop and she heard sniffing and howls. Then, there came the sound of flesh being torn and rendered apart. Bones crunching and snarling as the pack fought over the morsels of tasty human flesh. The next day the pack was driven off by a family of bears. There was more shifting of furniture and thumps and thuds of packages and food scraps from the ransacked pantry being scavenged.
    For seven days she mourned, not eating nor dressing. She rent her clothes, scratched her face, ripping at her long dark tresses, but dared not howl as she wanted.

    Who knows where the Laird’s men would be and the Laird himself. If they happened to chance by, she did not want them to know she was still among the living. She knew that every bride on his estate had to be with him on their wedding night. It was why many of the estate families’ first born children often had dark olive complexions even when both parents were fair.
    Many fled, but could never return. Many Lairds renounced the custom as barbaric and uncivilised, but some were uncouth like their Laird enough to demand that right and more of every young virgin bride.

    Weeks passed. The dress hung loose on her shoulders and slipped down revealing sharp bones, where once had been the warm vibrant flesh.

    She began to talk to her father, and her brother. She talked about Josef and his mother Leah, and his beautiful sweet innocent sister Tamara. Often she would rise to dance, her feet tapping lightly on the floor, sometimes nearly tripping over the hem of her dress which brushed the floor, now she had lost so much weight.

    She danced more often until she fell that last time and went to sleep. It was a deep sleep that allowed her to meet her long dead mother, her father, Moshe and then, Leah and Tamara. They danced together forever.

    There in the attic, Josef found her three months after that fateful day.

    • The story gets serious, after the initial descriptions and setting, from the time Rachel hears the screams. And once it gets serious, there is no stopping its flow and suspense.
      It is sad to think that Rachel died such a lonely and miserable death. But what is really heartening is to know that her people didn’t surrender to the Laird tamely and preferred death to honour. The concluding paragraphs are just too good to be appreciated in words.
      Thank you, Ilana, for a very poignant story of parental love and sacrifice, on the one hand, and the domination and damnation of the tenants by the landlords since time immemorial.
      • Ilana L
        Thanks MB for your kind words and encouragement.
    • A really sad story of innocence and oppression, where misery piles on misery. A mythical, or possibly timeless setting mixing medieval and modern and various cultures: Scottish laird, Jewish names (the hidden attic is very evocative alongside the names), and an ancien regime ‘droit de seigneur’ at the heart of the story.
      Very interesting and original combination.
    • RM York
      Beautiful ending, although I think you were a bit wordy in the bulk of the story. I recognize that because I do that a lot. When I wrote my story and looked for the word count I was already at 1348 and still had more to write. I had to work at it to get it down to under 1200.

      I know you are pressed for time, trying as you are to continue writing in the midst of trying to make a living, and I do hope that things are going better for you with your new move and job? Yes? A little judicious editing and you would make this story so much better, as I know you can. And I’m not sure that the last line of the next to the last paragraph wouldn’t have been a better ending. I don’t think it was really germane to the story that Josef found her, and how long later. Just – They danced together forever. That pretty much wraps it up.

      • Ilana L
        You are right Roy. I am in the throes of packing, organising finances on which my life depends and that of my son and my goats and our cat Mitzi. 🙂 And wanting to do some research and planning for the coming academic year as well as
        the distraction of receiving vile emails littered with lies about yours truly from a Nazi cousin who is obviously inspired to a vicious diatribe by an equally anti-Semitic SIL who lives in Minnesota USA. I guess with the long winters coming on and minus temperatures there was nothing better to do than to think of ways to hurt me. Amazing that someone can be bothered to write such nasty tripe, but it gives me grist to create characters based on real people. LOL
        Two friends who have seen the emails she sent me after my mother’s death, plus a counsellor have defined her as a total controlling narcissist who has to be the centre of attention and believe that what irks her most is my refusal to fawn over her because she’s married to my brother. I don’t even have to like some of the things my brother has done or even aspects of his character, let alone someone he is married to.
        I prefer stories of enduring love and honesty, where people over come great challenges to live good lives; not return of the living dead nor the Zombie Apocalypse.
        I will give more time to my writing this year. We have to finalise the contract on this rented place with a paddock. Yah, I will have my lovely goat girls next door to me and won’t they love that. Getting treats from Mummy living next to them now instead of paying agistment and travelling 40 kms a day, twice going with 10 km journey there and back to feed and water and milk. I will save time and money. I want to build the goaties a playground and just relax and teach my son and write and learn myself as well as teach at two campuses. A university campus and a campus for kids who have had some life challenges and fallen through the cracks in their schooling. We hope to buy land and build. I am intending to save money to buy three to five acres and build an environmentally friendly hay bale house and stables with a milk shed to breed my precious American /French Alpines.
        • Ken Frape
          Hi Ilana,

