Vote for the best short story

Poll closed Dec 16, 2013.
  1. Priceless

    1 vote(s)
  2. Blinded

    0 vote(s)
  3. Swine in the Blades

    1 vote(s)
  4. Exquisite Loss

    3 vote(s)
  5. Flowering, On Fire, and Back Again

    4 vote(s)
  1. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.

    Closed Voting Short Story Contest (145) - Theme: "Exquisite"

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Dec 2, 2013.

    Voting Short Story Contest (144) Theme: "Exquisite"

    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 15th 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.
  2. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Priceless [2,865]

    Her breath hitched as her finger slid over the glass counter. It wasn’t like Marisha to get carried away by just anything, but there was something about the ring that seemed to speak to her. It was exquisite. She marveled at the intricate markings engraved around the gold band and sighed. She had never seen anything like it. She had to have it.

    “How much?” Marisha asked, surprised by the crack in her voice.

    “It’s too expensive.” She looked up with mild irritation evident in her features.

    “How much?” She asked again, her voice not betraying her this time. She held her chin high as she made eye contact with the clerk.

    “It’s not for sale.” The man behind the counter insisted and observed her with knowing eyes.

    “Well which is it?” She said as she slammed her hand on the counter, causing a vase of flowers on top of the counter to shudder. “Is it too expensive or not for sale?” The man watched her carefully, his blank expression not giving anything away.

    “Both.” He replied and she grunted before casting a wicked glare his way. She threw her purse strap over her shoulder and paraded out the door, letting it slam behind her. She would come back. They always did. The edges of his lips curved up in anticipation.

    Marisha had never been so infuriated in her life. How dare he? What kind of clerk refused to sell an item on display? Clearly he did not know who he was dealing with.

    Marisha was still fuming when she walked into the lobby of Kandahar Heights and took the elevator up to the nineteenth floor. As she stepped off, a petite secretary in rose colored glasses looked up. The secretary visibly cringed when she saw the expression on Marisha’s face. It took all she had to recover with a warm smile.

    “Good afternoon Ms. Patel.”

    “I don’t know what’s good about it Lilly.” Lilly straightened up as though she had been slapped, but kept her mouth closed while Marisha continued. “Get me the phone number for the jewelry store on the corner of Third Avenue and Pentz. I’ll be in my office.”

    “Yes Ms. Patel.” Lilly replied and hastily typed the search terms into the computer.

    Marisha marched into her office and pulled the desk drawer open to throw her purse in. She was still fuming. Perhaps the clerk had been prejudiced. It wouldn’t be the first time she had dealt with that. She laughed in spite of the bitter taste it had left in her mouth. As soon as she spoke with his supervisor, she would have his chauvinistic ass fired. The thought made her feel better. Then again, that wasn’t why she was giddy, was it? As soon as she resolved the situation, she could buy the ring. That’s all she really cared about. She stared out thoughtfully at the tall buildings that didn’t quite reach the pinnacle of her own.

    A soft knock at the door interrupted her thoughts and she grimaced. A moment later a pale Lilly peeked in.

    “For heaven’s sakes Lilly, how many times have I told you that there is no need to knock when I am expecting you? It’s not like I pleasure myself in here.” Lilly suspected that Ms. Patel did not know the meaning of the word. Lilly had never once observed Ms. Patel in a good mood, though today she seemed more troubled than usual, if that were even possible. Lilly bit back a witty retort and answered in the one way that would keep her safely on the payroll.

    “Yes Ms. Patel.”

    “So do you have the number?” Marisha demanded. Lilly’s face turned a lighter shade of gray.

    “No.” Marisha’s eyes flashed as Lilly stammered out her explanation. “I couldn’t find a jewelry store on the corner of Third Avenue and Pentz.”

    “That’s ridiculous.” Marisha bellowed. “I was just there.”

    “Do you know the name of the store? Perhaps I could find the number if I had a name?” Marisha paused and was surprised to find that she couldn’t remember. She had always been sharp. How else would she be where she was today? She thought back. Had there been a name plastered above the door? All she could clearly remember were the swirls of fascinating lines engraved on the ring and the way it had seemed to call to her from underneath the glass.

    Marisha looked up a bit dazed as Lilly continued to wait patiently for her reply. The name, Marisha thought again. She shook her head. It didn’t matter. If she went after work, surely she would find a different clerk on duty. If they were all as rude as the first, how could the store possibly stay in business?

    “I will take care of it myself.” She waved Lilly away and plopped down in her seat when the incapable secretary finally departed. Her long fingers caressed her chin as she allowed her thoughts to drift back to the ring yet again. She smiled in anticipation of slipping it on her finger. She had thousands of trinkets, but none had ever fully satisfied her incessant need for more. She could easily imagine this ring being different. Something inside her soul whispered to her that this ring would be exactly what she required.

    The hours seemed to slowly tick by and as the hands of the clock approached five o’clock, her eagerness grew. She frowned when the intercom buzzed at five minutes ‘til. Why must everyone wait until the last minute?

    “Ms. Patel?” Lilly’s shaky voice came in over the intercom. When would that girl grow a backbone, Marisha thought.

    “Yes Lilly.”

    “There is a man here to see you.”

    “A man? Does the man have a name?” A brief pause only intensified her irritation.

    “He said it wasn’t important.”

    “Well I assure you that it is.” Marisha looked at the clock and moaned. “Just send him back. I’ll ask him myself.”

