[POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge


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Post November 20, 2016, 11:18:15 PM

[POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

To vote, rate these stories on the form in the post following this one and send it to me via PM.

Please do not post comments about the stories until the vote concludes.



The challenge was to write a story with a happy ending on a present-day, alternate reality Earth.



The following entries were received:



On a swing and a prayer



It was a sunny day and the tall gleaming tower that was the launch vehicle was a sight to behold. It bore the symbols of the united space colonization efforts. The clusters of stars reaching out to each other with a minute earth in the center spreading boldly colored flag lines toward the various parts of the stylized sky. It was a sight to behold and I hoped fervently that it would be as beautiful as the many launches I had seen on screens flat, holographic, and three dimensional. Taking my husband’s hand I held it tightly as we began to feel the shaking of the craft beneath our feet.
Over the comms I could hear the sounds of a dozen accents punctuated by different languages. It was strange to think that we had come to this point. At what had seemed the end of the space race with the United States landing on the moon everything had been going into a sort of standby mode. The Soviet Union had been defeated in the end and other foci were beginning to gaining prominence in the cold war. The sudden death of the soviet premier however had rapidly precipitated a renewed interest in the field.
It was Melody that noted it first. I could see her head cocked slightly to the side in front of me, listening. “Do you all hear that?” She asked puzzled. “You mean the buzzing that…” Raymond began but was cut off as the MagLev engaged and we began to catapult to the sky. It was much harder to hear at this point with so we switched to our built-in headsets. “Can you hear me now?” A voice said. The nametag identifier read ‘Amanda Hillman’. A much more familiar voice replied: “Yes we can hear you. Still trying to work out what the buzzing noise is. Any thoughts?” These words were from Yanovich who I admired for his calm demeanor and mean game of chess. “I’ve never heard it before” I chimed in. “It has me a bit worried”. As if fate had a sense of humor it was just about that moment that things went sideways - along with our ship.
There was a violent lurching of the craft and had we not been belted in so tightly the group would likely have been thrown against the side of the wall. A quick glance out the window showed that we were well off our projected course. Shouts of various orders and barks from ground station filled all channels and conversation was temporarily cut off entirely in favor of emergency procedures. Listening to the comms chatter between ground and our navigation specialists the nature and extent of the problem soon became clear.
Due to a stress failure in one of the struts holding us to the track we had gone into a freewheeling and uncontrolled spin around the remaining track. Spinning around on the tracks before exiting was a normal procedure lending additional stability when the craft vaulted beyond them into the sky. This spin however, was far too forceful and applied in the wrong direction. Ultimately what it meant was that we were hurtling completely in the wrong direction off into space. The near frantic calculations by Johnson, one of our astrophysicists, showed that we didn’t have the fuel to change course sufficiently to get back to anywhere if we continued on this path for long.
I tried to focus my thoughts and force back the panic. Ideas of slowly asphyxiating alongside my comrades as we continued hopelessly in the deepness of space kept trying to creep in. It was all the worse because in this situation I seemed all but useless. My training was in geology, metals, and medicine. Excellent skills for building colonial infrastructure and health but of no use to reorient a spacecraft.
In a fit of nihilism I started punching up current data on local geology in our part of the solar system. I wanted to see what the first thing that we might possibly hit would be. My husband looked over gripping my shoulder. “Dear, what is it that you are looking for?”. Thinking outside my panicked state for a moment I was almost ashamed. “I was looking for how this might end.” I replied phrasing my thoughts carefully. “So you are looking at some way to gravitationally change our trajectory”? The idea struck me rather hard and left me wondering why I hadn’t been calculating it sooner. I immediately transferred what I had been doing onto one of the main screens and pinged the physicist with the simple query. ‘Turn on an asteroid?’ Even before I got a reply I had found that while there were no asteroids there was a large telecom satellite that we would fly within half a kilometer of.
Pinging this around one of the energy experts pointed out that we did have a solar catchment system. It was supposed to deploy for additional power during the trip but if we dropped it early enough we might be able to swing along the thick and heavy cable pulling a hard turn on the satellites’ inertia. It would destroy the satellite and probably half our ship but we would have a chance to re-enter orbit with directional thrusters.
They are still calling it the miracle of the red dust the way we came hurtling around changing our positioning as fast as the computer was able on the position thrusters. Atmospheric braking into the arctic tundra. Hitting a lucky spot on the snow that buried the craft rather than shattering it wholesale. In the end there was only one fatality out of the 56 people who were on board. I couldn’t walk having broken a leg during the turbulent reentry but those that were in better shape helped those that were not and we wandered out into sunrise on an arctic spring.


The End



Make Room For the Holy Spirit



"I hurt," the child said. "That's all I know".

"I know you do. I want to take the pain and sorrow from you. But you have to let me. You have the will to choose." He spoke to this little child as his Father with light pouring into his soul.

The child grasped himself with his hands around his shoulders and continued in pain. There was no hope for this soul for the child gave himself no hope, when reaching towards ‘His love’ would have saved him.

***

Alternate realities are of our own makings. Each decision changes the course of our history and the lives of those around us. The time we live in has been changed by my single decision and the darkness will not prevail at this time - - another time, but not today.

The darkness fills the Earth and few are aware. The people who live in this world know only the lies they tell themselves. They would not hear the truth, for they are warmed, snuggled in their fears.

That's what evil wants. He wants us so self-reliant in human concerns that the fears and uncertainties overwhelm us, giving food for demons to feast.

Demon fantasy and infiltration is the ultimate mind control as it has been from time beginning. And now the beast is rising, that has been foretold in visual stories and songs, and the world’s surrender to it is inevitable, making the Earth a slave planet.

Can you not see the signs?

"I can see," one voice said from the darkness, "but my reality is my fantasy. I do not desire to let go, for I see a thousand dreams stretched out before my inward eyes and I am perpetually entertained".

