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Vote for the best short story

Poll closed Dec 2, 2013.
  1. The Dream Within

    3 vote(s)
    23.1%
  2. Edacity

    1 vote(s)
    7.7%
  3. Consumed

    1 vote(s)
    7.7%
  4. Down Below

    1 vote(s)
    7.7%
  5. And a Little Glass of Rum

    7 vote(s)
    53.8%
  1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Closed Voting Voting is now closed for the Short Story Contest (144) Theme: Hunger

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Nov 18, 2013.

    Voting Short Story Contest (144) Theme: Hunger

    We have five excellent entries in this contest. I know that takes more time to read so I recommend reading one or two at a time. Don't let the time it takes to read these stop you from voting.
    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 1st of December 2013 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.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2013
  2. GingerCoffee
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    The Dream Within [2,020 Words]

    No one understood. How could they? She was just another face in the crowd.

    She smiled as a tall gentleman in a long trench coat rushed to open the door for her. He was older than her with streaks of gray starting to seep into the sides of his dark brown hair. She couldn’t imagine that he would have any interest in the items for sale. Possibly he had a child or even a grandchild that he was shopping for. No, not a grandchild. Despite the gray, his face was still smooth other than the shadow of stubble along his jawline.

    She mouthed ‘thank you’ so quietly she barely heard it herself. She didn’t look up to see if he had heard her. She had always found it best not to make eye contact. She may have been young, but she was old enough to know that nice does not always mean safe.

    She went straight to the display on her right. She had passed the window every day for the last few months and knew right where it was. She had saved what little money she could for that shiny red fire truck. It had the lights and the sirens and a ladder that extended far above it. Evin would be thrilled.

    She picked up the box with a fire truck in it and rushed to the counter. It wasn’t her nature to go out on such a chaotic shopping day. She was never comfortable in the shoulder to shoulder crowds, but the truck had been on sale today. She knew her prayers had been answered when she had seen the advertisement in the paper the day before. She had just enough money to buy it.

    She pulled a wad of crinkled bills and change from her pocket and spilled them onto the counter. The cashier gave her an irritated look as a line of people began to gather behind her. She wanted to tell him ‘It’s U.S. currency.’, but she bit her tongue. She didn’t want to say anything. It wasn’t her nature, but she would if she had to. She would do anything for Evin.

    Reluctantly, the cashier picked the money up from the counter and began to count it. She knew it would be enough. She had counted it ten times herself.

    Her stomach growled as if her very thoughts had summoned it. Had it not been for the sacrifices she had made, she would not have had enough for the truck. This morning’s breakfast had been a bag of fifty cent peanuts from the gas station. The relief she had felt in eating it had lasted all of five minutes, but it had been something.

    Finally, the cashier pecked away at the register and it began to churn out a receipt as he put the money in the cash drawer. She heard a sigh of relief from the people behind her and bit down on her tongue again. They were thankful that the cashier was almost through with her. That she would be out of their way. She would have been thankful for just one more hug from her mother, but that would never happen. Not now. At least there was Evin.

    She picked up the box from the counter and rushed back out the door to escape the glares of the shoppers who had been waiting in line. After having been in the warmth of the store, the cold hit her like a slap to the face as she stepped out onto the sidewalk. Even still, she would rather be out here than inside amidst the calloused bargain hunters.

    She trudged ahead even though the snow had begun to fall in soft fluffy clumps. It was only six blocks. With the box tucked firmly under her arm, she clutched her hands together tightly. It would be a long night, probably the longest so far this year. The last time it had snowed, she had shook so hard that she had finally stopped shaking. She had assumed that she would die of hypothermia. It had been strangely comforting to think about being with her mother again, but just like every other morning, she woke up and had to go through the strenuous process again. The dream within kept her going.

    As she neared the apartment, she frowned. There were no Christmas lights here to brighten the streets. No jolly wreath hanging from the door. It shouldn’t surprise her. Steve and Ginger never did anything more than what was absolutely necessary. At least she could be thankful for what they had done. They had taken her brother in. Fed him and clothed him. It didn’t matter that they did it for the monthly government check. What they did was more than she could ever do.

    She took in a deep breath and knocked at the door. She smiled as she heard the scurry of feet. It had to be Evin. He was the only twelve year old she knew that could sound like a herd of elephants.

    The door opened and she was greeted by a young boy with blonde hair and deep green eyes. She stared at him in disbelief. He was at least a foot taller than the last time she had seen him. His eyes widened as he spotted the box under her arm. She hadn’t enough money to have it wrapped too, but that was okay. She had wanted to see his expression when he saw it.

    “Keela, is that for me?”

    “Do you know any other little boys who want to be a fireman when they grow up?” She asked with a wink.

    “Who’s at the door?” A voice shouted from the other room.

    “It’s Keela!”

    “Well go outside or shut the door. You’re letting the heat out.” Of course they wouldn’t invite her in. She was worthless to them. An intruder. She wasn’t a child anymore and there would be no checks for taking care of her.

    Evin started to step outside, but she stopped him.

    “It’s okay. I have somewhere I have to be.” She lied. She handed the box to him and gave him a fierce hug before she backed away from the door. “Maybe when the weather’s nicer, I’ll come back and you can show me how it works.”

    “Thank you Keela. It’s awesome.” He said as he turned the box in his hands and read the packaging.

    “Evin shut that door!” The voice bellowed again.

    “I love you Evin. I’ll see you soon.”

    “I love you too Keela.” He backed into the apartment and shut the door. Again the darkness descended on her and she felt the cramps start back up in the pit of her stomach. It would be another long night.

    She began the long walk back, now made treacherous from the ice that had started to form on the sidewalk. Even when she reached her spot, if it had not already been taken, it wouldn’t offer much comfort from the likes of this storm.

    As the wind began to pick up, her journey slowed as the drops of rain and snow began to blind her. Still, she fought on. It wasn’t her nature to give up. When she set her mind to something she followed through. Her stomach growled in agreement.

