Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “The Service”

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

Story Requirements: could be military service, could be dinner service, servant, or just a waiter etc. The word has enormous potential to make it what you will.

Word Count: 1200

Incentive: Winner will receive choice of $5 Starbucks Gift Card or $5 Kindle Gift Card

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

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

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must be less than 1200 words.

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

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***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Alice Nelson per the Writing Prompt Roster.

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

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43 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “The Service”

  • Ken Allen
    A Table for Won

    Pierre Patron draws a deep breath from his cigarette causing the end to glow brightly. It illuminates the smoke whispers from several remnants that had been discarded in an ashtray that sits in the centre of the table. He rests his shaking hand next to the tray and exhales slowly, letting the smoke fill his vision. To me, he looks like the devil emerging from the brimstone, on the hunt for more souls to join his army. A bead of sweat develops on my forehead and it runs a trail down my nose. I am too nervous to move, to wipe it away because one does not simply do that sort of thing in the presence of Pierre Patron.

    “You know what you must do,” he says. His accent is thick with dirty Parisian alleyways instead of the chimes of aristocracy he portrays.

    I nod, afraid to utter even a single syllable. My throat is dry, closed up. My hands are clammy. My stomach is turning in ways that mystify physics.

    “Do you realise how long we’ve been waiting for this opportunity?” He takes another slow drag.
    I nod, just enough that I think he understands my answer. My top button is done up and is unbearably tight.

    “What?!” He barks. “Cat got your fucking tongue or something?”

    “N-n-n-o,” I stutter, fighting hard to keep my composure in the building heat. I never wanted this job, but I need it. It is not wise to be in the city without a job, and more so to cross Pierre Patron.

    “Woo Won is the biggest asshole I know, and he is coming here tonight. And if we do this right, it will be his last. He’s been a thorn in my ass ever since I came to this flea-ridden town, ever since he dethroned Bertle Brinkinwine as the, how you say, top dog. You’ve got your job to do … do your fucking job.”

    The last person who disobeyed Pierre Patron, an obese screw-up called Deegan Duggery, ended up in his kitchen… and never heard from again … however, he did taste very much like chicken.

    “I … I won’t let you down,” I say. My heart is racing, each beat a punch in my chest.

    Pierre gently lays his cigarette in the ashtray. “You had better not, you snivelling little shit.” His hands move fast and I don’t see where the meat cleaver materialises from until it is wedged into the table in front of me. It tremors from the impact like a metronome. Tears form in my eyes. He ignores them.

    “We have intelligence to suggest Won is on his way. Chef Clement is in the kitchen as we speak making final preparations.” He laughs, and I can’t tell if it’s with nervousness or madness. I think the latter.

    “It is my mother’s mother’s recipe you know. It was saved during the battle of Verdun in World War One. It survived the Nazi’s in Oradour-sur-Glane during World War Two.” He leans across the table. “Original in every respect.” He leans back, the chair arguing under his weight. He digs in his pocket to reveal a vial of clear liquid. “That is, until tonight,” he says with a sneer. He seems to be fully enraptured with the thrill of the night rather than butchering the edible legacy.

    I inspect the clear liquid from my side of the table as he tilts it back and forth. I know exactly what it is, I know exactly the effects. You don’t get to hang around Pierre Patron as much as I do and not pick up a few things. It saddens me. If I was half the man I claim to be I would pick up the cleaver and slice through his wrist. But I am not half the man. I am the messenger. I have resigned myself to this role.
    There is a faint ring in the distance that I am conscious of, yet ignore. I am hypnotized, not by the liquid, but by what it represents. A death? A life? A future?

    Suddenly a head appears around the corner at the far wall.

    “He is here,” she says excitedly. “Won is here!”

    Before I can meet her eyes, she is gone.

    Pierre Patron stabs his cigarette into the ashtray with as much ceremony dumping leftovers into the trash. He leans on the table and looms over me. He points with nicotine stained fingers. “You …” But then trails off as he mumbles something inaudible and turns to the kitchen.

    “Chef Clement?!” He shrieks.

    “Deux minutes, Monsieur Patron,” the reply coming from the depths of pots, pans and steam.
    Pierre Patron eases his jacket on, straightens his collar and sleeves, and points at me again. “You …” And then he is gone. And I am left. I am alone.

    I stand at the counter and wait. Wait for the plate, wait for Chef Clement to erupt from the sacred space and bark an order at me. I pace as I recite the instructions. They are clear and absolute. Pick up the order, take it to table, place it in front of Woo Won, walk away. Each one deliberate and purposeful. They are not options, they are the sequence to be adhered to. I look back down at the meat cleaver still embedded in the table. I look over the counter to the inner sanctum of the restaurant. I am between the proverbial rock and hard place.

    Pierre Patron returns, coming around the corner and holding onto the wall for support. He looks dejected, destroyed. A man who has been beaten with soul destroying words. The melancholy emanates from him like an unwashable stench. His eyes are downcast. He shuffles to his chair and leans against it, facing away from me. I look on him with a feeling somewhere between sorrow and rapture, but I know no one word can describe it.

