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Vote for the best story

Poll closed Feb 24, 2014.
  1. Unreality TV

    1 vote(s)
    7.1%
  2. To Bear a Brother

    1 vote(s)
    7.1%
  3. The Village

    2 vote(s)
    14.3%
  4. The Man in Black

    1 vote(s)
    7.1%
  5. The Memories

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  6. A Real Smile

    2 vote(s)
    14.3%
  7. The Rituals of Hudson College

    1 vote(s)
    7.1%
  8. Jamal vs. The Voice ...vs. Jamal

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  9. The Ballade of John and Bob

    1 vote(s)
    7.1%
  10. Wet Bulb 35

    5 vote(s)
    35.7%
  1. GingerCoffee
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    Closed Voting Short Story Contest (150) - Theme: '(Un)Reality'

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Feb 10, 2014.

    Voting for Short Story Contest (150) Theme: "(Un)Reality"

    We have ten excellent entries in this contest.
    The winner will be revealed in two weeks and the winner thread will be stickied until the next contest's winner is crowned. No more entries are allowed in this contest.

    Entries are listed in the poll in the order I received them.

    Voting will end Sunday the 23rd of February 2014 ~1730 (5:30pm) Pacific Time to give everyone a chance to read the stories.

    I encourage authors to vote. It is acceptable to vote for yourself, but I encourage you to vote honestly. In the name of good sportsmanship only vote for yourself if you have read all the other stories and given them your honest evaluation.

    Consider how the author has responded to the theme, as well as the quality of the writing and overall impression of the story in making your decision.


    Authors, please check that I copied/pasted your story correctly. It was a bit of a weighty task this time.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2014
  2. GingerCoffee
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    Unreality TV [949]

    The TV on the wall opposite is a fifty-inch flat screen. It’s bolted to the gyproc and is encased in a moulded perspex cage that is so scratched from cleanings and assaults; the shows seem to have been filmed in fog. It’s not on at the moment because I have the room to myself and I prefer it off. That TV used to taunt me when I first arrived. I would hear it say my name and it accused me of horrible things. It doesn’t do that anymore but I’ve gone off watching TV anyway.

    It’s Tuesday and the weather is fine so most of the patients are outside on the lawn playing volleyball with Tim and Leanne. Jesus is out there. He’ll be performing the role of umpire and cheer squad. Jesus doesn’t like to play because he thinks it would be unfair on everyone else. I thought that was funny when I first got here. I even laughed at him when he tore his bread slices into circles and placed them on his tongue during breakfast. I know him better now and I feel a bit ashamed of myself. Everyone here loves Jesus. He’s the kind of guy who won’t give you a whole smoke but will let you tax his if you’re craving. Sure he’s bonkers, but he’s the best kind of bonkers.

    Matty is the opposite sort but he went out today as well, which is unusual. He stayed in his room for the first two weeks he was here and when he finally emerged, he always kept his eyes down, cast toward the floor. The nurses tried to get him to engage with the rest of us, during meals or at random in the hall, but he’s in a pretty rough place - mentally I mean. I asked him once what he did in his room all day when he first got here and he said he was waiting for permission to leave.

    “Everyone’s allowed into the common areas man,” I said. “The hospital can’t force you to stay in your room unless you do something bad.”

    He looked toward the nurses station. “Not from them,” he said and flicked his nose toward an empty corner of the TV room. “From them.”

    I followed the direction of his eyes. “Them who?” I said. “Matty. I can’t see anyone.”

    “Yeah,” he said and nodded gravely. “That’s what I mean.”

    “You have permission then?” I said.

    He nodded and flared his nostrils in response. It creeped me out so I stayed away from him after that. They’re all nuts here but Matty’s the kind of crazy that could explode on you if you get too close, or too complacent. The staff think it’s a good sign that he’s agreed to go out there today but the rest of us know better. He’s been talking about the sun. It gives life, he says, it gives power. Patients like Matty don’t do well when they’re feeling powerful. Dinner will come with a show tonight, if he even makes it that far. Everyone knows it. Everyone except the staff.

    I won’t be there though. As of 11am this morning I’m legally sane. Dr Eric – we use first names – says they’re impressed with me, that I’ve come a long way and that I’m a credit to rehabilitation. I shook his hand and told him I was grateful for all his help. I think he bought it.

    I’m being picked up soon, before the volley ball game is due to end. I said my goodbyes to those who matter before they went out in their mismatched tracksuits and stained t-shirts. Jesus drew a cross on my forehead with his thumb and told me that he would keep an eye on me. Robert asked if I’d give him a packet of smokes as a going away present. I didn’t bother explaining the flaw in his logic and gave him what I had left anyway. Sammy wouldn’t talk to me and left quickly. I think I saw him crying but it doesn’t take much for him to cry. He tears up when someone butters his toast wrong.

    It didn’t take me long to pack. I’ve got a few pairs of jeans and some shirts stuffed into a plastic shopping bag beside me. It’s not all that I own but it’s all that I had with me when I came in. I’ll stay in a hotel tonight, perhaps for the next few days, until I can get the utilities turned back on at home.

    Darren is in the nurse’s station reading a book. He looks up at me every now and then and when we make eye contact I smile and raise my eyebrows. This time when he looks I say, “How much longer do you think it’ll be?”

    “I don’t know mate,” he says. “Why don’t you turn the TV on?”

    I shake my head.

    “Shouldn’t be too much longer,” he says and goes back to his book.

    I look towards the TV and remember when my face flickered in its fog. The story is old now. The viewers eager for a new tragedy to make them feel luckier, to make them squeeze their babies tighter at night. Most people wouldn’t remember those days when they said I was a monster then called me insane. Most people will have forgotten the spectacle of my wife’s coffin escorted up the steps of the church flagged by two tiny coffins. I remember. I’m not here because I have something wrong with my mind. I’m here because I have a good lawyer.

    “Taxi’s here,” Darren calls from the desk.

    “Cheers,” I say and gather my things.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    To Bear a Brother [591]

    Every summer, when the strawberries ripened up on the hill overlooking the river mill, my brother and I packed rations of turkey sandwiches and potato chips and hiked up the little trails that were cut like diagonals across the country to fill our bags with fruit.

    It was my responsibility to watch over my brother, who was younger, and foolish; he always tore his clothes climbing trees, or he'd shave his head with pieces of mica, and one time he broke his arm while doing a handstand on one of the elephant boulders and so Mom made me promise that I’d look after him and make sure his nice new overalls and he came back undamaged.

    Right before we left she took me aside and said, “Michael, watch your brother. And don’t go over the ridge and onto the dark side of the hills, or you’ll certainly be eaten by bears who will smell the strawberries and carry you off, thinking you’re one of them.”

    Mom always gave good advice like that.

    When we left the sun was high in the sky, almost overhead, like it is in the summer, and it was cloudless and hot and at once Samuel started to whine.

    “I’m hot, carry me.”

    “No.”

    “Please?”

    “I’m not carrying you.”

    “I’ll scream.”

    “It’s too hot to scream.”

    “I’ll shout. It’s not too hot to shout.”

    “Yes it is.”

    “No.”

    Overhead an eagle soared; one of the great big ones with the white heads, and it looked all calm and I wondered if it was cooler up there where the breezes moved differently.

    “Carry my sack, Jack,” said Samuel.

    “Do you see the eagle?” I said.

    Sammy looked up and covered his eyes.

    “No.”

    “It’s right there, just between the two big trees at the top of the hill.”

    Sammy stopped and squinted. He squatted down to get a better angle.

    “Let me get on your shoulders.”

    I let him get up and then he saw the eagle.

    “Wow,” he said.

    When we reached the top, he was still on my shoulders and I had to struggle with him, and I didn’t see what was ahead until it was too late.

    The hilltops, as I discovered, are indeed much cooler than the valley below, and there was a breeze blowing and all across the ridge, just below the shadows of the boulders, waited hundreds of brown bears, crouched in little clusters, like berries, waiting, and watching our every move.

