1. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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

    Past Contest Submissions CLOSED for contest #184 Theme "Hope"

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Dec 21, 2015.

    Short Story Contest # 184
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: "Hope" courtesy of @edamame

    Submissions will be open for 2 weeks.


    To enter the contest, post the story here in this thread. It will show up as an anonymous author.

    The contest is open to all writingforums.org members, newbies and the established alike. At the deadline I will link to this thread from the voting thread. The winning entry will be stickied until the next competition winner. As always, the winner may PM me to request the theme of the subsequent contest if he/she wishes.

    Entries do not have to follow the themes explicitly, but off-topic entries may not be entered into the voting.

    Word limit: 500-3000 words
    Deadline for entries: Sunday the 3rd of Jan, 2016 1600 (4:00 pm) US Pacific time.

    There is a 10% word-limit leniency at both ends of the scale. Please try to stick within the limit. Any piece outside of the suggested limit may not be entered into the voting.

    If we reach 20 entries, the maximum number of stories for any one contest, I will consider splitting the contest into two. Only one entry per contest per contestant is permitted.

    Try to make all your entries complete and have an ending rather than be an extract from a larger one and please try to stick to the topic. Any piece seemingly outside of the topic will be dealt with in a piece by piece basis to decide its legitimacy for the contest.

    A story entered into the contest may not be one that has been posted anywhere** on the internet, not just anywhere on this site. A story may not be posted for review until the contest ends, but authors may seek critiques after voting closes for the contest. Members may also not repost a story anywhere, or bring attention to the contest in any way, until the voting has closed.
    (**We tried one that had been posted for critique before entering but it defeated the anonymity so I've gone back to no stories perviously posted here in the forum.)

    PLEASE use this title format for all stories: Title bolded [word count in brackets]

    If there are any questions, please send me a PM (Conversation).

    After the voting ends, posting in the thread will re-open for comments.

    ***And thanks to even more long hours put in by our very special mod/member @Wreybies, winners are now awarded with olympic style medals displayed under their avatars.

    Be sure to preview your entry before you hit 'reply'.
    Check italics and bolding as sometimes the end code for bold or italics doesn't copy/paste affecting large stretches of text.
    If you need to fix the formatting, hit 'control a' to 'select all' and clear all bold and italics code. Then re-add it back in using the board's font controls before you hit 'post reply'. Watch those extra line spaces. PLEASE delete them directly from the post before hitting 'post reply'.

    The point of consistent titles and line spacing is to avoid having those things influence votes, sometimes for worse.

    Thanks, and good luck!
  2. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

    May 11, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Virginia, United States
    Heartache [2,117 words]

    I'll never forget the last time I saw him.

    He had called me late that night and asked me to come over. “I made a mistake,” he'd said, begging me to hear him out, to give him a chance to explain. Part of me wanted to hang up right then. To run away while I still had a chance. To protect my heart from the beating it was sure to take.

    But the other part of me cheered with victory. “He loves me,” that part said. “He knows he made a mistake, and he doesn't want to lose me.”

    And that's the side that of me that won.

    It only took twenty minutes to make the drive to his house, but it felt like an eternity. My mind wouldn't stop replaying the events of the week before – the night he broke my heart.

    He had invited me to a party. Just a casual night, he'd said. We'd play games, watch movies, and at the end of the night, I'd stay there with him and fall asleep with my head on his chest, his heartbeat lulling me to sleep as it had done so many times before. It should've been the perfect night. A night just for the two of us to enjoy.

    So why had I been so upset?

    The entire drive to the party, I couldn't stop myself from shaking. My stomach was in knots. My heartbeat hammered in my chest. The steering wheel was slick with sweat in my hands. I gripped it tightly, white knuckles visible in the darkness. I even called my friend. “Something's wrong,” I said, swallowing hard to stop myself from crying. “Something feels very wrong.”

    “What do you mean?” she asked, but I couldn't answer. Because I didn't know. All I knew was that my perfect night was about to be ruined. If only I knew how right I'd been, maybe I would've turned back. Would that have prevented the fallout? Or would it have just delayed the inevitable?

    When I pulled into the driveway, there were more cars than I expected. A group of people huddled around the back door, smoking and drinking and laughing. I tried to let their casual demeanor calm my racing heart, but it only made me more anxious. It all seemed so foreign. So fake. Like a stage being set, and they were nothing but actors. And I was the lead.

    I found him in the kitchen, sitting next to a pretty blonde with acne scars. He hadn't seen me yet. He whispered something into her ear, and she laughed, covering her mouth as if she were embarrassed. My cheeks heated with my own embarrassment as I stood awkwardly in the doorway, knowing no one else inside, waiting for him to notice me.

    When he finally did, his eyes didn't light up the way they normally did, like he wasn't happy to see me. That should've been my first clue right there. But I thought, he invited me. Why would he invite me if he didn't want to be around me? So I tried to ignore my sweaty palms and accepted his kiss. But then I noticed the sideways glances I was receiving from everyone in the room. They all kept their heads down, eyes averted as if they didn't want to look at me. Did I have something on my face? Was my hair sticking up?

    He led me down the hall to the living room, where I thankfully recognized a few faces. We weren't friends by any means, but at least I knew their names. It made me feel less out of place in a house full of complete strangers. It didn't take long to say hello. But when I turned around, he was gone. I peeked back down the hallway and didn't see him. Maybe he went to the bathroom? But I didn't know where that was. And I wasn't just going to start opening every door and hope I found it. So I walked back into the kitchen and scanned the room. He wasn't there. The pretty blonde was gone. Once again, no one acknowledged me.

    So I went outside, the cool air breaking through my fog of panic, and lit a cigarette. Maybe by the time I was finished, he'd be back. I'd go inside and find him sitting on the couch, talking to his friends as if everything was alright.

    But he wasn't on the couch. He wasn't even inside. Because as I smoked my cigarette, pacing the driveway to try to work out the unusual tension I felt, I found him. He was standing across the street, leaning against the door of a car. A streetlight stood directly over him as if it were a spotlight. “Look over here!” the light said. “You don't want to miss this!”

    The pretty blonde was right next to him.

    I stood in the center of the driveway, staring. I didn't try to hide behind a car or conceal myself in shadows. I wanted him to know I was there. I wanted him to come to me, to hug me and kiss me and apologize for leaving me alone in a house full of strangers. But he didn't do any of those things. In fact, he didn't even noticed me. He crossed his arms over his chest and smiled at something the pretty blonde had said. Something about that smile made my stomach clench with betrayal. That was the smile he gave me after playfully picking on me. That was the smile he gave me after he told me he missed me. That was the smile he gave me after he kissed me. That wasn't her smile – that was mine. It was only meant for me.

    Yet there he was, giving it to her as if she deserved it.

    But I shouldn't have been so worried about a smile. Because what he did next was on a completely different level of betrayal. I knew it was going to happen before he probably did. My upset stomach and shaking limbs had been trying to warn me all night. So had my sweating palms and racing heart.

    So when he leaned over and kissed her on the lips, I wasn't realized surprised. But I was destroyed.

    Now I knew why everyone inside had been so stand-offish, with their sideways glances and closed-off faces. They all knew what was going on. They had been there, watching it, long before I even showed up. They probably didn't even know I'd be coming. So imagine their awkwardness when I walked through the door and stood in the same room as the girl he was cheating on me with. I suppose I couldn't really blame them for not welcoming me.

    I didn't wait for them to stop kissing before confronting him. I stormed out into the street and yelled his name. They both turned to look, but they didn't look ashamed. That's probably what hurt the most. The pretty blonde laughed and squeezed his shoulder before getting into the car and driving away.

    He took his time walking over to me, as if he didn't have a care in the world.

    I didn't cry. I wanted to, but I didn't. I wanted to be angry. Furious that he would embarrass me like that in front of all of those people. Furious that he'd betrayed my trust. Crying would only show that he hurt me. That his shared kiss with the pretty blonde felt like a stab to the gut. Like he had ripped out my heart and crumbled it up like an old piece of paper before throwing it on the ground and stomping on it. To be hurt felt weak. And at that moment, I needed to be strong, for my own sake.

    We argued. Loudly. If I hadn't been embarrassed enough, that sent me over the edge. I couldn't tell if he cared that he'd hurt me. He apologized, but it seemed empty. He clicked his tongue sympathetically and touched my cheek, giving me that same smile I'd seen him give her not a moment before. I wanted to melt into his hand – to forget that it all happened so that we could start enjoying our night together.

    But I couldn't. The image of them kissing flashed in front of my eyes, and I couldn't stand to be around him anymore. I got into my car without another word and drove away as quick as I could.