    A plate is placed on the counter next to me so gently I can barely hear the china making contact with the stainless steel. The words, however, barrel into me like a truck.


    I flinch at the delivery and know Chef Clement has enjoyed startling me.

    “Get it done,” I hear Pierre Patron say. His voice is low and broken.

    I nod to no one as I take a deep breath and drape the white cloth over my arm. With the dish held high over my head, I march towards the door. “Un service,” I say proudly. “Une fois de plus à la brèche, chers amis, encore une fois.”

    The restaurant is abuzz with life. Black coated young men manoeuvre expertly between the tables and around each other. There is a low murmur as conversations continue amongst the clinking of glasses and cutlery. Food and drink at the highest possible quality are consumed, gratuities being shown with clean plates and empty glasses.

    But there, in the middle of it all, is Woo Won. He sits and twitches with discomfort. He is bathed in a light that makes it look like he is the lead actor for tonight’s play. And for all intents and purpose, he is. He adjusts his bowtie and sips a glass of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1945. I know it is on the house, from Pierre Patron’s personal collection, and runs in the vicinity of twenty-five thousand a pop.
    Another breath before I march towards fate. Tables and waiters seem to part before me, understanding the importance of what is about to happen.

    “Ohayō, Mr Woo,” I say effortlessly as I place the dish in front of him.

    If he respects my perfect pronunciation, he doesn’t show it. From my vantage point, I can see him transfixed on the cloche, waiting for the reveal, eager for that first look, that first smell. I know that alone will make up eighty-five percent of the review. I leave him in that state and begin to tiptoe on that line of being dangerously close to going off script.

    With a wave of my hand, I release the dish. I briefly gaze at the delicate morsels, the restaurant noise fading into silence. With cloche in hand, I take a step back and to the side, eager to see Woo Won’s reaction. A twitch of the nose, an enlarged pupil, a poker face.

    I can feel Pierre Patron’s gaze on me, I can feel his question: Why are you standing there? But I can’t help it. I want to watch it unfold.

    Ever so slowly, Woo Won picks up his fork, extracts a ration and slides it onto his tongue. And ever so slowly, the turning of his lips upwards. A wave of emotion. A solitary tear. Past, present and future all rolled into one.

    Chef Clements surgical-like skill combined with Pierre Patron’s liquefied LSD / MSG hybrid has saved the restaurant.

    A positive review will be made.

    Another year’s grace.

    And I shall remain outside of the kitchen.

    • Ken
      What a great story! Clever in the twist at the end and the reveal. I loved the build-up and the misdirect lol.
      One small nitpick if I may – in the first paragraph, I think if you replaced “whispers” with “wafting” it would make more sense. Or maybe just a little rewording: “…pulls deeply on his cigarette. The glow from between his lips, illuminates the smoky wisps, still drifting above discarded cigarette butts, in an overflowing ashtray” or something like that.
      Other than that bravo!
      • Ken Allen
        Thanks Carrie. Yes, whisps … not sure why whispers is there … there’s a few other errorz in the mix as well … tough prompt (for me) …
    • Woah. A wonderfully creative story, Ken. Not sure if everyone is aware of this, but MSG and LSD are not toxic. Therefore, the drama and life or death consequences are, in the main, a devious attempt to get a positive review from an influential food critic, whose opinions can probably make, or break a restaurant. A few things gave me pause to wonder, though they may have been type O’s.
      ‘Woo Won picks up his fork, extracts a ration…’ A ration? If your use of that word is intentional, then maybe there’s more to this story that I don’t understand.
      Also, the phrase, ‘…butchering the edible legacy.’ Was that supposed to be edible delicacy? I’m not sure what an edible legacy would be.
      Also, I don’t speak French and didn’t have time to do a translation, but I assume the main character is merely stating what was ordered, and delivering. All in all, this is a great story, very intense, with a great reveal that I hope will not be missed. (Assuming, of course, that I read it right.) Nice to see you back in the game Kenneth James.
    • Phil Town
      Excellent story, Ken. Your descriptions are top notch (e.g. “His accent is thick with dirty Parisian alleyways.”). You hold off really well on the reveal – we’re all (I imagine) thinking one way, then WHUMP it’s another … and that’s a very pleasurable sensation. There are, as you say, a number of typos and instances of inappropriate usage (reading aloud helps me when I’m checking mine) which take the shine off just a little, but not enough to spoil a really enjoyable story. And yes, welcome back!
    • Alice Nelson

      Hey Ken A, glad to have you back.

      As usual dude, I love your writing style, always smooth and draws me in from the very first sentence. I must be one of those people Ken C. is talking about, because I didn’t quite get the story. There is a lot of misleading here, for sure, and you do that so very well.

      I understand that Patron is drugging the critic in order to get a good review, but it seems you hint earlier at cannibalism when you write, “the last guy who disobeyed Patron ended up in his kitchen and tasted like chicken.” Does this mean Patron is serving human flesh to his diners, including the critic? If eating people is what your hinting at, that point is just sort of glossed over, and seems like a huge plot point to be exploited, even more than Won’s appearance.