    Samuel noticed them too, and before I could stop him, he leapt off my shoulders and ran, picking up a stick on the way, over to the nearest boulder and began vigorously prodding the bear that waited there all around the face and neck with the stick.

    “Sammy! Get back here!”

    He looked back and stuck out his tongue and lept over the ridge of boulders and disappeared behind the far side of the hill. I couldn’t see him and I ran across the grass to the nearest boulder, where he had jumped off from, but before I could get over, all the bears at once stood up and began applauding by clapping their paws together.

    The nearest one looked very pleased and spoke.

    He said, “He shall be made king of the valley of the bears,” and I saw Samuel perched on his shoulders. Then, like a receding tide, the line dropped back into the shadow of the valley on the far side of the hills, and my brother was never again seen amongst the world of men.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    The Village [1,570]

    Ian woke up early, the sun streamed in through the ragged curtains, illuminating the specks of dust that danced in the air of his bedroom. He looked at the old cupboard door he'd acquired some time ago and had painted white. His plan was to draw a picture on it, a work of art perhaps. He had tried before. He'd used charcoal to make black marks on the pristine white. But he'd never been satisfied with his work and had always wiped the board clean to eradicate all evidence of his efforts. The surface was no longer pristine but that didn't matter.

    Ian's father had brought him a lump of charcoal the previous day and was looking forward to seeing the image Ian would make with it.

    He dressed, picked up the board and the charcoal and left the house. The clock tower,he thought. He remembered thinking of it the previous day so he made his way to the village square where the tower stood, overlooking the square. It was part of the library building. Ian wasn't much interested in books, it was images that enthralled him, now words. Whenever he'd had a book he'd always leafed through it looking at the pictures and never bothered to read the text.

    There was plenty of time. Ian had arranged to meet his friends there around midday.

    He looked at the tower. No, he thought. If I draw a picture of that, there'd be lot's of empty space around it and the picture would look boring.He wandered the streets but couldn't find a suitable view. Perhaps I'll draw a map instead, he thought.

    He began by drawing a square in the middle of the board, to represent the central square in the village. He then drew the beginnings of each street that joined the square, trying to keep everything in proportion.

    He walked down Albert Street South, recording as accurately as he could the way it turned. He reached the end, only to find a street sign declaring he'd been on Albert Street North and in-front of him, the village square. That can't be right. He told himself as he looked at his work. The street must curve all the way around but I couldn't have got it that wrong! He puzzled.

    Next, he chose Poiser Street West. This time, he was particularly diligent in noticing the direction of the shadows and although the street turned, sometimes one way then the other, it maintained its general direction. But Ian found himself once again at the village square, standing at the end of Poiser Street East.

    He sat on the steps of the library pondering his drawing and the streets he'd thought he knew so well.

    "What are you doing?" asked Andrew, Ian's best friend.

    Ian showed him the drawing he'd made "It's like you're looking down on the village from above" he said but Andrew couldn't quite get the idea. He couldn't understand how the picture didn't look like something he could actually see.

    Ian tried to explain his problem with the roads. "If you go down that road" he said, pointing towards Poiser Street West, "Where do you end up?"

    "At the square" said Andrew confidently. "You know that, you live on that street" he laughed.

    "But how can it end up at the square? We're in the square. The square's here and if it's here, how can it be over there as well?"

    "The road must bend around. There's lots of bends in it. If it isn't bending one way, it's bending the other."

    "But that's just it. It bends both ways and not much more one way than the other. It can't go all the way around. It's the same with Albert street. That has the square at both ends too."

    Ian drew a little sketch in the corner of the board showing the square and two roads curving all the way around. "That can't be it. Look" he said. "Both Albert street or Poiser street don't curve anything like that much and even if they did curve all the way around, they'd cross each other. But they don't cross do they? So how can this be?"

    Andrew looked puzzled. "Perhaps it's a different square" he said. But they both knew full well that there was only one square in the village. They'd both lived there all their lives and knew all the roads like the backs of their hands.

    "Tell you what," said Ian, "you walk down Poiser Street West until you get to a square and I'll wait here for you. If there is more than one square I won't be in any of the others so you can come back. Keep an eye on where the sun is too. If it's always to your left then you're going generally west. If you find it's gone to your right then the road curves around to the east."

    Trying to remember the instructions, Andrew set off.

    Malcolm arrived and Ian explained his problem to him. Malcolm had no difficulty grasping the concept of a map.

    "You could always start at the outside and work your way in" he suggested. "Just draw the edge of the village and then fill in the space in the middle".

    Ian though for a moment, tying to remember. "Edge of the village?" he asked. They looked at each other.

    "How did you get here so quick" said a vary breathless Andrew. "I ran all the way and the sun was always to my left as you said so the road doesn't bend all the way around. "But how can you be here when you're.... over there?" He looked back towards Poiser Street East.

    "There's a book in the library that might help" suggested Malcolm, "I've seen it before. I'll go and have a look shall I? It's a book about the village." The others agreed and Malcolm entered the library.

    Ian turned to Andrew, "Malcolm asked about the edge of the village." Do you know where that is?"

    "Of course I ..." began Andrew but then looked puzzled once again. The village wasn't big, it only had about a dozen or so streets and like Ian, Andrew knew them all. But for the life of him he couldn't remember anything beyond them.

    Ian stepped into the square. "You know" he said, "If these roads were straight we might be able to see all the way down them to the squares at their far ends. And Perhaps we'd see ourselves there".

    "That's too deep for me. I'm not into all this philosophy" said Andrew.

    Malcolm called form the library entrance, "I've found the book come and see".

    Ian and Andrew stepped inside. "Where are all the books?" asked Ian. There were many shelves but they were all empty.

    "It's in here" said Malcolm and led them to the small reference room.

    There were several bookshelves in the room and one of them had a book. It looked very old. Malcolm took it, carefully placed it on the table and opened it. The binding creaked as if it was about to beak and the pages were faded and yellow. "It tells you all about the village" Malcolm began, "It's all in here. All the people are mentioned. It's an account of a day in the life of the village. It even mentions you Ian , how you draw your map and it says that Andrew runs down Poiser street."

    Ian looked around "Hang on a minute" he said, "We're in a library that only has one book. And that book is really old but gives an account of today!" He looked at his companions. "Is it just me or is there something seriously wrong here?"

    Ian's companions looked at him doubtfully. They had no idea what his problem was.

    "We need to see what's going on" said Ian. "I bet we could see really well from the top of the clock tower".

    They asked the librarian if they could go up the tower to see the view.

    "I don't think so" he said, "It's not that safe and besides, I don't think our insurance would cover it. I'll tell you what, I'll ask my superiors and see what they say. If it's OK with them I'll let you go up there. Come back tomorrow".

    It was getting late. The boys agreed to meet the following day at the library and then they went their separate ways home.

    When he arrived home, Ian wiped his board clean. The marks on it made no sense anyway.

    Ian's farther came in from work. They prepared and a meal and sat together to eat. They spent the rest of the evening talking and gazing at the fire in the hearth. "I've brought you a lovely piece of charcoal" said Ian's father. "I thought you could use it to do a picture on that board of yours".

    Ian went to bed wondering about pictures and clock towers. He was sure he'd sleep well. Somehow, it seemed as though it had been a very, very long day.

    Ian woke up early, the sun streamed in through the ragged curtains, illuminating the specks of dust that danced in the air of his bedroom. He looked at the old cupboard door he'd acquired some time ago and had painted white. His plan was to draw a picture on it....
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    "The Man in Black" [720]

    The man in black follows me everywhere. I remember the first time I saw him. He was not conspicuous. To this day I could not tell you what he looks like. In fact, I only know him by his feel. It starts on my neck. It is that feeling of being watched. I feel his eyes pressing against my head. Then he yanks the breath from my lungs. He shoves sandpaper down my throat. The man in black paralyzes me.

    Then he takes over my body.

    He crawls inside my skin, pushes my legs and swings my arms. He looks through my eyes and engages my thoughts. My vocal cords twitch at his plucking. I even begin to breathe like him.

