I know that New Year’s resolutions are unfashionable but still, hands up those of you who are still crafting your overly ambitious list for 2019? Don’t be embarrassed, I think it is endearing. The calendar turns over and we believe we can as well, starting anew so we can achieve all we wished for the previous year but better, for now we possess the wisdom gained by not accomplishing a damn thing on last year’s list.
In this final issue of Volume 1, write your own resolution and give it to one of your characters. This is a two-week prompt and you get a whopping 1000 words to work with in this very special New Year’s issue.
I have never liked horror stories. As an overly empathetic person, it is impossible for me to watch slasher films or read about the brusque removal of entrails. I have never understood the point of gratuitous violence, of being purposefully revolting, nor have I ever sought to understand.
With Issue 36’s prompt though, I have begun to consider the appeal. With horror stories, death and gore are expected. The only happy ending is escape. Horror stories address, very boldly in most cases, the senselessness, the obscene viciousness of this life. In dramatic stories, death usually occurs to emphasise life while in horror stories, it is the opposite: life emphasises death. Horror stories give us a safe (albeit offensive) space to examine our human condition along with all its heinous possibilities while (not-so-gently) reminding us that death is part of life (and vice versa).
My dearly departed friend Alan, the one to whom this issue is dedicated, died at the age of 33, just a week shy of his birthday. His death was horribly simple, shocking in how quickly and quietly his existence was snuffed out. There was no gore, no chainsaw or blade, no pool of blood to step around. And this is the true horror story: it is incredibly easy to die. An absolute cruelty when you consider how very hard it can be to live.
The fifteen stories in this week’s issue lead readers in an exploration of fear and fright, using every possible route.
(2) The Carnival by William Falo (3) The Crawly Space by Dawn DeBraal (4) The Auditorium by Kelli J Gavin (5) Messy by Annalie Kleinloog (6) Stick Figure Family by Sonora Taylor (7) The House with Secrets by Sunil Sharma (8) Madhukar’s Wife by Debjani Mukherjee (9) Failed Attempt at Prompt #36 by Copper Rose (10) Inside the Caravan at the Mexican-American Border (or Seasons Greetings) by Karen Petersen (11) ISLAND by Lauretta Kaplan (12) Last Chance Diner by Mark Kuglin (13) All Hail the Printing Press by Lesley Crigger (14) Final Lot by Christy Kunin (15) Masked and Relentless by Kathy Sanford (16) Don’t Look by Olivia Wagner
I grew up with a kid named Alan. He and I had the same last initial so we were always sitting one in front of the other throughout school. Alan and I shared a love of reading and music, though on both fronts we had vastly different preferences. He liked Megadeath, I liked Bob Dylan. He liked Dean Koontz, I liked Tolstoy. To each their own, I would say now, but it is possible that I was not so open-minded in my youth. Alan, on the other hand, possessed a surprisingly liberal attitude from a young age. Alan could readily appreciate Dylan and Tolstoy whereas I could not tolerate Megadeath or Koontz. I found it particularly irksome when Alan went through a copycat stage with his writing, mimicking Steven King and Dean Koontz in the stories that he wrote for English class. After perhaps a little too much complaining on my part, he wrote a story that featured me.
It was not a long story. Basically, I went over to his house to spend the night with his younger sister and he invited me out for a walk. Living in Florida, there was naturally a swampy area along the path which made it easy for him to tie me up, duct-taping my mouth first, of course, and push me into the water, where I was immediately devoured by alligators. I thought it was hilarious and I did let up on the complaining after that.
Five years ago, Alan died, just a few days shy of his thirty-fourth birthday. His death was sudden and heartbreaking for everyone who had the privilege of knowing him. Today, November 26th, was Alan’s birthday. In honor of my horror-loving childhood friend, I am asking you writers out there to craft some horror stories that would make Dean Koontz’s skin crawl. And, due to the fact that I am busy with the print edition, I am giving you two weeks to complete your stories with an expanded word count of 1000. Let the blood ink flow, writers.
In Japan, there are PA poles everywhere. Since we are a country so prone to disaster, it is necessary to have them so every citizen can be warned, no matter how remote they might be. During the great Tohoku earthquake, among the heroes who were lost were those city employees- mayors, clerks, secretaries- who stayed to man the PA.