    All of that passed through my head as I drove to his house that last night. I wanted to remember every detail so that I could finally talk about it – to convey how embarrassed and angry and hurt I had been. How he had caused it. How I could probably never forgive him for it but how I desperately wanted to because I loved him.

    But none of it mattered. Because the moment I pulled up, all we could do was hold each other. We laid together on his twin sized bed, my head on his chest, his arms around my back, and we enjoyed the closeness. We didn't argue. We didn't even talk. We just laid there, for hours, trying to forget the pain and just be together.

    At the end of the night, we stood in the driveway, holding hands and looking into each others eyes. He didn't need to say anything. Because I knew what was about to happen. Just as I had known he was about to betray me before, I knew what was about to happen now. And when he hugged me, I felt it even more.

    He pressed his face into the crook of my neck and wrapped his arms around my shoulders. I buried my face into his shirt and forced back the tears. Because I could feel it. I could feel the finality in his embrace. I knew, as soon as I got into my car and drove away, I'd never see him again.

    And I didn't.

    I'd tried to reach out, of course. Called, texted, emailed. But he never responded. Was he dating the pretty blonde? I didn't know. All I knew was that I'd lost the only person I'd ever cared for. The only person I'd ever truly loved.

    Life without him was miserable. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. And when I finally did, all of my dreams were about him. Everywhere I went, everything I saw, reminded me of the time we spent together. How he laughed. How he smiled. How he touched my cheek and made me feel like everything was going to be alright.

    But everything wasn't alright. And it never would be again.

    A few weeks later, after all of my efforts of contacting him had been ignored, I received a message. It was from him – the contact I had been waiting for all month. But it wasn't what I hoped it would be. It wasn't an apology, begging me to come back. It wasn't an invitation, asking me to come see him again. It was a goodbye. And the worst kind of goodbye I could have ever received.

    “I don't love you,” the message read. “And I never did. Stop calling me.”

    I pulled my phone out and opened the message. I don't know why I wanted to read it again. Some kind of closure, maybe. To remind me why I was about to do what I was about to do. To strengthen my resolve. Unfortunately, it didn't do any of those things. It only made me cry.

    I pulled my knees up to my chest and buried my face into my arms. It wasn't the first time I'd cried since he left. In fact, I'd done nothing but cry. But I couldn't bring myself to stop. The tears just never seemed to run out. His face kept passing in front of my eyes, and every time I saw it, I'd cry all over again, as if a wound had been ripped open.

    I stood slowly, holding out my hands to keep my balance. I didn't look around. The view wasn't what I wanted to see. Instead, I squeezed my eyes shut and pictured him. Pictured that smile that made my knees feel weak. Pictured those eyes that could look right through my walls and pierce the deepest part of me. Pictured his hands and the way they stroked my cheek. I created an image of him holding me, wrapping his arms around me as if he never wanted to let go – as if he never had let go…

    And then I jumped.

    I hope the other side is free from heartache.
  3. Hubardo

    Hubardo Contributor Contributor

    Feb 22, 2014
    Likes Received:
    I Can See Molecules
    790 words

    Angela opens her eyes after a long, sedated nap and notices there are millions of tiny dots on the ceiling. Like pixels, but alive and vibrating like pleasant, busy bugs. Squints her eyes to test her hypothesis; yes, indeed. She has awoken with superhuman abilities. To see molecules. There they all are. Zooms in on them, spins them around. Her mind is an app and God programmed it just for her; she programmed it with God, the two of them alone in her subconscious as she slept. The rest of the hospital ungrateful, dull, unknowing. She can see what the ceiling is made of. Notices the tight grip of the restraints on her wrists and ankles, the warmth of her heavy blood in her body. Wishes momentarily she could continue where she left off, slashing at her flesh to let the blood out. To do what that man said -- "sacrifice a part to save the whole." But she decides that for now, she will live on to show the world what she can do with her powers. In dying, they won't see what they've lost. Not unless she teaches them.

    She screams she can see molecules. They must know what they have done by punishing her. Her voice, shrill and course, the timbre of some genre of music teenagers listen to in headphones when full of hate and hopelessness, echoes in the cold room. Sound waves bounce from the walls to the ceiling to the tiny window where nobody stands to watch her because nobody cares. She screams she can see sound waves, see them before they move. Can feel the vibrations of her muscles before they flex, and knows when the nurses will die. Kimberly, she screams, will die tonight eating a chicken pot pie at the diner. Lucas, her voice threatens, will die next weekend when he's skiing in Tahoe with his wife and daughter. She screams there is no hope for them, that they may as well end it all now and save the world before it kills them. She screams do it for God.

    The door lets out a fearful creak. Hello? Are you there? Are you awake? Are you ready for another try? A man (infiltrator, saboteur, abductor) in a white coat hovers in holding paperwork. Good afternoon Angela, how are you feeling? Some alien language. She knows not to answer how he wants; he wants something else. He can't have what he wants.

    "You can't just come into my house when I'm undressed," says Angela through teeth. The saboteur provokes her. More questions. What about the president, huh? What year? What day of the week, huh? Huh? Huh? Huh?

    "Those aren't the proper ingredients for the casserole. Grandmother did not let you in," she says.

    The infiltrator mutters something to a nurse woman. Such combed hair, use of a fancy product. "What goes up must come down, Sarah." They speak of the attack, the bombing, the car crash, the village, the shopping mall, the moon landing, the molecules, the dead.

    Angela screams, spits at the abductors. They leave, shut the door. The door says a fast click, tap, shutter and cold quiet into the room where molecules and waves ping-pong through the winter lonesome eternal.


    "Mom," says Ricky. He is beside the bed. A new room where light pours in like boasting, selfless charity. "Mom, look at me."

    Angela glances at her boy, covers her eyes. Asks him to turn down the lights, says it hurts her face.

    "Mom, they said I'm gonna be okay," he says. "They said the wheelchair is temporary."

    Where did they take my son? Where is my husband? Where's my baby? Angela mutters through her teeth, not screaming. Face shakes, teeth hurt, eyes sting and stream.

    "There's a group we can talk in while we're here. We can talk about... what happened. I don't want to go by myself. I want you there with me."

    Angela looks at her son, sees his eyes. Witnesses the pain in them. Absorbs hope from them. "Ricky? Is that really you?"

    "Mom, the group is in a little bit. I need you to chill out."

    Angela glances at the ceiling, a boring series of panels. Automatic fixtures with obtuse functions. A curtain beside her, some tacky hospital green she would never allow in any of her bathrooms. Leans over and sees the floor is a meaningless off-white, a pair of slippers beside the bed. A metal pole, wires coming out. Eyes follow wires to a computer facing a glass door to a corridor. Hospital staff pass through the hall.

    "When is the group?"

    "Let's go to the cafeteria, I'm hungry. It's in a little while."

    "Okay," says Angela. "I'll put on some slippers."
  4. datahound2u

    datahound2u Member

    Nov 15, 2015
    Likes Received:
    Love and Hope (2,932 words)

    At times, this seemed very normal, sitting and watching her son sleep. Josh looked like such an angel while he slept, and he was pretty near angelic when he was awake, Rita thought to herself. But she hated how normal this felt. She didn't want this kind of normal. Not now, not ever. Josh was too full of life, too full of wonder, to spend so much of his life in a hospital.

    When Josh was first diagnosed with cystic fibrosis eight years ago, when he was two years old, the doctor explained to Rita and Steve Benton that CF was hereditary. Rita almost fell apart upon hearing the news. No one in her family, nor in Steve's, had ever been diagnosed with CF, yet somehow they were both carriers of that ominous gene. Rita accepted the entire burden of blame, as if blame would make any difference, and as her depression worsened over the years, it resulted in her separation from Steve a little over a year ago. She put on a huge front for Josh, but inside she was a mess.

    Josh moved around in his bed a little, and Rita was up like a rocket. But he was fine, still asleep, probably just having one of his adventurous dreams. He quickly settled back down.

    Rita never thought that any time in a hospital was a good time, but at moments like this, before the sun came up, it was almost tolerable. The staff was tired, nearing the end of the shift, and they pretty much left the patients alone to slumber, unless they needed something.

    This wasn't Rita's first all-nighter at Josh's bedside. But she was trying to enjoy the moment as best she could, just her and Josh, knowing that in a few more hours things would be very different. Today Josh would be getting a lung transplant.

    Rita sat back down and closed her eyes. She knew there was a big day ahead of her, and even a few winks of sleep would help. Good sleep had become a rarity in her life, particularly over the last eighteen months, as Josh's disease took a nosedive. But Josh had become quite the optimist. It seemed that the worse the disease got, the more hope he would have that it would one day get better.

    There was that word again: hope! Rita was sick of hearing it. If this transplant didn't work, Josh didn't have any hope. He would be stuck on a ventilator until his frail lungs just completely gave out. No matter how hard Rita shut her eyes when she thought of such things, the tears still managed to find a way out.