    “Yes Ms. Patel.” Marisha pushed the button on the intercom and stared daggers at the door. She tapped her fingers impatiently on the desk while the second hand of the clock ticked forward. The door opened and a tall man with hair the same dark russet color as his coat stepped in, his eyes shifting instantly to meet Marisha’s. There was a kindness in his green eyes that unsettled her.

    Her lips spread into a sneer as she came to the conclusion that he was there most likely for money. He didn’t look like a charity case, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t here to champion some poor pauper’s cause. She considered writing him a check and sending him on his merry way just to be rid of him. After all, she had somewhere important to be.

    “Marisha. It’s nice to finally meet you.” He said and stuck out his hand. She took it warily as he took the seat across from her.

    “And what is your name?” She asked as she glanced at the clock again.

    “It’s not important.”

    “So I’ve heard.” She mumbled and pulled her purse from her desk drawer. No, he would definitely not be getting a check. She stood up and stared at him pointedly.

    “Well whoever you are, you are wasting my time. I have somewhere important to be.”

    “I will leave soon enough. I was sent here to warn you.” He added.

    “Warn me? Of what?”

    “Your worst enemy. Yourself. You will be forced to make a choice tonight Marisha. You can continue to be a prisoner of your greed and self-absorption or you can give one small inconsequential thing to someone else, in turn saving yourself.” She gritted her teeth. It was as she thought. He was there for her money.

    “Get out.” She thundered and he frowned.

    “What would your father think of his little Ashakiran? Do you think he would approve of where you have left your mother? Can you really hold her responsible when she saved your life?”

    “She let him die.”

    “Would he hold her responsible? I think you know better.”

    “Who told you those things?” She demanded. She had done everything in her power to distance herself from those memories. Memories that this stranger should have no way of knowing, but he did. Had her mother been more lucid than she thought? Had she been discussing their lives with complete strangers? “Was it my mother?”

    He stood up suddenly. Marisha floundered with her question a second time as he wished her a good evening and stepped out the door. He had done exactly as he was told and was anxious to be on his way. He didn’t consider himself a coward, but there was a darkness here hat unsettled him.

    Marisha stood there while tears threatened to spill out. She bit her lip, pushing the grief back down where it belonged. As was her usual custom, she let a scorching fire take the place of her sorrow. Heartache was for the weak.

    “Are you okay?” Lilly said as she pushed the door open just enough to peek in.

    “You’re fired.” Marisha said and pushed past Lilly who stood frozen in a state of shock.

    Marisha quickened her steps as she approached the corner of Third Avenue and Pentz. She looked down at her watch. It was five twenty-five. She hadn’t considered that the store might close before she got there. It was her destiny to get that ring. She laughed at her foolish thoughts. Destiny. There was no such thing. Life was what you made it and Marisha knew that she would have that ring. This time she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

    Marisha pushed through the door and the bell rang, announcing her entry. The same clerk as earlier stared back and she thought she saw the ghost of a smile on his unpleasant face.

    “How much for the ring?” She demanded, knowing that he knew exactly what she was talking about.

    “I told you...”

    “It’s not for sale. Yeah, yeah. Everything has a price.”

    “There are those who would argue that some things are priceless.”

    “And of those things, I have no need.” She said impatiently as she pointed at the ring. “You have it on display because it can be bought. This is not a museum.”

    “You speak true.” He said and her skin crawled as he stepped around the counter and approached her. “The ring does have a price, but you cannot buy it with money.” Marisha laughed.

    “Not in your wildest dreams.” She took out her checkbook. “Twenty thousand is a handsome price. Will that do?” He shook his head and her heart faltered as he stepped closer.

    “I don’t want your money. I only ask that you do a small task for me.” She cocked her head in confusion.

    “A task? Do I look like a gofer? Just take the damn money.” She insisted and scribbled hastily on the check. She ripped it from the checkbook and pushed it towards him, but he crossed his arms. Marisha gritted her teeth.

    The clerk reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring that would have been identical to the one on display had it not been severely tarnished. Marisha observed it in disgust.

    “Take this.” He said and she recoiled as he pushed it towards her. “Give it to someone whose blood you share. If you do that, you have earned the right to wear its mate and the magic it possesses. I will give you the ring upon your return.”

    Marisha snorted. She didn’t believe in destiny and she definitely didn’t believe in magic. She snatched the ring from the clerk’s hands. “Do not even think of tricking me as I will know if you follow through Ashakiran.” He said and her eyes blazed at the familiar name. The witch must be talking about her. Why else would she be reminded of her childhood twice in one day? She hoped the old bat would wear the rusty ring and succumb to a bout of life threatening tetanus.

    “Fine.” Marisha said and stormed out. Twenty minutes later she arrived at the nursing home where she had taken her mother years before.

    “I need to see Nitya Patel.”

    “And you are?” A plump receptionist asked from behind the window.

    “Her daughter.”

    “Oh.” The receptionist said with a bit of surprise. She hadn’t known that Nitya had any living relatives. She had certainly never seen this woman before. She pushed a clipboard towards her. “Please print your name here and sign on the right. Then you may go ahead and go back.” Marisha grabbed the clipboard and did as the receptionist asked. She thrust the clipboard back.