    Suddenly a hand grabbed her arm. Had she not been practically frozen solid, she would have struggled to break the hold that the stranger had on her. As it was, she surrendered to whatever fate may befall her. There wasn’t anything she could do anyway. She shivered again as she was thrust inside the warmth of a building. Her eyes slowly began to focus and she realized she was in a diner that she had passed on several occasions. She turned around and found herself face to face with the gentleman from the toy store. The one who had held the door open for her.

    He motioned toward an empty booth and she walked a bit unsteadily toward it. When she sat down, a waitress approached.

    “What will it be?” The waitress asked and Keela looked over inquisitively at the stranger.

    “I’ll have a cup of coffee.” The man said. “What would you like?” He said, looking at Keela.

    “I don’t need…” She started and he cut her off.

    “Get her a cup of coffee and a bowl of your house soup.” He nodded his head as he considered his order. “For now.” He added. The waitress scribbled on her notepad and tucked the pencil behind her ear. She left and Keela finally made eye contact with the man.

    “What’s your name?”

    “Keela.”

    After a moment of silence, he continued. “This is the part where you are supposed to ask my name.”

    She started to say something snide, but bit her lip. This stranger had only been kind to her. Until he did something to the contrary, she would at least treat him decently.

    “What’s your name?” She managed.

    “Ford Bennett.” The waitress came out with two cups and a pot of coffee. She placed the cups in front of them and poured in the steamy hot brew. Keela wrapped her hands around the cup and savored the warmth against her skin.

    “How long have you been homeless?” He asked and she looked up in shock. “I’ve saw you in the alley beside the Sunset Market.” He said in way of explanation before she could ask the obvious question.

    “Two years. Today.” She added. She would always remember the day that her mother had died in the accident. Christmas Eve. Keela and Evin had no other family besides their mother. On Christmas Eve, Family and Children Services had taken Evin. He had been ten, but Keela was twenty and too old to go into foster care. Keela and Evin didn’t have much when their mother was alive, but when she died they had nothing except for each other.

    “Who was the fire truck for?”

    “My baby brother.” She dared not speak his name. This man had been nice to her, but he was a stranger just the same. Better to be safe than sorry. The waitress came out with a large bowl of soup and Keela’s stomach growled again. Ford smiled.

    “I’ve been looking for a few good hands, people I can trust. I just recently acquired some apartments that are in dire need of a good cleaning. Do you know how to clean?”

    “Yes.” She said with a hint of suspicion in her voice.

    “I don’t like to hire just anybody. I look for people that are down on their luck, but not because they’re lazy. I look for people with character.” He took a sip of his coffee and then continued. “When you bought that truck today, you used everything you had, didn’t you?”

    “Yes.”

    “Why?”

    “Because my brother wants to be a fireman and I don’t want him to lose sight of his dreams.”

    “And what are your dreams Keela?”

    “To see my brother become a fireman.” She answered honestly. Ford nodded as if he had known this would be her answer.

    “Someday you may have dreams of your own Keela. Your life’s far from over.” He pushed the bowl of soup closer to her when he realized she still hadn’t taken a bite. “Would you like to work for me? I can pay you minimum wage and provide you with an apartment. All I ask for in return is that you help clean the apartments. I’ll never ask you to work more than forty hours and never on Sunday. What do you think?”

    “I don’t know what to say.”

    “Say yes. There’s no strings attached. You have my word.”

    “Yes.” She couldn’t believe that this was happening to her. Perhaps she had died in the blizzard after all. Then again, had that happened she would be talking to her mother, not a stranger. She took a sip from her soup and the warm broth soothed her aching stomach.

    When she finished her bowl, she looked into Ford’s eyes. Something told her that she would never be hungry again.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    “Edacity” [2,264]


    Bishop Flecker stuffed his files into a handmade leather briefcase and turned the lights off in his office. The other lawyers were already leaving ahead of him. His secretary Pam smiled and waved goodbye.

    “Better luck next week, Mr. Flecker.”

    “It can’t be any worse. Enjoy your weekend, Pam.”

    Before he could escape the office, Lance stopped him at the elevator.

    "There’s an insane party in Brooklyn tonight. Can you and Melanie make it?" Lance asked.

    "Melanie's covering a night shift at the hospital.”

    “Do you have plans?”

    “No,” said Bishop.

    Lance handed him a homemade flyer. He disliked the color scheme if there was one and thought a full sheet of paper was wasteful and common.

    "Great. Eight o'clock. Bring an appetizer or some wine,” said Lance.

    “Wine and appetizers for an insane party?” said Bishop. “I picture absinth and hookers when I think of insane parties, Lance.”

    “Bring whatever you want to, it’s not my place. You can make it insane.”

    Bishop thought Lance lacked experience, taste, and culture. He misused descriptive words and spoke in hyperbole. He would probably find himself in a room with other Lance-like adults playing charades tonight.

    As Bishop left the firm he speculated more about the party. Brooklyn? He supposed there were some decent places in Brooklyn. Maybe it would be a bohemian gathering. He looked at the flyer in his hand, again. No, it was not an artists’ party. He would bring them something classy.

    He went to his apartment to feed Melanie’s Yorkie, Isabella, and to prepare for the party. Isabella yapped and begged for a walk. Bishop examined his closet while the dog ran circles around his ankles. He chose a dark suit and a wild striped tie.

    He locked up and went to a corner market and bought a wheel of Epoisses cheese and a hunk of sourdough bread with sand-dollar shaped imprints on top. This would be his gift to those brave enough to try it. He got on a train in the subway and started for the party.

    At a quarter past eight he knocked on the door of a small house in a drab neighborhood. He had a little hope, remembering some of the wild parties he’d been at in lower-class neighborhoods where honor was sparse and carnality copious. A stranger in a dull cardigan and slacks greeted him. “The Macarena” was playing and a mixed group of average looking people were laughing and dancing in the living room. Bishop had overdressed for the occasion. Most of the women were wearing yoga pants or jeans tucked into Ugg boots, and the men were wearing t-shirts and faded jeans.