    Steve Benton drove his late model Ford Taurus into the hospital visitors lot, hurrying to get to his son's room before they started prepping Josh for surgery. Since it was still early in the morning, he easily found a space somewhat near the hospital entrance, if a hundred yards could be considered "near." But it was still a long haul from the parking lot, through the lobby, up the elevator, and down the corridor to Josh's room, and Steve knew that walk all too well. As he hustled, his thoughts turned to Rita.

    Rita had become obsessed with guilt. Aside from Josh, her whole world was filled with depression fueled by an errant idea that she alone was responsible for Josh's illness. He knew that he'd be spending most of the day in the waiting room with her, so he tried to plant some ideas in his mind to try and help her live with herself. They needed to talk. Steve did not like living by himself in that empty apartment. There was no furniture, no food, and no love. Rita was Steve's first and only love, and he very much wanted her back. But he wanted his wife back, not the woman she had become. Not the woman who threw him out of the house in a fit of rage.

    When he finally got to Josh's room he was out of breath, but as he stood in the doorway he saw that he had made it in time. Rita was snoozing in the chair next to Josh's bed, and Josh was still asleep. He could tell that Rita had been crying again.

    "Why did you rush?" Rita asked very softly, her eyes remaining closed, her lips barely moving.

    "Sorry, Rita," Steve whispered back, somewhat startled. "I didn't mean to wake you. I wanted to get here before they started prepping him for surgery. Did he have a good night?" Steve shifted to the side of the bed nearest the door and gazed at his son with the look that only a loving and very worried parent could have.

    "Josh had an 'okay' night, and I had just closed my eyes, so you didn't wake me," she said as she yawned, opened her eyes and stretched her arms. "I think he was having another one of his adventure dreams. He was stirring just a little bit ago." Rita stood, working out the kinks of another night in that chair. She then started fidgeting with Josh's blanket, tucking it here and there.

    Steve was pretty sure this was the wrong time, but with Rita there was no right time. But since Josh was still asleep, he started in.

    "Rita, why do you keep blaming yourself for this? We both know that it took both of us to do this to Josh, just like it took both of us to make Josh," Steve said, looking directly at Rita but trying to keep his voice to a whisper. Even with those few words, Steve could feel the pit in his stomach start to grind like it was a peppercorn in a pepper mill. These talks usually went nowhere but down, but he was determined to keep fighting for the family he so loved and missed. He continued to press.

    "Blame doesn't do anything good for anyone. Neither does guilt. Guilt is eating at you, Rita. You're allowing guilt to rob us of our family, baby. Why can't we get you some help?"

    Rita looked at Steve and began rubbing her temples with her fingertips, a definite sign that this talk would not go well.

    "Steven," she began, with a distinctively unpromising tone to her whisper, "do not start this again. Not today. The day will be hard enough for me to deal with without having you go down this road again!"

    "Rita, there is never a good time with you," Steve said, throwing his arms in the air. "We need to discuss this! We're a family, or at least we used to be. You and I hardly spend any time together, so when are we supposed to discuss this, can you tell me that?"

    "Well, you could have at least waited for them to take Josh off to surgery, instead of starting on this now," she said, with her voice escalating beyond a whisper. "And don't even think of starting on it then either, because that subject is entirely off limits! Do you hear me?"

    "STOP IT!"

    Rita and Steve both looked down and saw Josh with his eyes tightly shut. Immediately, the anger in the air was whisked away, and they were back to being doting parents, the one remaining good thing they still did together.

    Rita relaxed her posture and slid her hand around Josh's, and then said, "We're sorry, hon. We're sorry for waking you."

    "I wasn't asleep. I've been awake since dad first got here," Josh said, opening his eyes and looking first at Rita and then at Steve. His eyes were full of hurt.

    Something caught Steve's attention above Josh's bed, and when he looked he saw that Josh's heart monitor was accelerating.

    "Hey now, calm down a bit, son," Steve said, placing his hand on Josh's arm and giving it a gentle squeeze.

    "Why can't you both just get it together?" Josh continued, completely ignoring Steve's comment and scooting himself into a more upright position. Turning to Rita he said, "Momma, I spend more time hoping for you and Dad to get back together than I do hoping for me to get back together. I wish you two would just quit fighting and get with the program."

    Rita and Steve were both silent, knowing that Josh made sense, but not knowing what to say. Josh, however, had no such problem.

    "It's just so crazy for either of you to think that you did this to me!" Josh said, his eyes beginning to get teary. "I never ever thought that way, not from the very beginning when I got sick. I hope you're back together by the time I get done with my surgery today." The tears started to run down Josh's cheeks.

    Rita sat back down and inched the chair closer to the bed. Not wanting to give her son false hopes and lies, she leaned in, gently taking his hand into both of hers and softly said, "Josh, hoping that your dad and I get back together is like hoping for a miracle. You really shouldn't hope for things that just can't come true." The tears started to form in Rita's eyes. She looked up at Steve, who was also watery-eyed, and then back at Josh.

    "Josh," Steve joined in, "I think what momma means is..."

    Josh formed a weak grin on his face, and looking directly at Rita and squeezing her fingers said, "Momma, hope is the beginning of any miracle! Don't you know that? Hope is good. Sometimes I think that if I fill myself up with enough hope, it'll push that sickness right out of me!"

    All three of them had tears running down their cheeks.

    Rita smiled and said, "Josh, when did you get so smart?"

    "I'm smart because you two are smart!" Josh said, now smiling and wiping the tears away. "And I'll bet that you're both smart enough to figure this all out while I'm in surgery."

    As if on cue, one of Josh's nurses came into the room, followed by an orderly who was pushing an empty gurney.

    The nurse looked at them and said, "What did I miss? Why is everyone crying?"

    They all looked at each other and started laughing.

    Rita realized just how good it felt to laugh again as a family, and she knew that Josh was right. She was still deeply in love with Steve, and she felt utterly selfish for allowing her guilt to break up what used to be so solid, so right.

    As the nurse and orderly were prepping Josh for the transfer to the gurney, disconnecting this and reconnecting that, and as the laughter started to fade, Dr. Alexander walked into the room. He would be leading the transplant team.

    "Well, I'm glad to see everyone is in such good spirits," he said, moving over to the bed. He shook hands with Steve and Rita and then gave Josh's hand a little squeeze, saying, "How are you feeling today, young man? It's a big day for you."

    "I'm doing good, sir," Josh replied, wearing a brave smile.

    Dr. Alexander was among the best at what he did, but it always bothered Rita that everything he said was done with a face completely void of expression and emotion. A nurse once told her that the hospital staff referred to him as 'Dr. Stoneface' behind his back. Rita thought that was very fitting.

    The doctor started walking out into the corridor and motioned for Rita and Steve to follow. Once there, he again explained to them what was to transpire, how long the surgery should take, the types and risks of complications the transplant team could face, and finished it up by reminding them that the overall odds of a successful transplant were only fifty-fifty.

    "Dr. Alexander," Rita began, "you've told us all of this before. We still have hope. A lot of hope!"

    "I understand, Mrs. Benton," the doctor said. "I just want to be clear that hope can only get us so far."

    Steve put his arm around his wife's shoulder and said, "Doctor, hope can get us a miracle! Our son just taught us that."

    Dr. Alexander looked at them, shook their hands again, saying, "Maybe it will." He gave them a brief forced smile, and then he was off.

    Before Rita and Steve could return to the room, the gurney now with Josh on it came through the door, being pushed by the orderly and with the nurse in tow, who was pulling the portable vitals cart that Josh was now connected to.

    The family said their parting words, with hope being the underlying theme. As the orderly started pushing the gurney again, the nurse still in tow, Josh had one more message for his parents as he was being rolled down the corridor.

    "I changed my mind," he said, loud enough for all to hear, "instead of just figuring out how to get us back together, I want you to figure out how to get me a baby brother." The nurse and orderly glanced at each other and exchanged grins.

    When she was sure Josh could no longer see her, Rita collapsed into Steve's arms. Steve held her tightly, whispering that everything was going to be okay, and then started lightly kissing her hair. Rita pulled back and Steve saw something in her eyes that was very foreign: fear.

    The surgical waiting room was fairly empty that morning. Aside from Josh's parents, there were only two other couples waiting. Even though the room was about the size of a two-car garage, conversations could still be overheard. It became clear that the other couples were waiting for surgeries to be completed on their parents, not on a child.

    Rita and Steve had been sitting in the waiting room for over two hours without saying a word. Rita was slouched against Steve's shoulder, and Steve had his arm wrapped around Rita, giving her an assuring squeeze every now and then. Rita had Steve's other hand locked in a vice grip on her lap. Steve was the first to break their silence.

    "You raised a fine boy, baby. I'm very proud of our son."

    "I didn't do it alone," she said. "You've always been a very good father. And husband, for that matter."

    "We don't have to talk about any of this right now, if you don't want to," Steve said as he pulled Rita a little closer to him. He leaned his head against hers and followed her gaze to stare at the far wall.

    They sat in silence again for a few more hours, and then Rita said, "You know, I was very touched by what Josh said back there. We owe it to him to work things out. I think you're right. I should probably get some help for my depression."

    "I feel the same way, baby. We not only owe that to Josh, but we owe it to us! We're always better together than we are apart!" Steve said. Then he looked at Rita and leaned in for a kiss. Rita closed her eyes, prepared to meet his lips, but then stopped and bolted upright in her chair.

    "Did you know Josh wanted a baby brother? Who put that notion in his head?" she asked, with just the hint of a smile forming on her lips. With that, Rita threw her arms around his neck and their lips locked.

    "Hey, why don't you two get a room? We have several still available."

    They looked up and there stood Dr. Alexander, still wearing his surgical scrubs, now heavily stained with perspiration, and wearing that same, noncommittal, stone face.

    Rita and Steve both jumped from their chairs. They didn't have to say anything. The question they wanted to ask was written all over their faces.

    "Tell me again how all that hope and miracle stuff works," the doctor said, placing a hand on each of their shoulders and giving each a little squeeze. "Josh pulled through like the champ that he is. I see no reason why he shouldn't have a complete recovery. Congratulations!"

    Rita practically jumped onto the doctor, wrapping her arms around him and giving him a kiss on the cheek. Then she pulled back and looked at her husband, both of them ready to burst with genuine joy. They each looked like they wanted to say something, but they waited for the other to go first. After a short pause, they both gushed, "I love you!"

    Rita noticed that Dr. Alexander was standing there with another forced smile on his face, and she just felt compelled to ask, "Dr. Alexander, do you even know how to smile?"

    The doctor considered this for a moment, and then he said, "Well, one can only hope."
  5. Blighters

    Blighters Member

    Apr 3, 2015
    Likes Received:
    Hope – A Girls Best Friend [3241 Words]

    Have you ever had a friend so close and loyal they’d literally give up their life for you?


    I did.

    I first met Hope when I was ten years old. ‘Met’ is a polite word for our first collision. She was quite literally thrown into my arms.

    My Mum and Dad had got divorced when I was just five, not that I can really remember that. I guess I was the stereotypical ‘lets make this marriage work’ baby. It didn’t work. Mum isn’t a bad person, she just doesn’t understand why people got so hung up on monogamy. Eventually Dad got tired of the constant lies and half-arsed excuses, packing up his things and leaving one evening never to be seen again.

    It didn’t take Mum long to find someone new. She always had a couple men on the spin at any one time. Within three weeks of Dad moving out Gregg had moved in, supplanting my father and making our home his castle. I hated him! Gregg was a vile human being. Skinny as a blade of grass with hateful little eyes and disgustingly wiry hair. He had a spitefully cruel streak mum thought was ‘exciting’. He was selfish as well, one of those people who’d decided life owed them more and hence felt constantly cheated. On top of that he was about as faithful as Mum, sleeping with anything with a pulse and enough booze in them not to protest too much.

    All in all a grotesque and disgusting example of human kind.

    From day one Gregg despised me. I was a nuisance, merely something that prevented him screwing Mum on every square inch of our tiny little house whenever he was in the mood. If I cried I’d get told to ‘shut up’ or thrown into the garden to ‘entertain the neighbors with your howling’. If I spoke back I’d get a slap around the head that’d leave me ears ringing for hours afterwards. I learnt pretty quickly to stay out of his way as much as possible rather than bear the brunt of his abuse Even that wasn’t enough for when I behaved he’d still pick up on everything I did, criticizing it for his own amusement, steadily eroding away my self confidence like a sea-ravaged cliff face.

    Hope changed all of that.

    When I was ten Gregg bought a four year old bull terrier bitch called Lacey from a guy he met in a pub. It was his latest ‘big’ money making scheme after discovering bull terrier puppies could sell for up to a grand to the right buyer. And by right buyers he meant dog fighters.

    Within weeks of Lacey’s installation in our house Gregg had successfully bred her with a ‘prize fighter‘ and two months later she’d given birth to seven puppies: four large dogs, two large bitches and a runt.

    On discovering the runt Gregg immediately ripped her from Lacey’s teat, narrow eyes flashing dangerously.

    “More milk for the ones worth keeping,” he’d said, throwing Hope towards me with a cruel grin.

    “Here, Lauren! I’ve got you a puppy! She’s called ‘Hope’. ‘No Fucking Hope!”

    He guffawed loudly at his own joke, Hope landing hard on the wooden floor; skidding, squealing and crying in pain. She could barely move, young as she was and still blind, so merely lay there in a crumpled lump making a high pitched screech. I shamefully just watched her, too terrified to move.

    “Get that thing out of here!” barked Gregg angrily, quickly loosing interest in his own comedic brilliance and getting irritated at Hope’s yowling.

    So Hope became mine, although I dropped the ‘No’ and the ‘Fucking’.

    I’m sure Gregg expected Hope to die within days, probably looking forward to watching how devastated that would make me. Hell, I think I expected her to die. But we’d both hugely underestimated my determination. Or perhaps my need for a friend. Any friend.

    I reared Hope by hand, a task that in reality is so much harder then it sounds. First I built a nest in my own bed, a warm haven for her to sleep in and stay warm. She’d soil it regularly, requiring me to gently pick her up and clean around her. I slept in that same soiled bed night after night. Feeding Hope was the hardest part. I couldn’t sneak her down to Lacey, Gregg would have killed her on sight. So I had to feed her in my bedroom. In the end I stole a yellow washing up glove and pricked holes in one of the fingers. Then I filled it with milk from out the fridge, only ever if Gregg wasn’t in the kitchen, before tying the open end closed with one of my hairbands. My perfect feeding teat and Hope’s lifeline!

    The first three months were exhausting. Hope wanted feeding every couple of hours and would squeal until she was. I’d alternate between feeding and cleaning her, catching half hour naps wherever possible

    But it was worth it for I had a friend. A real friend who loved me! Hope got stronger and stronger, my efforts being transformed into muscle and weight. And she was all mine!

    We quickly grew inseparable, Hope instantly becoming both my best friend and closest confidant. I became a hermit, hours spent n my bedroom with Hope, whispering about the future, about Dad, about Gregg, about just about anything. I was a different person with Hope, the timid scared little created I’d become replaced with a laughing, confident clone.

    I couldn’t keep Hope hidden in my bedroom forever though, especially a she got bigger and bigger and needed more and more exercise. I’d try to only allow her around the house and into the garden when Gregg wasn’t around but it was only a matter of time until I failed and he came face to face with her.

    “What the fuck’s this?” he snarled, having walked in the front door to be greeted enthusiastically by a naive Hope bounding towards him, tale wagging with excitement. We’d just let ourselves back in from a garden play session.

    “That’s Hope,” I replied quiet but defensive, body motionless in terrified apprehension.

    “The runt?” he sneered, as Hope pawed up his leg playfully.


    His foot lashed out quickly, catching Hope square in the midriff and sending her flying into the opposite wall. She hit it with a loud thud and a huge squeal, before sliding down it and crashing into the floor with a further yelp. My heart snapped, eyes wide in shock and anger. I was desperate to run to her yet my body remained perfectly rigid in trained fear.

    “Keep her the fuck away from me,” Gregg growled, pushing past me to the fridge and retrieving a can of larger before returning to his usual throne in front of the TV.

    From that moment Gregg and Hope were mortal enemies. He’d lash out at her whenever he got the chance, his feet quick and bony to inflict the maximum amount of pain. Hope, like me, soon learnt to keep out of Gregg’s way at any cost, her normally buoyant personality deserting her if he ever entered the room as she’d cower behind my legs.

    But at least I didn’t have to hide her anymore!

    Hope and I grew up together, closer then then atoms that make up a molecule and with a far stronger bond. She was the sister I’d never realised I wanted. As we grew older we spent more and more time out the house together; walking, running, exploring and generally getting up to no good. I was the freak at school with no one but a dog for a friend. But I didn’t care.

    Hope never seemed to stop growing, turning from that tiny little runt into a solid ball of pure muscle. Soon even Gregg started to look at her with a twinkle of caution. Yet despite her size and strength, she had the mildest temperament of any dog I’ve ever met. She was as gentle as she was huge; a quietly calm behemoth in my otherwise turbulent life, never once requiring a lead as she hardly ever strayed more than a few feet from me. She was an eternally happy dog, mouth often open wide and tongue falling out in one of those huge doggy smiles.

    The only person she never warmed to was Gregg. She did however slowly shed her fear of his as her she grew in size. She’d watch him intently if they were every in the same room, her bright blue eyes latched onto his thin cruel ones as her head rested on her paws.

    I was happy for the first time in my life. I should have known something would happen.

    Gregg’s demeanor towards me started to change when I was fifteen. He started staring at me intently for long periods, an ugly twisted expression on his gaunt face. At the same time he started behaving strangely to me. Sickly sweet one minute and then a raging inferno the next, all his switches flipping at the slightest provocation. At first I was confused. Then I was terrified. Gregg was unstable enough already, a new unknown was not at all welcome.

    I finally figured it out one evening, sat on the sofa with Hope lying on the floor next to my feet. Gregg suddenly got up from his ‘throne’, inexplicably moving to sit next to Mum on the two seater sofa directly opposite me. He swung a wiry arm around her as if all he wanted was a cuddle. My suspicions were instantly raised however, I’d never seen him sit anywhere else other than his armchair. Ever. Hope was of the same impression, every hair on the back of her neck raised as she eyeballed him intently. I noticed he kept glancing over at me fleetingly, stealing glances at me whenever Mum’s eyes were glued to the box. And then it all slotted together. It had been a hot day. So I’d worn a short summer dress knowing I’d be outside all day with Hope. His new seat was directly opposite me. He was looking straight up my dress.

    It all suddenly made sense. Gregg no longer saw me as a child. He saw me as something he...desired.

    The thought sickened me to the very depths of my soul. I never wore a dress in the house again.

    Things deteriorated quickly. Gregg would come busting into the bathroom when I was showering, pretending he hadn’t realized someone was in there. Or he’d fling my bedroom door open at strange times to have a ‘quick chat’, hoping to catch me changing. He’d engineer situations where I had to squeeze past him, forced to try and slip my body past his with the minimal contact.

    It was disgusting.

    I grew to be constantly on edge, never sure of when Gregg might suddenly appear. My nerves became completely shot. As pressure mounted I started to crumble, spending more and more time out of the house, getting into trouble, acting up at school... the works. Mum put it down as my ‘rebellious’ stage.

    My only comfort was Hope. She was always there. My giant friend-come-bodyguard. And a gentle growl at the back of her throat was normally enough warning to send Gregg scampering.

    Finally, things came to a head on the night before my sixteenth birthday.

    I was woken in the early morning by the crash of the front door and the sound of someone falling in. Gregg returning home after seemingly spending the entire evening getting shit-faced in the pub. Mum was still out, or possibly had found another mans bed to crash in for the evening. It hardly mattered to me anymore. I rolled over, keen to get back to sleep.

    I could hear Gregg tumbling around downstairs, opening cupboards, switching lights on and generally making a racket. I heard him climbing the stairs, the sounds irregular and unsteady. And then silence. Total, sinister silence. My ears strained, desperate to hear the sound of his bedroom door, but all that carried was the thump of my own heartbeat steadily increasing. M breathing slowed as my pulse quickened, fear of the unknown completely paralysing.

    Finally, the silence was broken. Not by the welcome slam of a bedroom door but by a soft menacing growl coming from the foot of my bed.

    I looked down towards my feet and could just make out Hope in the darkness. Her entire body was alert and she was staring at the door intensely, jaw cracked the merest fraction open to allow a growl to escape. She stood up suddenly, her hind muscles bunched in anticipation, her body held completely taut.

    She knew someone was there. She could probably smell his excitement.

    The door swung open slowly to reveal Gregg, framed in the moonlight like something out of an old horror movie. He stared at me for a long second, eyes clouded and unfocused and yet maintaining their dangerous tint.

    “Yerra tease…” he slurred, almost incomprehensible. “A tease anna slut. Just like yer mum!”

    Hope barked loudly, her unexpected roar ricocheting around my small room like a tornado. Her head was turned slightly in an angle I’d never seen before, spit flying from her mouth as she barked ferociously. Her eyes were wide and wild, claws retracted and legs primed ready to pounce. For the first time in six years I realized why people thought bull terriers could be dangerous.

    “Get out Gregg!” I screamed over Hope, sitting up and pulling my duvet around me like a shield.

    “Not gonna anywhere…” he drawled, stumbling into the room. I thought he was limping at first. Then I realized he was just dragging something loosely in his hand. “..til I get whatta want!”

    He appeared out of the shadow of the doorway, the moonlight now revealing him entirely.

    It was a baseball bat he was dragging. Gregg had came prepared.

    I screamed. Louder than I’ve ever screamed before, the force of the noise exploding from my throat and searing red hot welts of pain down my throat. Hope’s barking intensified, matching my scream in its furor.

    “Yer a whore! A whore anna slut anna tease!” Gregg was paralytic. But that didn’t make him any less dangerous. “But yer don’t getta tease me! Men like me teach whore’s like you a lesson! Just like I taught yer filthy mother!”

    He took another step toward the bed, dragging the bat low by his side. I scrambled backwards, cowering the in the corner of my bed as I tried to put as much distance between myself and the vile creature in my bedroom. My screams pitched up to a new note.

    Suddenly Hope sprang.

    She bound off the bed in a single fluid move, beside Gregg before he’d even realised she’d moved. She leapt up at him, eyes riveted on his throat. But Gregg was tall and despite Hope’s considerable size, she was nowhere near big enough, instead settling for sinking her huge teeth straight into his thigh.

    I watched it all as if it were happening in slow motion. As her teeth punctured the cable-like muscle of his thigh Gregg let out a bellow like a wounded buffalo. Howling in pain, he tried to shake her off, throwing his leg around like a mad man, only resulting in Hope holding on harder and tearing out a greater chunks of his leg. In desperation and with a speed that shouldn’t have been possible considering his state, Gregg swung the bat clenched in his right fist.

    The bat caught Grace on the shoulder. Hard. She yelped, pain flaring harshly in her blue eyes. Still she refused to let go so he swung again, this time catching her on the back legs and forcing the most horrible of squeals out the corner of her mouth. Finally he swung again, this time catching her on the side of the head and finally dislodging her as she howled in pain.

    My heart splintered into a million pieces.

    “You fucking bitch!” spat Gregg, as Hope stumbled away from him disorientated and in obvious agony. He raised the bat up again, bringing it down on her back with a sickening crunch. Hope let loose a noise I hope I never hear again, a squeal so complete and full of torment that it took the fragments of my heart and shattered them into even tinier pieces.

    “Stop!” I screamed, anguish for Hope overcoming my fear of Gregg.

    Hope had collapsed to the floor, but that didn’t stop Gregg. The bat rained down again and again, inflicting untold pain unto my only friend and tearing the most horrible noises from her mouth.

    Finally, the only sound of the blows was hard wood meeting soft flesh.

    Tears streamed down my face and my body trembled with a furious cocktail of fear and aguish.

    A loud sob refocused Gregg’s attention on me, eyes narrowing.

    “Your turn bitch...”, he dribbled, a evil twist curling around the corners of his mouth and letting the bat drop to the ground beside him. I scrambled backwards against the wall, terror coursing through me. Before I could even scream again he’d thrown himself onto the bed with me, filling all my senses with his officious stench. His hands found my wrists as my fingers desperately tried to claw his eyes, pinning them to the bed with ease. His knees smacked into my legs, forcing them open as he positioned himself between them.

    I fought like a cornered lion, but for a thin man Gregg was uncommonly strong.

    “That’s right...”, he drawled, tongue burying itself horrifically in my ear. “Fight me! I love that...”

    His tongue left my ear but slid down my cheek and neck, leaving a slick trail of filth as it headed towards my breasts. Still I struggled and fought, finally finding my voice again and attempting to knock down walls with my screams.

    Suddenly, my screams were met with Gregg's own and the weight on top of my suddenly disappeared.

    I strained confusedly to see through the tears that covered my eyes as Gregg rolled off me hollering horribly.

    What had happened? Hope had.

    Miraculously Hope wasn’t dead. Even more miraculously she had managed to drag her battered body off the floor, somehow finding the strength to drag her body up onto the bed. The bed which Gregg had been lying on, head held low so that he could slither his tongue down my face. His throat finally on a level which Hope could reach, even when she could barely move.

    Hope had launched one final time, using every reserve of strength to wrap her entire jaw around his neck, teeth exploding through the tissue of his throat.

    She never let go.

    I lost both my best friend and my would-be abuser that night.

    Gregg died in agony; howling and screaming, fingers scrabbling at the vice wrapped around his neck, cutting themselves to ribbons in an attempt to dislodge the teeth sunk so deeply into him.

    And Hope died gazing at me, a smile in her huge beautiful blue eyes.

  6. davidm

    davidm Active Member

    Jun 12, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Live From the Amphitheatrum Flavium [About 2,600 words]

    Old Scipio yanked down the lever and cried, "Get back! Get back!"

    The crowd moved back a little, but their eyes were big, and riveted on the wood box.

    The round, glass, convex tube in the center of the box flickered to life, evoking murmurs of astonishment. Horizontal bands glided from top to bottom, and then, miraculously, the grainy, black-and-white image of a man's face briefly filled the eyelike aperture. Audible gasps swept through the room. The image broke up in a sea of hissing salt-and-pepper dots, followed by groans of disappointment

    "It's magic," Junia said.

    "Yes, you would think that," Hilarius replied.

    "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "I've observed that you're a magical thinker."

    "Do you know how it works?"

    "Not exactly. But then, I'm not a scientist. I do know it's not magic."

    Behind the counter, craggy old Scipio, bent like a hunchback, flicked a wet rag at the balky Longavisio Machine, and emitted a shrill whistle through his missing front teeth to indicate his displeasure. He slammed the flat of his hand on top of the box, and suddenly the image of the man reappeared, holding to his lips something that resembled a sausage. But he did not bite into it. His lips were moving, but it was hard to hear what he was saying.

    "Turn it up!" someone in the crowd yelled.

    Scipio fiddled with a dial, and now the man's words could plainly be heard: "…from the Amphitheatrum Flavium …"

    "By Jove!" an old man in the crowd ejaculated, his toga streaked with filth and food stains. Although it was not yet noon, it was apparent that he was already drunk on spicy conditum paradoxum, which he had been quaffing from a goblet.

    There followed an overhead shot of the great, gleaming bowl below, made of sand and concrete and clad in mighty marble. Already a quarter of a thousand years old, the bowl was filled to capacity.

    "How…" Junia began.

    "A sky whale, of course." Hilarius laughed. "With a camera."

    "Oh," Junia said gloomily, feeling stupid.

    The gladiator clashes began. Forgetting the novelty of the box, the people in the cramped popina roared, just as if they themselves were in the bowl and watching the combat from front-row seats, reserved for the nobility.

    Junia wanted to close her eyes and cover her ears with her hands, but restrained herself from doing so. Hilarius was sipping a goblet of mulsum and and noshing from a platter of olives, figs and dates, with expensive garum sociorum as a condiment.

    Junia sipped cheap posca from a delicate glass with a long stem and nibbled on cheese.

    The crowd roared, pressing in on the box with the glass eye behind the counter. World-weary Scipio patrolled, filling glasses, producing platters of food, counting and pocketing coins.

    Junia could not look at the tube, but murmured into her glass: "He's not Nero."

    Hilarius laughed. "Did you think that I thought that he was? Remember, I'm not the magical thinker."

    "But the people …"

    "The people," Hilarius scoffed. "Vox populi. Yes, the dear people think that he is Nero, come back to life after some two hundred and fifty years. The legend of Nero Redivivus."

    "His colossus …"

    "Yes, outside the Amphitheatrum. The people believe it has magical powers. The world is full of magic -- or belief in magic, at any rate."

    "This Nero impostor, he won't be elected emperor."

    Hilarius laughed. "Of course he will, Junia. He represents a desperate longing for the old traditions, the old ways, especially in a time of rapid technological change, such as we live in. Today we have things that Nero scarcely conceived, when he was dipping Christians in oil and setting them on fire to light the gardens of his Domus Aurea. We have Longavisio Machines; we have self-animating wagons, we have sky whales. We have …"

    The crowd roared. The Longavisio Machine depicted a severed head rolling on the floor of the bowl. Sunlight flashed off a blade, and the announcer interposed: "Live from the Amphitheatrum Flavium, this is the Dies Martis Gladiator Show. We'll be back in a moment."

    Cut to a commercial for cabbage, with an upbeat jingle and a testimonial quoted from Cato, who advised sick people to eat a great deal of cabbage and bathe in their own urine. Then, they would recover.

    "We have," Junia interrupted Hilarius, "gladiator combat. Still. In an era of the dazzling technological advancements that you like to crow about. What does that tell you about Man? What does that tell about the alleged glory of Roma Aeterna?" She slammed down her delicate glass in disgust and it quivered as if about to break. With a contemptuous nod at the crowd, she said, "These people are beasts. They have been given these alleged wonders of science, and they still muck about in the mud. Glorying in watching a man's head chopped off! Though now they can see it happen with the wonder of Longavisio, and needn't trouble themselves being present at the Flavium itself."

    "And your Constantine? Your Christ? What do they offer, Junia?"

    "Hope," she said doggedly. "Hope!"

    "Hope? For what?"

    "For a better life. A more humane life."

    Hilarius laughed.

    "I"m afraid, my dear Hilarius, that you are becoming rather drunk on that expensive wine of yours, and are displaying what I find to be some … rather unpleasant personal characteristics."

    Hilarius's grin melted away, and he looked thoughtfully at Junia.

    "I'm a senator," he reminded her. "And my father was a senator, and his father before him. And yet here I am in this disreputable popina with you. And you…"


    "Are a commoner."

    "Am I supposed to be ashamed of that?"

    "Junia. You know I wish to marry you."

    "You're a Nero supporter, and I support Constantine. We're incompatible."

    Hilarius laughed. "Politics," he said, "should never get in the way of true love."

    Now Junia laughed, for the first time. "I don't love you," she said, suddenly serious again. "I don't even know what love is, much less true love. I think it may be another modern technological invention."

    "You needn't love me," he said. "You need merely marry me, and a life of wonders and treasures awaits you. With the new technology, our Roman power is now indestructible. Our legions have cleaned out and occupied central Europe, where for so long, before the Industrial Revolution, we were pressed by the Huns and Visigoths and other barbarians. That is all over with, now. Our legions have advanced to the mountains of central Asia, and no doubt they shall soon make contact with, and subdue, the yellow-skinned people of the retrograde empire of the Far East. And then --"

    "This is what you hope for?"

    "That is hope."

    "You are hopeless."

    Hilarius laughed. "But seriously," he said. "Nero has come back to life. Or at least, the people believe that he has. What about your Christ? Has he come back to life?"

    "He did once. And will again."


    "Only God knows the appointed hour."

    "God," Hilarius chuckled. "You believe in one God. The people, they believe in many Gods."

    "And you, Hilarius? What God do you believe in?"

    "The God of Science and Technology, which has produced the wonders you see around you." He swept a hand at the electric-lit popina, the toga-clad mob forming a knot around the Longavisio. Another roar filled the room, and fists pumped upward. "Ad bestium!" the crowd cried. "Ad bestium!"

    Hilarius glanced at the tube and cracked a smile. "It seems," he said, "that they are currently feeding another Christian to the lions, Junia."

    Junia hung her head and stifled a sob.

    "Your Constantine won't be elected, Junia," the normally buoyant Hilarius whispered hotly, leaning in toward her in what seemed to be a sudden access of fury. Through gritted teeth he said: "He won't be. He has campaigned on a promise to legalize Christianity and do away with the spectacles such as you see now on this tube. The people will never accept that."

    "Christians are everywhere, now. Haven't you noticed that, Hilarius? And why do you think that is?"

    "Hope," Hilarius sneered. "Hope while trapped in a hard, bitter, merciless world, a world built for the few on the backs of the many. Christianity offers hope. Is that it, Junia?"

    "That's it, Hilarius."

    Hilarius slammed down his goblet. "You forget, though, Junia, that most Christians are commoners, like you, and cannot vote. From whom do you suppose your dear Constantine will acquire his tallies?"

    "You may be surprised, Hilarius. He saw the compassionate Cross centered on the face of the sun. How many others have had that same vision? Even if they may not confess it to the pollsters."

    "And if he did win -- if Christianity prevailed and conquered the empire, what do you suppose would actually happen? That the lion would lie down with the lamb, and your Christ would suddenly drop in for a visit after being missing for hundreds of years after they nailed him up on that damned cross? No, I'll tell you what would happen: Christianity would form another oppressive, suffocating, bureaucratic empire, with churches replacing the Roman temples. But because Christians hate technology -- hate life itself, believing that the only realm that matters is the world after life -- all of our technological and scientific wonders would crumble to dust, and a long night would set in, a Dark Ages. Afterward the church would betray everything that its founder stood for, and everyone would be worse off than before. Only to the church the people would cry: Feed us! Feed us, and we give up our freedom to you. And in your Christ's name they would renounce Christ a thousand times, in exchange for a handout of bread. Bread and circuses."

    "No," Junia said, shaking her head. "No. That can't be. That can never be."

    "Yes!" Hilarius said. "Here's what you don't understand, Junia: There is no hope. Hope is a snare and a delusion. Everything good becomes rotten in the end. Even if Christianity is good, as you claim, in the end it will be as rot in wood and rust on metal."

    "The election is tomorrow," Junia said. "Constantine versus Nero. Hope versus fear."

    Hilarius laughed.

    The next day Junia and Hilarius, and many others, gathered in the popina to watch the election returns on the Longaviso Machine. Hilarius gazed at the numbers toting up on the screen, first with perplexity, then with wonderment, and then with a kind of fear playing over his taut features. The crowd in the bar was similarly subdued, except for the boisterous dice throwers. Behind the counter Scipio patrolled, interested only in money, counting and pocketing every coin.

    Hilarius didn't laugh.

    Junia quietly slipped out of the popina and into the heart of Roma Aeterna. She saw in the distance the Amphitheatrum Flavium, gleaming in the moonlight augmented by electric lights. Traffic was light, those triangular, three-wheel self-animating wagons, one wheel in front and two in the rear, magically propelling themselves forward without the need of a horse to pull. Overhead the bloated, cigar-shaped sky whales glided serenely. Rain clouds moved in and scudded across the full moon, blotting it out.

    She walked toward the Amphitheatrum, in all its white-lit glory.

    She stopped at the foot of the Colossus, the mighty statue of Nero.

    Lightning forked, washing with premonitory clarity blue-white light over the statue's sunken-eyed face. A peal of thunder followed, and then heavy drops of rain pelted down. The hooded eyes of the statue moved, and fixed down on her. She recalled the latest words of the announcer on the Longavisio Machine, back at the popina.

    The election was too close to call.
  7. Lucidity

    Lucidity New Member

    Aug 9, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Fate [620-630 words]

    She let herself become limp, submitting to the abyss which clawed at her naked body. As she sank toward the depths of oblivion, the eyes of despair held their gaze from every angle, scrutinizing every inch of her existence. "Kick and thrash until you get to the surface." That's what people would tell her. But they haven't been down here, they don't know how it is. You can drive up with all the power in the world, you can grasp hold of a million chains of steel, but alone, you will ultimately fail. The only escape from this eternal isolation is with the help of another.

    Knowing that her resolve had finally perished, the glacial talons came to lay claim to her; penetrating through her hollow, pale skin, clutching hold of her crimson hair, pulling deeper towards the infinite darkness. She felt nothing. Not the grasp of claws which hauled her down, nor the arctic sea of corruption that swallowed everything. She closed her eyes, accepting the fate which awaited her.

    After what seemed like a millennia, she could feel. At first, the feeling was slow, starting at the tip of her left hand; warm and yearning, it pushed further, linking its fingers with hers. Without her knowledge or consent, a smile wrote itself across her face, too fast for her to hide its intention behind dimples on her soft cheeks. He had come for her. She didn't know how, or why, but he was here. The warmth spread up through her arm, swift and direct, pulsating a radiant aura of vigour through her veins. The icy talons jerked and heaved at her body, only to crack and melt away, purified by the vibrant light which shrouded her. The strength to kick to the surface had returned, but there was no need; he had given her something of his own. Buoyant and powerful, it lifted her toward the surface, with absolute devotion.

    At the surface, her eyes remained closed. She didn't need to see who stood before her. Once you ascend from anguish through the influence of one's heart, flesh becomes meaningless. Just feeling a part of him with her, bound inside her soul, gave her utmost certainty of who he really was. Yet still attached to the endless ocean of darkness, her knees buckled, not yet ready to face what lay beyond eternity. Her body was met with the touch of hot skin. He wrapped his arms around her, secure and tender, hiding her bare form from any eyes but his own, for his eyes saw deeper than the others. She knew that lying right here for even a fraction of the time she spent down in the darkness, would be worth a thousand lacerating talons piercing through her body.

    All of the fear and doubt had been blown away into the breeze. The connection that fused with their touching bodies, immortal and unyielding. She had felt weak, cold and alone, but she could finally see the strength he saw within her. The ever burning flame, solitary in an overwhelming void; against all odds she continued to burn, refusing to give up, waiting patiently to be reunited and rekindled. The dimples were deeper than they had ever been, as she smiled in content. All the pieces of the puzzle were complete, linking and tangling within each other to perfection as they transcended as one. It came to her now, the reason why all the strength in the world could not save her from the desolation. Why no matter how hard she tried, she would always succumb to its grasp. Using just half her strength alone was never going to be enough. What she thought she needed wasn't the help of another, but the help of her other.
  8. Aidan Stern

    Aidan Stern Active Member

    Sep 30, 2015
    Likes Received:
    My Awefull World Inside My Head
    Hope is in the Little Things [677 words]

    Aurum, infuscatum et obscurum…

    Nox Aurumque,” I sigh.

    I hate waking up to that unsympathetic noise that comes from an alarm clock. Whitacre’s Night and Gold suits me much better. It’s dark and lifting and falling.

    I had already been awake, but my alarm signifies when I had to actually get up. At least, though, I do not have to be frightened into consciousness. Dear Lord, I get enough fright as it is, I don’t need anymore.

    I remain unmoving on my mattress, the covers twisted around me. Last night was awful. The screaming and bloodshed and the single tear. God, I wish it could end. A hopless hope, I know, but still a hope, for whatever it’s worth.

    Gestu graves nimium, graves nimium volatu...

    I finally heave myself up from my bed. I don’t bother making the bed. I might get in trouble for it later, but I’m beyond caring at this point. If not that, then something else will trigger her.

    I get dressed. Blue jeans, grey shirt tucked in tightly, dark braided belt, white socks, white shoes. Her voice somewhere in my head, “Look presentable, nothing shows”.

    Dilabere ex armis in alam! Volemus-

    I shut the alarm system off, but do not go downstairs. I stall around upstairs fixing nonexistent details. (I finally do make my bed, anything to prolong the inevitable.) The house is pristine, flawless, clean from corner to corner, baseboard to ceiling fan. Nothing shows. Just as She likes it.


    35 minutes before the first bell. I wish I could teleport, avoid the miserable, half-hour walk to school, but like everything else, it is not meant to be.

    I warily make my way through the hall and down the grand staircase without a mishap. I make it through the praised family room and the envied dining room. And I nearly make it through the contrastingly entropic kitchen, but as a misplaced spoon clatters to the floor, loud and catastrophic in the former silence, She appears.

    I recede into my regular holding cell filled with silent music, and lock myself in. Only when I find myself outside in the snow do I let myself out.

    Frozen mist hangs heavy and oppressing in the air. Icicles glint as piercing headlights flash across them. The school doors warmly lit up from the inside look akin to the Gates of Heaven, but it is only a facade. I can tell you what a Hell it is inside. Which makes me wonder. First, it’s Hell’s foyer, then it’s Hell’s ballroom, which is further followed by Hell’s elevator to Hell’s own basement. All that, and at the end of the day, you drag yourself up the grand staircase hoping for rest, only to find another kind of Purgatory waiting for you.

    I rush through my unending classes, and all too soon the last period ends. The walk down to my locker is torturous. As I spin the combination into the lock someone slams into me from behind crushing my hand between my ribs and the locker door. I hear laughing behind me. Assuming it’s the daily bully I ignore it as usual, but then I hear something that makes me pause.

    “Sorry,” comes a breathless whisper.

    No one’s ever said that to me before.

    I turn my head. A skinny girl with dirty blond hair and loose clothing is picking up her stuff from where it must have fallen when she was pushed into me. I vaguely recognize her as a new kid in town from my English class. I pause not knowing what to think or do. Finally, I decide to bend down and help her pick up the final few books and papers.

    I stand up and turn back to my locker. A tentative voice airs behind me.

    “Thank you.”

    I don’t answer, and I hear her walk away.

    But as I walk out of the school doors and head back to Hell, I wonder, perhaps there’s a little bit of merit towards my hopeless hope.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2016
  9. GuardianWynn

    GuardianWynn Contributor Contributor

    Nov 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    The Morning Light (1184 words)

    My name is Alexandra, and I think I am a bad person.

    Maybe not like “the worst” but definitely on the bad list. I don't mean to be, but I think it is just the truth. No more sense denying it then there is sense in denying gravity. It is a part of life in either case. It makes me think about suicide. If I am not a good person, maybe the best act I can commit is to remove myself from this world before I do bad things. It feels like a logical solution.

    Yet, Carol would hate me for that, and that doesn't seem fair to her. She has been a nice lady, all things considered. She adopted me a couple years ago even though I probably didn't deserve it. Not that I was this hell child murdering people or anything. Or at least not without proper cause. Actually, with all my thoughts of self-deprecation I have not actually done anything worthy of it, yet.

    That is the fear, not what I have done, but what I might do. If I had to put into words why I feel this way. I think my current situation explains it best. I am currently walking through the woods to the site in which my family died. My father, mother and unborn sibling. Carol had located the site for me. I was too young the last time I was here to remember properly. Which I know is such an amazing thing, but I only understand that on a logical level. I have no expectation of Carol being so nice, and as such, she easily exceeded them.

    The problem is that is it. I don't feel anything for her. I am trying too, but I just don't. I want to love her, but desire doesn't change emotions. I figure only a monster is incapable of love, but maybe I am not a lost cause. I feel something, it is why I want to visit this site. I want to place flowers there. I don't know why, but I just feel this compulsion, as if I am magnetically being pulled there against my will. I assume since I cannot understand it on a logical level, it must be emotional.

    Then again, maybe that is not a good sign. That I can't even recognize the emotion. I would assume it is grief or sorrow. It feels different now that I am in the woods. Which is the most strange aspect of it? I lived in the woods nearly my entire life. I never felt this way before. My body feels weak, or loose. It is hard to tense my muscles. My stomach feels as if it is a blender and my entire body is sweating in spite of it being far too cold for that to be natural.

    Yeah, cold. It is very cold actually. The clouds are blocking the sun. It is early too; the sun hasn't yet had a chance to warm the land. For some reason, it feels strangely appropriate.

    According to my map, I had arrived. Not that I could tell. The home that once stood was gone. No sign of it was left. No sign it ever even existed, except for me. I bent down to my knees and placed the flowers I had gathered along the way at the spot I hoped was once my home. The thought that I might be wrong and it might have been a few meters off to the side agitated me, but it wasn't like I would ever have a way to know that.

    I stood there on my knees silent for a longer time than I kept track of. I think I was praying. I am not a religious girl, but for that one moment, I sort of wished I was.

    The solemn moment was broken by a man speaking. “Heya, whatcha doing out here girly? These woods be dangerous place to be alone.”

    Pissed. That was an emotion I was all too familiar with. He broke my prayer, and he did so because he was concerned about my safety? I have nothing to fear from the forest. This forest and this man should instead fear me. I stood up and glared at the old man. That took a bit of my anger away. I wasn't going to attack an old man, at least not without more of a reason.

    “It is none of your business what I am doing out here,” I said with a scoff.

    “Kind of a rude little bugger, aren't ya?” he said turning around about to walk away. “Ya should know this place was the final moments of some people; ya show them some respect.”

    He was right. I shamed the people I came to mourn by being upset. “Sorry. You're right. That is why I am here. She was my mother.”

    “Oh!” he said with bulging eyes as he turned around. “You are… gosh, I can't remember your name.”


    “You're a bit big for your age. You look like you're at least fifteen.”

    “I am sixteen,” this man. Did he know my mother? My body felt even more loose than before at the prospect. “Did… you know my mother?”

    “Oh no. I didn't. Just the event. Ya are sixteen? Ya sure?” he asked scratching his head.

    I nodded.

    “Nope, it don't make no sense,” he replied. “You have the wrong site. The girl I'm talking about, no ways she is older than twelve.”

    He was pissing me off again. “I am not wrong! My mother died here twelve years ago.”

    “Ya close, but no,” he said.

    I clenched my fists and gritted my teeth. Was he calling me a liar about my mother? Old man or not, he was seriously getting on my last nerve.

    “She died about three miles from here during labor,” he said looking down. “I remember, I was there.”

    I froze. My entire body froze. My eyes went wide. I… I had a sister? My sister was alive? I fell back into the brush. I was crying. Why was I crying? I don't know, but it felt… it felt so good. The man was talking, but I couldn't comprehend him. I needed a moment. I had a sister. Real flesh and blood. Someone like me existed. I wasn't alone anymore. I would find her. It was my mission in life now.

    At that moment, the clouds finally moved. The warmth of light hit my face, but it was more than it warming me. I felt the warm of the morning's first light, and I don't mean the sun. I mean hope. The prospect of not being alone gives me hope. I paused thinking about Carol. I think… I think I do love her now. Without her, I wouldn't have this hope. I am not sure what love feels like, but I think I am feeling it. Maybe I am not a lost cause. Time will tell, because after all, hope is not a certainty but it is more than I had.
  10. Fernando.C

    Fernando.C Contributor Contributor

    Jul 26, 2015
    Likes Received:
    Floating in the Cosmere.
    The Cave [995]

    Her footsteps echoed in the vast nothingness, constant reminders of her unwanted solitude. The cave seemed to go on forever. It was hard to say how long she had been walking, 2 hours? 10 hours? Maybe one whole day, even? Time did not feel as fluid down here.

    Her arms wrapped around her torso. She could not stop shivering, the long cardigan she wore was grossly inadequate in the current weather.

    She quickened her pace in an effort to raise her body temperature. There was no destination for her to reach, she walked because there was no other option; to stop meant freezing to death. Her feet and thighs hurt, she could barely feel her toes and fingers, and her eyelids were so heavy it was becoming a real physical strain keeping them open. Yet she trekked on.

    Soon she would be too exhausted to continue forward, until then she would not give up, no matter how hopeless it all seemed. Still it was hard to keep the despair at bay. It was the unfairness of it all that got to her more than anything else. Just a short while ago she was a happy, carefree girl enjoying the glorious days of her youth. She had been full of life, bursting with energy; her eighteen birthday was a few month ago. So many plans for the future, so many dreams. They were gone now, shattered into a thousand pieces…

    No! No, she could not think like that. She was still alive and that meant there was hope.

    The worst part of it was that she did not even know how she came to be in this mess. One moment she was walking in a crowded street corner in downtown Seattle, on a sunny Sunday morning; headphones in her ears and humming alone to her favourite tune. The next she found herself lying naked on the icy cold ground of the cave, all her possessions missing. She had screamed and screamed but no one had come. She had begun wandering about looking for a way out when she came upon a hand-knitted cardigan and a pair of cotton slippers which she had put on gratefully. They were better than her birthday suit but not enough to keep the cold out.

    She had not stopped walking ever since. The only good thing about the cave was that it only went in one direction so there was at least no fear of getting lost. Of course that would not be much of a consolation if she could not find a way out of the cave. Was cave an accurate term? She was not sure. It seemed man made, at least in. The floor was made of smooth black granite, too smooth to be natural. The ceiling and walls however, were rough natural stone. Maybe tunnel was a better term?

    Ah, who cares? She thought, cave or tunnel I’m stuck here.

    Hours passed, she was on the edge of fainting. As it was, she was practically sleepwalking. Every step was becoming a chore, the very act of moving her body had become an agony. Any second now she would pass out, the chances of her waking up again were not good. Extreme exhaustion coupled with the unnatural cold would claim her before that.

    Her foot caught on something and without warning she fell down face first, hitting the ground hard.

    “Give…up” a voiced spoke to her, slow and harsh. It seemed to come out of everywhere as though the cave itself was speaking. “Give…up”

    “No” she shouted back. With an effort she got to her feet and resumed her walk; only to stop dead after a few steps. The cave floor had changed, it was no longer smooth granite. Instead it was now covered with thousands upon thousands of short but sharp-looking spikes made of rock. She cried in misery. She had walked so long, endured so much, she would not be stopped like this. A resolve took shape within her, a determination to succeed, one bred out of pure stubbornness. That blew new life into her tired limbs. And she pressed on.

    The tiny spikes cut into her slippers as she walked unto them, scarring her feet. Soon she was bleeding, that did not stop her. The spikes seemed to become sharper as she went further ahead; now they were piercing her feet even deeper. The pain was blinding, maddening. She kept on going. Just as she was getting used to the pain the spikes gave way; to a chasm.

    The chasm was deep and wide. She could not see the other side. She fell to her feet, sobbing silently.

    “Give…up” it was the voice again. She thought she heard a hint glee in it, a cruel satisfaction. “There…is…no…escape” it went on, “give up…or…die”.

    Oh you would love that wouldn’t you? Whoever you are. Anger flared inside her along with these thoughts. Is that what this is all about? You wanna break me? Take away my hope?

    Well, you’re not succeeding” she said this aloud. “I won’t give up, no matter what”.

    Standing up again was agony but she managed it, then took a step closer to the chasm.

    “Then…you…die” the voice said.

    She felt a push on her back, and fell into the chasm.

    “You…see…there is…no escape”

    “No, no this can’t be it” she screamed as she fell deeper and deeper down the chasm. “I refuse to go out like this”. I refuse to die like this.


    I won’t go out like this.

    I won’t go out like this.

    I won’t go out like this.

    Her feet hit solid ground. She opened her eyes. She was back at the street corner in downtown Seattle. The sun shone in the sky. She had never seen anything so beautiful before. She was back in her own clothes again. Her headphones were back too. A voice whispered in her ears. Much gentler than before.

    “Congratulations, you passed the test”.
  11. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    OK, last entry in just under the wire. Entries closed.

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