    “Room sixty-six.” The nurse said as she eyed Marisha warily. Marisha stormed down the hallway with the stranger’s earlier words still playing in her head. What would her father think? It didn’t matter. He was dead. Dead because her mother was a weakling, something Marisha would never allow herself to be.

    Marisha pushed the door open to room sixty-six and had she been the least bit compassionate, she may have felt sorry for the old woman with worn skin and dim eyes. It bothered Marisha that she looked so much like her mother in her younger days. Would Marisha end up looking like this old hag as she grew older? Certainly not as long as plastic surgery was a viable option.

    Marisha’s mother slowly turned towards Marisha with a flash of recognition. Nitya tried to sit up and smile, but the miniscule effort made her cough. Marisha grimaced, not from concern, but from revulsion. When Nitya was through with the coughing fit, she patted the chair beside her bed, but Marisha shook her head.

    “You still haven’t forgiven me Ashakiran?” Nitya managed. “Surely before I die you could at least ease my suffering with those words.”

    “I wouldn’t mean them.” Marisha said crossly and her mother grimaced. Marisha pulled the ring from her pocket and placed it on the table beside Nitya’s bed. “Here is a farewell gift to you that is as equally hideous as you are.” With that, Marisha stood up and left. The clerk had not insisted she make conversation so it was not her intention to do so. She was only required to give her the ring and so she had.

    Nitya stared at the ring curiously and despite its homely appearance; she slipped it on her finger. It was after all, a gift from her only daughter. She didn’t know why Marisha had brought it, but she had. She smiled as she rubbed the rusty lines that stretched around the band.

    When Marisha finally returned to the store, the clerk was waiting for her with the ring in hand.

    “I’ve done as you asked.” Marisha said.

    “I know.” He handed her the ring. “The ring is yours. May you enjoy it for the rest of your days.” She smiled as she slipped the ring on her finger. She rubbed the intricate designs and sighed in relief. It was finally hers.

    Her eyes widened in shock as the ring became discolored before her very eyes, thin streaks of rust edging into the intricate lines. Marisha looked up to question the clerk, but there was no one there. It was then that she noticed her energy had drained away. She was no longer standing, but lying down in a bed. An IV was stuck in one hand and an assortment of wires connected her to monitors that filled one wall of the room beside her. She looked at the window and could faintly see the reflection of her mother staring back at her, her wrinkled mouth agape. She wanted to scream, but a raspy cough came out instead.

    “Where am I?” Nitya asked and took in her new surroundings in wonderment. A man was standing in front of her next to a jewelry counter.

    “Your inner beauty has saved you. Make the most of it or we shall meet again.” He smiled at this and a chill traveled down her spine.

    Sensing his business was done for now, he walked off and left Nitya standing there. She looked down and marveled at the ring on her finger, the one Marisha had given her. The streaks had disappeared, replaced by a beautiful gold shine. Maybe Marisha had forgiven her after all. It was then that she noticed her reflection in the mirror. Her hand traveled up to her face and she couldn’t believe how beautiful she was. It was as if time had taken her back forty years.

    Lilly walked by the corner of Third Avenue and Pentz. What Ms. Patel had said earlier about the jewelry store had troubled her for some reason. Lilly hesitated when she saw Ms. Patel standing on the corner, admiring a ring on her hand. She puzzled why Ms. Patel would be loitering around the steps to an abandoned building. Hadn’t she said there was a jewelry store here? Lilly shook her head and reminded herself that Ms. Patel was no longer her concern. If the woman had gone batty, it was only what she deserved.
  3. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Blinded. [579 words]

    I lay there in the desert, propped up on an old sandstone pillar. I raised the strange object into the air and watched as the sun beams illuminated the peculiar looking gemstone. I’d dedicated half my life searching for this; the most exquisite object in the world. It was practically priceless—but was it really worth the cost?

    I’d only narrowly escaped from the bandits that were chasing me, my wife however—not so lucky. Her lifeless face was now stained in my mind. I tightened my grip around the object, squeezing it as hard as I could—as if it was responsible for her death. The sharp intricate details sliced into my flesh, blood trickled down my forearm.

    “I’VE FOUND HIM SIRE!” A masculine voice yelled over the sand dune.

    I threw myself to my feet only to collapse instantly. Dammit! I’d forgotten about the arrow hanging out of my left leg. Shit that hurts! I tried to yank it out desperately but the pain was excruciating.

    “Well-well, James! You’re looking, healthy.

    “Fuck you Anthony!” I snarled. He laughed at me mockingly.

    “As gracious as ever I see. I don’t have time for proper etiquette, where is fucking the gemstone!”

    “Go to hell!” I replied grinning purposely. It hurt, but I wanted to piss him off as much as I could. He squinted at me and ran his fingers through his thick unkept beard.

    “You’re making this harder than it needs to be, James.”

    I snickered to myself in attempt to agitate him further. He sighed heavily.

    “Men! Let’s teach our friend James here, my favourite game. It’s called, ‘How loud can you scream?’”

    I closed my eyes and braced myself for pain. It didn’t sound like I was surrounded by a group of human beings—more like hungry wild animals. Their loud maniacal laughter and heavy pants accelerated my heart beat.

    Shwing! Maybe it was the adrenaline, but I felt nothing from the first penetration. It wasn't until I opened my eyes and saw my leg dismembered from my body that I felt it—pure agonizing pain. Shwing! I screamed violently, I could hear Anthony howling in the background but it sounded hazy—as if I was underwater.