    Bishop went into the kitchen and started preparing his appetizer. Two lesbians with chopped hair holding empty wine glasses were chatting next to the refrigerator. One of them held a wine bottle at her hip. It was decent Cabernet Sauvignon.

    “Do either of you like Epoisses?” he asked them.

    “What is that?” asked the girl holding the bottle.

    “French cheese. It’s better with white wine, but try some with your Cabernet.”

    As Bishop cut into the Epoisses they turned their noses into their shoulders and walked away. He didn’t care much.

    Lance rushed in as he was trying a small bite of cheese. "What the fuck is that?" He covered his nose with his hand.

    Bishop laughed and held a triangular cut out towards him. "Here, try it."

    "Get that away from me."

    "Are you serious? This is expensive cheese, Lance. It's amazing, try it."

    "You have to throw your cheese out or leave, dude. I'm not kidding. We can smell it in the living room and people are mad. It smells like a gym locker room."

    The guests where watching him. He squeezed the knife until his knuckles hurt, dropped it on the counter and gathered his food.

    "You people have no fucking class. Enjoy your insane party." He walked out of the house and slammed the door.

    He walked past his subway entrance and was lost in an unfamiliar part of the city before he remembered he was going home. Dim streetlights flickered with hums. It was not a neighborhood he would have arrived in by choice. Everyone and everything was shabby. There were chain link fences taller than Bishop, fortifying each yard; the buildings were all brick, and people hanging out on stoops were loud and provocative when he passed by.

    He aimed for the skyscrapers, the big bright lights of civilization.

    He came to a park. Whether it was for a sense of adventure or the risk of danger, he decided to cut through. It looked empty. He crossed to the other side without an incident, and feeling robbed, decided to go back to a bench and eat the cheese alone.

    As he dipped a hunk of sourdough into the Epoisses he heard a dog whimper behind him. He turned around. It was too dark to see. He called to the dog, "here poochie, pooch."

    It whimpered again. He walked slowly into the dark, allowing his eyes to adjust what they would. There was a black mass against the base of a red maple tree. On it lay a black dog with kaleidoscopic eyes.

    Bishop's eyes adjusted more to make out its rawboned body. Its face was gaunt and dog-tired. He knelt down slowly with one arm keeping the food to his chest and the other held out palm up. The dog did not complain as Bishop rubbed his jaw with the back of his hand.

    "Good dog. Who left you here?"

    The black mass under the dog stirred and moaned.

    Bishop jumped back. Two arms rose up and pulled the dark veil down to reveal a vagrant's head, thin with sunken cheeks and a mess of long hair. Bishop could not tell if the vagrant was man or woman. He decided it was a woman.

    She moaned again, longer and louder, and clawed slowly at Bishop with a wicked hand.

    He took a small step back and watched her. After some exertion she sat up. Then she pulled a glass bottle from the sleeping bag, uncapped it and drank.

    "You stupid bitch. You're starving yourself and your dog, but you have liquor."

    She smacked her lips together and mumbled incomprehensibly.

    Bishop tore a piece of bread and tossed it at her. It hit her before she could react. He handed a bite-size piece to the dog. He tore more small pieces and fed the dog steadily.

    "You don't deserve this dog you wretch," he said.

    He spread some Epoisses on the last of the bread and handed it to the woman. He put the rest of the cheese down for the dog to eat out of the box, and accidentally smeared some on his finger. He grabbed the woman's arm and wiped his finger on her jacket sleeve. She was in good spirits, devouring the food and rocking from side to side with a big open mouth grin. Before Bishop pulled away his arm she wiped her cheesy fingers across his sleeve and nodded her head at him.

    He pulled his arm back in repulsion.

    "You imbecile!" he said.

    She laughed at him.

    He grabbed the dog and ran away. She screamed and moaned and threw her empty glass bottle at him.

    #

    When he had made it back downtown with the dog in his arms, he noticed the homeless people against buildings and trash piles staring at him, as if they recognized the dog in his arms as an old friend.

    To his relief he reached his apartment on Fifth Avenue and hugged the skinny dog tightly. Its head lay in the crook of his arm. He backed into two sets of glass doors and turned around toward the elevator.

    Jonathan, the doorman, popped up from his place behind a marble counter and jogged over to Bishop with his hand held out in front of him.

    "What are you doing, Bishop?" he asked.

    "Going up to sleep, Jon."

    "That dog can't be in here. It isn't approved. You can only have one dog, you know that."

    "It's just for a night. I found him."

    Jonathan inspected the dog, and after removing one of his white work gloves he stroked the dog's side. "Someone mistreated this dog, no doubt. It smells Godawful. Where did you find it?"

    "On the street," said Bishop.

    "They'll have it coming to them, I assure you."

    "I'm tired, Jon."

    "Well he can't be in here. The other residents will not approve."

    "Only a night, Jon. I'll find a home for him tomorrow."

    "Absolutely not. You and Melanie have your dog."

    "What am I supposed to do? I can't turn him out. Can you?"

    "Yes. When my job is on the line, sure."

    "Then take him," said Bishop.

    WORK HERE

    "Bishop, I want that dog gone before I start my shift tomorrow evening,” said Jonathan, and he returned to his desk.

    Bishop rode the elevator to his floor and carried the dog to his door. As he turned his key in the lock he could hear Isabella pawing. He entered the room and kicked her back so she wouldn't run out to the hallway.

    Isabella barked up Bishop's leg trying to get at the dog. Bishop went into the bathroom and shut Isabella out. He sat the dog in the shower and stripped out of his clothes. He turned the shower on and cleaned up.

    #

    He was sitting up in bed when Melanie came home. She put her night coat on a hook and looked startled to see him awake.

    “What are you doing up?” she asked.

    “Lance invited me to a lame party.”

    “Lance is sort of lame, isn’t he?”

    Isabella jumped up and down at Melanie’s knees. Melanie picked her up and gave her smooches.

    “He is,” he said.

    “Schmidt flirted with me all night,” she said.

    “Oh?”

    “You seem a bit off. Everything okay?”

    “Just tired and bored.”

    “Well I’m not tired. I felt sorry for you all night being alone on a Friday.”

    Melanie removed her jewelry and placed it on her dresser. She winked at Bishop and walked into the bathroom. She let out a little scream.

    “What the hell is this dog doing in here?”

    She came back out of the bathroom.

    “I found it,” he said.

    “It’s a damn dirty dog. I can’t believe you brought it in here. It looks like it is going to die.”

    “I don’t know what to do.”

    “It’s not even a breed, it’s a mutt,” she said.

    “It can’t help that.”

    “We can’t keep it, there’s a one dog limit. It probably isn’t housebroken either. And I know it has fleas or worms, and now Isabella will too. Damnit, Bishop.”

    “I’ll handle it in the morning.”

    “Bullshit, you get that dog out of here right now.”

    Bishop rolled over in bed and put his face into the cool fabric.

    Melanie continued to gripe for awhile. She walked in and out of the bathroom a few times talking to herself after Bishop wouldn’t listen; she finally put her nightgown on and climbed into bed with Isabella.

    #

    Bishop woke up first. He smelled something terrible and got out of bed to find out what it was. The dog was out of the shower and laying at the base of the bed. Four puddles of light brown diarrhea were soaking into the carpet. He pulled his shirt neck up over his nose and stomped on the floor.

    “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he said.

    Melanie stirred and Isabella sat up.

    “What? Oh, God. What is that smell?” she asked.

    Isabella jumped down and sniffed around the diarrhea.

    “The dog had an accident,” said Bishop.

    Melanie sat up.

    “Don’t get out of bed yet.”

    Melanie looked around at the mess.

    “Oh shit, I told you. I fucking told you. This is disgusting.”

    She got out of bed, careful to miss the mess, and went to the closet. She grabbed an old cheap blanket and told Bishop to take the dog to a Humane Society. If he’d do that she would clean up the mess as best she could.

    #

    A cheerful young girl with bright blonde hair and non prescription glasses helped him at the desk. She was concerned about the dog. Bishop refused a tour of the building and left.

    When he exited the subway a drizzle came down. He walked through Central Park with the hairy blanket bundled in his arms. People looked like they had come to the park from the party. Fit joggers in yoga pants and shorts were running, for what? Families in casual clothing found happiness, how? It was like their week had been the excursion and it was time to wind down with mundanity.

    A homeless man limped along the trail with his eyes surveying the ground. Bishop watched him, and every few steps the man looked up and made an inquisitive noise sounding like “huh.” The people all passed by and around him like he wasn’t there. He inched along towards Bishop. When he was within reach, Bishop held the blanket out to him. The man stopped and looked up. “Huh,” he said, and took it.

    Bishop went back to the apartment and found a professional carpet cleaner sweeping at the stains. Melanie sat on the bed reading a magazine with Isabella in her lap. She put the magazine down and looked at Bishop.

    “What do you want to do today?” she asked.

    “Anything you want. I’m going to start volunteering on weekends.”
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    Consumed (1263 words)


    Bolts of pain scorch through my dried lips as they rupture into crevices of cracked flesh with every moan that involuntarily escapes me. Droplets of sweat polka-dot my tensed forehead, pooling in the creases, a frozen sheen on my fervid skin. Lank hair, sodden, stings my eyes. I attempt to bring a palsied hand under control and slap away the errant slick of hair. The hand tremors uselessly and flops. My limbs are full of lead. I groan and roll, twisted up in tangled sheets, soaked, entwining me like a pool of eels. My insides roil. Puke ready to gush effortlessly if I let it. The pain. The heat. I could make it all go away if just this one last time… NO. I focus on my laboured heart beat, jumping as I feel it miss a beat. What if it stops? It doesn’t feel right. An explosion of sparks in my belly. I can taste bile, bitter acidic. My heart my heart.


    We hold hands, staring at the verdant green cliffs sprouting with spiky furs that rise around us in panorama, making us ants. The towering valley walls are patterned with patches of sunlight and cloud, like camouflage on the flanks of some enormous beast. A flat expanse of steeled water, vast, yet lapping oh so gently at the piled boulders upon which we stand, which descend precipitously into the dark chasmed depths. I can smell her perfume, faint now. The air is so clean. Breathing is a delicacy to be savoured instead of an automatic function taken for granted. Spikes of studded stone imprint themselves in my finger, slightly painful but familiar, reminding me she is still there even as I am absorbed into my surroundings. I am now. Not happy or sad, anxious or calm, I just exist. Then that itch. Mild, I have it under control. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just have a bit. Not much. Just enough to make this moment even more magical than it already is. I can stop when we get home. I begin to fidget. Longing overcomes any pleasure I was taking in the scene. The yearning deeper than the blue-black expanse of water incessantly sloshing before me. The sun is in my eyes and her clutching hand with its biting ring seems to grasp tighter and tighter, constricting me. I shake free and turn away from the glare of the sun.


    The sun blooms through the window, yellow coronas flaring through the condensation into my gloomy cave. The window is covered by nothing but a damp green towel draped over the wooden curtain pole. The invading light is too bright. It drills into my eyeballs, filling them with pressure until they as if they will pop like an overblown balloon. There is an audible gluey click as I swallow. It hurts so much. If only I'd never started. I could still get her back. Sort myself out. That's why I'm doing this. I can do it. I've got off it before. I look down at myself. There's nothing left. My ribs protrude through mottled skin. Red tracts of crust and pus rise from my flesh like volcanic islands. I scratch at one with a tremulous hand, soft at first, then really digging leaving my fingertips bloody and thick flakes of dead skin accreted beneath my nails. God it feels good, even as the agony of ripping through my own skin rises above the rest of the pain, a high-pitched note in a symphony of agony. I was fat once. Used to beat myself up about it. Now there's no fat. No muscle either. My belly is empty but I don't even want a bite. I could just put this off until next week, or maybe the week after. Get my head straight, try and put on a couple of pounds. Then I could taper off instead of stopping so suddenly.