      I did like this story, but these few things stood out to me. Welcome back!

    • Ilana Leeds
      Ken I felt reading this story was that it was part of a larger plot and a whole other story. Enjoyed it but felt that it needed more space to grow.
  • Phil Town

    Once upon a time there was an old woman who lived in a neat and tidy cottage on the edge of a neat and tidy village in the countryside. The cottage was as old as the hills, and the woman was as old as the cottage.

    The old woman’s name was Baili, short for Bailitheoir – and yes, you’re right, that was a strange name to have. But then Baili was a strange woman.

    She hardly ever left her cottage, and rarely spoke to anyone. Except, that is, when there were visitors from further afield, or people just passing through. Then she would make a point of appearing and meeting them, and this is one of the strange things: no one ever told her about the visitors coming to the village – she just seemed to know.

    Another strange thing was that she only appeared when the visitors were young women; she didn’t seem interested in the men at all. And when she met the young women, the first thing she would do would be to ask their name. With some women, once Baili learned their name she would cling to their arm and not let go until they’d agreed to accompany her to the cottage for tea.

    Well, you can imagine that the young women might be a little fearful of this strange old lady – given the stories of evil witches that abounded at that time. But the truth is that Baili could be very pleasant, and no one in the village thought she would harm the visitor: of all the many young women who had visited the cottage, none had any complaints. In fact, quite the opposite: they all came out beaming, and always left the village shortly afterwards to return home, safe and sound.

    At least that’s what the villagers thought. If a woman had been a relative visiting from another village or region, then word would get back of her mysterious disappearance, always exactly a year after the visit to the cottage. Of course, these were simple folk, and no one ever put two and two together, so that Baili was never under any suspicion. And how could she be? She rarely left her cottage after all, and never set foot out of the village.

    One day, a young woman came through the village in a cart, selling trinkets. Everyone came out of their front doors to see the woman and her wares. They found out that despite her blonde hair and sunny face – her ancestors had been from Scandinavia – the pretty girl was Portuguese. She had just started her selling when who should appear but Baili, almost breaking into a run to get to the village green.

    “What’s your name, my love?” she asked without any ado whatsoever.


    “Then you must come and have tea.”

    Margarida was a little taken aback with the directness of the invitation.

    “I would love to,” said Margarida, in perfect English, “but–“

    “Good!” cried Baili, and grabbed Margarida by the arm.

    “But, but …”

    But Margarida’s protests fell on deaf ears and she was tugged down the road to Baili’s cottage, with all the villagers looking on, quite used to this strange behaviour.

    Once inside the cottage, and while the kettle was boiling, Baili laid a tea service out on the table. Margarida gasped.

    “My, how beautiful! So many flowers!”

    The tea service was indeed covered in flowers of all the colours of the rainbow, brilliant against the pure white of the porcelain.

    “Yes. I’m very proud of it. Do you know the names of the flowers, my love?” asked Baili over her shoulder as she returned to the kitchen.

    “Only in Portuguese. Of course, I know the rose, that’s easy,” and she touched the beautiful, bright red specimen on the side of the milk jug; she could almost imagine she saw it move it was so life-like.

    Baili brought the teapot and some cake from the kitchen.

    “Let me help you,” she said, pointing at the flowers that adorned the plates, cups and saucers of the tea service. “This one is called ‘lily’; this one is ‘iris’; this is ‘hyacinth’; this…” and so she continued until all the flowers had been named.

    “But …” Margarida cocked her head, “… why is there a gap on the teapot?”

    Sure enough, on the side of the teapot was a patch of white porcelain that had no flower.

    “Drink your tea up, my love,” said Baili, ignoring the question. “I have a proposition to put to you.”

    When they’d finished, Baili cleared away the tea service and took Margarida’s hands across the table.

    “In the next year, my dear Margarida, you will find the fortune you crave. Don’t ask me how, but I promise you it will happen.”

    Margarida felt a tingling warmth passing from Baili’s hands into hers, and up her arms, and through her body.

    “Do you believe me?”

    Without thinking twice, Margarida blurted: “Yes, yes!”

    “Then, my sweet girl, it will be done. I only demand one thing, and it is this: in one year’s time, you will come back to me. Do you promise me that?”

    Once again, Margarida did not hesitate.

    “Yes, yes!”

    Baili smiled herself now, but it was not a warm smile.

    “Good. Then I have your promise. And now you may go.”

    Margarida returned to the green, smiling happily and singing to herself. The villagers were still gathered around the cart.

    “What happened, stranger? Why are you smiling so?” asked one.

    “Because I have just had the most wonderful piece of news.”

    The villagers pressed Margarida to say what it was, but she did not want to risk telling them lest it affect the possibility of Baili’s prediction coming true. As the villagers insisted, Margarida sought to divert their attention away from the question.

    “And because I have just had the pleasure of using the most beautiful tea service I have ever seen, with the most exquisite flowers.” She concentrated heard to remember the names. “Lily, iris, hyacinth …”

    For each flower she named, at least one villager felt a pang in their heart, for these were the names of nieces and cousins that had disappeared in recent years. But once again, none of those simple folk put two and two together.

    Margarida rode her cart out of the village shortly afterwards and made her way back to her own land. Within a month, she had met a passing nobleman who was smitten by her. They were married and Margarida found herself the lady of an immense estate, with all the finery she could ever have wished for. Gone were the days of hard toil and selling trinkets from a cart.

    But a year to the day after tea with Baili, Margarida disappeared. She was simply not there on the estate any more, and no one could explain where she had gone, much less how, or why.

    If they had known any better, they could have gone to Baili’s cottage and asked after Margarida’s whereabouts over tea. Tea from a teapot that had an exquisite, lifelike daisy on the side, with its gleaming white petals and sunny face.


    • Great story, Philip: Strange, haunting and eerie. Very skillful storytelling.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Kenneth!
    • Alice Nelson

      Wonderful story, reminded of an old fairy tale, something along the lines of Grimm’s but not as grim. Loved the pacing and the characterizations. The old lady Baili is a wonderfully evil character, I enjoyed how you described her, she just seemed like bad news right from the start. Maybe we’ll see her again in another story. Great job Phil!

      • Phil Town
        Thanks very much, Alice.
        (No plans to resurrect Baili … but you never know.)
    • Ilana Leeds
      Great story Phillip and used the prompt very well. I particularly liked the pacing of your story.
      • Phil Town
        Cheers, Ilana!
    • A wonderful tale! It took me back to the olden days of storytelling, a creepy old woman and a perfect summation. I almost (almost I say) wish it would have had a moral like the old fairy tales. However, I think you know by now I generally like it when the bad guy wins!
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Carrie!

        I suppose the moral could be: Nothing comes to you without a price to pay …

        (Although I don’t believe that myself.)

  • Alice Nelson

    Hey guys, we’re trying to figure out a way to get more interest in the contest, but since there are only two entries so far this week, we are going to extend the contest one more week. Thank you to Phil And Ken A. who got theirs in on time, we appreciate that.

    Hopefully this extension and some postings on social media will lead to more submissions.

    Thank you for your patience.

    Carrie & Alice

    • Ken Allen
      Damn! This was the opportunity for me to get a top two finish!!
      • Carrie Zylka

        Hahahaha that’s kind of what I was thinking too lol

      • Alice Nelson

        Ha Ken! There’s still a chance 🙂

  • Customer Service by Carrie Zylka

    “Target customer service, this is Kiandra, please note this call may be recorded for quality assurance. How may I help you?” Kiandra lowered her head and rubbed her tired eyes. It had been a relatively quiet day and she was looking forward to heading home. She squinted and spied the photo in her cubicle. A tiny four month old face gazed up at her in two dimensional love and Kiandra couldn’t wait to pick her baby up from her mom’s house.

    There seemed to be a bad connection. “Hello? Ma’am? Can I help you?”

    “….please..” a frantic voice whispered. “…please help me!”

    Kiandra cocked her head to the side. “Hello? This is customer service, is anyone there?”

    A tear filled voiced spoke low and quickly. “Listen, please help me, I’ve been kidnapped and I’m afraid they’re going to kill me! I need your help.”

    “I’m sorry can you repeat that?”

    “I’ve been kidnapped!! I need help! I need your help!”

    “Ma’am?” Kiandra could hear the terror in the woman’s voice. At no point did she think this was a joke. “Ma’am if that’s true then you have to call 911!”

    “Please don’t hang up!! I tried but I just called the last number on this phone and now I’m afraid if we hang up I’ll never get another call out!” The woman began whimpering and wheezing. “Please help me!”

    “Shh hey, hey, I can put you on hold and call 911.” She wasn’t sure what to do but calming the woman down seemed smart.

    “Ok, but please….don’t hang up!!!”

    Kiandra waved her manager over and put the woman on hold. “So there’s a crazy woman on my line, she says she’s been kidnapped but doesn’t want to call 911 because she’s afraid she won’t be able to make another call?”

    Her manager looked on in disbelief. “Are you serious?’

    Kiandra nodded.

    “Hang up, it’s probably a prank.”

    Kiandra paused, something didn’t feel right. “I really don’t think it is, and what if she’s telling the truth and she gets killed because we wouldn’t call 911?”

    The manager thought about it for a moment. “Let me call the police and see what we should do. Tell her to hold on.”

    Kiandra picked up the phone again. “Ma’am?”

    “Yes??! Please!!”

    “We’re calling the police, hang on and we’ll get you some help.”

    “Oh god thank you….” The woman began to sob. “Please make them hurry….”

    “How did this even happen to you?”

    “I don’t know, I got out of class and was walking to my car. Someone hit me from behind and the next thing I know is I’m in a trunk of a car! Please make them hurry; I don’t know how long it will be before we stop. And what if they kill me…or worse??”

    Kiandra shuddered at the thought. Every woman’s fear is to be kidnapped and raped and killed. That she was this close to that possible scenario made her want to vomit.