    Shwing! Warm blood splashed my face; more swords pierced my flesh. The points of impact felt like a fire burning me from the inside. But it didn't last long, the intensity of the pain eventually began to subside, it was replaced with an unsettling numbness.

    Everything was slower now, my heart beat calmer. It felt like a gun shot in my ears—exploding slower and slower with each shot. Am I really going to die here? Suddenly, her face flashed before me again, only this time it was full of life—perfection. I burst into laughter.

    “What!? What’s so funny!” Anthony scorned. I ignored him and continued to laugh at my realization. “TELL ME!” He demanded pushing aside some of his men.

    He grabbed the collar of my shirt and pulled me close. “What is so fucking funny?!”

    I grinned at him. “I-it was, under my nose all along...” The words barely slipped off my tongue.

    “What are you talking about?! You fool!”

    It hurt my face to smile, but the emotions I felt forced the muscles in my mouth to move. Anthony stood up, face riddled with anger and glared at me coldly.

    "Do it!" He said firmly.

    If only I had realized it sooner, forgive me Patricia. Shwing.
  4. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Swine in the Blades [1360]

    I was dreaming, if that's what you could call tossing and turning with plastic bedding clinging your sweaty, sticky, body while images of her face, her trill laughter, flashed at me. It was hot and I expect that's what finally woke me up.

    I stared at the soft shadows waving on the fabric of the tent and sighed. She was one of the older girls and I had only asked her to dance, she didn't need to laugh at me like I was...

    There was a snap outside. It startled me. Why was I thinking about her again, it was silly, I told myself, I didn't even know her name and here I was all cut up about her. I was curious about the noise though, I was always curious. I started to unzip my brown and orange polyester sleeping bag - the next big thing in camping technology - but the stupid thing made a loud click as the zipper passed over each pair of metal nubbins. Damn stupid thing, Dad made us zip them right up, he said it got cold at night but he was wrong about that too.

    I didn't want to wake my little brother, you see he was eleven and the two years that separated us really showed. He was just a kid and he just had to be part of everything, and everything was a joke to him. He was always smiling, he was always flirting with the girls and I don't know how he did it either, must be his damn natural charisma.

    In the end I managed to get out of the bag and the wretched tent without waking anyone. God I hated that tent. Dad though it brought us closer together, poor dope thought he was saving our little family, but that was hopeless.

    So there I was, mostly skin and bones, standing in just my beige y-fronts. It was a warm night, the moon was up in the sky picking out the waves and the place looked honest to god pretty. Now that all those smiley faced campers were in their tents and out of the way, I could have really grown to like it there, you know, if it weren't for all the people.

    Then the scent caught me, I knew what it was straight away but at the time I pretended like I didn't, I just denied it, just like that. I guess that's how I knew which way to go to find the source. I skulked off in the right direction keeping to the beach to avoid that horrid sea side grass that scratches your legs. I hate that stuff.

    We were staying right on the edge of the campsite so I was walking for a while, the sharp stones and sea grass cutting at my feet unexpectedly. It was amazing how much you took it for granted, being able to see, being able to avoid pitfalls in the light. In the dark you could get damaged. I was wondering, just ambling along thinking about stuff, but really I was already on my way, I was on a journey I couldn't understand then, I was such a kid myself but at the time I really thought I was a man.

    There was this thicket that ran along between the campsite and the beach, my little brother was playing hide and seek with the other camp baby's earlier that day because there were so many hiding places. It was all thorny bushes and that god forsaken beach grass, growing like knives out of the ground. I should have taken my shoes, I thought, I should have dressed. At the time it had seemed natural enough to have a wonder off in the dark in just my pants, but now that I knew where I was and that gentle lilting tune came floating through the thick wet air I suddenly felt aware that my bones and sinew were on show.

    I crept forward into the blades of grass, some of it was up to my waist but in the moon light I could pick out a clear path in the soft white sand. It occurred to me that I was heading in the direction of the humming but I didn't turn away, I kept going. The soft crash of the waves masked what little noise I was making, I was good at sneaking around, I'd had the practice, I'd made being invisible an art form. It was a function of my survival.

    I knew the voice, it was her, the rotten cow who'd laughed right in my face, in front of everybody too. They didn't know what it took for a boy like me to gather up the courage, stupid fat cows never understand.

    I crept forwards. Even though I hated the pig, she was still a goddess and I was a mere mortal trapped by her power. As I got closer I could make out the sound of splashing and the squeak of a pump handle. There were two wash basins in the site, each had its own hand pump, and I knew she camped near one, I'd watched her enter her tent three times since I got to the campsite. I got a little excited, and creeping lower towards the ground the song filled my head, it was marvellous.

    The foliage swallowed me up as I went down on all fours and scuttled forwards. My eyes narrowed to blot out the glare of the camps one and only light that glowed in the distance, preserving my night vision. I pushed forward, inch by inch, between the sharp blades of grass and the tune she hummed grew louder as she reached the climax of the piece.

    Every muscle of my body tensed as I caught that first glimpse of silvery bare skin in the moon light. Thank god for full moons, I will never hate the full moon. They watch over you sometimes.

    The silver flitted between the leaves one more time and she started the tune again. She pumped and more water sloshed into the sink and I used the noise as cover to dart forward ever so slightly. Every blade of that damn grass stung as I curled up in it. I felt like a snake waiting to pounce, I kept quiet and still. I watched in awe as a pair of slender legs the colour of cream became visible, water dancing merrily over the flesh. What I wouldn't give, I thought.