    She slumps into bed next to me. I can smell her. Hot, musty, unwashed. I pretend to sleep. She's shaking me. I enact befuddlement. Mutter something nonsensical to give depth to the charade. She doesn't say a word. We haven't spoken for a week. Can't even remember why not, just that it was my fault. Then she is kissing me. Urgently. Desperately. Her hands are reaching for me. Searching. I return her passion, clinging to the forgiveness this promises. I am stifling a smile at the beneficence that is being bestowed upon me. She pulls away sharply, flips away from me (like a dying fish, I think crazily), and begins to shudder. What the hell have I done now? I know things haven't been good but I just need some time to find my way, to sort things out. Then she is at me again, now with a volley of lacerating words. Telling me I don't care about anything, life is passing me by, I have let myself go. She thinks that maybe we're not made for each other after all, that we're bad for each other and might be better off apart. Death by a thousand cuts. She asks me if I have anything to say. I've got nothing. I swing my legs from the bed and sit for a moment, wondering if I should speak. What can I say. My knees crackle as I stand and slink out of the room.


    I should have said something. She wanted me to fight for her, I can see that now. After she left I could at least do what I want when I want, live my life my way, enjoy myself. Without her to restrain, to nag, to push me. She never understood me, she wanted to mould me into something else, someone "better". If I had acquiesced would things be different? Maybe I would have done less but that dark urge would still be there, buried and brooding. That's why I'm putting myself through this hell, to exhume my vile hunger, expose it to the light and exorcise it. What’s the point though. I’ve messed everything up now. There’s no coming back from this. I am faulty. I try to change but what is life without it. I need it. All the good times I’ve had I was on it. Just this one last time. I will feel better and remind myself why I don’t need it. What the hell. She isn’t coming back anyway. But I can feel better for a little while and properly plan. I’ll make a list. Get some good food, maybe even try and do some exercise. That used to help. I reach across to my bedside cabinet, jiggle the wonky drawer until it jolts open. I take a moment to stare at the remnants of my stash. Not as much left as I’d like, but enough for what I need. Maybe I could stop myself now. That would prove I don’t need it. If I can be this close, hold it taste it feel it, and deny it all the same, then I know I am in control. Even as I prevaricate I know I’m being disingenuous. I can’t stop now. My decision was made a decade ago. I need it. I’m ravenous for it. Ignoring the inferno that sears me is easy now I know it's nearly over. I reach into the drawer, shaking with anticipation, and ever so carefully lift out my medicine. I go through my ritual. Carefully. Reverentially. Just this one last time, I think. Loathing and satiation coalesce as I fall back to the bed and let go.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    Down Below [~1500 words]

    They were like to jewels, the eyes, staring at her through the almost solid darkness. The vague light from the sky only reflecting in their moistness, giving them a mad red hue. Then they disappeared as they were turned away from the unmoving girl.

    Lilia released her breath and waited a second longer and then launched herself towards the beast before her. In an instant the red eyes came back at her, just to disappear as the rat skittered away. Lilia snatched at it as it passed between here feet, but she was too slow.

    The darkness hid here reddening face as she kicked at the wall. Argh! I hate this, I hate it! she thought and tears came unbidden to the rims of her eyes. With slumped shoulders she walked away from the rat's nest, out from the cul-de-sac into the wider alleys.

    At this time of the night it was almost completely silent. Of course, the dark alleys were always quiet but now the Bright Above was dark as well, with the night laying its cloak over their world.

    Lilia stumbled on, the tears blurring what little she could see through the darkness. Oblivious of the waste and excrement worn into the cobbles she trudged on, past the slumped figures sleeping on beds of cardboard. Oh, how she hated the place, yet had to be there since her family had been reduced to shameless beggars dumped in the city filth a generation earlier.

    The people above, "civilised" they call themselves, but if they knew. If they just knew what passed them all by underneath their feet.

    How they bow to their masters, too stupefied by money and honour to help the weak, too blinded to see that their slaves are their brothers and sisters. But of course, the slaves did at least have a home and food...

    Further angered by her thoughts Lilia quickened her pace, not caring where she went as long as she was alone. As she began to calm down the tears started to flow and she threw herself onto a rotten mattress she happened to come across. The springs gave way as she pushed her head down and cried herself to sleep.

    #
    Though the sun stood high when Lilia finally came around, the tall walls of the blocks around her and the roof from the city above prevented most of its light to find its way down to her. She rolled over to her left side and heard her stomach rumbling vaguely. For two days now there had been no food and her last meal had been the usual ration: A slice of moulded bread and some dried rat meat. With arms and legs not much more than bones and chest much like a skeleton's, Lilia did not look much better than her fellows.

    She looked up from her dream of food, suddenly aware of last day's blind walking around. The wall before her was like all the others, dull grey bricks, but it held a sign she did not recognise. Over to her left the alley continued into the foggy darkness, to the right was t-junction not far away. Across the junction a ladder was fixed to the wall. Lights were regularly placed on both sides as it reached up towards heaven and the Bright Above.

    "Shit!" Lilia mouthed to herself, her face tensing as she rose and ran down the alley, away from the ladder. Being caught so close to a portal would mean a one way-ticket to the eternal darkness.

    She reached a long wide alleyway and had come halfway down it when something caught her eye. At her feet lay a dead rat, large enough the feed an entire family. A smile spread on her face as she picked it up, her hunger stronger than her fear. It had been to long since she last ate fresh meat! Lilia spit out the fur from the first bite and took another one, shuddering of pleasure as she savoured the rich meat.

    Then the world suddenly became all white, and a voice called out from further down the alley.

    "Who's there?"

    Lilia panicked and ran blindly into a small passage in the wall beside her, dropping the rat in her haste. As her sight returned she realised her mistake and scanned her surroundings for a way out. One of the walls, made of a bright grey roughcast, had a near-black patch on it. Lilia's eyes settled on it and to her delight it was a hole in the old wall. She slipped in among the crushed bricks and centuries old dust just as the beam from the flashlight came sweeping into the alley.

    #
    Enclosed by an impenetrable darkness, Lilia crawled through the gap in the debris. She gasped of relief as the cramped space gave room for what seemed like a vast hallway. The floor was covered in deep layers of dust and crumbled concrete scarred her hands as she felt her way deeper into the house. She reached a wall and leaned back against it, releasing the breath. Without a warning the wallpaper seemed to give away, taking the entire wall as well as the girl with it down a small slope.

    When the world had stopped spinning Lilia shook the dust from her hair and face and opened her eyes to see what had happened. Her eyes went wide as she took in the scene before her. Though the dust still hadn't settled, a soft light allowed her to see through it. The space she had fallen into was a part of an old street between to blocks. The houses had all collapsed to some extent, sealing of the alley from the world.

    On the wall opposite to the one that just collapsed, a ladder hung. In spite of the rising panic, Lilia couldn't shake of the feeling that there was something wrong with the place.

    With a fired-up curiosity Lilia cautiously approached the ladder. It was made of dark grey iron partly covered with a flaking orange-red paint. At its side a slim line of cables followed the ladder down from above. About a meter from the ground they hung loosely, their ends looking as if the wires had been ripped apart. The light bulb they once had been connected to had been smashed and now only its socket remained.

    On the other side of the ladder the wires were missing completely for the first few meters. About three or four meters up sat the bulb which gave off the soft illumination, and beyond it was only darkness.

    Lilia put her hand on the ladder trying to fight the urge to climb it and see where it led. There could never come anything good out of doing that. Many a story about lawbreakers had been told back in the colony, stories so grave and bloody it made even the elders shiver.

    A rock fell and hit a marble floor somewhere in the house behind her, drawing Lilia out of her trance.

    "I know you're in here somewhere! You can't hide you know!" someone called from the building. Lilia looked around her, searching for a place to hide, but with the light from the still working bulb even the darkest corner looked too bright to hide her. Praying to the gods for safety she set off up the ladder, climbing as fast as her thin limbs allowed her.

    For a moment it seemed that the ladder would never end, extending forever into the darkness. Then suddenly she could see a vague light and a few rungs later she stepped off onto a platform. A meter further on there was a hatch in the low ceiling with a ladder reaching up to it. Through a crack in the hatch a thin beam of white light came through, the light she had seen from the ladder. Around the crack a there was a rusty red wheel.

    Lilia walked up to the hatch and tried to turn the wheel. At first it didn't move but slowly she managed to make it turn. In spite of the condition of the hatch the mechanism much still have been in good condition.

    The bolts locking the hatch in place slid back and with a hissing sound the hatch opened. Through the now large whole in the roof bright sun light streamed, and Lilia could not do anything but stare at the brilliance it lent to the declined surroundings. Being born down in the filth, she had never seen the Bright Above with her own eyes. Now, as she stood mere feet away from that world her longing and curiosity could not be contained. Slowly she started to ascend the short ladder and climbed out into the sun and the smell of bread from a nearby bakery.

    A new life awaited her, an adventure none had ever experienced before.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    And a Little Glass of Rum [2,992 words]

    Abelard Simone de Lyon VII had not eaten in five days. He was a gaunt old man, his cheeks had sunk in from lack of nutrition, his skin had grown pale and translucent, the veins seen behind them were thin like a line of spider web except in the crook of his elbow where an I.V. fed and engorged his weak vein. Bedridden, he never left his lavishly furnished room.

    He lay in a king-sized bed, hand crafted by an Amish commune: cherubs, bowls of fruit, demons and a coat of arms of angel wings, bugle horns, and crossed butcher knives were carved into the headboard. At the top of each bed post, wooden busts of a younger Abelard watched vigilantly around the room, a white toque sitting deflated on one of the heads. Abelard was restless, pulling fitfully at the purple silk sheets stitched together by blind cloistered nuns that tucked into a memory foam mattress. He brushed at the wrinkles of his violet silk pajamas, lined with the fur of the now extinct red panda.

    To Abelard’s left on the floor sat a stack untouched meals: steaks, roasts, lobsters, salmon, soups, salads, bread, desserts, juices and water. The maid had not yet come to clean up, unable to handle Abelard’s mood: lashing out at the meals sent to him, shouting curses in French, and smashing plates. To his right stood a short tower of cook books, each emblazoned with the same emblem carved into his headboard, all well-worn from constant perusing.

    Abelard bashed down on a universal remote with his gnarled fingers. His hand was like a fractured figurine with half the pieces missing, put together with tape. They thudded bluntly against the remote control as he flipped through channels on his flat screen high definition television. A cooking show stopped Abelard for a moment. He watched with a sneer as he saw young chefs chop at vegetables and stir pots. Abelard spat, a reflex when he was disgusted.

    “Uncouth vermin, sniveling babes, uninspired heathens,” Abelard said. His stomach gnawed the at his insides like a rabid badger digging for escape. He tilted to the side, reached under his bed past the dust ruffles, tugging the IV as he did, and produced from underneath a bottle of wine. He cracked the neck of the wine bottle on his bedside table as he held it between his two damaged hands, taking large swigs as the excess wine dribbled down the bottle, slithering past the same emblem of before plastered on the bottle’s tag.

    “Abelard,” said a voice from the other side of his bedroom door. It creaked open, the light from the other side beaming in a thick ray as a figure entered. She was in her fifties, dark brown hair, almost black in that darkness, with large brown eyes dazed eyes like a cow. She wore heavy makeup to hide her wrinkles, failing spectacularly at doing so.

    “What do you want, Collette?” Abelard said, putting aside his wine, reaching into his pajama pocket for a cigarette. “Light this,” he said. She pulled a silver lighter from between her breasts, her cleavage an open pocket, and smoldered the end of his cigarette as he puffed large clouds. “Now what do you want?”