    Her manager came back. “The police are going to patch into the call. They ask that you stay on the line for a few minutes since she is comfortable with you while they try to figure out where she is. I’m assuming you can stay?”

    Kiandra looked again at the photo on her desk. She wanted to protest, she’d been at work for nine hours already and wanted to go home and see her baby, but didn’t want to someday have to tell her daughter about the time mommy could have helped a save a woman’s life but didn’t because she was tired. “Ok.”

    “Hello?” The small voice whispered.

    Kiandra turned back. “Lady, the police are going to be patching through the line in a minute, they’re going to come help you.”

    “But don’t go! Please!! Oh god why is this happening to me??”

    “Calm down, you have to calm down. Don’t lose your shit, then they’ll hear you!”

    Sniffling and hiccupping and the woman came back on the line. “Yes you’re right, I’m just so scared. I mean, it’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon! Not 2 am!”

    After a moment of tense silence: “My name is Kiandra, what is your name?”

    “Angie, my name is Angie McDonald. If something happens to me please tell my husband that I love him…please?”

    “Stop that right now Angie, the police will find you-“

    A man’s voice broke through the line: “Ma’am this is sgt Brown from the 3rd precinct. We’re here to help and we’re going to try and find you. Can you tell me if the GPS on your phone is turned on?”

    The sound of fumbling was replaced by “It is now sir.”

    “Good, now you just leave it on. Miss Kana?”

    “Kiandra.” She emphasized in annoyance.

    “Miss Kiandra, thank you for your help today but you can hang up now.”

    “No!!” The woman said loudly. “No! Please don’t go!”

    “Shhhhhhhhh, quiet!” Kiandra hissed. “I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”

    “Ok Miss Kiandra,” The Sgt said, only slightly annoyed. “We’ll need to you be quiet then. Ma’am, what is your name?”

    “Angie. Please hurry!!”

    “Yes ma’am, we need to keep you on the line so we can triangulate your location. Tell me what happened ma’am.”

    Angie repeated the story as she told it before; as Kiandra listened she picked up slight background noises. It was interesting that she could suddenly pick up the road noise.

    “Ok Angie, we have cars on route, we have your location and we’re coming to get you.”

    Kiandra listened as she heard the vehicle speed up and the sounds of sirens suddenly fill the earpiece. She heard Angie whimpering and the sound of the car screeching to a halt.

    “Kiandra!” Angie shouted into the phone.

    “Hang on Angie! I’m sure they’ll be there soon! Just hang on!” Kiandra was almost in tears herself. She just kept praying that God would shine on this poor, terrified woman.

    Her heart lept into her throat as she heard gun shots and shouting and the unmistakable sound of a trunk being pried open.

    She heard the phone thud to the floor and Angie wailing as a police man identified himself.

    Tears of relief sprung to her eyes and she let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. She heard Angie’s phone disconnect and the Sgt.’s voice came on. “Miss Kiandra, you did a really good thing today. You helped save that woman’s life.”

    Kiandra fought back tears. “Thank you sir. Here at Target we pride ourselves on exceptional customer service. Would you mind waiting on the line for a brief survey?”

    The police officer laughed, a deep, guttural, belly laugh. “Absolutely….”

    • Phil Town
      Really great story, Carrie. I know you love your fantasy writing, and you do it really well, but I always find it refreshing when you go contemporary. As Ken says, you build up the tension well – the pace is great. There’s a nice introduction of a possible obstacle to Kiandra helping out (her daughter), though perhaps more could be made of this (e.g. what if she’s sick and Kiandra really DOES need to leave on time?). I disagree with Ken about the ending; it’s cute, but I think maybe you could have returned to the theme of the daughter there (how proud she’d be o Kiandra, or something like that). Obviously, that’s how I read it, and it’s not my story! (So feel free to ignore me completely!) Good stuff!
    • Ilana Leeds
      Excellent dialogue Carrie. Your story really moves. Enjoyed reading it.
    • Alice Nelson

      I absolutely love this story, and the ending made me belly laugh. Great use of dialogue, just the right amount of tension that had me wondering if Angela would be alright. Loved it!

      I just saw a few typos:

      this call may be recording for quality assurance – (“recorded” instead of “recording”)

      Kiandra lowered her head and rubber her tired eyes – (“rubbed” instead of “rubber”)

      Her heart leapt into her through as she heard gun shots – (I think you meant “throat” instead of “through”)

      But that’s about it, none of these typos ruined the story in any way.

      • Carrie Zylka

        OMG wtf.
        This is why writers have proofreaders lol…..I’ve re read it a dozen times and totally skipped over the errors!

        • Alice Nelson
          I know, I do the same thing 😊
  • Hah. A very good, really exciting story Carrie. Loved the ending.
  • Alice Nelson

    By Alice Nelson ©2017

    Donovan Hudson waved Michael into his spacious office, “What is it Michael?” he asked impatiently.

    “Sir, could you check the seating arrangements and menu for tonight’s dinner and see if they meet with your approval?”

    Donovan nodded then preceded to make Michael wait half an hour before taking the list and giving it only a cursory glance before signing off on it.

    Then Donovan dismissed Michael in that impertinent way of his; by simply ignoring him. Never saying, Thank you, Michael or That is all Michael, he would just go back to the work lying on his desk, saying without saying, Get out Michael, we’re done.


    It was the night of Donovan’s annual dinner gala for a short list of close friends, the crème de la crème of the financial world. If you threw a bomb into that room, and Michael casually entertained that idea on more than one occasion, half a dozen of the world’s wealthiest men would take a powder.

    Michael hated these dinner parties, had come to resent them in fact. Not because the guests were wealthy, but because they floated around in their elite bubbles, having no idea, or worse, not caring that they were huge assholes.

    Just do your job, Mikey Old Man, he said to himself, sounding an awful lot like his father.


    There was a soft knock on his bedroom door, “You alright, Mr. Michael?” It was the shrill voice of Laney the housekeeper, she sounded worried, which made her voice even more piercing, if that were at all possible.

    The whole staff knew that Michael had not been himself lately, and on this special night if his game was off, they would all pay the price.

    “Cook would like to talk with you about the menu,” she said, her voice bordering on a shriek.

    “Coming dear,” Michael said, trying to assure her that he was alright, “I just need a moment.”

    But Michael was anything but alright —it was happening again. For the third time in as many weeks, he was beginning to…well, fade. Michael was able to look through the image of himself in the mirror, and see the wall directly behind him.

    “What is happening?” he whispered.

    But Old Mikey was a trouper, and once corporeal again, he took a deep breath, and still a little shaky headed downstairs.


    Hudson Manor was the only home Michael had ever known. His father and mother worked for Donovan’s parents, and Michael and Donovan practically grew up together. Initially, the two were close playmates until Donovan’s mother told him, “Honey, you’re not supposed to play with the help.”

    Both boys were crushed at first, but soon after Donovan started to change. He began speaking to Michael in short clipped sentences, then quickly ending conversations and leaving the room. If friends from school were over, Michael was ignored altogether.

    “We work for them Michael, we’re not their equals,” his father told him. An undeniable truth that hurt more than he was willing to admit.

    Now, thirty years later, Michael would catch Donovan staring at him with disdain in his eyes; the look of a man who wanted to forget that he was once a lonely boy who considered the butler his friend.


    The guest began filing in, Michael greeted each one as they crossed the threshold, but none said even so much as a hello. They handed off their expensive coats to Michael, ignoring him and greeting each other with that friendly phoniness that accompanied each one of these dinner parties.

    I am here you vipers, Michael told himself. A trick he began using to stay whole. If he let himself feel insignificant, then he would begin to slip away into that haziness between this place, and nothingness —but sometimes he preferred the nothingness.

    Tonight Michael was struggling and Donovan noticed. “You are on thin ice Michael, watch yourself.” But Michael wasn’t sure if he could stave off whatever was happening to him until the end of the party.

    The night was going off without a hitch, and Michael brilliantly moved unnoticed throughout dinner.
    When one course was finished, he carefully removed the used dish and replaced it with the next one even before the guests realized it.

    But it began happening again, this vanishing act of his. Michael could still see the room, but it felt very far away. It was peaceful though, he wanted to stay. Then he heard someone calling his name, distant at first, a quiet Michael…Michael

    Then, “Michael!” He was pulled back into the dining room, by the bellowing voice of his employer, who was very angry.

    “I’d been calling you for several minutes,” Donovan said, trying to keep from exploding in front of his company, “Where were you, Mikey?”

    Don’t call me that! He thought but said, “Sorry sir, it won’t happen again.”

    “It better not, for your sake,” Donovan said, as his guests snickered behind their napkins and expensive glasses of wine.

    Michael began hyper-focusing on each dish, making sure he remained solid for the remainder of the night. Please God, don’t let it happen again.

    But the familiar tingling sensation coursed through his body once again, and the dishes he had been holding seemed not to slip, but pass right through his hands, landing with a crash on the dining room floor.

    The loud clang of the breaking plates and cups stunned everyone in the room, and Michael thought he would certainly be fired on the spot. He heard his father’s voice say, You’re in deep shit, Mikey.

    Donovan stared down at the dishes, a puzzled look on his face. “It’s like they just fell out of thin air,” he said.

    His guests looked nervously around, then Laney burst into the room, sweaty and nervous, “I’ll get it sir,” she said in that squawking voice of hers.

    Michael stood there as Laney walked toward him, and he was horrified when he realized she was going to walk right through him.

    “Who dropped these dishes?” Donovan asked her angrily.

    “I don’t know sir.” She said glancing nervously at the guests in the room.

    “Find Michael, now!” Donovan told Laney. “I haven’t been able to depend on him much lately,” he said to his guests, followed by each one relaying their own horrifying stories about their disappointing household staff.

    “Sir, I…” Michael froze. He caught sight of himself, or what was left of him in the mirror above the sideboard. He was there, but at the same time, he wasn’t.