    I watched for a while. I had my move all planned out, I just had to get under this bloody bush, then I would have my unhindered fill of her, the fat cow. It occurred to me that I could jump out and scare her, humiliate her, I could make her suffer like she made me. I could, but in just my little pants I thought I wouldn't be the one doing the humiliating. I made my dash of four whole inches when she pressed down the handle and the water slosh was at its loudest, with a swift movement, I grabbed a twig and pulled the few leaves that covered her body out of the way.

    The humming stopped. I froze.

    A blade of grass cut across my throat and she looked up, she looked right at me but I didn't flinch, I stood my ground, as it were, lying there with the grass tearing at my skin. The only thing was that I closed my eyes, like when your a baby you think if you can't see them then they can't see you, that's what went through my head.

    Then she started humming again, and washing, and I should have kept my eyes closed. I should have tried but I wanted to see. Slowly I opened my eyes and from between the blades I saw the glory. I drank her in, every exquisite crease of her, every dimple of her young body. It got dark suddenly, a cloud had slid over the silver disc of the full moon and her skin dimmed. I felt like we were even then, like I'd gotten my own back.
  5. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Exquisite Loss [1,357]

    Macaire was late.

    He opened the door of the carriage before the driver had a chance to fully stop and open the door for him. He didn’t like disappointing her but couldn’t seem to stop himself from doing so. He rushed up the stairs to the door that the Maître D’ opened to hurry him in. As he stepped through the threshold, hands took hold of his coat and hat. They knew who he was and his weekly routine, thus they didn’t bother with the niceties of shallow greetings out of fear of his verbal reprisals.

    Macaire was late and the look on his face expressed it. The staff knew better than to slow him.

    As he stepped past the coatroom and looked into the main dining room he still held a glimmer of hope that she, too, was also late. It was a hollow hope that was dashed when he saw her at their table, the table they ate at every week. She had a glass of wine, a Pinot from his own vineyard, but it was barely touched. He knew he couldn’t judge how long she had been waiting from the amount of wine gone from the glass.

    He rushed to the table and feebly thought of explanations to tell her. He could explain to her the issues with the vineyard, the slow progress the workers were making removing vines infected with black rot. His quick anger was known and showed itself today in an argument with his eldest son. He didn’t have time to micromanage every aspect of the business, but his son needed to show a heavier hand with the workers.

    He could try to explain to her the problems he was having distributing the wine. The buyers from across the border into Germany were not purchasing in the quantities they used to. With the new leader and constantly changing laws it was difficult to maintain the profits he had seen in the past.

    In his focus to get across the restaurant to her a waiter almost ran into him. The waiter excused himself and Macaire could hear the English accent in his voice. A flash of anger rose inside Macaire at the thought of the finest restaurant in Hettange employing an uncouth Englishman, regardless of his ability to speak French. He didn’t slow his pace or respond to the waiter as he continued to walk. He simply kept an eye on him until her reached his table. He couldn’t mask the anger that was clearly visible on his face.

    When he reached the table he glanced down to his wife. He could try to explain a dozen different reasons to excuse his tardiness, but he knew none of it mattered. He was late and had kept her waiting. And in that moment the disappointment with himself broke his own heart.

    Her dark hair was tied and braided into a single rope that was brought forward over her right shoulder. Her purple dress spoke of nobility yet did not border on the gaudiness that a younger woman would have worn. The necklace her mother and grandmother had worn was, as always, around her neck and she wore the bracelet from Paris he had given her so many years ago.

    He always saw her as he did when she was young and didn’t notice the greying of her hair or the slight wrinkles of age. He had made her wait and the sorrow of such an act hung heavily on his face.

    "What is wrong?" she asked when she looked up at him.

    He took her hand into his and said, "I need to ask a beautiful woman to dance and I fear her rejection."

    She stood and he led her to the dance floor where a few other couples were slowly dancing. He pulled her close and took in the light smell of her perfume. "I am sorry, my love" he whispered into her ear.

    "There is no need to be," she responded. "The business is important. I know the struggles you have."

    She was so understanding, so gentle to him. If there was a temperament that was exactly opposite of his, his wife embodied it perfectly. When he was quick to anger, she was quick to reconcile. When he had nothing but harsh words, she would speak the most gentle. She never angered with him, or at least showed any anger toward him.

    And because of that, disappointing her devastated him.

    "Adeline, you are too good to me. The vineyard should never keep you waiting. I should never keep you waiting. You deserve better than that. You deserve better than me."

    She stopped dancing and held his face in her hands. He lost himself in her eyes. "My love," she started softly, "a man who strives to love better is better than a man who believes he loves enough." She leaned forward and kissed him lightly.

    Macaire felt a thick lump grow in his throat and he held her closer. He tried as hard as he could to hold back the emotion and the effort made his chest quiver. He finally gave in and let the tears flow freely down his cheeks as he held her tighter. He didn’t care who saw him, how many eyes stared at him. To feel love to the core of your soul eclipsed any feeling of shame or embarrassment.

    "Your love is more exquisite than any man deserves," he managed to say with a cracked voice.