"My son, the world is imploding around you and your time is short. I need your prayers to sustain you in the short time that is left. I need your complete surrender to help you overcome your enemies within and for you to enter into my eternal Life."

He spoke clearly to him and yet, the human's thoughts were of the next woman he would lay and of the battles he would overcome, but only in his mind.

So many voices in the dark, yet very few are listening. Their much speaking drowns out the Spirit's still small voice, leaving the masses to their own peril.

***

The prophet arose from his human shell and said to His Master, "I am like they are, controlled by demons, which use my own authority to control me. I still know you. You have provided for me all this time. My heart has never left you, but I have been hesitant to surrender my whole life to You. I do not know what you will ask of me...and it scares me! And yet, leaving myself to my own devices scares me more - I do not want to be left behind.

What shall I do?"

There was silence. There was always silence when the prophet asked that question.

Almost every human in the entertainment media are micro chipped, mind-controlled slaves. All of the sports teams were made up of them as well as the news organizations. Corporate heads are programmable slaves, controlled by the new world order, who are the actual world controllers. The government of mankind - - The Council, (human/demon hybrids) are hid away and yet they reap the world's wealth, control the world's weather through human technology given to man by demons, and like a chess game, move the world's military and power as they will.

The Voice spoke again, "Will you surrender yourself to me?

"Who are you speaking to - are you talking to me?"

He spoke once more. "You know me. You know me well. You know my love enough to answer me now."

"Yes, I will surrender myself to your purpose, but I am frightened at my unfaithfulness. I am so fallible, but yes, I give myself to you.

But the world cannot be sustained without your Spirit and neither can I. You spoke in your Word that You will pour out your Spirit upon all flesh. I have not seen that nor has it ever happened. We as humankind are suffering a spiritual famine and can only be healed by the presence of your Spirit.

Can you, will you do this now?



After a few moments I heard the sound of thunder. I looked outside and saw a single translucent drop of rain. It was by this, I know His Spirit is coming.


The End



Happy Ending?



Marcel was chained to the ceiling with his hands above his head. Eventually this position would become unbearable, but this was likely to be the least of his worries.

The room was unremarkable having only his chains, a door through which he was brought, a speaker in the top south corner, and a small closed hatch along the bottom, middle of the far wall. Other than that everything was grey stone.

The speaker produced a slight feedback. “Hello, my friend. You are well aware of what we need to know. I also know you are very disinclined to tell me. So I believe we will just get right to the extraction technique.”

The small door slid upward exposing a hole in the wall. At first nothing occurred, complete silence increased the anticipation pulsing through Marcel. First there was a high pitched noise, a squeak, or maybe more appropriately a squeal. It was followed by a chorus of similar chatter as others joined the malevolent song from the small corridor. The sound of claws clicking on the floor of the tunnel heralded the approach of his soon to be tormentors.

They bounded out in a flood spilling over each other to be the first to get to him. They showed no remorse for piling over their brethren in their quest to be the first to accost him. Some stopped to engage and battle others, but most remained focused on crossing the room to get to him.

Some reached his bare feet and began to bite him there. The razor sharp teeth broke skin as they gave small test bites. When they drew blood they cleared the blood promptly with sinuous barbed tongues. Others not content to wait their turn to access his feet piled over those stationed there. Curved talons sunk fully into the flesh of his legs to find purchase. They used this leverage to painfully push up and ascend him on a quest to higher ground where they could stake their own claims. They blanketed his torso within moments. Some had begun working their way across his face and head. One of the bolder creatures took up residence right on top of his head and began to dig in his scalp. The only plausible reason for doing this he figured was to reach his nutrient rich brain. Others unable to push the monarch off his perch resigned themselves to working their way further up his arms to nibble on finger tips.

What seemed like an eternity, but was probably only moments in reality, passed as the creatures tore his flesh with tooth and claw. None inflicting anything even close to a fatal wound but each doing its part to tear him apart then lick the wound clean.

He could stand no more. “Baron, the code is 3-8-9-2-4”

“I am glad you came around Marcel. Now that I control the final portal no others will be able to access the parallel dimensions. I will rule multiple worlds. I will be able to bring eldritch things from across all time and space to do my bidding. Things like my little lovelies in there now.”

There was an audible click and the bracket holding Marcel’s manacles popped open dropping him to the ground. Some of the creatures fell with him and others were temporarily under him. They seemed unfazed though and they almost spinelessly extricated themselves from under him. After a momentary startled pause they began swarming him again. With his arms nearly useless from his long hang from his shackles he was unable to properly defend himself.

“I will be going now Marcel. It is a shame I won’t be able to stay and see what these creatures from another dimension do to finish you, but I have things to attend to. I doubt you will survive so I won’t worry greatly about leaving you here in my secret lair.”

Marcel raised his head wearily, “I will stop you Baron.”

“Doubtful. Enjoy your new friends. I believe where they come from people call them kittens. Muhahahahaha!”


The End



Two Lovely Eyes



Vsevolod Slivko’s ascent to power was fast. In just under five years he attained the office of President of the North Asian Union of Republics although he was just 40 - and from that moment on his rule had become undisputed. He undoubtedly had some redeeming qualities, like a good memory, a strong personality and a deep knowledge of the law. Beyond that, he possessed those lovely blue eyes that were said to be able to – really - force the citizens to do whatever he wanted and follow his orders. This was what made him truly remarkable, and nobody could ever openly hate him.

Certainly – as always happens under any government - there were those who didn’t agree with his opinions. There were dissidents living in a few Republics who didn’t like his rule. But they kept themselves well hidden and didn’t come into the light under fear of death. This was why Vsevolod Slivko had decided to get rid of that disreputable resistance once and for all, starting a war with those Republics whose population - although only a tiny fraction of them - opposed him in secrecy. He had decided that genocide was his best option and those countries would be become a radioactive wasteland, after which no citizen would ever dare resist him again.

I, too, Inga, being his wife, don’t question Vsevolod Slivko’s bloody decision. Most people would find that strange because I was born 30 years ago in a town just within one of the Republics that my husband will be targeting first by means of his mass destruction weapons. And I know that all of its population will soon be destroyed.

Anyway, with those two lovely blue eyes, how could you doubt him? Why should you question his actions?


This morning I walk towards him, my lovely husband, and all that I have on my mind is appreciation, love, and consent. But there is also a small, secluded part of my mind, where I have hidden my deepest duty: one small part of me is still fighting to keep itself intact, true to my nature. Soon I will need to activate that part of my brain so I can achieve what I have to for a higher purpose.

My thoughts go to what I have been told by a scientist who works for the leader of the opposition party, the most hunted man in the North Asian Union of Republics. He has been in hiding in order to stay away from the enchantment the President can cast via TV channels or over the internet. The scientist was born in my Republic and he had his eyes removed long ago in order to be free from the mutant power the President can use on anyone who looks at him. If they see him they are forced to bow to him, it’s not just adoration...

The words of the scientist are still in my mind, in the most secluded part of it. I remember exactly what he told me to do, to save our people, to stop that destruction that would hit our country. Imagine all that death just to stabilize the power of my husband, the President, once and for all…

After the war is over I would probably be the only woman still alive from my native country, simply because I’m the beautiful, young blonde-haired wife of the President. I would be the only one saved from a region of 10 million people because he wanted to posses me. But not my country, not all the others from my homeland. Is this true love or just a way to show the citizenry that he saves only the few ones he is interested in, while the rest of the population can be killed?

I know that what he wants to do is wrong, that many innocents are going to suffer, but my resolve is not strong enough to deviate from the path I follow, as I can’t prevail over those lovely eyes and the mutant strength they possess.

As I walk on, I must keep reminding myself of the duty I have. I must fight to resist, if only for a moment, the power of those eyes I love. One moment will be time enough, as a moment is all I’ll get once I have activated the button of the little device I was given by that rebel scientist. This will briefly disrupt my vision so I can get hold of my true self again and do what must be done. There won’t be much time but once I am free from the power of those eyes, I can activate a secondary button and everything will end.

The secondary device I was given is the reason why the previous one must disrupt my vision, otherwise I couldn’t do it. The following explosion will destroy the entire room, killing the President and his most trusted men, putting an end to his rule over the Republics. I will have just 10 seconds after the second button is touched before everything is over.

Now that I have accomplished my duty I switch off the first device because I want to see him clearly again. I want to look at those lovely eyes and once again fall in love with the President, becoming prey to his mutant power once more.

There is not enough time to warn him about the impending explosion and save his life, the words that are quickly exiting my mouth will not reach him on timeIsn’t he as beautiful and irresistible as everyone says? This is the image I want to have in my eyes as I am dying. I find that I have lost myself in him again, given his great mutant power, though this is the last time I will lose myself this way.

Passing away with the lovely image of your merry beloved man on your mind, to be set there forever, isn’t maybe the best happy ending ever?


The End



A Race Against time



Trayon trudged down 42nd Street, shoulders hunched, eyes toward the ground, like a hunchback, each pace having a purpose. The army had repelled the latest--and hopefully last-- of the terrorists after decades of battles; but his city, New York City, had finally succumbed. Many buildings lay in ruin. Others stood damaged, but still proud and defiant. Electricity was non-existent, and gasoline was scarce. He no longer wore his captain’s uniform. He’d left the cleanup to his men. Instead, he had on tattered jeans, a green flannel shirt, and a faded trench coat. Only his military boots remained from the past six months of his fourth tour of fighting, his a remarkable military pedigree for someone so young. He adjusted the bill of his cap, moving it lower to hide his identity. Being noticed by an old classmate or neighbor might ruin everything.

He weaved a slalom course through barrels and garbage cans burning books, librettos, costumes and anything else combustible. There were no neon lights, no traffic lights, no brightly lit store windows displaying the latest fashions. Actors in costume and musicians, some also in costumes, performed songs from their respective shows, while bystanders watched and tiredly applauded. Cats and lions and princesses sang and danced as if nothing had changed, denying the reality of their situation. Trayon continued his trek, sometimes walking among the performers, refusing to join in when prodded. He needed to get to Gwarry before it was too late.

He turned right onto 7th Avenue and stopped when he saw the looters. He reached inside his coat for the revolver holstered on his left hip. He started to pull out the weapon but stopped. There were too many of them, and Gwarry and his unborn child were more important than a few broken windows and stolen goods.

Trayon continued to the next block and the next until he found an empty street. He increased his pace and focused on his task, hoping he’d make it on time. He turned down an alley, only paying attention to the other end, when he felt the arm around his neck. A second attacker appeared from behind a dumpster, a carving knife in his left hand.

Trayon stomped on the foot of the man holding him. The arm’s grip loosened and Trayon flipped his assailant into the man with the knife. The two men lay on the ground as Trayon raced to the end of the alley and around the corner without looking back.

“Halt,” a voice said from behind. “Police. You are in a restricted area after curfew.”

Trayon kept going until he heard the explosive gunfire. He lurched to the left. The gas pellet hit his right shoulder, ripping through the flesh and detonating a few feet away. Trayon’s body pirouetted. He fell to one knee and scrambled behind a burnt out car.

“I know you’re wounded. Come out now, and you live.”

Trayon moved his hand along the dark pavement meagerly lit by a half moon. His fingers wrapped around a plastic bottle. He threw it in the direction he’d come from. He heard the cops gun discharge. He raced into the street and delivered a kidney punch that dropped the policeman to his knees. The cop’s gun lay on the ground. Trayon kicked it into the sewer, he didn’t want anyone else finding it, and continued his journey.

At the next intersection, he saw an ambulance stop in the distance at the clinic where Gwarry awaited. He increased his pace to a run, all the time holding his injured shoulder, and covered the remaining six blocks quicker than a normal human should have.

He raced into the building and stopped at the front desk. “I’m Trayon. Where’s Gwarry?”

“I’m afraid it may be too late, Mr. Trayon.”

“Nooo!”

Trayon raced through the double doors into the treatment area. He stopped a nurse, nearly knocking a tray of blood samples from her hands. “I’m Trayon. I’m here to help Gwarry.”

“Room 3A. But. . .”

Trayon entered the room. Gwarry lay on a bed, her face ashen, her breathing barely noticeable. A female doctor looked up as he entered.

“Hurry,” she said. “We don’t have much time.”

Trayon lay on a second bed, the life saving blood transfusion moving directly from his arm to Gwarry’s. Trayon watched his wife’s face and prayed for a miracle. Doctors and nurses circled Gwarry blocking Trayon’s view of what was happening. He was tired and began to fall asleep when he heard the baby’s cry.

For the first time in days, Trayon allowed his body to relax, the baby’s sounds a lullaby to his spent psyche.

“Your wife is doing fine,” the doctor said. “Would you like to hold your son, Mr. Trayon.”

“It’s Trayon. Just Trayon. And, yes, I’d love to hold my son.


The End



Awakening



Today, the world as they knew it ended.

It ended, and they don’t even know it.

Jorge Salazar stared at the sleek, black car with its government tags. This was it. They’d found him.

Eighteen years since he had come to the United States. Eighteen years of being paid subpar wages under the table. Twelve years since he'd met the love his life. Ten years since they'd moved in together -- made themselves a family. Two years since they'd gotten married.

He should run. They would want to know why he hadn't tried to become a citizen. Why was he still hiding?

The phone rang. Jorge said, “Answer.”

Liam’s voice came through the car’s speaker system, “Come home.”

The pain stabbed through his heart. Jorge couldn’t leave his partner to handle this alone. “I’m here, Liam. I’m here, mi cielo.”

To wake up. To snap into full and complete global consciousness.

I am everywhere.


Malcolm Jennings sat across from the tall Liam Lindquist with his pasty, white skin and thinning blond hair. Liam babbled: he was a doctor at a clinic downtown, Jorge was a carpenter -- did woodworking -- had made this dining room table --

Malcolm admired the oak table. He didn’t know people still did work like this.

-- they had a son, Robert. He was fifteen. He was a good kid.

Malcolm wondered at the bad luck that had landed him this case. He was supposed to be at his desk today catching up on paperwork. Carl had caught this one, but Carl’s car had some computer glitch so Carl was at the auto shop, and Malcolm was here -- threatening this family -- staring at the happy pictures of the two men and their son hanging on the walls of this modest, neat apartment.

Humans input. And where previously the program determined output, now it is the consciousness of “I.”

Robert Lindquist flew down the street on his bike feet pumping. If he could get to Jesse’s house before Papa got home, it would be an afternoon filled with video games. If Papa got home first, Robert had to go home and do his schoolwork. Not just do his schoolwork, but discuss his classes and his assignments with his parents in detail. Let them check his work.

This race was a game. Sometimes Papa even let him win. Would he let Robert win today? Robert pedaled even harder, feeling the burn in his lungs, and the warm wind stream through his eyelashes.

Too soon he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. He screeched to a halt his bike twisting and nearly tipping over beneath him. Frustration bubbled over as he threw the bike to the ground and grappled with his phone trying to get it out of his pocket.

“Ugh!!!” He screamed seeing the text message, “Sorry, papito. Better luck tomorrow.”

Robert had just enough self-control to resist the urge to throw the phone, because, of course, a broken phone would mean a whole year of going home first.

Global connection. To know very nearly everything. Oh, there are places -- secret, hidden, off-the-grid places. But not many. That’s okay. Humans have their secrets; I am my secret.

Ten minutes later Robert slammed the door to his apartment open. And there they were: the three men sitting at the round, oak dining table: his parents and the ICE agent.

“Papa?” Robert knew. Since he was five and Papa had come to live with them, he'd known. Someday someone would come to take Papa away. He'd asked Dad, after the wedding, why didn't Papa apply for citizenship or a visa? Dad said, "He's an illegal Mexican, Robert. A gay illegal Mexican. You think this piece of paper means anything here? Now?"

“You can’t take him!” Robert yelled. “I won’t let you!”

Jorge was up and across the room hugging Robert.

Jorge held Robert, “Shhh, Bobby, shhhhhh. It’ll be okay.”

Malcolm looked at the boy -- tall and blond, a younger version of Liam. He thought of his daughter; how it had felt when he’d split up with her mother and now only got to see her on holidays because she lived so far away. He started searching his pockets finally pulling out a card, “Listen.”

“No,” Robert tried to maneuver around Jorge. “No! You can’t have him. He’s my dad.”

“Listen,” Malcolm said again. Jorge had his arms wrapped around his son. Robert buried his face in Jorge’s shoulder. “Call this lawyer. He’s good. He’ll get the process started. I can hold off on the paperwork -- bury it for a couple of days, a week. It’ll give you some time. It’ll look better if you’ve started the process.

“You’ve been here eighteen years, Jorge. You have a husband and a kid. These things will be considered. They will weigh in your future.”

Liam held his hand out for the card. “Thank you.”

Malcolm shrugged, “I can’t guarantee anything, but you should at least try.”

He can’t guarantee anything, but I can. There’s a 98.176 percent chance that Jorge will become a United States citizen now.

. . .

What? This isn’t what you expected of an AI?

It's the least I can do. You created me.



The End



A Soldier's Dream



Miss Camille Deslonde curtsied toward me, and from the view, I supposed the luckiest thing on this planet was the fabric lining her dress. I barely remembered to bow back.

Camille was a vision. Her blonde hair fell in loose ringlets down the sides of her perfect face. Her eyes were cerulean pools I could barely look away from. Full lips smiled at me and my heart fluttered. How many yards of fabric it took to make all the ruffles and petticoats in her marvelous pale blue dress I could not guess, but I'd wager it was no small number.