    The man in black is more alert than I am. When he is around, I smell the tepid puddles reflecting a grimier world in their finite borders. I feel the scratch of my own clothing. Somehow he tweaks my brain. The cylinders fire faster.

    He takes me to his world. A universe of abasement. The man in black likes greasy food. Painted ladies. Stench and starless nights.

    One time I met him face to face. He was in a restaurant, watching me. I was on a bench, watching him watch me. He must have noticed because he quickly looked away but constantly stole glances from the corner of his eye.

    I got up to confront him. To ask him his business. To bury his face in the cement.

    But he walked towards me just as quickly. The more determined I became, the more so he.

    We stood, nose to nose for what felt like days. I noticed the emptiness in his eyes. The stillness in his lips. His hatred not only for me, but for the world, seeped through his flaring nostrils and clouded the window that separated us.

    It was then that I could not help but feel sorry for the man in black. He was not a menace. He was a prisoner stuck in an indifferent world. He saw things for what they really were: flat and pointless.

    I raised my hand to touch his face. He flinched and pulled back, but my hand remained suspended only a few inches from this terrifying man’s cheek.

    Then a softness came over him. He returned to his place at the tip of my nose. Stared more intently in my eyes. I could feel him on my skin again. Trying to break in like a thief. Trying to break my bones and eat my spirit.

    But the more he tried the harder I resisted. He screamed and pounded the glass between us.

    “What are you looking at?” he yelled.

    I could only reply, “Myself.”

    He repeated himself, over and over. Louder and louder. I returned in kind. The more violent he became with his thrashings and tears, the more beneficent I became with coos and loving shushes.

    The man in black is beautiful when he cries. It is a full-body catharsis. He releases decades, eons, of pain and regret.

    Finally I see his anger calm. It washes away slowly like a fading tide. I wipe the tears from his cheek and he nods a thank you. I kiss his forehead and he whimpers an apology.

    He notices the people in the restaurant are looking at him. I notice people on the street looking at me. But we do not mind. We have just experienced the universe. In each other’s eyes we recognize all the good and bad that dwells within our separate souls. For a moment, we share knowledge they may never come to appreciate.

    But it could not end there. He knew that. And as peaceful as he was, I knew he would never be happy with his life again. The knowledge of love and acceptance is a powerful feeling that can destroy worlds in an instant.

    I still see the man in black from time to time. He watches me like a lost child. Waiting for the day when I will return to him. To give him a reason for all his misplaced madness. For a chance to chase me down nightmare alleys.

    Sometimes I wave to him as I pass by. He does not wave back. He knows that I have seen the light in his dark soul.

    And some men are afraid of the light.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    The Memories [1502]

    I am sweating. I never sweat. My hands are clenched into fists and I can feel the heat radiating from my palms. I feel sick to my stomach. My head aches like someone had stabbed my with a meat cleaver. My heart is racing and my breathing is heavy. My legs feel like jelly and I want to lie on the floor and bawl my eyes out.

    I am sitting on a tattered, brown, leather armchair in the small waiting room. On the walls are replicas of famous paintings. My favourite is The Scream by Edvard Munch. I love the vibrant and swirling colours and the expression of the man, his despair and anxiety. Similar to what I am feeling at the moment. The painting gives me comfort in knowing that I am not the only person with these feelings. On a polished, wooden table is a small, intricate vase filled with sweet smelling tulips. The PA calls out from behind her cluttered desk, “Miss Matthews, would you like a cup of tea or coffee?”
    “Coffee, please. Two sugars, no milk,” I reply curtly, not trusting my voice.
    My eyes continue to wander around the room when they land on a simple photo frame on the desk. In the photo a tiny child is laughing in the arms of his adoring father. I assume the photo belongs to the PA. I find solace in the photo and the thought of this happy family. It reminds me that my childhood had been nothing like this. My parents were cold, hard and calculated. They were lawyers. I had been brought up by Mimi, my nanny, who I considered my mother.

    I close my eyes remembering what my childhood had been like. My parents were never around and I didn’t really know them. We never ate dinner together or went on holidays. They gave me money on my birthdays and bought me presents at Christmas. They never dropped me off to school and were never interested in my hobbies or interests. When I got older they handed me a credit card and told me to do what I wanted. On my 18th birthday they bought me a car and handed me the keys. They paid for my university fees and attended my graduation. They bought me an apartment and got me a job in a top law firm. They never told me they loved me and I never told them. It was a business arrangement not a family.
    On the other hand I had Mimi, she was a petite woman born in the small village of Hastings in Barbados. She was my only family. She baked me cakes on my birthdays. She read to me at night and sang nursery rhymes to me. She comforted me when I couldn’t sleep and when I was upset she would remind me that I was special. Mimi dropped me off to school and collected me. She made me dinner and helped with my homework. Mimi was my parent, I loved her and she loved me.
    Opening my eyes I was back in the waiting room. I try to control my breathing. The PA returns with my coffee in a cheap, plastic cup. “Here you go Miss Matthews. Mr Johnston should be ready for you soon.”

    I nod and take the cup from her outstretched hands. My hands are trembling and I shift uncomfortably in the armchair. I rack my brain trying to remember if I had slipped up or forgot to do something. I was a workaholic, a perfectionist. It was not in my nature to slip up or to forget. I had completed my assignments along with some very difficult cases. I sipped my coffee and winced as it seared my tongue and the back of my throat. I desperately wanted this to be over with. Not knowing was the worst part. I always knew everything; that was part of my job.

    Suddenly the phone on the P.A.’s desk sounds noisily. She sighs, picks it up and greets in a formal tone, “Hello Mr Johnston. What can I do for you?”
    On the other end, a rough voice barks, “Send her in!” The P.A. returns the phone to its stand and instructs me to follow her. I start to get up but realise my body is frozen by fear and uncertainty. I take deep, soothing breaths and force myself to rise from the chair. I coerce myself into moving my legs, ‘one foot in front of the other’ I chant. I turn the sharp corner, raise my head and am met with a set of smooth, hand carved, red oak, double doors. I blink and the memories come flooding back.

    12 years earlier
    I am lying alone in the oval shaped bath tub. My arms by my sides, a crimson substance seething from my slashed wrists. The pain is excruciating. The red substance begins to swirl and flow in the water, like the wind whispering in the air. I hear banging, loud banging from the door. I hear a voice, Mimi, she is telling me to open up the doors. I look at the hand carved oak doors and smile sadly. I sink further down into the tub, trying to drown out the persistent noise. I close my eyes and rest…….

    “Katie, honey. Wake up.”
    I gradually open my eyes. Where am I? I turn my stiff neck slightly to the left. A pair of large warm, muddy eyes are peering down at me. Mimi. I am told that I attempted to commit suicide and cause bodily harm. And that I have been admitted into the psychiatric ward at the local private hospital. It is coming back to me now. The girls at school, the teachers, my parents. I couldn’t cope anymore. I was sure that this was the only way. I was wrong.