    As the song came to an end, Macaire and Adeline made their way back to their table. As they sat back down and the waiter started them on their meal. Confit de canard followed the beginning entree of quiche. The braised duck was perfectly done, as it always was. After the main entree was completed the waiter brought a plate with Camembert and bread. The soft cheese was a perfect match with the Pinot. For dessert, small Madeleine cakes were offered.

    While the meal was perfectly done, it paled in comparison to Macaire’s wife, Adeline. And her beauty, while beyond compare, felt insignificant next to the depth of his love for her.

    He reached across the table and held her hand in his. He tore his gaze from her eyes to look at her hand. He closed his eyes to take it all in – the sound of her voice, the smell of the food, the warmth of love flowing through his veins.

    When he opened his eyes she wasn’t there.

    He sat on a broken chair in a restaurant that had been destroyed four years earlier. Two walls were crumbled, allowing a view of the cold grey street outside. The building across the street was also destroyed in the initial bombing of the German invasion.

    A rain had started while Macaire was sitting at the table dreaming of his lost wife. The water dripping all around him drowned out the sounds of the American troops that were yelling at him from the opening in the wall. "Go home!" they yelled at him in English. "You shouldn’t be here."

    He looked up at them and, in an age past, would have felt his anger rise at the thought of an uncouth American even peering into the finest restaurant in Hettange. Another army of the uncivilized, he thought. They all call themselves liberators, but they all only took what they wanted and left what remained in ruin.

    His anger didn’t rise. Those days were long gone. His quick anger was replaced by constant anguish.

    Home? Home was where Adeline made her presence. Home was where his sons worked. Home was the vineyard that had been in his family for generations.

    Home was lost, burned, and destroyed by war. But the loss of everything he owned and loved was nothing. That was not the root cause of his anguish.

    He was late and had kept her waiting. And in that moment the disappointment with himself broke his own heart. He never made it to the restaurant on the night the bombings began.

    He missed the last opportunity to feel her exquisite love.
  6. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Flowering, On Fire, and Back Again [2,979 words]

    Michael fiddled with a silvery gum wrapper folded small into an oblong pentagram as he lay in his bed. The wrapper was wrinkly, as was the crushed carton he had retrieved it from, battered like in the pocket of someone fleeing a natural disaster. He slowly unfolded the wrapper, careful to keep the creased side up so as not to spill any of the contents. Inside, a beige off-white powder settled in a small clump near the bottom, barely visible, but obviously there.

    “You’re breakfast is on the table young man, you better scoot down here,” his mom said from downstairs, her voice shrill like a washed up opera singer. Michael scurried the package back together, putting the wadded wrapper back into its crumpled gum box and stowed it into one of the cupboards at the head of his bed. He sighed as he lay in bed, too comfortable to be bothered with getting dressed. His clock read seven o’clock, an hour before school started. His mom always rushed him, when in the end it took him only twenty minutes to wash, dress, eat, and be out the door.

    He turned onto his side in a fetal position and looked at his room. His TV was an old boob tube, barely compatible with his Xbox 360 which were dirty at the edges, in the narrow gap that ran around it, filled with miscellaneous filth. His walls were patched with faded rectangles, areas where he had put up posters of supermodels, rock stars, and rappers. His mother just discovered them, after two years of being oblivious to his room, and insisted that she rip them down for him. Sixteen year old boys should not have half naked women and druggies on their walls, she had said. The only thing left to stare at was a single piece of kitsch art his mom found at an estate sale at dead Mrs. Callahan’s, putting it up as consolation.

    It was as wide as the flat top of his dresser, big enough to attract someone’s attention for a moment until they realized it was motel art and found something else to do. The painting was of an abandoned garden arbor by a lake. Flowers grew in the forefront, hogging attention from the background. The arbor was the only man made structure in sight, vines growing up the poles, some flowering as they climbed. Tall grass attempted to hide the vast lake which dropped far into the back of the painting, touching at distant rocks which barricaded a mountain. Michael did not see this; all he saw was a boring painting. He would rather it have been the poster of Mila Kunis in the panties and cowboy hat, something he could masturbate to. One of his eyebrows rose up like an idea light bulb.

    He grabbed his cell phone from the bottom of his bed detaching from the charger. His finger flicked on it quickly as he shuffled the rest of his body under his covers, sticking his free hand down into the darkness as his sheets tented and pulsed. A quick knock on the door and the hints of opening jolted Michael to a halt.

    “Son, you mom said- what were you doing?” said Michael’s dad, eyebrows furrowed.

    “God, nothing dad. I’ll be down in a second,” Michael said tersely, his heart pounding with fright. Michael’s dad just looked on in a hazy stupefied state.

    “Alright,” his dad said with an elongated tone, “Its Friday morning omelets. Hurry up before they’re cold.” He left, closing the door tightly behind him. Michael propped his head back, looking up at the white speckles of his ceiling and sighed.

    * * *

    The table was set with the omelets, his father already seated, reading the paper, as he always did, as his mother worked on some food or home making work or something as she always did. Michael ate his omelet watching at his family talk about the sixty three degree whether it would be outside, about the president’s continuing mistakes on the news, about the garbage man, continually leaving the bag of yard debris and his father’s attempts to reprimand him about it.

    “He really needs to stop. I swear next time I’m calling the company and filing a complaint,” he said, drinking his coffee, black, as it always was.