    And for some reason this made Michael laugh. “Yes sir, I’m here sir, Fuck you sir,” he said as the laughter came in gigantic heaping waves, so powerful that Michael didn’t think he would ever stop.

    As Donovan continued yelling at poor Laney, as the guests squirmed in their seats, hoping the night would mercifully come to an end, Michael knew he was going for good. But he welcomed it. Because the nothingness wanted him in a way nothing in his life ever had before.

    And as Michael began to fade into oblivion, his grip on the world loosening, he simply continued to laugh and laugh, and laugh.

    • Phil Town
      Fantastic stuff, Alice. What a great premise! It feels like something from a Woody Allen film (and that’s a good thing). You cover an awful lot of ground for a short story, but it never feels cluttered or rushed. This is a great line: “…the nothingness wanted him in a way nothing in his life ever had before”. (although I’m sure that his childhood had happy moments – which, in fact, you touch on – so I don’t know about the “ever before”). Can’t the assembly hear Mikey when he laughs at the end? (Laney can hear him from the bedroom when he’s fading). I don’t think Donovan would address Mikey as “Mikey” – it suggests an intimacy that they haven’t had for a long time, and Donovan would want to maintain his superiority in front of the guests. Really intriguing.
      • Alice Nelson

        Thank you Phil! Woody Allen, that’s high praise. You make some good points here, especially about the diners being able to hear Michael’s laughter. They probably should be able to since like you said, Laney was able to earlier.

        About Donovan calling him Mikey, I had some other parts in the story about Donovan did it to annoy Michael but I had to edit it out because of the word limit, I hoped it would show the pettiness of Donovan, but maybe I’ll leave that out altogether.

        Thanks again for the nice words and the great suggestions. 🙂

        • Ilana Leeds
          Great story Alice. The pacing was good. I agree with Phil’s comment about Donovan calling him “Mikey”. Butlers tend to get addressed by their surnames. It would imply familiarity that was not present at that stage in their lives. I am intrigued by the fact that Donavan would regard Michael with disdain too. It makes me wonder at the end if they can hear Michael and you want him to pick up some food and go and rub it in Donavan’s smug face. I imagined him as this tall florid man with mousy blonde hair and watery blue eyes and an small chin with a thick neck. So thank you for this great story.
          • Alice Nelson

            Hahaha, Donovan did need someone to punch him in his smug face.

            Thank you Ilana, I’m so glad you liked the story. I think both you are right about Donovan calling him “Mikey,” that’s something I’ll fix before recording this for the podcast.

            Thank you both for the suggestions. 🙂

    • Carrie Zylka

      Great story Alice! Loved the intensity, and I’d just be repeating Ilana and Phil about the Mikey comment.
      I was a little unclear (hahahaha get it!! I’m cracking myself up over here!) as to why he was fading. Is it because Donovan made him feel invisible that it manifested itself?

      I think that’s why but to a layman podcast listener some clarification may be needed. Just a teeny suggestion only because I was a wee bit confused myself.

      Although, there’s something to be said for letting the reader/listener interpret the story themselves!