    I creep along the gloomy corridor as I make my way down to the therapy suite. My parents insisted on only the best therapist and have flown her in from the States. I’m nervous. I am not very good at talking to others, let alone telling a stranger my most personal thoughts and private feelings. I continue along the empty corridor until I meet a set of ornately carved wooden doors. I stop, frozen to the spot. The doors, the bath tub, the pain, that night.
    I regain composure and I knock politely on the door, still shaken after the memory. A cheerful, southern twang calls out, “Katie, come on in!”
    I enter and look around. The room is spacious with a modern but contemporary feel. It is furnished with odd pieces but they are harmonious just the same. One chair seems vaguely Victorian, while a low ottoman is positioned beside a flickering gas fire. Against the wall is a stocked bookshelf filled with old, almost antique books with a rustic smell overpowered the comfortable room. A young woman is sitting at a far desk, typing on an old fashioned, black type writer. She looks up as I entered.
    “Please Katie, make yourself comfortable.” I choose to sit on the low ottoman. She stood up from the desk and came over to sit on the Victorian styled chair. “Hello Katie, my name is Dr Annabelle Price. But Anna is fine.”
    I look at her with no expression. She seems nice. “I know that the thought of sitting here for an hour with a strange woman is not perfect. But I am here to help you understand the reasons for what you did. And how we can confront these feelings and help you to overcome them.
    I sit for the next 55 minutes answering questions about my home life. If I got on well with my parents. My school life, if the teachers were nice or if my fellow classmates were friendly. I finally pluck up the courage to say, “Look, I know why I did it.”
    Dr Annabelle stops scribbling on the page and looks at me with her crystal, blue eyes and says in a soothing voice, “Okay Katie. Tell me why a sixteen year old girl with the rest of her life ahead of her would do this?”
    I think about it and the words that come out of my mouth are simple but poignant, “I wanted to do it. I wanted my classmates to miss me. I wanted my parents to cry and feel guilty. I wanted to do it!”

    Present day
    I inhale and exhale. Trying to control my breathing as the memories overpower me. My eyes are swirling with images, thoughts and feelings. It all comes crashing back. My parents, my classmates, Mimi. I now understand what I was feeling all those years ago. I thought it was over with, that it was forgotten. I haven’t forgotten, it haunts me every day. I feel so alone. My heart starts racing and my body begins to shake. My sight becomes blurry, I close my eyes and rest………

    The End
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    A Real Smile [1040]

    In her yard with Kay, Janice could tell by the low sun that supper was going to be ready soon. The grass had all died in the circle of earth where the girls played every weekday after school. "Brsh, brsh!"

    Kay stopped rolling the yellow truck back and forth. She looked up at her, "That's not what a dirt-mover sounds like."

    "Yes it is, because I imagined it."

    "Silly head! You imagined it wrong. It goes like this," Kay cleared her throat, "Yudda yudda yudda yudda."

    Janice rocked back, giggling.

    Her mother shouted from the back door, "Janice, Dinner's ready! Remember to wipe your shoes and wash your hands when you come in."

    Janice turned and watched the door shut again. She always missed it. Every time her mother called her in, Janice turned just seconds too late to see her face. She looked back at Kay, who must not have heard, because she just kept rolling the toy truck back and forth, back and forth. Their parents didn't buy the fun toys for them; in the store, whenever Janice pointed out one of the big ones that moved lots of soil, or a smaller one with a back that looked like it could turn, her father just told her that those were toys for boys, and that she wouldn't like it. He usually bought her a doll accessory instead.

    Janice had found some of her older brother's toys--he had long outgrown them; he was in a school for adults now--in a cardboard box way down in the cold basement. Some had big buckets on the back that could hold things like water or dirt, others were flatter and brightly coloured. The flatter ones looked nicer, but their wheels were too small to go over dirt very well, so they didn't use them very often.

    "Janice!" her mother again, "Your toys can wait, come in and have some food. You shouldn't be alone outside at this hour."

    Janice spun quickly, but still too slowly; she didn't even see the door closing this time.

    "What's wrong?" asked Kay.

    "It's Mum, she says I shouldn't be out on my own this late."

    Kay put a handful of dirt into the back of her truck and rolled it to the edge of their clearing, against the grass, "Oh. But I'm here. So you're not alone, right?"

    Janice looked down, absently pulling up grass, "Mum says you're not real." Her mother had talked to her three times now, with the SERIOUS voice, insisting that Kay and all the others were just made-up.

    "But I am so real!" Kay took the dirt out of her truck and packed it into a small mound. "I'm doing this, aren't I?"

    "I guess so..."

    Kay picked up a pebble and threw it at Janice's leg. "And I can do that, too."

    Janice squealed, "You little weasel!" She returned fire with some dirt.

    "Janice! I'm going to come out there and drag you in if I have to. And quit rolling around in the mud, I just did laundry."

    Again she looked, again she missed her. It reminded her of when they used to play peek-a-boo. She stared at the door. She didn't care if she ended up staring all night, she was going to win this game. She didn't care about playing with Kay anymore; that was boring, this mattered. And Kay was just made up, anyway. She knew that. Mum had told her.

    "Helooo. Earth to Janny!" said Kay.

    Janice didn't look at her, "You're not real. Leave me alone." Her mother had told her that if she looked away for long enough, her made-up friends would be gone when she looked back.

    "Janny, you're being mean." her voice started to crack.

    "I said go away!"

    Kay started crying, the kind of choked sobs that weren't quite all-out.

    The back door opened. Finally, she thought, I win, Mum loses--

    No. It was Kay's Mum that appeared, not hers. The woman hurried down the steps and walked to them.

    Janice's stomach sank and she started to weep.

    Kay's crying became louder as she spoke, "Mom! Janny's trying to tell me I'm not real! I'm real, right?"

    Kay's Mum picked up her daughter, "Are you girls teasing each other? You know I always say low blood sugar makes for bad moods." She brushed a lock of hair out of Kay's face, "You're as real as a frog in a pond. Don't ever doubt that."

    "Are you sure?" she drew out the last word.

    "Yes, and I think you're finished playing with Janice for today, let's go home. How do you feel about sloppy joes tonight?"

    Kay nodded, wiping tears from her eyes.

    Kay's mum looked at Janice, "And as for you, little trouble-maker, your father was just taking your dinner out of the oven when I came out here. It smelled good, too."

    The back door swung open again, this time her father, "Janice! I've got this delicious... uh, thing sitting on our table and I can't eat it alone! I need your help."

    "Coming, Dad." She couldn't keep the disappointment out of her voice. She had wanted to see her again so badly. Just one last time.

    Kay's mum waved at Janice's father, then walked away with her daughter. She looked over her shoulder before she opened her car door for Kay, "Have a good evening Janice. Say goodnight to your father for me."

    Janice went inside and sat at the table. Her father was laying plates.

    She noticed that he had taken three from the cupboard, but didn't say anything. Her teacher had said that people were habitual, and had wanted the students to come up with examples. She wondered if her teacher would like this one.

    After setting down the first two, he stopped and looked at the single plate. His lip trembled and his voice lost its usual sureness, cracking a bit like Kay's had, "Uh, I need to go wash up. You can start dinner without me, Janice."

    She watched him hurry out of the room, still holding the plate. Next time, she thought, I won't ever, ever look away from the door and I'll see her and I can tell dad she says 'hi' and he'll smile. Not one of those lame fake "everything's okay" smiles--those don't count. It's going to be a real smile this time.

    The end.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    The Rituals of Hudson College [2961]

    Megyn breathed unevenly into the darkness. She’d sleepwalked…again. Her bare toes were tensed and puckered, her body balanced at the edge of the broken and empty elevator shaft, six floors from the bottom. She recognized this place; had been here before, exactly here – in this very position - for the last four nights. She could smell the old wood of the auditorium and the musty velvet stage curtains.

    Just like previous nights, she had no idea how she’d gotten here. Her memory was all fog after climbing into bed and turning off the lamp. That alone was scary, because she’d never been a sleepwalker. But according to her roommate, Melinda; she’d become a sleep talker, too. And when asked what she said in her sleep, Melinda’s response was even more troubling; an emphatic head-shake and wide, terrified eyes; as if she must never, ever repeat such things. It frightened Megyn to see her so scared, so she was glad Melinda didn’t know about the sleepwalking. At least she hoped she didn’t.

    Just then a foul smelling chill ate up all the air. It reeked of decomposing flesh, pungent and sharp with a weight to it that sunk into her skin. The rot swooped in on a breeze, but there were no open windows, so that wasn’t possible. Her long hair drifted and floated for several seconds before settling on her shoulders, sending her arm hairs straight up through a blanket of goose bumps.

    The urge to loosen her clutched toes from the floor’s edge was strong. A voice in her head – a familiar and tempting voice she almost recognized told her to lean forward… just a little bit. It reminded her of a voice from before; one that would ask – “what would happen if I crashed my car into that tree, or drove it off this cliff? Would I die? Would I feel it? Would it be real?”

    The voice now said, “Trust me… all will be well. Just lean…” And this time, unlike the last four times she’d found herself here, she did.


    ***


    Four weeks earlier…

    As Megyn entered the dorm, the AC hit her in the face like a gust of pure winter. Hudson College was to be Megyn’s home for the next year, and Barron was her assigned dorm. The air was stale and plastic with traces of old furniture polish and new sweat. Alabama summers were balmy and thick with a stickiness that brought to mind tree sap and sweet tea.

    As a petite, tightly wound gal, Megyn’s broad smile and fun vibe allowed her to glide easily through life. It had always been this way, despite her propensity for strong opinions; something her parents constantly warned was too-much-for-her-own-good. She never knew what that meant, exactly. But she figured it meant they didn’t like it.

    They were extremely proud, though, when she won the Piano Scholarship to attend Hudson College – a Baptist girl’s school and an institution of piety and southern tradition. Something about it, in their mind, gave them bragging rights, as if they were the ones who’d earned that scholarship. That was something Megyn loathed. But then again, if she were honest - there were many things she loathed about her parents. This was just the latest.

    She actually had very mixed feelings about being here; anxiety and excitement, apprehension and joy. She knew what everyone back home expected of her in a place like this; “big things”, they’d say. But she also knew she was far away from those peering, often critical eyes and leading comments. She could be herself here. Regardless of the confines of this place and its restrictions (and according to the welcome-packet, there were many), she was finally free. Her anonymity granted her that.

    Megyn made her way to the elevator and up to the third floor. She found her room easily and unloaded her lawn and leaf trash bag stuffed with pillows, blankets, and four pairs of shoes. Her three bags of actual luggage were still in the lobby. She took a second to splash water on her face and rinsed her arms up to her elbows in the bathroom, then went down for the rest of her things. Just as she finished loading her drawers and closet with neatly folded and hung clothes, her new roommate arrived.

    Melinda was a shadow of a girl, even less than Megyn’s one hundred pounds, and redheaded in all the ways a redhead is redheaded. Her tight curls were bright orange, like Bozo the Clown’s. And her pale skin was nearly translucent in its paleness. But her eyes… her eyes were so blue they nearly knocked you down with their piercing severity.

    Her smile, though, was easy as a summer day. And her Alabama drawl reminded Megyn of warm cornbread nestled on a plate against butterbeans that’d cooked long and slow in salted water and bacon grease. Everything about her spelled “country”, and did so in big, broad letters. Megyn liked her immediately. Turned out Melinda also played the piano. Megyn liked that, too - and as the days passed, they became instant best friends.

    “I’m going down to dinner. Are you coming this time?” Melinda asked Megyn one evening as she entered their room.

    “No, I don’t think so. Unless you know what it is today…?” The truth was; Megyn was a picky eater. But Hudson’s policy requiring all students in the dining hall to be formerly clothed in dresses and heels meant Megyn ate almost no meals there.

    “Nope; I didn’t look at the menu this morning. But just come down! You can’t live on cheese and crackers and Mello Yellow forever,” Melinda scolded while stepping into her black leather pumps. That had been Megyn’s diet for nearly a month.

    “But I really need to practice. I’ve got a lot to learn this week, and I want to be done before it gets dark. I’ll go tomorrow, I promise.”

    “Okay…I’ll practice too, after I eat. You’ll be in the same room?”

    “Yep, same as always; third floor, last door on the right.”

    “I’ll tap three times when I’m there.” Melinda said and headed into the hall.

    “’k, thanks.” Megyn smiled a lopsided but grateful grin as she closed the door.

    The tapping had become their signal, something they’d started the first week of school; after Megyn confessed to feeling eyes boring into the back of her skull whenever she practiced. In fact, she was certain she was being watched, thinking it was another student drawn to the music. But every time she looked up, the small window in the door was empty. It unnerved her. So she started taping a sheet of notebook paper onto the glass to block it. The tapping was so Megyn knew she was on the floor with her. It made her feel safer, because even through the notebook paper, she could feel those eyes. She didn't tell Melinda that part, though.

    It didn’t help matters that she’d had a spooky experience her first night on campus. But the music building was a spooky place. She didn’t know it at the time, but the upperclassmen were full of whispered ghost stories of what wandered those halls late at night. She would hear those stories weeks later.

    The building was a seven-story antebellum relic that’d stood for over two hundred years. It was the oldest building on campus. Most of the floors were used as practice rooms; the others, for storage. An old back-stairway nobody had bothered to block led to the top floor; where Megyn ended up.

    On that evening, after a bite with her new roommate, she had decided to get a quick practice in before bed. It helped distress her… playing always did. Grabbing a stack of music books, her favorite ones, she trudged across campus. Her steps slowed, though, as she approached the darkened building. It leaned out of the night like an ominous mountain, ready to gobble up anything in its shadow. But the door was unlocked, and she was being silly, so she went in.

    It was pitch black dark in a way that was suffocating, and the smell of aged wood put her on edge. It’s too old, she thought, and then wondered why she thought it. Slowly her eyes adjusted enough to make out walls, a doorway, and a spiral staircase. Unable to find a light switch, she started up the stairs, grasping the rail for support. They’re close...the piano rooms have to be close, she said aloud. But her voice sounded loud and foreign in this too-quiet place, making her even more nervous.

    The planked steps seemed to wind up endlessly… flight after flight of creaking stairs. Panting and winded, she came to a landing. It was the seventh floor; the attic. A dim beam of moonlight shined through a window enabling her to make out chairs and a sofa draped in sheets, a dozen or more boxes and trunks, and coats and dresses hanging on racks.

    There was something else, too. A figure stood in the corner by the window; a human figure… a female figure. She was tall and lean and looking out into the courtyard. Megyn started to speak, but who would be standing alone in this strange, dark room, surrounded by junk? She looked harder, focused, when it dawned on her; a mannequin…it must be a mannequin! she thought, laughing nervously.

    But then it moved. It was so subtle, she wasn’t sure she’d seen it. But the thing that had been facing the window a moment ago was now facing her. A startled cry escaped as she backpedaled, her arms pin-wheeling wildly. She tripped over a box and went down hard, but kept her eyes on the corner. She glanced down for a microsecond to brace against an armrest and get to her knees. Then a full throated scream made its way out of her. The figure had moved again. It had come closer.

    In near hysterics, she found her feet. Down the stairs she sprinted, as if life itself depended on it. It took every bit of willpower to not look over her shoulder to see if the thing, the mannequin, the female figure was on her tail. Only the fear of lost footing and a deadly tumble kept her from looking.

    She burst through the building’s door and never slowed down. Megyn ran and ran and ran…she ran all the way across campus to her dorm. The fear that had settled in her bones was unlike anything she’d ever known, like it’d taken up residency in her marrow; a permanent reminder of something she mustn’t forget.

    By the time she reached her room she was out of breath, dripping sweat, and trembling. Melinda, seeing this, rushed to help her inside. Megyn began to share what had happened, but somehow, surrounded by frilly blue and white comforters and the gentle glow of Melinda’s desk lamp, it seemed ridiculous and surreal; like relaying something as simple as a bad dream to a friend. And the more she talked about it, the more unreal it felt.

    Two weeks later while in the TV room, her suitemates, Savannah and Mary (both juniors) told them of the mysterious goings on in that old music building; of how that same ancient wood and plaster had a long and troubling history…a history of hauntings and suicides and missing persons. They giggled as they told it, being nonbelievers, but it was then that Megyn began to worry. Then Psyche night happened.

    After seeing the menu on a Tuesday morning, Melinda convinced Megyn to go to dinner that night. Megyn’s favorite, Mexican Casserole, was being served; a blend of seasoned ground beef layered with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and crunchy Fritos. It was unlike anything she’d ever had at home while growing up. Her mother would’ve sooner dropped dead then fix what she called a “trailer trash casserole”. Megyn was on her second helping when she noticed a commotion by the side entrance.

    In single file, dressed in traditional black cap and gown, a large group of seniors walked through the door and up the center aisle. They filed into two even rows, facing each other in pairs. With the way they were dressed, it could’ve been a bizarre Soul Train line from an SNL skit, and might have actually been funny had it not looked so strange. Each girl had something shiny in their right hand, but Megyn couldn’t make out what.

    “What is that?” she whispered to Melinda.

    “I don’t know…”

    Then the side door opened again and more girls entered. They were dressed just like the others, only in white. Megyn recognized them as juniors at the college. Again, they walked in single file, right up to the rows of seniors. Then one by one they stepped through the middle, pausing at each pair.

    “With the end comes a new beginning.” Megyn heard the first two seniors chant. Then they did something that both stunned and terrified her. The shiny thing in their right hand came up into the air. She could see it was a butter knife. They each placed the knife’s edge along the throat of the girl in white, forming a crisscross. The knives clinked together as metal met metal. Then they dragged them across the girl’s skin in a slicing motion, causing a ‘sssshhhhhhhtttt!’ sound, miming the cutting of her throat.

    After, the girl in white took a single step until she was in front of the next set of seniors. The ritual repeated for nearly forty five minutes, until every junior fed through the line. And when it was over, like a marching band exiting the field, they simply left the room.

    It was silent as a grave yard when the door closed. Megyn didn’t know about the others, but she was stupefied. It was the sound, more than anything… a sound Megyn feared she’d never forget.

    Over the next several days nobody bothered to explain what it was they’d witnessed - or more importantly; what it meant. Megyn learned later that it was called Psyche Night, a long practiced ritual at Hudson College. But a ritual that’s meaning was only revealed when a girl reached her junior year. And unfortunately, not everybody did.


    ***


    Four weeks later…


    Megyn’s toes were curled over the edge of the elevator shaft, but they were no longer tense. The voice that said, “trust me”, that told her to lean…something inside her felt compelled to obey. She was suddenly tilting into the open space. Panic thundered around in her belly, but she was powerless to stop. And the smell…the sulfuric, acrid smell overwhelmed her.

    Then with surprising strength and speed, two invisible hands, or what felt like hands, grabbed her by the hair and yanked her down into the black abyss of the empty elevator shaft. She twisted and tumbled through the air, waiting to smack against the floor, confused by the long drop. Where is the bottom? The space had morphed into a kind of airless tunnel.

    As she fell she caught glimpses of other girls… girls her age that she knew had been pulled into the abyss, too. There was a blonde girl in eighteenth century clothing complete with bustle, bonnet and shawl. Another girl with a swingy bob hairdo wore a knee length dress with rows of bright blue fringe. And another with long, shiny black hair with thick, straight bangs was in a mini skirt and white, vinyl boots. Each had the same expression – a contorted, tormented face; a permanent scream.

    Then Megyn heard the chanting; soft at first with growing intensity...the united voices of women speaking a foreign tongue. And somehow, magically she understood every word; “With the end comes a new beginning…” they said, over and over again in their other language.

    And then everything went black.


    ***


    Melinda stood in front of Dean Malory’s’ desk, fidgeting. Her roommate had been missing for two days and nobody seemed to notice or care.

    “You know, dear – Melinda, is it? We’ve had issue with our students running off with their boyfriends since the day they built Marian Military Institute right down the road from us almost two hundred years ago.” the dean said.

    “But Megyn wasn’t dating anyone from there! She didn’t even KNOW any of those boys …”

    “Isn’t it possible she kept it a secret from you?” Her eyebrows arched elegantly, patronizingly.

    “No!”

    “It’s not possible?” the dean said, smiling. “I have it on good faith that she left with a boy named Brandon.”

    “No, I don’t believe it.” Melinda said, shaking her head.

    But it IS what happened, Melinda.” she said sternly, her voice suddenly low, almost a growl. She learned forward, her gaze intense and designed to intimidate. It worked. Melinda practically deflated and crumpled in front of her. “This subject isclosed, and I expect you’ll not discuss it… with anyone.”

    Then she smiled again, but Melinda didn’t believe the smile. It was a lying smile. “Good day, dear.” the dean said, and without another word, she spun her chair toward the file cabinet and busied herself in a drawer.

    Melinda left the office. She tried hard not to run, but couldn’t help glancing behind her every few steps until she reached her dorm room. She crawled, fully dressed, under her bed covers, shaken and trembling. She was shaking because Megyn’s words… those terrifying sleep-talking words had come back to her, like an echo or a whisper, as the dean spoke - and she understood. And as the weeks turned into months - Melinda did as she was told. She never spoke a word about it… not to anyone.
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    Jamal vs. The Voice ...vs. Jamal [1, 055]

    Oh, how the sun shone brilliantly that morning. Verbose City was alive with somersaulting newspapers and slobbering sprinklers. Most of all was Jamal, who awoke with a jolt in his step …eager to begin the day, anew.

    “…” respired Jamal, apparently still asleep.

    Jamal was always a lousy listener.

    It was fortunate that Jamal’s mother, Mrs. Henderson, noticed that her son hadn’t woken from his slumber. So, she entered Jamal’s room and dumped a pot of cold water on him.

    “ACH!!” shrieked Jamal judiciously, shivering and clattering his prepubescent teeth.

    INDEED, Jamal awoke with a jolt in his step. Mrs. Henderson consoled her sniveling son with a hug. Jamal’s temper, however, continued to show on the grimace of his face.

    “I’m so sorry honey,” pleaded Mrs. Henderson. “But you know that you can’t be late today, it’s the first day of junior high school!”

    “I’m not mad at you, mom,” smiled Jamal, his eyes turning from his mother and remaining transfixed to the sky. “It’s all HIS fault! The voice that makes everything happen! He’s the one that made you do it in the first place. I’m not upset at you, mama, and I’ll never be upset at you.”


    Obviously upset at his mother, Jamal crazily pointed to the sky in righteous anger to, perhaps, atone for the way he felt about Mrs. Henderson. He was convinced that there was some voice – some guided hand, even – who dictated the course of actions in his world since its very conception. This had occurred since the time of Jamal’s birth; he was just different.

    “I hear you, up there!” argued Jamal. “I’m not crazy! You aredictating the course of actions on our planet!”

    “Jamal!” shouted Mrs. Henderson. “Who are you talking to, young man?


    Jamal eyes remained to the sky. What was he searching for? Was he yearning for some invisible face to ascribe his own misguided thoughts to? All the while, Mrs. Henderson, who loved Jamal, grew saddened at the gradually deteriorating mind of her son. The poor woman didn’t deserve to be put through such agony.

    Mrs. Henderson deserved much more than to be bogged down to a half-crazed ankle weight named ‘Jamal’. She was intelligent, kind …and shapely.

    “Wait a minute,” inquired Jamal, trying to hide his mother’s voluptuous curves with his puny, middle school arms. “Who are you calling, ‘shapely’?”
    Oh yes, Mrs. Henderson was a BIG, beautiful woman. She was the kind of lady that any man would just love to have.

    “She belongs with my dad,” shouted Jamal. “She doesn’t belong to you! This is our world, so leave everyone alone already!”

    Jamal had gravely underestimated the situation. The world did not belong tohim, nor did it belong to Mrs. Henderson, or the neighbors, or the schoolteachers …not even to the President. The world did, in fact, belong to the voice.

    It was raining fire.

    “What’s going on!!” shouted Jamal, as his mother pulled and sheltered him on the ground. “It was just sunny a minute ago!”

    “It’s only a firestorm, Jamal,” explained Mrs. Henderson, calmly patting her son on the back. “You act like you never seen weatherbefore.”


    The rain stopped.

    Mrs. Henderson changed into a cat.

    “AGH!! A PANTHER! A PANTHER!!” scrambled Jamal.

    Oh!

    Mrs. Henderson changed into a docile, domesticated Siamese cat.