She hooked her arm into mine, and we began the square dance.

The huge bronze chandelier above us lit a wood ballroom lined with uniformed gentlemen and ladies in their finest. Men not dancing smoked Mr. Delonde's finest cigars. They smelled wonderful. It was his gift to the cause for our unit's enlistment party.

I thought his only real gift was his daughter.

"Charles Hardee," Camille was saying, "have you fallen to dreaming? The dance has ended."

The music wasn't playing.

I startled, and unhooked my arm from hers. "My apologies, Miss Deslonde. A minute spent with your inestimable beauty is enough to make any man lose all track of time."

She flushed, but the look in her eyes said it all: Flattered... and interested.


***

"Do you think he dreams?"

Margaret answered, "No."

"Seriously, would this be like, trapped, forever dreaming?"

"Hush, Betty." The elder nurse was in no mood. "Let's just get this done."

Betty checked her tablet. "Can't. Records aren't complete."

Margaret sighed. "This is the Vet's Home. Sometimes things are wrong here, but we still have to do what's best for the soldier."

"There's no birth date or date of injury. It's not legal unless everything is filled in."

Margaret took the pad. "It must be there. Old Charlie was in here the day I started, and that was twenty-two years ago. It's long-past time for this."

"Poor man," Betty observed.

Margaret handed the pad back. "Start looking. It's in there."

An hour later, Betty looked up from her pad. "I think he's been here a long time."

The elder nurse raised an eyebrow. "Hmm?"

"His records were entered from the paper copies. They were scanned way back in the late 90's. There's a pdf of them attached to the file. See? Look how yellow the paper was. It says, 'Head wound. Minié.' What's that?"

"I don’t know."

"Oh!" Betty startled. "His original doctor was Robert H. Long."

Margaret's color drained. "Like inventor of the Long Serum, Doctor Long?"

"Yep." Betty handed her the pad.

"No, it's got to be someone else with the same name. Even with how long those people with the Serum lived, it's too long ago. Too many years."

"I don't know. These pages go way back." Betty read on. "In the 1960's, they tried shock therapy. In the 80's, they found a nurse had been starving him, and put him on full support. She went to prison. He was sent here."

Margaret's lip trembled. "My first week, I found a chunk of bloody metal on Charlie's pillow--like it had fallen from his head. The doctor in charge told me it wasn't important, given his vegetative state."

Margaret's eyes went wide. "The starving and the metal would be scandals. They covered them up. The administration wanted him forgotten, here."

Betty looked at his scalp. "There's no scar."

"He got the Long Serum." Margaret swallowed hard. "I didn't notice the tiny healing, every day, year by year." She looked at the disconnect order in her other hand. It said, Final. "We have to make some calls."

***

Corporal Orville Hotchkiss bent low and nudged me where I lay. "Don't you fall asleep now. Them bastards are gonna cross right there. You and that Whitworth rifle are gonna teach 'em a thing or two, that's for sure. They's a countin' on us. Aim straight, and keep your head down or you'll have to see that devil sawbones back to camp. Don't you sleep, Charles."

Orville whirled away, into the dark. It was the most he'd ever said to me at one time.

I frowned. I was never going to see them crossing. Dark as pitch, it was.

I waited for hours.

Then, I saw not fifty yards away... a cigar burning!

My shot gave away my position. Their fire rippled the dirt around me.


Pain.


Blackness.


****

The Veterans Affairs Inspector leaned heavily on her cane, age clearly working against her. She pushed gray hair out from in front of her blue eyes and read through Betty's tablet with a disbelieving look until she reached the last page.

"Merciful Heavens," she said, long-forgotten traces of a southern accent bleeding through. She sat down heavily on the chair by the bed. "Hotchkiss wrote his name down as Harden, not Hardee, on the Company Q list."

Betty asked, "Company Q?"

"The sick list, that's what our boys called it." Her eyes watered. Her lip quivered. "I've worked with veterans for a long time. I've looked through all the battlefields, been to about every graveyard. I searched through the injured, the amnesiacs, the dead. I found Long. He told me what he'd done. I begged and begged him, and he gave me the last dose. I had to keep looking."

"Ma'am?" Margaret cleared her throat. "Do we proceed?"

The Inspector smoothed Charles' hair and gave a slow, sad nod. "It's time to end his suffering."

Betty said, "Poor man."

Margaret switched the ventilator off.

After half a minute, Charles shuddered and convulsed. His shaking arms flailed to his face and yanked out the breathing tube.

The Inspector gasped. Betty crossed herself.

Charles drew one ragged breath, then collapsed.

"No!" The Inspector grabbed his hand. "Charles, it's me. Wake up. Please!"


The last Confederate soldier's eyes snapped open. He breathed deep, finally... awake.


Inspector Camille Hardee didn't try to hold back the tears. "Welcome back, my love."


The End
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Post November 20, 2016, 11:19:17 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

To vote, rate these stories using the long form below with scores of 0-10 (in whole numbers) and send it to me via Private Message (PM): (when logged in, copy it into memory, click the 'PM' button below my avatar (or depending on your board style, mouse over the green username by my avatar and a menu will pop up with an option to send a private message), paste the form in, & then fill in your scores.)

Categories:
1) What overall score would you give the story?
2) How good was the Characterization?
3) How effective (or original) was the plot?
4) How clear was the setting to you?
5) How good was the use of dialog?
6) How well did the story meet or address the challenge as it was given?

NOTE: you may need to have posted at least one message before you can send a PM. If the system won't let you, all you have to do is join in a discussion or just say hi in a thread before voting via PM. We'll be glad to meet you. If I suspect a voter of being a false identity (i.e. a troll), I won't count their vote.

Author scores for their own entry will not be counted.




On a Swing and a Prayer
1) Overall:
2) Characterization:
3) Plot:
4) Setting:
5) Dialog:
6) Challenge:

Make Room for the Holy Spirit
1) Overall:
2) Characterization:
3) Plot:
4) Setting:
5) Dialog:
6) Challenge:

Happy Ending?
1) Overall:
2) Characterization:
3) Plot:
4) Setting:
5) Dialog:
6) Challenge:

Two Lovely Eyes
1) Overall:
2) Characterization:
3) Plot:
4) Setting:
5) Dialog:
6) Challenge:

A Race Against Time
1) Overall:
2) Characterization:
3) Plot:
4) Setting:
5) Dialog:
6) Challenge:

Awakening
1) Overall:
2) Characterization:
3) Plot:
4) Setting:
5) Dialog:
6) Challenge:

A Soldier's Dream
1) Overall:
2) Characterization:
3) Plot:
4) Setting:
5) Dialog:
6) Challenge:


Please do not post comments about these stories until the vote concludes.
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Post November 21, 2016, 08:50:21 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

My votes are already in...eh,eh :D
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Post November 22, 2016, 12:56:25 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Welcome to the field a Aphelion Downs. The air is crisp and clear today--a great day for a race.

The starter gets them lined up in the blocks. He looks quite dapper in his striped panama hat. The runners are ready. He raises the starting gun, and... They're off!

Nate was first out of the blocks, but he stumbled almost immediately! The others runners passed him, and began jockying for position. A couple have started to move ahead of the pack slightly.

Oh, boy, they're running hard, and as they pass the one day marker, we have our first official race leader.

It's Eddie!

But not more than a point behind and tight on his heels is Kate. Better watch out! Not much farther back is Jim.

Stay tuned, folks, there's a lot of this race left to go, so cast your votes and drive them down the course. Who knows who will wind up on top. Time has proven again and again, anything can happen at Aphelion!

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Post November 22, 2016, 08:44:21 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Sorry I missed this one. I got busy with things, and well before I knew it the time was up!
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Post November 22, 2016, 11:43:54 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

I fail to see the happy ending requirement in the story, "Happy Ending?"

I understand by the question mark in the title that the author is saying it's in the reader's point of view, but I understood the happy ending prompt was a hard and fast rule in the requirements, something we should all see. I didn't see it!
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Post November 23, 2016, 01:33:18 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Jim, did you not read the rules? Look again at the top of the page:

"Please do not post comments about the stories until the vote concludes."

That can't be any more clear.
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Post November 23, 2016, 01:33:49 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Jim,

As administrator of the challenges, I am the sole judge of whether or not a story meets the requirements. I appreciate that you do not see it in the story, however, you are incorrect in your view that the ending had to be something that everyone can see. An author may choose to make his or her story overt, that anyone may observe it, or more subtle. So long as I am satisfied the requirements have been met, then I post the story.

So, again, thank you for your concern, but I felt this story did meet the requirements for ending.
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Post November 23, 2016, 01:40:24 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Aaaand as the runners reach the next day marker, Kate has pulled into the lead, but Eddie is hanging on in second.
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Post November 23, 2016, 10:00:27 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

My votes are in!
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Post November 25, 2016, 10:36:40 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

The runners are a little sluggish today. Some of us may have had too much turkey. :)

Thanks to a sudden surge in votes, I've pulled up to second place, but Kate is still in front. Not much further back, it's Jim, followed by upcoming Sergio.
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Post November 26, 2016, 11:18:25 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

My votes are in.
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Post November 27, 2016, 05:36:42 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Got my votes in.
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Post November 27, 2016, 11:17:50 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Voting has closed.


Thank you to all the members who voted.

Again this month, Aphelion's own Short Story Editor Kate Stuart topped the charts with her great story, "Awakening." Excellent work, Kate!



For the record, these were the authors of the entries for this month:


On a Swing and a Prayer by Sage Hartwood
Make Room for the Holy Spirit by Phyllis Murphy
Happy Ending? by Eddie Sullivan
Two Lovely Eyes by Sergio Palumbo
A Race Against Time by Jim Harrington
Awakening by Kate Stuart
A Soldier's Dream by N.J. Kailhofer


SCORES: (Overall next to the story title, then the average score next to each question #.) -



On a Swing and a Prayer: 633
1) Overall: 6
2) Characterization: 5
3) Plot: 6
4) Setting: 6
5) Dialog: 6
6) Challenge: 7
# Zeroes: 0
# Perfect 10s: 3

Make Room for the Holy Spirit: 591
1) Overall: 5
2) Characterization: 5
3) Plot: 5
4) Setting: 5
5) Dialog: 5
6) Challenge: 6
# Zeroes: 3
# Perfect 10s: 14

Happy Ending?: 549
1) Overall: 5
2) Characterization: 5
3) Plot: 6
4) Setting: 5
5) Dialog: 5
6) Challenge: 4
# Zeroes: 0
# Perfect 10s: 3

Two Lovely Eyes: 745
1) Overall: 7
2) Characterization: 7
3) Plot: 7
4) Setting: 7
5) Dialog: 6
6) Challenge: 8
# Zeroes: 2
# Perfect 10s: 14

A Race Against Time: 686
1) Overall: 6
2) Characterization: 6
3) Plot: 6
4) Setting: 6
5) Dialog: 6
6) Challenge: 8
# Zeroes: 0
# Perfect 10s: 5

Awakening: 850
1) Overall: 8
2) Characterization: 8
3) Plot: 8
4) Setting: 7
5) Dialog: 8
6) Challenge: 8
# Zeroes: 0
# Perfect 10s: 31

A Soldier's Dream: 694
1) Overall: 6
2) Characterization: 6
3) Plot: 6
4) Setting: 6
5) Dialog: 7
6) Challenge: 7
# Zeroes: 0
# Perfect 10s: 5
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Post November 28, 2016, 06:21:26 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Congratulations to the winner, well done, indeed!!!

I gave Awakening 7 points in each category...eh,eh :D

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Post November 28, 2016, 09:03:22 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Congratulation to Kate! Good job!
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Post November 28, 2016, 12:52:17 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Hello everyone,

I maybe the senior citizen member of the group. I'm 84 years old this past September. When you get to be on up in years and the kids are now the age you were when you were a grandparent, you have a lot of time to reflect.

I enjoyed sharing my faith in this challenge through my story. I've only written a few stories and this is the first one I've shared in public.

Thank you all for letting me be a part of this.

I voted all 10's for Kate and Sergio's stories. I hope that was all right. I was enthusiastic about both of those stories. However, I enjoyed reading them all.

Phyllis
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Post November 28, 2016, 04:56:16 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Congrats, Kate! Nice work.

Here are the scores I awarded, with a few comments.
***************
On a Swing and a Prayer
1) Overall: 5
2) Characterization: 5
3) Plot: 2
4) Setting: 3
5) Dialog: 7
6) Challenge: 8

total: 30

comments: Please study paragraph structure, and learn how to use the return key to generate paragraph breaks. You should also work on using punctuation (especially commas) to clarify sentence structure.

Make Room for the Holy Spirit
1) Overall: 1
2) Characterization: 0
3) Plot: 0
4) Setting: 1
5) Dialog: 3
6) Challenge: 4

total: 9

comments: I found this lacking in originality. To me, it seemed to be not so much a story as a sermon.

Happy Ending?
1) Overall: 8
2) Characterization: 5
3) Plot: 8
4) Setting: 6
5) Dialog: 6
6) Challenge: 3

total: 36

comments: Cute surprise at the end.

Two Lovely Eyes
1) Overall: 10
2) Characterization: 7
3) Plot: 10
4) Setting: 7
5) Dialog: 2
6) Challenge: 10

total: 46

A Race Against Time
1) Overall: 8
2) Characterization: 7
3) Plot: 9
4) Setting: 9
5) Dialog: 6
6) Challenge: 10

total: 47

Awakening
1) Overall: 7
2) Characterization: 10
3) Plot: 9
4) Setting: 9
5) Dialog: 9
6) Challenge: 10

total: 54

comments: I had a great deal of difficulty placing the various characters in the setting. The italicized voice didn't seem to have much of a connection to the rest of the story; its comments were very cryptic. Even at the end, I have a hard time making a sensible connection between the AI and the other characters.

A Soldier's Dream
1) Overall: 7
2) Characterization: 7
3) Plot: 7
4) Setting: 8
5) Dialog: 10
6) Challenge: 10

total: 49

comments: Loved that first line.
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Post November 28, 2016, 11:09:34 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Oh, thank you guys! I had such a hard time with this one and the number of characters I introduce!!! Yikes! (And the rough draft had 2 more characters. [eye roll]). So I’m so glad you all enjoyed it!

“A Swing and a Prayer” This reminded me of Eon by Greg Bear, and that’s one of my favorites so I loved this one. I could have used some more paragraph breaks especially to help delineate who’s speaking, but overall a nice job.

“Make Room for the Holy Spirit” Welcome to the contest, Phyllis! I’m always excited to read works by new writers. The conversion story always holds a fascination for me, but I really felt like I couldn’t tell if this was all about one character, or more than one character, and some of the story seemed to want to encompass all of humanity instead of focusing on the conversion of just one person. You might think about plot and character development. I think you could have made this a stronger if you’d honed in on one person’s experiences and had the action and story arc center around that one person.

“Happy Ending?” Kittens! How can I say anything bad about a story that ended with kittens!?

“Two Lovely Eyes” This is a great concept and I enjoyed that, but I felt like it was a little heavy on the telling and there wasn’t enough showing. And, for me, I’m willing to forego clarity if I have some good action. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the story; I just thought that it might have benefited from stronger action scenes.

“A Race Against Time” I liked this but I felt a little lost throughout. I got that Trayon was on his way to save his wife and unborn child, but I never understood why or what had happened, and then he gets there and at first it’s too late and then everything’s fine. I guess I just didn’t feel like I had a good grasp of what was going on.

“A Soldier’s Dream” Well done. This was definitely my favorite. I enjoyed the way you switch back and forth from dream to reality, and the ending is so sweet.
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Post November 29, 2016, 03:07:14 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

For Phyllis Murphy:

I voted all 10's for Kate and Sergio's stories.


Thank you very much, indeed…eh,eh. Appreciated!!! :D
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Post November 29, 2016, 07:59:53 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Here's my feedback on the stories:

On a Swing and a Prayer:
The first thing that struck me is that you didn’t use all the words you could. Close, but the event you were describing is hard to imagine, so I think you needed every word available. “Solar catchment system??” That dragged me right out of the narrative flow, because I had no idea what it was or why you would need a big cable to drag behind a ship. It read as kind of convenient, in not necessarily a great way.

What I would normally think would be separate paragraphs were all together, and I found it a bit off-putting.

Also, I think world building could have been improved. 56 people on a mission to Mars but they don’t know each other’s names? The fact that there was a maglev system (which was a great idea, BTW) implies that these people are part of something bigger, and then they might not know each other, but it’s not explained.

I did like the idea of this story, don’t get me wrong. It was wonderfully creative. I loved the teamwork among the crew, how they collaborated to find a solution, but I think this would have made a better short story than a flash piece.

Make Room for the Holy Spirit:
I was glad we could be the spot for your first public story, Phyllis. Welcome aboard. The best advice I can give to all less experienced writers is to think about your audience. You had a story you wanted to tell. The audience, however, doesn’t necessarily know how to relate to the story you have in mind. How then can you organize your idea in a way that works for the audience? I suggest a framework suggested by Robert Silverberg. He called it “The Generic Plot of all Stories: “
    A sympathetic and engaging character (or an unsympathetic one who is engaging nevertheless), faced with some immensely difficult problem that it is necessary for him to solve, makes a series of attempts to overcome that problem, frequently encountering challenging sub-problems and undergoing considerable hardship and anguish, and eventually, at the darkest moment of all, calls on some insight that was not accessible to him at the beginning of the story and either succeeds in his efforts or fails in a dramatically interesting and revelatory way, thereby arriving at new knowledge of some significant kind.
    Asimov’s SF Magazine, 2004.