          I read your message with sorrow and sadness. No-one should have to live with that kind of abuse. However, I think I can see some light at the end of your tunnel of darkness. A friend of mine, who is a singer-songwriter, says that she never produces good songs when everything is going well in her life. She needs angst and troubles to get her creative juices flowing.
          So, in a nutshell, if you can do it, let the situation fuel your creativity. Thus, you will grow and your detractors will keep on feeding you.
          Wishing you well,
          Ken F ( Ken 2)

    • Amy Meyer
      Jeez. Bloody and visceral. But not gory, which I appreciated as someone with a bit of a delicate stomach for stuff like that. The beginning description on the sneaky self sufficient flat make the whole thing sound pretty fun, but then there is the death of the characters will to live. Very powerful stuff.
    • Ilana,
      I think your writing is fabulous. Despite the setting and circumstances of your story, and the unfortunate resolution, the writing was really, really quite excellent. This is not really my type of genre, nor was it a feel-good or cheerful story and yet, the telling of it is so clear and powerful, I found it to be quite compelling reading.
  • The Disposition Of Chlorina Dreadmore.
    by ken cartisano
    1129 words.

    It would be the worst Grand Opening in Big-Mart’s history.

    Owing in part to Dave Duggin, a bit of a brawler, new in town, fleeing a city where he was too well known and deeply in debt to the wrong kind of people. His night job at the new Big-Mart was part of the starting-over process that couldn’t be avoided.

    That’s where he met Chlorina Dreadmore.

    Tonight she wore a simple, white, knee-length dress, reminiscent of the late 50’s. Shy at first, or perhaps sad, after a few nights she began to ‘drift’ closer to Dave’s workstation yet still vigorously dedicated to ignoring him. He had no idea what her job was, but she worked the same hours he did.

    The surge of hope he felt was dashed when she addressed him. “Look sharp. Here comes the boss.”

    As if on cue, the night manager rounded the end of a nearby aisle, and approached Dave’s workstation. “Dave Duggin, right?”

    Dave nodded. “That’s right.” They shook hands.

    “You settling in all right? What’s it been? A week?”

    “Yessir. Seven days.”

    “Everything all right? No problems?”

    “Everything’s fine, sir.”

    “Okay. You need anything, just call.”

    As soon as he was out of earshot Dave said, “I guess I should thank you for the warning. Does thee uh, manager always ignore you like that?”

    “We don’t see eye to eye,” she said.

    “Pardon me for asking,” Dave said, “but—what exactly do you do here?”

    “I spend most of my nights in the shadows, chiseling my way through the concrete floor.”

    He was puzzled, then amused, then skeptical. After gauging his reaction, she said, “Come, I’ll show you.”

    He followed her into the warehouse, like a male moth, drawn to her sizzling hourglass figure, (but admittedly less enthralled with her musky perfume.) She led him to a poorly lit corner of the fertilizer section and indicated a hand-cart that was parked there. Following her instructions, he moved the cart a few feet away to reveal a shallow indentation chiseled out of the concrete floor.

    Dave frowned and looked around as Chlorina came over and stood next to him. He could feel the delicate fabric of her dress just brushing his forearm.

    Row upon row of organic compounds were stacked on pallets and towered above them on metal shelving. There wasn’t another soul in the cavernous room. Still… “It’s not very deep…” he said, “but…how come nobody notices what you’re doing here? Don’t they have surveillance cameras?” He noticed one and pointed it out. “There’s one right there.”

    She was unconcerned. “Disconnected. Most of them are for show. There’s only us, the manager, and two security guards.” She shrugged. “If they knew what I was doing, don’t you think they would try to stop me?”

    “What about the other workers? The day shift?”

    She shrugged. “I disable the cart at the end of my shift, and since it’s not in the way, there’s no reason for anyone to move it.” A hand-written ‘out-of-order’ sign hung from the handle.

    “You have tools?” He asked.

    She led him to a utility shed with various cleaning supplies, hoses, brooms, shovels, hammers and chisels.

    “Why?” He asked, faintly. “What’re you after?”

    “I’m not sure if I can trust you.”

    “Trust ME?” He took a step back. “You’re the one digging a hole in the floor. I’m no thief,” he sputtered, “or treasure hunter, or… whatever you are.”

    Her response was unexpected.

    “I’m not stealing anything, Dave. I’m… returning…something.” Fearing she may have misjudged him she said, “You don’t have to help me, Dave. I’ll do it myself.” She seemed to shrink at the prospect.

    The phrase ‘don’t ruin your fabulous new career’ popped into his head, and Dave said, “I… I’ll bet I could cut through that slab before the sun comes up. If I don’t get interrupted.”

    “Could you?” She exuded gratitude, love, awe. She touched him gently on the shoulder.

    Dave hesitated. “What’s your name?”

    A large cooling unit suddenly roared to deafening life.

    “Chlorina, eh?” A moment passed and he said, “Alright. You go watch the door. I’ll make mince-meat of this floor.”

    With that, he grabbed a fresh pair of gloves off a display rack, and approached the hole with a brand new, $49.00 hardened-steel pick-ax.


    In a darkened office at the far end of the massive store, a uniformed security guard named Josh cursed under his breath. His partner, Gus, reacted. “Don’t tell me.”

    “Yup. We got another digger.”

    Gus rolled his chair over to Josh’s monitor. “Son-of-a-bitch. What’s it been, a week?”

    “Yeah,” Josh said. They both watched him attack the floor with such aggression that chunks of splintered concrete littered the floor all around him. Josh had seen more than two dozen previous employees make similar attempts.

    “I thought we were done with this shit,” Gus muttered as he rose from his chair.

    But Josh held up a hand, “Wait. Hold on a second. This is an existing hole. What if we give him a few more minutes…” He swiveled around and looked at Gus. “He might just get through the floor.”

    “And? How is that a good thing?”

    “Aren’t you a little curious as to what’s under that floor? What they’re all looking for?”

    “No.” Gus replied. “Dirt?”

    Josh pulled his attention from the monitor with effort. “Dirt? Try bodies, man. There used to be an old homestead here, with family members buried on the property; and there are verified reports that, rather than move the bodies, the city gave the corporation permission to build right on top of the graves.”


    “So? So over a dozen people in the last two months have been hired to work the night-shift and they all got a sudden compulsion to carve holes in the stockroom floor, and it never occurred to you that there might be something buried there?”

    Gus sneered. “They’re nuts. You of all people should know that. We can see them talking to themselves. They’re obviously delusional.”

    “Are they? Talking to themselves? Maybe she’s just trying to rest in peace?”

    Gus held up his index finger. “Don’t go there. I don’t want to hear one word about Chlorina ‘Dreadnaught’ tonight.”

    “It’s Dreadmore, but you’re missing the point, Gus. They don’t go nuts until they start working here. Specifically in the stockroom.”

    They put their jackets on in silence. Neither spoke as they locked the office door and headed for the stockroom. Upon arrival, they pushed open the doors to find Dave resting on a hand-cart, looking dazed and tired, but unrepentant. To Dave’s credit, dark-brown, dirt lay strewn among the chunks of concrete. But in a space so large, it was hard to imagine anything squeezing through a hole that small, other than a very determined soul.

    • Gonna be a long night
      It’s gonna be all right
      On the nightshift
      Oh you found another home
      I know you’re not alone
      On the nightshift

      Chlorina Dreadmore
      She ain’t dead no more
      On the nightshift …. ♫

      Entertaining and well-written story, as always, Ken 🙂

    • Amy Meyer
      I love the name Chlorine Dreadmore. Fabulous. And a really great ghost story. I love the idea that they keep getting people starting working and getting what looks like an uncontrollable urge to smash up the floor. I wondered whether your ending could have been a bit more punchy– it felt like the ghost story didn’t really get resolved. And we didn’t find out if Dave got to keep his job.
      I really liked the contrast of the ethereal ghosts and the fed up security guards. And having lots of dialogue really made it read very pacy. Great story.
      • Thanks Amy,
        I appreciate your comments and concur with your criticism. The ending lacked punch. I spent so much time just trying to make the story readable that I ran out of time to improve it beyond what it is,
  • Alice Nelson

    Waiting for votes from Robert Emmett, Lucas Valladares, and of course Ken Cartisano 🙂 You still have until 1pm EST.

  • Alice Nelson


    1st Place – Capturing Perfection by Andy Lake
    2nd Place – The Disposition Of Chlorina Dreadmore by Ken Cartisano
    3rd Place – The Angel In The White Dress by Ken Frape
    4th Place – The Wedding Dress by Illana Leeds
    5th Place – Gathering Spirits by RM York
    6th Place – Fealty Sworn In Blood by Carrie Zylka
    7th Place – Enchanting Isabelle by Susan Wright McKeever
    8th Place – Pageant by Phil Town
    9th Place – The Prayer (Of A Beautiful Woman) by Rathin Bhattacharjee
    10th Place – Final Remarks by Niall Richardson
    11th Place – Finding the Stairs Unlit by Sarig Levin
    12th Place – Don’t Look Back by Amy Meyer

    Favorite Character – Andy Lake’s Narrator
    Best Use of Dialogue – Capturing Perfection by Andy Lake


    • Congrats, Andy. You are back with a bang, buddy. The last contest was one of the toughest in recent times and to have won the contest in such a style, is simply great.
      Congratulations to Ken 1 and 2 too, for I have never shied away from loving you.
    • Susan WM
      Congrats, Andy!!
    • Sarig Levin
      Congratz, Andy. An excellent story indeed.
  • whaaaaaaaaaat? No way. Congratulations Andy. Wonderful writing. (I wonder if it was unanimous?) I almost forgot about your story and then at the last minute, I remembered the story, the plot, the characters, the teasers and the reveal. How good the writing was. Everything. (Except for the title. I couldn’t remember the title. Still don’t. Maybe you should re-name it to something catchy like, ‘Fifty Shades of Gray Tractors.”) Or more cryptically, ‘F-Stop.’ Or ‘Focus.’ (I’m serious. I’m actually trying to rename your story. What nerve, eh?)

    Congratulations again. A well deserved win, you sly devil.

  • Phil Town
    Congratulations, Andy! It really is good to have you back. Hope you stay!
    • Hey thanks, Alice, Rathin, Susan, Ken, Phil – and everyone! Well that’s a surprise – and an unexpected one with the quality of the writing from everyone!

      As well as congratulations to the folks up top, just think of the quality of the writing, some of the sheer beautiful language and originality, from the guys down at the other end of the list as well! Can’t have been much in it – I know my top 5 choices were very hard to decide. But I think it’s been one of the most enjoyable set of stories ever.

      Also very pleasant bit of news right now as I’ve spent the last few hours fighting with IT – a new printer that doesn’t want to connect to anything, reconfiguring the router, checking out this and that online, drowning in acronyms and technobabble, etc etc grrrr – but all up and running now!
      Hm, gives me an idea for next prompt, “What’s really going on?”

  • Ilana L
    Congratulations Andy. Great story and also Ken whose story I loved; actually both stories loved. It was so hard to decide this week’s ranking. I would have given prizes to everyone. Simply marvellous stories.
    • Many thanks, Ilana. “Prizes to everyone” – agreed.

      Including Mr Valladares – I liked that one too, shame to drop out.

  • RM York
    Good job everybody. Thirteen stories, and some damn good writing. Good little group we got going here. I hope more people jump on board, like Ken 2, Susan, Amy have and grace us with their stories. Well done.

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