    “You should, dear. I mean we do pay for a service and if we aren’t getting it, it is our right to complain,” his mother said, continuing to rearrange plastic flowers in a new vase she had bought from a yard sale. Michael unconsciously tuned out of the conversation, his mind filling with static, almost feeling numb at the topics of microscopic importance his parents discussed. Every day was like this, the only thing keeping Michael from knowing today was any different was the always Friday morning omelets. He left.

    Michael walked to school, looking at the houses as he did. They were all designed the same: one door garage, flowers up to the door, and mailboxes on the front right corner of the driveway. All the shingles were from Harry’s Roofing, the only company in town which offered one design in two colors: gray and brown. Michael sighed, shaking his head, feeling the weight of just another day like all other days hang on his back. A hand smacked down, gripping his shoulder.

    “Mikey-boy, what up?” Mike turned around to see the smiling face of his friend Nick G. “Did you try it yet?” he asked eagerly.

    “Nope,” Michael replied.

    “Why not?” Nick G replied, whining out the last word.

    “I don’t know man.”

    “Know what? It’s awesome.”

    “Where’d you get it from again?”

    “My brother brought it back from his trip in New York. It works. I tried it, trust me,” Nick G said with his smile, ripping across his face with honesty. Nick G was different than most other kids in Michael’s school. His parents were always out of town, very rich, and were generally neglectful. Whereas some kids would consider this abuse, Nick G took advantage by testing life through alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. He would always pressure Michael, seeing that maybe he needed a change in his life. “C’mon man, that’s one of the best presents I gave anyone for a birthday, and you’re wasting it.” Michael thought about taking it, about all the consequences that would come if he got caught, all the damage he could do to his body, all the damage he could cause while on it, scared of the what could happen, unsure of what would. Michael had his head down, the corner of his eye catching the long side smile of Nick G, watching him as he thought.

    “I don’t know Nick,” Michael said.

    “Hey man,” Nick G said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of this shit town and all the shitty people who live in it.”

    * * *

    That night Michael went to his room, his stomach full of Friday’s Meatloaf. He slumped in his bed, wondering whether or not to surf Facebook for the umpteenth time or beat annoying kids on his 360. He looked at his options: the dull white of his game station and the worn left mouse key at his computer desk where little translucent spots shown as ghost of his jacking off sessions. Michael looked at these and cringed.

    He lay back, staring at his white ceiling, counting and shaping the small bumps and ridges that speckled it. Michael sighed. He flipped onto his belly, opened the cupboard and took out the gum box. He opened the silvery wrapper again and stared at the yellowish powder. He pulled out his phone and searched “mescaline”.

    Michael just wanted an idea of what could possibly happen to him. From what Wikipedia said, he would experience things unlike anything he ever had before: geometrical shapes, images, hallucinations, inspirational ideas. Apparently, Indian tribes used the cactus this drug came from to perform spiritual rituals, passages into manhood, finding destiny and self-understanding. Michael didn’t give a shit. He was tired of everything. His stomach ached with each scheduled meal, each predictably tickled taste bud. His eyes blurred every morning he woke to see nothing but the same bland rooms, the same gray sky. If this shit doesn’t change anything, nothing will, Michael thought.

    He licked at the powder. It tasted like ground plastic, but he lapped up every speck. He sat and waited.

    Michael was playing video games, shooting cars and rocks and trees. It had been an hour since he took the mescaline and had yet to feel anything, but a small twinge in the back of his mind.I am Michael, I took mescaline, I’m not feeling anything yet, he chanted in his mind. He didn’t want to be placebo affected, not being like many poser kids who end up taking something they never had, realizing only later that it was sugar.

    Another hour passed and the twinge grew stronger, like the back of his mind was pulling his rational thoughts into a cell. The game he played was nothing anymore but him walking in circles, punching fences and shooting the ground. He turned it off and laid back down in bed, a strange energy both siphoning away his vitality but imbuing him with something more. He stared again at the ridges and dots that freckled his popcorn ceiling, and suddenly, a shift. It was barely recognizable, but Michael was sure there was something. And another shift, like the dots rearranged themselves. Woah, Jesus, thought Michael.

    The effect came so naturally that Michael did not even notice when this constant shifting continued at a semi-regular pace. It was simple, not so overwhelming, but so noticeable and amazing at the same time. The specks danced across the ridges, the dots dropped down, shifted over, back again, and around one another. It was like an eagle view of a ballroom, watching as the dancers spun and twirled, never stopping always moving: right, left, diagonal, and back to starting position. Michael began to smile.

    Out of the brink of his vision, something caught his attention. He first thought he had left the TV on but there was no glow, only moving pictures. It was the kitsch motel art his mom had put up of the field in the arbor. The grass now swayed to and fro, beckoning and laughing as the water laughed at the sky and the vines hugged the poles of the arbor, slithering up the stakes like a lover’s leg coiling against her partner. The orchids and lilies waved their petals, clapping each side like giving a soundless round of applause. They opened and closed like a woman’s lips mouthing the lyrics to a song. Shrinking, growing, they began to light on fire, burning with a heat that gave off no illumination only denoted by the red brush strokes that assimilated and sparked in the paining. The flowers burned burned burned and down they went into the earth where a rich dark ash lay only to be parted by sprouts which burst into flowers again.

    Michael’s mouth gaped wide.