    “You know what?” cried Jamal, dejectedly. “The only reason I even go to sleep at night is knowing that you go through torture withyour voice!”

    Jamal was babbling nonsense once again. The voice had free will. The voice had no voice to answer to, and therefore was in complete control of its own reality.

    “You’re dictating the actions of everyone in this world without them being wise to it at all,” explained Jamal. “So, who’s to say that someone isn’t pulling your strings along?”

    What was supposed to be an entry to a writing contest turned into – something – that the voice had not thought of before. What if the voice was like Jamal, and doomed to the whims of a detached ‘narrator’ of its own.

    “Ahem! How are you like me?” inquired the young man. “I’ve been controlling my destiny since I was born …you couldn’t even get me to wake up this morning without my mama coming in. You are more like mama over there, who now has to hack up furballs for the rest of her life! Jerk!”

    Even the voice had to admit that Jamal was correct, in some sick and insulting way. Were the thoughts now being felt and documented by the voice authentically that of the voice’s …or like Mrs. Henderson, the thoughts of something else being transmitted like a trans-metaphysical typewriter?

    Mrs. Henderson changed back into her normal self.

    The only way to be sure, the voice reasoned, of its own autonomy and free will was for it to win the writing contest for which he had even gone through all of this for. Surely, if one had free will, all desires would be within reach. But what of the other writers? If they lost the very same contest, would it not disprovetheir own autonomy? It was an impossible predicament. If there was a force that dictated the actions of the voice, it wanted that force to be a benevolent one. Therefore, the voice wanted the same for Jamal and the family that was created for him.

    So, the voice never ended his story with Jamal. It watched him grow through puberty, become a star athlete, a masked vigilante-by-night crimefighter, time traveler, get married to his high school sweetheart, have amazing children (who were also masked vigilante crimefighters) and ultimately …gave Jamal the opportunity to fade with his friends and family, and at his own behest. The voice did this knowing the kind of life it had wanted for itself. Even then, Jamal’s life (no matter how much the voice fought against it) was a reflection of the voice and was always going to be that very image. It was simple nature; and nature is paradoxical. Reality both existed and never existed at all; at the same time. Jamal taught the voice that this paradox was just fine.

    The voice submitted “Jamal vs. The Voice vs. Jamal” and logged off from the computer.

    The voice logged into the computer and browsed through granny porn.
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    The Ballade of John and Bob [886 words]

    Daniel spent fifty minutes in some of the worst train smell he could recall. New Jersey Transit was never fragrant under the best of circumstances, but this particular Saturday afternoon, the car smelled like a rat died in a bucket of warm beer and someone left it on the train for six months.

    His wife Jamie yearned for a limited edition, if it existed at all, recording featuring Bob Dylan performing live at Carnegie Hall with John Lennon as a guest artist. Rumors of this unique performance circulated for decades and various collectors claimed to own a copy or know someone who went to school with someone who was a roadie for Mr. Dylan who recorded it secretly backstage. Most scholars dismissed this collaboration as urban legend, especially since the relationship between the two deteriorated from uneasy friendship in the late sixties to near-hostility in the seventies, but the internet brought about a renewed interest in this historical event.

    Determined to prove to his skeptical wife that he still loved her, Daniel ventured to the only place he could be certain to find such a recording, the island of Manhattan. He hated the city. She knew this and that fact would be calculated in his final score when Valentine’s Day arrived three days hence. His grade as a member of the male species also depended on procuring the item at all, so he spared no effort.

    He hailed a cab outside Penn Station after disembarking the PATH train. The ride from Hoboken on the PATH was like a Caribbean cruise compared to the stench of the commuter train from his suburban homestead. He actually said out loud in front of Sbarro, “I can’t remember the last time a PATH train didn’t stink.”

    The taxi bobbed and weaved its way to Greenwich Village where the best boutique record stores were located. The ride seemed exceptionally long due to the comprehensive history of Lithuanian independence imparted to him by his driver. After paying the cabbie and stumbling to the uneven sidewalk, it began to rain. As Daniel roamed the streets of lower Manhattan, the air not only stung his skin with cold, it also soaked him with an early-February shower.

    He stomped the water from his pant legs and entered Vinnie’s, a rundown but famous record store near Washington Park, his first stop. The young man behind the counter with the really long goatee and Pearl Jam t-shirt didn’t know who Bob Dylan was. Not a good start. When Daniel asked if anyone else working today might know about the record, all he received was a callous chuckle.

    At Don’s Music Emporium a few blocks away, Daniel struck gold. This long-goateed clerk, who sported a J.S. Bach t-shirt with the composer wearing sunglasses, actually knew of this performance. Only he said that no recording existed because if one did, “that old dude Dylan would have included it in the boxed set over there.”

    Several stores later with hypothermia setting in, Daniel’s patience as well as his body started to give out. His fingers hurt and his toes had already passed the tingling phase of frostbite. When he moved his upper body the freezing wetness of his sweater seeped through to his skin.

    Finally, at Xander’s Rare Music near Chinatown, a clerk said not only had he heard about it, he had a few copies in the back somewhere. Ten anxious minutes later, the clerk appeared with the disc. Daniel hid his surprise at excessive price and swiped his card like an Olympic athlete. He then sauntered out with his treasure whistling Happiness is a Warm Gun.

    His return trip to Penn Station involved a much higher degree of difficulty due to the rain and the complete lack of cabs on the busy city streets. As it turned from Saturday afternoon to Saturday evening in the Village, the theaters and jazz clubs on every block started firing up their marquees and staffing their ticket booths, but no transportation for their customers was to be found. The noise of the rain blended with the racket of the city and provided a surreal experience that he was sure would end in an emergency room somewhere dying from pneumonia.

    He marched thirty blocks on his two drenched feet back to his escape at Penn Station, his leather jacket ruined, his wool sweater like lead shoulder pads. Even though his belly grumbled with hunger, he didn’t even stop at his beloved Nathan’s to get a hot dog. He just didn’t have the energy.

    Three days later, Jamie and Daniel were finishing dinner when he presented the disc to her. She tore through the wrapping paper to a narration of his ordeal in Manhattan, Daniel still sniffling from the cold he acquired because of it. Jamie’s face tightened with her smile as she read the back of the jewel case. Then she turned to Daniel with a plaintive look, like a grandmother about to lecture a child.

    “Nice try sweetheart, but I saw our credit card statement this morning. I know you bought it online over a week ago.”

    Daniel’s mouth quivered and his eyes widened.

    “And, I almost forgot,” she continued. “Hall called this morning. You left your golf clubs in his car on Saturday.”
     
  11. GingerCoffee
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    Wet Bulb 35 [1,730 words]

    "It's hot in here."

    Father sat in his high-back chair. He had on a loose-fitting bathrobe and slippers. He mopped his face with a towel that he kept on a table next to him, along with his highball. He laid the towel back on the table. Immediately, the sweat began to leak down his face again.

    "Julie, turn on the television. I want to watch the news."

    "Father, the television is on the fritz. We told you that. It doesn't work anymore."

    "Turn on the television."

    Andrew pulled aside a curtain and glanced anxiously out the window.

    "What are you looking at?" Father snapped at his son-in-law.

    Andrew pulled back the curtain.

    "Nothing."

    "Turn on the television."

    Julie turned on the television. The screen was blank.

    "The news," Father said with satisfaction.

    Father watched the news on the blank screen.

    Andrew whispered something to Julie.

    Father's old head snapped alertly in their direction, eyes shining with unexpected youth mingled with the usual malice.

    "What are you two talking about? Behind my back."

    "Nothing, Father," Julie said. "It's nothing."

    Father seized his highball glass and took a drink. He set it down again with a bang on the table, next to the sweat-soaked towel. A drop of water rolled off the bulb of his nose and fell into his lap. He pulled at the collar of the bathrobe and watched the news.

    "It's not the heat," the old man remarked, mopping his brow again with the towel. "It's the humidity."