    “I brought some food,” Collette said. “It is right outside. I made it myself this time, alright? It’s escargot, braised in an oyster reduction with mushrooms.” Abelard merely shooed her away with a sweeping gesture from his hand, the cigarette held flippantly between his twisted fingers. “You must eat something, Abelard,” she shouted, her short stubby arms fluttering around in fury. “It has been five days, you will die, Abelard!”

    “Don’t you dare speak to me like that,” Abelard shouted back. “Speaking to me as if you have any say in what I choose to do. You are my wife, Collette, not my master.”

    “Damn it, Abelard! You’re ignorance will kill you. I’m calling your son. He will tell you, he will get you to eat,” Collette said, already on her way out the door. As she pushed down on the door, Abelard called out after her.

    “Wait!” he said like a desperate child. She turned, a smile hesitantly peeking on her lips.

    “Yes?” she said. He smiled reassuringly, but then suddenly turned quickly into a snarled fury.

    “Take these fucking plates out of my room,” he shouted, throwing the plates toward her, smashing on the floor. Collette shrieked, leaving the room, slamming door behind her. Abelard was panting, having expended a great deal of his dwindling energy. His ravaged stomach continued to scrape the walls of his belly. He grabbed at the cracked wine again, opened a drawer from the bedside table, and pulled out a bottle of pills. He had trouble opening them with his injured hands, but managed, popping several in his mouth, washing them down with some wine.

    The I.V. drop was empty. Abelard picked up a controller on his bedside table, pressing a large red button on it. He picked up a week old newspaper from the shambled floor, glancing through the headlines, the funnies, and the classifieds. His eyes glimmered as he read an ad in the classifieds.

    “Father?” said an obviously irritated voice at the door. Abelard’s eyes sparked with vitality at the voice of his one and only son.

    “Ah, Abey, my son, mon petit garcon, come in,” Abelard said, shaking with excitement, a grin spread so far on his face it threatened to break his jaw. Abelard Simone de Lyon VIII stood at the door dressed in a finely tailored gray suit, simple but functional. He held a full IV bag in his hand. His face bore a great resemblance to the busts of his father that topped the bedposts, save for a modern haircut and the look of great disdain on his face.

    “The doctor said you pressed the call button, was it for this?” Abey asked, flopping the plastic bag from hand to hand.

    “Yes yes yes, I did. Keeps me energized. Keeps me up and running,” Abelard said, staring and smiling at his son.

    “Up and running? Have you seen yourself? You know what will really have you up and running? Eating food,” Abey said, shaking his head with exasperation. Abelard merely made a childish retching sound.

    “That garbage? I’d rather starve to death,” Abelard said, ignoring the returning painful hunger still growing in his stomach. He grabbed the wine, took a swig, and held it out for his son Abey pushed it away. “This may be your last chance to drink with your father, Abey,” said Abelard morosely. Abey grabbed the wine from his father and took a slow sip.

    “This won’t be our last time if you ate,” Abey began, “Ever since the accident-”

    “Don’t you speak of that!” Abelard said, pointing a twisted hand at his son. “That car crash crushed my hands, my tools, my livelihood and that which raised you for years. It’s like my soul has been ripped out.” Abey took to silence, his father heaving from his outburst.

    “I did not mean to upset you, father,” Abey said, staring at the shine of his shoes.

    “You hurt me when you didn’t take up the trade, boy,” Abelard said, cupping another handful of pills to his mouth. “All Abelards have been chefs, for seven generations, and you had to go off and become,” Abelard stopped, swinging his head trying to find the answer, “whatever job it is you do.”

    “I program, father. And it is better than sacrificing myself to take hold a some damned tradition,” Abey said, “Forget it, that’s in the past. Is it really worth dying over?”

    “Is it really worth letting me die, rather than you cooking me a meal?” Abelard replied.

    “This isn’t a game, father. You will die,” Abey said, moving from the door to face Abelard from just inches away. “I am not giving into whatever you say like when I was young, this is not about the food-“

    “It has always been about the food,” Abelard shouted over his son. “I ate my father’s food when I was young. Then I ate my food when I learned the trade and took over the restaurant.” Abelard seethed out his words, lined with fury and disappointment. He looked down at his hands and began to weep. “And now I can no longer eat my food because of these monstrosities. When they couldn’t fix my hands, they should have just euthanized me.” Abey just shook his head.

    “There are many talented chefs out there,” Abey replied.

    “I have my doubts,” Abelard said.

    “You must give them a chance.”

    “I will, but just one more,” Abelard said. He tossed the newspaper at his son and directed him to the classifieds:

    TO CHEFS: I am renowned chef, Abelard Simone de Lyon. I offer the entire fortune of my family to whoever makes a meal worthy enough to be my last.

    “How long has this been out?” Abey said, his mouth still agape.

    “Several weeks now,” Abelard said. “I have been screening calls, looking up credentials, watching to see who might be worth my time. It came down to only three possible chefs.”

    “When are they to come?”

    “Any second now,” and like magic words, a storm of footsteps could be heard from the staircase. The door burst open and three chefs, and their three assistants, each came in with a silver covered plate. “Well then, let us see what you have to offer.” The three chefs each swept the cover of the meals dramatically.

    Each dish looked five star. Small, portions, meticulously crafted component by component, and architected like from the mind of an artist. Each of the chefs gleamed at their own dishes with the pride of a pageant mother for her child star, looking at their opponents with smirking superiority.

    “We’ll start with you,” Abelard said to the skinny chef on his left.

    “Good choice,” the chef said, “What we have here is-“

    “I know already,” Abelard said, cutting off what he expected would be a long extensive list of marinades, sauces and technique, for what obviously was a filet on risotto. An assistant gave Abelard a fork which he used to pull off a tiny sliver of meat and a dab of the risotto. He chewed methodically. “The filet is twenty seconds under cooked, the risotto is chewy, the sauce lacks acidity and the presentation is too simplified.” He swallowed. The first chef left, huffing and cursing.

    The second did no better, as Abelard had concluded with a swift smash of the plate against the opposite wall as the second chef left in tears. The third chef shook. “This plate is from a recipe I found in one of you books, Chef Abelard,” the chef said.”