    “Oh my god,” Michael whispered to himself in the dark, eyes twitching, twirling in his skull, his arms folded across his chest, hugging himself tightly, “Jesus Christ, this is fantastic, brilliant, god I wish people could see this, oh and that one there, my god, this is the most beautiful thing I ever saw.” He was struck with inspiration: this needs music. He quickly found his headphones, plugged them into his computer and looked through brief playlist as one song popped out of the screen, seeming to be jumping for his attention: “We’re All Going to Die,” by the Major Powers and the Lo-Fi Symphony.

    The piano keys splashed down like a wave as the intro began. Michael continued to watch the painting which seemed to react to the song like ripples of a tossed stone into a pond. The lyrics vocalized slow and methodical: I can’t believe what I’m seeing here. We should be running for our lives… The song continued into its melody, the flowers in the painting began to match their reincarnate process with the flow of the song, the grass beginning to sway and cross hatch with one another as the guitar riffs clashed mightily against one another. The crescendo grew louder and hard and the whole painting began to jump, cross like beautiful havoc on one another. The drums puttered on like a march as the song rose and fell, the lyrics seemingly holding a new kind of meaning, a depth that is indescribable and foreboding.

    Michael began to cry, tears began to flow and his nose began to stuff. Everything was in sync. The outside world barely existed to Michael now, as he watched the painting continue to dance for him. He felt like a resurrection just occurred in his soul, that he had transcended any mortal capability, the laws of nature now bowed to him, revealing to him secrets that only a chosen few would ever see. His tears flowed harder from delight, from fear, from sorrow, from the entire spectrum of emotion. He could barely tell anymore. All the muscles in his body tensed. He looked down at his arms, slightly shifting like everything else he saw, and noticed that he had dug his nails into his forearms, red lines slashed down them like a feral beast. He did not care. He smiled, he cried and smiled, his teeth clenching so far down on one another he was sure they would shatter. His mouth’s smile expanded so wide he was sure the corners of his lips split into his cheeks, but he kept smiling as the song reached its climax and finale, as the painting began to sway softly: The refinery looks beautiful at night… the song continued.

    After its finish, Michael checked the clock: two in the morning. He had been on mescaline for at least two hours, maybe more. The drug assimilated into him so seamlessly, he couldn’t tell anymore. The effects weren’t diminishing at all, with or without music, everything he saw continued to shift. A wave of fright struck him, What if I never see anything normal again he thought. He took two deep breaths, calmed himself, and thought rationally, that like everything, the effects would end. But what if I don’t want it to? he thought again.

    It was true: he had never seen anything like this, this loveliness. Nothing in the real world had ever brought him to tears like this had. He didn’t want to think of this feeling ever leaving him. He looked at his computer screen: his wallpaper was a painting called “The Wanderer,” a man who looked on a mountain into a foggy nothingness. The fog drifted back and forth and the few visible peaks rose through the crags.Beautiful, Michael thought.

    He started to Wikipedia artists, all of them, seeing the hidden secrets in all of them. They talked some, without words, but their mouths would move. Dual images arose, and secrets in most painting walked about in plain sight. Michael had entered a new world, where everything was revealed to him. Whether it was fearful or delightful, he saw it all, like a private gift each artist and painting gave to him.

    Michael stopped on Van Gogh. The swirling strokes, the colors and lines, they span and met one another and were more beautiful than anything imaginable. He stopped on a painting, a field of crows. The crows flapped ineffectively, trying to venture towards a distant moon in the vast dark sky. A field of wheat pushed itself front and back swatting at the fleeing crows. A dirt path half etched into the very canvas itself zigzagged through the field into nothingness. Next to this image, a self-portrait of Van Gogh sat nearby, an expression of lingering and growing resentment hardening on his face. It was then Michael knew. He could tell already that the mescaline was wearing down: already the beautiful paintings sitting in hundreds of tabs in the browser window began to lose their luster. The secrets that so prominently danced before him began to hide away, sneak to the ends of the world and disappear.

    Michael looked up and saw the picture hanging in his room still moving, still clinging to life. He quickly grabbed a piece of notebook paper, scribbling down feverishly, ferociously, glancing every other second toward the painting on the wall and the one of Van Gogh on the computer with his sad deep eyes. It took ten minutes. The clock blinded its glinting numbers: seven in the morning.

    He wheeled his desk chair under his ceiling fan. He grabbed the video game controller from near his console, checking it for length and durability. Michael looped one part of the cord over the ceiling fan base and fit it snug against the bulk of it, tugging to check its tightness. He began to knot, much he learned from boy scouts, others from the internet. He held a loop in his hand, looking through to the painting and looped it over his neck. He pushed the chair away. It nudged the desk where he left the note which flew down to the floor underneath his hanging feet.


    I witnessed the most amazing things anyone will ever se,e save for just a handful. Such beauty being withheld from anyone is a shame. I couldn’t live thinking I might never see it again, or that no one else would ever understand. Which is why I had to do this. Van Gogh died killing himself. I think it is for the same reason. It was all too much. It was all too beautiful.

    With love,

    Michael Kuklinski
  7. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Oh dear, I messed up. Voting was supposed to be for 2 weeks and I accidentally posted to close the voting in one week. My apologies. I'VE REOPENED THE VOTING AND WILL CLOSE IT MANUALLY ON SUNDAY THE 15th.
  8. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Voting will close at 7pm Pacific Time. You have about two more hours vote. :D

    (edited: dang 24 hour clock)
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2013

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