    "It's the heat and the humidity," Julie said, consulting a thermometer with a wet rag draped over the bulb. She set it down on a table, and looked at Andrew, who had his hands in his pockets and quickly dropped his eyes to avoid her gaze. He again pulled aside a curtain and looked out the window, at the terrible brightness out there.

    "Stop looking out the window," Father snapped. "Where's my dog? My faithful Leader? … Oh," he said after a pause, looking down at his slippers. "There you are." On the floor a dead beagle lay with all four legs shot out with rigor mortis. Its dry tongue hung out of its mouth and its eyes were glazed, fixed balls.

    The old man patted his lap. "Hop up, Leader." The beagle sprang up from the floor and enveloped the old man with moist, fervid licks.

    "Nice Leader," the old man said, offering a rictus of a grin as the dog lapped the side of his decomposing face. Julie and Andrew looked down at the dead dog on the floor and then up at the old man pantomiming petting the animal while pretending to receive licks.

    "Now shoo, Leader," he said, and the dog hopped down off his lap and resumed snoozing on the floor.

    "Unreal," Andrew muttered with incredulity.

    The sun brightened behind the curtains. Father's crooked shadow was cast on the far wall, the silhouette of a cadaver in training.

    "Father," Julie began cautiously.

    "What?" Father looked lingeringly at his son-in-law, who looked away.

    "It's time to go."

    "Go? Go where?"

    "North."

    "I don't want to go North."

    Julie leaned forward, placed a hand on Father's shoulder and said, "It's better up North. For your health."

    "There's nothing wrong with my health. This is my home. I'm not leaving my home."

    Julie looked at Andrew. Andrew began to speak but Father cut him off, saying, "You're a great disappointment to me. I wish Julie had let me pick her husband for her. Julie could never manage her own affairs, and you're proof of that. Frankly, you both make me sick."

    Andrew's features hardened, and his eyes became dots of rage. He moved toward the old man but Julie intercepted him and pushed him back. They exchanged urgent whispers. Above, the plaster of the ceiling cracked. The house gave off a strange groan, and the air conditioner died with a prolonged death rattle. Three faces were bathed in sweat.

    Andrew loosened his tie and consulted the cellphone that had been surgically implanted into his palm, but it was dead, too. The ceiling began to perspire, dots of water falling from the splintering plaster. A blade of sun lay on the hardwood floor.

    "Where are my grandchildren? They're my only hope for the future. I believe my genes leapfrogged you, Julie, and into my grandkids. Unfortunately they have half of Andrew's genome."

    "Shut up, you malignant old fool," Andrew said.

    Father grinned contemptuously at his son-in-law. "Failure," he sneered. "You're a failure."

    Julie physically propelled Andrew away from the old man. The old man grabbed his highball and finished it off. The ice had melted. With the air conditioner broken down, it was getting hotter. Julie again consulted the thermometer with the wet rag hanging from it. She said something to Andrew. Andrew began to reply but the old man loudly demanded to see his grandkids.

    "They're napping," Julie said in a hushed tone of voice. She fought to keep the tears out of her eyes.

    Father banged down his highball glass and demanded to see them. After a brief consultation with Andrew, Julie went into a bedroom and brought the little ones out. She set them in the old man's lap and he dandled grandson and granddaughter on his knee. He cackled with delight, and the little ones giggled and squealed. But then the old man broke down coughing. The sweat rolled off the sagging flesh of his face, which was lobster-red. Julie hurried over, removed the two stick-armed, swollen-bellied corpses from Father's lap, and then hurried them back into the fetid bedroom, darkened by thick shades.

    "I made a lot of money, in my life," Father said mistily, eyes squinting with hazy reminiscence. "It's like that old Sinatra song. I did it my way."

    His eyes suddenly grew alert and he peered hatefully at his daughter and son-in-law, jaw thrust out. He looked like a frog in a boiling pan of water. Andrew's eyes met his.

    Then Andrew grabbed his wife by the crook of the arm.

    "Let's go," he said brusquely. "North. Leave the old bastard here. He's set in his ways."

    She tore away from him, rifled a slap across his face and hissed at him: "I will not leave him! He's my father! He's all that I have left."

    "All that you have left?" Andrew roared at her. "What about me? I'm your husband, in case you forgot!"

    "Just stop," she said, running her hands through her long hair. "Please stop."

    "We have to go." He grabbed her and shook her.

    Rain fell from the ceiling. The plaster continued to crack up and now it was disintegrating. The dead dog, as hard and rigid as wood, lay on the floor. The corpses in the darkened bedroom gave off no sound. The room brightened.

    Father chortled in misty remembrance. He chuckled at some long-remembered deal, in which he had made a lot of money and really got one over on the competition.

    "Someone will come for him if he's lucky," Andrew said. Julie broke down in tears but her resistance suddenly evaporated. Andrew grabbed the thermometer and stared at in anguish.

    "Wet bulb 35," he announced. "We have to leave now or it will be too late. We have about six hours."

    Julie tore from his grasp and draped herself across Father. "North," she pleaded with him. "North, north, north!"

    He pushed her off of him and snapped, "Get away from me."

    Andrew seized her and hustled her out of the room over her shrieks of anguish and protest. The door banged shut behind them. Father was alone with the sun, his shadow on the far wall, the dead dog, the dead grandkids in the bedroom and his grandiose memories.

    His smiled. He had done it his way.

    "The world was my oyster," he said in a soft whisper in the dead room. "I did it my way. I conquered the world!"

    He moved in and out of dreams, his internal organs breaking down. Something like an ambulance came for him. They had to break down the door, the men in queer white uniforms like biohazard suits. He was strapped in the back of the vehicle, and a sudden driving rainstorm pocked a little window above. Then the rain quit. From a pocket he fished the scrap of a calendar that he kept. July, but he couldn't remember what day it was. The year was 2050. The top of the scrap was decorated by the illustration of a girl dancing and grinning, arms spread out in ecstasy. The paper seemed to brown at the edges and curl in his hand. He closed a fist around it and crumpled it into a ball.

    He thought that they were taking him North, but instead they veered off the road into a land vast, broad and yellow, and as bright as the sun. He lay on the ground, peering up ahead at a water mirage that vanished as he crawled toward it. "Water," he begged, crawling on his hands and knees. "Water." He stretched out a claw of a hand, and then he collapsed onto the desert pan, in sight of the ruins of New York City, where water lapped at the foundations of the evacuated buildings but then abruptly gave way to sand that sifted through the abandoned streets in the concrete canyons. The sun in the sky was molten glass.

    He lay perfectly still on the ground and dreamed, not of his triumphs and money and futurity, the legacy of his grandkids, but of water and wind. The wind blew over him, and the waters rose around him. Thousands of centuries later, when the six-legged explorers found his bleached bones, they could not explain what a member of this long-extinct species had been doing here, in this terrible place. At a temperature of 35 degrees centigrade as measured by a wet-bulb thermometer, a thermometer covered with a wet rag that measures both temperature and humidity, all humans and all other mammals on earth had died within six hours, except for those lucky few who had made it North. But a few years later they were gone, too, and then the microbes crawled out of the cracks in the earth and divided and multiplied and as the earth gradually cooled over the long centuries, Darwin's idiot game began again.

    THE END
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2014
  12. GingerCoffee
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    There are only 9 votes meaning even all of the authors haven't voted. Come on folks, we need a few more votes here. :)
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    10 stories, 10 votes. 2 hours to go. :D
     
  14. GingerCoffee
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    Thanks folks. Be sure to vote in the sci-fi contest. Voting for the short story will resume in March. Submissions are open for the new contest now.

    And the authors above were:

    Unreality TV - @Teejay
    To Bear a Brother - @Wowzie
    The Village - @Aled James Taylor
    The Man in Black - @JoshPray
    The Memories - @MadAboutBooks
    A Real Smile - @Okon
    The Rituals of Hudson College - @BeckyJean
    Jamal vs. The Voice ...vs. Jamal - @Exclusive
    The Ballade of John and Bob - @violinguy
    Wet Bulb 35 - @davidm
     

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