    “My book?” Abelard said, his eyebrows raised and eyes flashing with interest.

    “Yes,” the chef said, smiling with relief as he saw Abelard’s reaction, “but with my own twist.” Abelard closed his eyes after the chef’s last words, breathed in deeply and then exhaled. He took a fork of the food into his mouth, and before swallowing, scooped in another, and then more, in heavier amounts at a faster pace. The chef watched as Abelard scooped all the food into his mouth. The chef was unsure whether to smile or start to run. Abelard heaved out all the food, attempting to get some on the chef. The chef ran. “You crazy bastard,” he shouted, still running.

    “Don’t you dare sully my food again,” Abelard shouted back. He wiped at his lips with a purple cloth napkin. “Well, I gave them a chance,” Abelard said to his son.

    “You are impossible,” Abey said.

    “Just make me something, Abey.”

    “I’m not doing it, father. You’ve been trying to make me into you for too long now.” Abey glanced up and down at his father. “And look at what you are. I do not want to be that.” Abey left, closing the door behind him, leaving Abelard with nothing but hunger.

    * * *

    That night, Abelard was awake. He had no wine and no pills. He felt hollow. On wobbling legs he stood and left his room, tugging the IV stand with him. He was on the top floor, looking down the long staircase and realized it was too risky in his state to attempt to walk down it and into the kitchen. He searched the upper floor pantry, finding food requiring a kitchen, requiring dexterity to make. Except near the bottom, where the help usually puts their food, he found an expired can of mushroom soup. He took it, and a hanging can opener. He searched the helps’ rooms, all of whom left him after he cursed them out. He found a half bottle of rum in one of their drawer and took that as well, going back to his room.

    Abelard twisted the can opener, grating slowly at the aluminum lid, his crooked hand making progress. He smiled to himself, the lid open, a prideful smirk glazed across his face. He pressed the jagged opening of the can to his mouth, taking down large gulps at a time. Finished with the can, he chugged all the rum and smiled.

    “Delicious,” he said. His stomach bloated, the overtly richness of the soup absorbing into his blood. It ached at his heart as he began to convulse with shock. His eyes watered as he stared at the ceiling of his room. The bones in his body began to burn and ached, feeling like they were to crack at any second. His heart thumped faster, every beat like a sledgehammer, vibrating the pain through all his veins. His heart finally stopped.

    * * *

    Twenty years earlier, Abelard Simone de Lyon VII speckled his final dish of the night with a dotted half circle of lamb demi-glace, delicately married together from the espagnole sauce and lamb stock, each dot topped with increasingly proportioned beluga caviar, the last dot drawn out into a horizontal teardrop. He gathered this last plate and four others onto a silver cart, hiding each beneath a sterling serving dish, each engraved with the coat of arms of angel wings, bugle horns, and crossed butcher knives.

    Abelard stopped for half a second as he saw his reflection in a mirror above a kitchen sink. He clicked his tongue several times, shaking his head, as he looked upon himself. Three slim locks of golden hair peeked out from under his stiff toque which he brushed back under with a slip of his finger. The apron he wore had three dots of red sauce. He discarded the apron, tossing it in the garbage, his usual ritual after each day at his restaurant. His hands brushed at invisible wrinkles on his double breasted jacket as he cast-off the lavender necktie he wore onto the rejected apron. As he began to wipe his steel-toed shoes of spots, a pair of double doors opened and a young greasy faced waiter paced into the kitchen, worry pulling down on his eyebrows and a crooked frown pulling at his lips.

    “Chef, please, what are you doing? Is this the food?” the waiter said, “The customers have ordered an hour ago.” The waiter looked blankly at Abelard, as he motioned his hands heavily back and forth at the sterling plates and then at Abelard who was still too busy prepping his appearance to notice. The waiter emitted a grunt and sigh. “Chef, please, could I just deliver the plates. You always say it is your right to serve for the last party, but please Chef, it has been a long day and I still must clean up and if we could just serve these guests-“

    “My little boy, mon petit garcon, Abelard Simone de Lyon VIII, my Abey” said Abelard, his eyes sparkling with phantoms of a bright future, “One day you will realize the importance of this self-preparation. This ‘food’ we serve is little more than blank canvasses, my son. We paint upon it like artists. We evoke life and love through the craft. We are the Gods of cet univers cruel, bringing the apple to the unknowledgeable heathens and inspiring them,”

    “Father, that was Satan who did that,” Abey said. Abelard’s nose wrinkled in thought, his dark blue eyes twinkled with an iota of speculation.

    “Satan was not such a bad person,” Abelard said, gazing dreamily upward, “How could we reach this level of unparalleled blissful decadence without him? Also, if there was not sin in this world, we could not be charging five hundred francs per person.” He straightened his jacket a third and final time, gestured at Abey toward the cart of food, and proceeded to walk to the front of the house.

    The double doors opened out into a luxuriously furnished restaurant. From the doors a long strip of velvet carpet rolled out, dividing the room in two. Round tables draped in violet cloths dotted the room, symmetrically placed, a dim personal candle burning lamp on each on which emitted a warm glow. On one wall hung eight portraits, one for each and every Abelard Simone de Lyon, each in a chef’s uniform, each in which the painter captured the Abelard smirk, radiating superiority.

    As Abelard crossed the floor the patrons at all the tables turned to him, jubilant smiles, admirable gazes, even streaks of envy but always accented with respect. Their applause came in waves like the growing intensity of a hail storm until nothing could be heard but the falling claps of applause.

    “Bon Appetit,” Abelard said, staring at his dishes.

    “Fine and good, can we leave now?” Abey said, “I’m starving, aren’t you? You haven’t eaten all day.”

    “Let me just take this in, son,” Abelard said, watching the patrons eat his food. He smiled, full of content, full of satisfaction.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    Reminder to vote - there are two days left. Thanks to those that have already voted.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    Authors of the runner up stories were:

    The Dream Within - @L.T.

    Edacity - @CannaCarpel

    Consumed - @Stwefano

    Down Below - @Komposten
     

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