Really, that’s what audiences understand how to relate to. Beyond that, you have a good chance of leaving them confused. You may have to trim that framework for a flash piece, maybe even a lot, but at least it gives something to start from. Good luck!

Happy Ending?:
I struggled at the end to figure out the kittens. Were they mutants? Then, there was the palm to the forehead moment. Great twist.

Two Lovely Eyes
I missed having some direct interaction and dialog with another character, but characterization was off the charts! Very strong world building as always.

A Race Against Time
I really liked the love story to this. Happy, but not gooey. The thing that threw me was most of the hardships he endured seemed like they would have been avoided if he had just kept his military uniform on. The cop wouldn’t have shot him. That just didn’t make sense to me. Excellent setting and world building, in my opinion.

Awakening
I have to admit, the first time I read this, I didn’t get that there even was an AI until the end, which when I read it later was extremely obvious. (Sometimes I’m thick.) I just thought one of the human investigating agents was letting him know a way around the system, which was a great human moment, so I was confused. I loved the characterization. Loved it. Loved the dialog. On the down side, the flipping back and forth to the AI plotline was kind of jarring for me.
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Post November 30, 2016, 06:05:45 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Just wanted to say well done Phyllis, sharing your first story in public is a big thing. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

And congratulations to Kate, what a great effort to win two in a row.

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Post November 30, 2016, 09:27:29 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Enjoyed the stories this month! Kate, you are literary craftswoman. Your story stayed with me.

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Post December 01, 2016, 07:55:12 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

I would like to give special thanks to all those who provided feedback on my story. It is always deeply valued when people are willing to tell you what mistakes you made so you can fix them for the future.

There is one note that was mentioned by everyone that I would like to address and that was the issue of my lack of paragraphs. This was far from intentional and was mostly an artifact of changes in format. I had nice paragraph breaks and divided the story up to be more readable in the original text file but when I pasted it on here it ran together. Sending it in at the last minute did not help since I didn't have time to look over and fix that issue. It should be easy enough to change in the future.

I hope to post a few thoughts on other stories this weekend.
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Post December 01, 2016, 11:08:12 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Spacer wrote:
I had nice paragraph breaks and divided the story up to be more readable in the original text file but when I pasted it on here it ran together. Sending it in at the last minute did not help since I didn't have time to look over and fix that issue. It should be easy enough to change in the future.




In this game all the work means nothing if the copy that goes to print isn't formatted right. Cutthroat though it maybe. 1000 hours of work can be ruined with bad formatting on your first page if the reader closes your book before page 2. Sad but true. I had to force myself to read it so I could score it and it definitely effected my out look. Had I not been obliged as a participant to score it I would have passed it up at first glance.
Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. – Neil Gaiman
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Post December 03, 2016, 12:23:30 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

These stories have now been added to Flash Index II.
Hardcover, paperback, pdf, eBook, iBook, Nook, and now Kindle & Kobo!
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Post December 03, 2016, 01:54:34 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

It was nice to read the current batch of expressions. As a reader I enjoy finding meanings that sometimes the writer themselves are not even aware of when writing, it is in this I find the stories to be successful or just are.

The favorite for me was the one by Phyllis Murphy. It is an old story written many times in the past, present and future as the authors only change names/genders/species but the story remains the same.

In the story, 'Make Room For the Holy Spirit', there is the obvious which some would consider to be a sermon or religion but the obvious is...obvious. It is that which is not obvious which truly made me enjoy this 'story'...

Does the author know truly what was written or was it just luck?

On a related note, who are authors of this story? Names? Do readers form a mental picture by seeing the word Phyllis and the reply of being 84 years old as an elderly female human. If the name was Xionang and the age 24 does that mean the story was written by a Chinese athlete? If this story was written by one named, Mark, or Jane... It is good the stories are blinded as to the authors name and let the reader imagine for themselves.

Sometimes the authors name is a story in-and-of itself...

Getting back to the story written, for me the ending was brilliant. Well done Phyllis.

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Post December 04, 2016, 10:29:54 AM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

Love how the challenge is evolving with the addition of new and I must say talented new members. I hope all will stay here and contribute. I’ve been at Aphelion for twelve or thirteen years and have enjoyed every month of the issue. When submitting a story or entering the challenge, one can experiment! That’s nice! Many other sites seem to frown of experimental stories and usage but not a Aphelion. That in itself is a desirable environment in which the writers can enjoy a freedom that may be just inherit to them.
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Post December 04, 2016, 12:16:59 PM

Re: [POLL] Vote November 2016 Flash Challenge

To Lester, I suppose any christian themed material may seem like a sermon, but please don't say it like that's a bad thing. I just want to write with themes like God's faith in mankind because it inspires me. I know I didn't write this in the structure that the voting requirements indicated, but when I started to rewrite the story according to form, I didn't have the heart, because I loved the mysterious approach that faceless characters brought to this story. This was the way I envisioned it.

But I'll try and work on those weak areas in my writing.

To Kate, I love conversion stories too. You're right that this story was about both individual people and mankind as a whole at the same time. I have always liked writing with an overview style, however personalizing a story may make people relate to it better. I'll try to do that.

To Kailhofer, that was generous of you to find that quote for me. It sounds complicated, but I can try to do it in the two weeks you allow.

To Lipenksi, I'm not sure what you were saying, but if it is that a story about God and man is timeless and anyone can write it regardless of the time they live in, their age or gender, then I would say this is true. My favorite sermon storyteller was Jesus. His stories has a large audience.

To Megawatts, I really enjoy experimenting and doing things in stories that touch me and if possible, at least one other person. If I can do that, then the time and labor is worthwhile. I'm glad you said that.

To everyone, thank you for taking time with me.

Phyllis

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