      • Alice Nelson
        I was trying to do the “let the reader interpret it” thing, hoping it wouldn’t be confusing. I tried doing some foreshadowing with Donovan ignoring him at the beginning, and the guests doing the same. Maybe for the podcast I could do a bit more clarifying, but I don’t know. Something to think about. 😁
  • Ilana Leeds
    The Service
    Alan had waited a long time for this moment. He took one last look at himself in the mirror wall of the lift, adjusted his tie again, pressed his cow lick flat and then carefully pressed “13”. The lift doors whooshed shut. The building had 28 floors. Two banks of lifts took you to floors 1 to 12 or 13 to 28.
    The lift stopped and the doors slid open to reveal an alcove. He walked out and followed the instructions of a voice that told him to put his face in a brace for an eye scan, and to place his hands in the two wall indentations flashing red. Once his hands were correctly placed, and his eyes scanned IDENTITY CONFIRMED flashed onto an overhead screen and the door slid open. He entered a tunnel with infrared light.
    “Please stand, feet shoulder width apart. Arms by your side, fingers spread, pointing down. Look straight ahead.” The voice instructed him. It had a husky rather pleasing quality to it. He tried to imagine the woman it belonged to. She would be about five foot eight inches give or take, and be sexily curved. He was thinking about whether she would be a redhead or dark brunette. He was settling on the brunette when:
    “Please move forward to the door. Raise your hands above your head.” So he followed the voice’s instructions once again. Meanwhile he was deciding to dress her either in combat gear or an officer’s uniform.
    “Take off all your clothes. Fold them and place them by the door.” His next instructions – he followed them again to the letter. Then he stood there waiting. It was creepy and cold in the tunnel he thought. He had goosebumps. Suddenly he jumped as a fine stream of warm air buffeted his naked body. Then a light green light shone all over his body.
    “Micro chip scan completed. Get dressed.” The voice had taken on a rather brusque tone. Maybe she did not like what she saw, Alan thought to himself. He dressed and waited.
    The light changed and the doors opened. He strode into a waiting room where three other men sat on hard lounge settees. Seated at a counter in the waiting room was one of the new cryoborg-secretaries. She looked up as he entered and waved him to one of two vacant seats in the room. No one spoke.
    The silence was heavy. There were no magazines on the table between two of the settees. Only a small Monsteria palm. It was real.
    After a thirty minute wait, a man in army fatigues entered seemingly from a wall which slid back. He was tall Eurasian – impossibly handsome and slim. He carried a clip board from which he read off five names.
    “Tom Steel, John Rodan, Michael Powers, Alan Ginnis, Robert Sims!”
    All four seated men rose to their feet as one.
    “Yes sir.”
    “Robert Sims.”
    “Not in attendance.” The secretary spoke without looking up.
    “Schedule him for termination then.” The man took a pen and crossed the name off his list. He then looked over at the four men before him. “Follow me.” He turned and held out his hand towards the open doorway.
    The four men did not look at each other. They turned and walked through the open door into a large amphitheatre that was lit by flood lamps floating suspended in mid-air. There was a platform over to the end of the room. Five men – middle aged and two older men sat on a raised dais. They watched the four men approach. Several feet from the platform, they were told to stop. The clipboard carrier stood at attention and saluted the men. The four recruits also saluted.
    The older men leaned forward. The older of the two spoke.
    “They understand the service?”
    “Yes, your honour.” Then the second of the two asked.
    “They understand the sacrifices?”
    “Yes, your honour. They do.”
    “They understand the oath of allegiance?” While the other men on the dais listened, the younger of the two older men wrote something down.
    “Are they prepared for the ultimate sacrifice if required?” The man with the clip board gestured towards the four recruits.
    “You can ask them yourself. Sir.” He saluted and stood back. One of the men on the dais stood up.
    “Thomas Steel. Step forward.” Thomas Steel did so. “Raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear to abide by the laws and code of the service? Do you swear to give your life rather than betray that service? Do you swear to provide for and protect your country and its officers and lawmakers with your life, if so required?”
    Thomas Steel stepped up and did so solemnly swear. Then the other three recruits repeated the same oath and it was done. They stood there at attention waiting.
    Suddenly two men burst through the doorway and aimed pistols at the men on the dais. Without hesitation all four men put themselves between the men on the dais and the armed men who fired repeatedly at them as they ran forward. Amazingly not one bullet hit its mark. The men were thrown to the ground and disarmed.
    The seven men on the dais stood and applauded vigorously. The clipboard gentleman grinned at the four recruits standing over the two disarmed men.
    “You can let them go now.” The eldest of the men on the dais spoke. “You have passed the test. You will join the president’s secret service detail tomorrow morning.” He smiled at them.
    It was then they realised the two ‘thugs’ had been firing blanks. It was a foolish moment for them and they realised that they had been duped. One of the men Michael Powers stood up and spoke slowly.
    “Does this mean we have to protect all presidents?” The man with the clip board frowned. He was answered by one of the five younger men on the dais.
    “Yes. Of course. Why would you not?”
    “Well,” and Michael hesitated. “I am a Democrat and I am not going to feel comfortable protecting a Republican president. Our family has always been Democrats.” The man on the dais smiled what seemed a rather sad, soft smile.
    “I am also a Democrat and from a family of Democrats. That is why I have to do this now.” He pulled out a hand gun from under his robe and fired. Michael crumpled face forward onto the floor. The man looked closely at the three recruits standing in shock before them. They looked on in horror. He shrugged and put the gun down on the table.
    “We serve our country. We serve its elected rulers. We serve without favouritism and without political bias. We serve our country only and its best interests.”
    Alan looked at the body of his recent colleague in arms and wondered who decided the best interests and how.
    They waited for orders in the savage silence that followed.
    • Phil Town
      Good stuff, Ilana. Pacey, and there’s a big slice of mystery: What’s going on? Who are these people? Is it the present day? Which country … or planet? And then we find out. It’s a good resolution – of course they have to be hard guys if they’re guarding the President. For that reason, I did find Michael Powers’ question a little naïve; what did he think they were going to say? But the story works well suspense-wise.
    • Alice Nelson

      Really well done Ilana, the mystery of the story immediately drew me in. I loved the flow and the dialogue, and couldn’t wait to find out what was going on. Once you revealed it, it all made sense. I agree with Phil about Michael’s question, but I see your point in our current political climate. Well done my friend. 🙂

    • Carrie Zylka

      Love, love, love this story. The pacing was perfect, I almost thought you were diving into a science fiction story and I thought the abrupt twist at the end was perfect.
      And a perfectly summed up commentary on what’s going on today!

  • Ilana Leeds
    Thanks Phil. I just wanted to make the point – who decides the best interests of the the service? 🙂
  • Sorry I didn’t get one in. Had half a story, of a clash of service cultures, between police and social service folk at a homeless persons’ refuge …. will have to finish and rework for another theme one day!
    Good luck to everyone else!
    • Alice Nelson

      Hope to see you for the next contest Andy. I’ll have it posted tomorrow, so look out for it 🙂

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