When I lived on the island, the PA was used a lot and not always for emergencies. Most of the time it was to tell the fishermen not to go out due to rough waves but there would also be the announcements about house-raisings or bake sales.
Here in Hiroshima though, I never hear the PA. So last summer when the flooding began and the crackle of the PA was constantly letting us know about landslides and overflowing rivers, about evacuation centers, well, it was to be taken seriously.
Unless, of course, you did not understand what they were saying. My coparent has a way of tuning out Japanese in a rather ignorance-is-bliss sort of way. After a day of the PA blasting warnings and him hearing the announcements as background static, the dangers got close enough to trigger the phone alert system, which were in English on his phone.
He texted me frantically, did you know about this?! Landslides! Flooding! What are we supposed to do, we are in an evacuation zone. Mandatory evacuation! Should we evacuate?
I had, of course, already told him what was going on but until he saw it in English, it was not real to him. They discussed this phenomenon on the news afterward, foreigners continuing about their days as if it was just a bit of rain, while Japanese people cleared the shelves of toilet paper and bottled water, headed for higher ground.
Perhaps it is a bit like that tree in the forest parable: if there is an emergency warning but you don’t understand it, is it actually happening?
This week we have five stories of public service announcements that warn us, bring our attention to dangers that did not exist until we read about them.
I used to live on an island far out in the middle of a steely blue sea. During that time, I was in communication with a friend who meant more to me than I meant to him. The imbalance of our relationship was rooted in our very different situations that created very different perceptions of this world. I was off living in on the other side of the planet, teaching kindergartners; he was stuck back in our hometown, working long hours in the service industry without much hope of change.
Nothing captured our imbalance more accurately than a quick exchange of photos we shared, on a morning (my time, evening his time) when I got up before dawn to walk down to the harbor in time for sunrise. Sunrise and sunset were the only moments in the day when we shared the sun at the same time, a fact that felt rather significant then.
So I sent him pictures of the glorious sky, the pinks, purples, oranges, reds painting the heavens as the sun eased itself into another day.
In return, he sent me two pictures he had taken early that morning: one of a very dead possum, ghostly in the camera’s flash, and the other of what I thought was a bowl of flour, being weighed on a kitchen scale. It turned out that it was not flour.
Two different dawns, two different worlds.
This week, we have seventeen different dawns, seventeen different worlds.
The quiet of the world as it turns from night to day. The light just before sunrise, dim and yet somehow everything is visible, still but visible. Emptied streets, shuttered shops, a lone runner. A few birds stir but hold their songs until the great star shows itself again, as if they are unsure that the cycle will continue to repeat itself. There are lesser stars still in the sky, minor in their distance and influence. The moon seems listless, already fading. A young woman looking old sleeps on the bus stop bench, torn tights and black leather boots, her purse serving as a pillow. For her, dawn is not a beginning but the end of a long night of flashing lights and dizzy laughter, of hoping strangers would be anything but. The first bus of the day approaches, its driver used to collecting stray people. The sky shifts from lavender to pink and the birds let loose their pent-up melodies. A new day has dawned.
This week, include dawn in your stories, whether it be as setting, action, or person. Dawn can have many different meanings: I want you to choose one to weave into your story.
As always, 500 words or less. Submit by Thursday, November 15th here.
I grew up in an area known commonly as ‘the sticks’. There were more trees than people, more trees than stores, more trees than cars and roads and stray dogs. My relatives were all within ‘yelling distance’, right through the woods. Behind my grandmother’s house, there was a small creek where brackish water rose and fell twice a day. On the other side, the woods stretched for square mile after square mile without a single human occupant.
I used to wait for the school bus under the awning of a sprawling live oak, draped with curly Spanish moss. Great trees like that served as landmarks then, before there were strip malls and traffic lights.
A few years ago, a hurricane toppled half of the trees on my parents’ property. The news of the loss was conveyed to me, on the other side of the planet, in much the same way that the news of a beloved grandparent’s death would be shared. And I mourned the felled trees as if they were family for the trees did raise me, shape my understanding of the world.
Immobile and yet always growing, silent and yet never in silence, trees are as persistent in our imaginations as they are on land.
This week, we have a collection of fourteen stories as diverse as a forest. Included in Issue 33 are: