Volume 1 Issue 38: Resolutions

A year ago, I started this endeavour as an attempt to balance my writing practice with my Japanese study. It was, essentially, a resolution. Like all resolutions, I faltered many times. I wanted to quit every other week, questioned the conception of such a foolhardy resolution, was puzzled by the evolution of the project. It grew from the seed of my desire to write regularly and became an entirely different tree, filled with the fruits of others’ labours.

Accepting the tree as it was, letting it grow into what it is now, was more meaningful than establishing a better writing practice, it turned out. Supporting others in their own literary resolutions required a creative skill set that I did not possess at the beginning of 2018. Many people question the point of New Year resolutions and this is a much overlooked value of the tradition: setting a goal and heading towards it, even if you end up far away from your intended destination.

One glaring aspect of sticking with this project over the last year has been a very practical one: the realisation that I cannot do everything. Teaching full-time, raising four young citizens of the world, and running this website has consumed all my minutes, leaving no time for my language studies. And since I cannot let go of two of those elements, I am afraid that I must surrender the time given to Mercurial Stories so that I can focus all my non-work/non-parenting time to my studies.

I am an immigrant. I shed the nomadic expat identity when I started thinking about high schools and universities here in Japan for my kids. I have always resented studying the Japanese language because it took away from my writing but I also discovered over the course of this past year that I want to become a translator, specifically a literary translator. My reading and writing skills can still be of use, combined with my ever-expanding understanding of the Japanese language and culture. Thus, I no longer resent the time and effort I must invest. It is a long road ahead of me and first I must dedicate one year to an intense course of study that involves total immersion: reading, writing, and eventually speaking in Japanese for at least 70% or more of my days. This means that editing an English language flash fiction journal will not be feasible.

Know that it is a hiatus, not discontinuation, but it will likely be a lengthy one: it is possible that I will not return here until 2020. The website and FB page will stay alive so you can read (and link to) stories from past issues. And when I have passed my proficiency exams, I will let you know what the next prompt will be. Until then, I just wanted to tell you how grateful I have been for your participation with this “resolution”. Thank you for your stories, your encouragement, your readings, everything. It has been a very interesting journey.

Okay, now on with the show….

This week we have seven resolute stories to get you going for the New Year:

(2) To the Letter by Copper Rose
(3) A One-Liner by Mark Patterson
(4) Why I Do Not Make New Year’s Resolutions by Kelli J. Gavin
(5) Dating at 50 by Karen Petersen
(6) A Village Outing by Sunil Sharma
(7) Unbreakable by L Swartz

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Volume 1 Prompt 35: PSA

We interrupt this program…

By popular suggestion, write a PSA this week. Make it serious, absurd, romantic, heartbreaking, terrifying, whatever you please, but make it so it could be broadcast on a loudspeaker or posted on a bulletin board.

Hear ye, hear ye…

As usual, 500 words or less. Due Thursday, November 22nd by 8 pm EST.

Submit your story here. 
 

Volume 1 Prompt 34

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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.

Volume 1 Issue 33: Trees

Volume 1 Issue 33 

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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:

(p.2) Drought by Annalie Kleinloog
(p. 3) Warriors by Louis Kasatkin
(p. 4) Beneath the Old Oak by Scott-Patrick Mitchell
(p. 5) Summer Fell Into Fall by Kelli J Gavin
(p. 6) The Secret Tree by Jenny Birch
(p. 7) The Kindness of Trees by Audra Russell
(p. 8) Words, Wind and Magic by Cindy Potts
(p. 9) Bending Trees by Ania Vesenny
(p. 10) The Curse by Sunil Sharma
(p. 11) Seasons by Christopher Roper
(p. 12) An Autumn Farewell by Kathy Sanford
(p. 13) The Woodpecker by Lesley Crigger
(p. 14) Why I Love by Tonika Reed
(p. 15) Home of the Weaver Birds by Jose Varghese 

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Volume 1 Prompt 33

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For this week, let’s include a tree. Or trees. Include a primeval forest if you like, or perhaps a petrified one. You do not need to anthropomorphize them into characters, though you certainly could if you wished. Perhaps they are magic, perhaps they are giving, perhaps they are rotten, perhaps they contain treasure. Or perhaps a tree just casts a shadow in a bedroom where a woman lies weeping after being forsaken by her lover. After all, trees exist in the background of our lives, only coming to our attention when they blush into beautiful pinks or crush a garage during a hurricane.

((Oh, and I included the Japanese up there because it just seemed appropriate: it is the kanji for ki (tree) and mokuyobi (Thursday). ))

As always, 500 words or less due on November 8th by 8 pm EST, submission guidelines here.

Oh, and the podcast is on the way (it is hard to record in a house crowded with people and with night construction banging along outside my window for the past week) and I will contact the two author’s for the next podcast today.

There are still a few days left to nominate a story for The Pushcart Prize. I have received a lot so far but would like to hear from as many readers as possible.

Okay, writers, get cracking.

Volume 1 Issue 30: Podcast

For Vol. 1, Issue 30, the random number selector chose John Sheirer’s “Change is Good?” and Kira’s “Out of the corner of my eye”.  Congrats to both writers. I was pleased with how compatible these two pieces were when combined in the podcast.
I hope you enjoy listening.

Volume 1 Issue 31

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When I was a kid, there were abandoned houses scattered throughout the woods surrounding our house. Most were forsaken when the head of a family died and the remaining children had no interest in living in the sticks. Eventually, the houses would be ransacked and occasionally attract squatters but there was one house that managed to escape such a fate. It was a small concrete block house, built by distant relatives on a front lot of some less distant relatives.

They were quiet people and had one child. They built a dock and hung a tire swing and sent their child to the local school on the yellow school bus with all of his varying degrees of cousins. One day though, he came home sick from school and he never left his bed again. It was a long, harrowing illness and in the end, he was buried in the family cemetery a mile down the two-lane road that ran in front of their house.

Their loss was devastating. One night, they simply got in their car and never returned. People assumed they would come back once they were finished grieving but they did not. Perhaps they never finished grieving. Regardless, the little block house they had abandoned just stood there on the side of the road, filled with furniture and clothes, toys and cutlery. For some reason, no one ever ransacked it, even though the door was unlocked. No one ever squatted there either, despite the comfortable furnishings.

On my twelfth birthday, I had some friends over for a slumber party. I am a late September baby so when they arrived in the afternoon, we had quite a few hours of daylight to kill before it was dark enough for horror movies and pizza. My best friend at the time suggested that we go to the little block house, having heard it was haunted. I protested, said we would get in trouble, and she taunted me by calling me Miss Pretty Pure. Of course, I relented and made a point of leading the way. I hated being called Miss Pretty Pure and she knew it.

Stepping into the house was like stepping into a time capsule. Everything was olive green, yellow, and orange- the tell-tale colors of the seventies. The shag carpet, the flower print on the walls, the rough velour armchairs: all details were bought before any of us intruders were even born. There was an odd juxtaposition of cleanliness and vines, thorny rambling vines that we had to avoid in order to explore the six rooms of the place.

All the interior doors were open except one and this was the one I was commanded to open by my friends. I knew it was the boy’s bedroom, the place where he had exhaled his last breath. There was a sticker of a baseball in the middle of the door with the name Scott written across it. Little Scotty is what everyone called him.

I took a breath, walked down the hall and opened the door. His room was small but welcoming with fading sunlight streaming in through sun-bleached blue plaid curtains. There was a bookcase with a row of dusty little league trophies and a stack of curling comic books by the bed. On the bed was a yellow chenille bedspread and underneath it, for just a second, was Scott. He looked at me then closed his eyes and vanished. I did not jump because I was not scared. Instead, I just stepped back into the hallway and shut the door.

“We shouldn’t be here,” I said firmly and walked through the living room to the front door, giving no opportunity for taunting. I understood now why the house had been abandoned, why it was left as it was. I think we all understood for no one said a single word until we were in my backyard where my family was waiting for us with a cake and a stack of takeout pizzas. Scott had never seen twelve candles on a cake for him. This is what I was thinking as I blew them out, forgetting to make my wish. He was forever eleven and that was more haunting than the apparition.

The house is gone now, of course, along with the trees and palmettos and cousins. The family cemetery remains though with no one around to maintain it you can hardly see it from the road anymore. And as for Little Scotty, I am not sure what happened to him when they threw away his sick bed, his row of trophies and stack of comic books. Perhaps he is still there somehow but I know he is also here, in my memory forever. Little Scotty, my very first ghost.



And yes, that was a true story, or as true as a story can be when based on a twenty-seven-year-old memory. Isn’t that the way with haunted houses, that the ghosts are never as chilling as the truths of the living? More than the actual spirit, I remember the kitchen and the two cups sitting by the sink, white with a bold yellow stripe running around the middle. The disappearance of his parents breaks my heart even now, especially since I have an eleven-year-old, soon to be twelve-year-old, of my own.

This week, we have five tales of five different types of hauntings from contributors Kelli J Gavin, Sunil Sharma, Louis Kasatkin, Jean Wolfersteig, and Debjani Mukherjee. Very diverse in content but the common thread these five stories share is that ghosts take on all sorts of forms and can haunt a heart just as readily as a house.




The House Isn’t Haunted Anymore
Kelli J Gavin

He always knew it would be this way.  He spent six amazing months falling over every word she said.  He couldn’t get enough of her. Up late at night talking about all that they desired in the future. They spoke of past hurt and pain, the joy they experienced with each other and what they wanted from each other.  Every moment of every day, if he wasn’t with her, he wanted to be. He thought of her touch, the curve of her lip, the way she smiled when she caught his eye. He may have felt from the beginning that he loved her more. More than she loved him.  He was enamored with her. She may have cared for him, possibly even been entertained by him, but he never felt that she actually loved him. She was almost too good to true. She wasn’t particularly beautiful by today’s standards. Her hair didn’t shine. Her eyes didn’t glint in the sun. But she was funny, carefree and passionate.  She never did anything she didn’t want to do and she was good at everything.

When she left, she hugged him. Only a hug. Not a kiss, not a tight embrace, not a proclamation of another time and another place.  A hug. A simple meeting of bodies. She smiled yet her attention seemed elsewhere. Almost as if the act of saying goodbye to him was a chore and not voluntary. He tried to catch her eye to see if there was something more going on.  She wouldn’t look at him. She wouldn’t look into his blue eyes. Maybe she couldn’t. He wondered if she would have stayed if he had met her eye.

She now had been gone just as long as they had been together.  Six months together, now six months apart. He was convinced the home that they shared was haunted, mostly by her absence.  Little reminders of days gone by. An earring found under the bed. A whiff of her perfume even when he was home alone. He admired the way she folded the pillowcases in the linen closet. But then hated it at the same time.  He threw them on the floor and didn’t want to deal with the perfect folds at that time. Why did they have so many pillowcases? He found himself ordering pizza the way she liked it, then changed the order to something she would have turned her nose up at. He believed he could hear her humming when he came in from work each evening. He would stand in the dark back entryway of the home they shared and pray, that she would be there this time. She never was.

He wondered if there would ever be a time he could say, that it didn’t hurt so much. He prayed there would be a day when the house that they shared wasn’t haunted by her anymore.


Bio:

Kelli J Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company.  Look for Kelli’s first book of short stories and poems in 2019. You can find her work with The Ugly Writers, Sweatpants & Coffee, Writing In a Woman’s Voice, The Writers Newsletter, Writers Unite!, Academy of the Heart and Mind, The Rye Whiskey Review, Spillwords, Mercurial Stories, 121 Words, Hickory Stump, HerStry, Ariel Chart, The Basil O’Flaherty, PPP Ezine, Southwest Media, Otherwise Engaged, Pleather Skin, Paper.Li, The New Ink Review, among others.                                                                                                                                                                   Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin

Blog found at kellijgavin.blogspot.com



 

The Ghost of R. Kipling
Sunil Sharma

Grandpa was a great storyteller. Here is his favorite:

In Shimla, I came across a hotel with a large sign: Discover history.

—What is the historic thing? I asked the portly owner, Wilson, the last Anglo-Indian family left.

—The Kiplings used to stay here in summers. We rebuilt the property. The Raj connection.

—Rudyard Kipling?

—Yes.

—Why demolition?

—It was in ruins. Remodeled the old colonial-style bungalow. Kipling enthusiasts visit us for that feel.

—OK.

The city was crowded with tourists. All hotels were full except this one, despite its good location, tranquility, nice garden and cheap tariffs.

Puzzling!

After checking in, I had this sudden creepy sense— of being watched by an unseen figure.

Spooky!

Never believed in the post-industrial mythology of haunting but something was definitely odd.

What was that?

I could not figure it out.

The answer arrived soon.

.

After a light dinner, smoke and stroll, I went to my corner room for the night.

And discovered R Kipling sitting in the chair, as a special guest!

Wanted to scream!

The author commanded serenely: Welcome to this encounter of a different dimension.

—Thanks. Why this conversation at this unearthly hour? I asked.

—You taught me for long.

I nodded.

—Chance brought you this place. The adepts are chosen for such Shakespearean trysts.

I smiled: Or Dickensian. Real haunting?

Rudyard: Writers never die. They get reborn. Resurrected by readers.

—Yes. I confirmed.

—Once you wanted to probe me. Go ahead.

I paused and then said: Yes, I do want to question you.

—Please do.

—Why did you paint the natives badly? The binary of whiteness and darkness? Civilized and savage? So predictable and overstretched. This supposed racial superiority of the West! Apes in need of salvation and light?

—Is it so? Give me the lines, angry post-colonial reader.

—Sure. I quote from that pathetic apology to imperialism, called “The White Man’s Burden”:

Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace….

The ghost replied: What is wrong with that paean to the West and its civilization?

—Why not a Caliban in this insidious text? Counterfoil and argument?

—His trace is there.

—Very weak, in fact.

—Not everybody is Shakespeare. Besides, the age of empire is over.

—Sorry! The neo-imperialism is back and you are their latest icon.

He was mum.

I observed: Writers are either a presence or a specter. You have become a ghost that haunts the West and the East. Things change. The sullen peoples rising up against the empires everywhere. Half- devils against the full devils!

Silence.

—The country of your birth represented so poorly! Disgusting racialism!

He remained quiet.

—Savage wars, to be reversed. Retold. We reclaim, re-write R. Kipling!

He turned paler and then….

End it your way, reader!


Bio:

Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:

http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html

For more details, please visit the blog:

http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/



Les Autres
Louis Kasatkin

The unexplained disappearance of the reclusive author had never been properly investigated, at least not to the satisfaction of his fans, his readers and most of all his adopted son, the wannabe reporter on the local rag.
For years this state of dissatisfaction festered amongst the interested parties, who if nothing else managed to commemorate the renowned scribbler’s vanishment with an annual pilgrimage of sorts.
Then one year with the weather being particularly inclement, even for the usually desolate Scottish lochs, only the reporter had made it to the venue, the deserted house. Whereupon finding himself alone resolved in an instant to make a foray into the abandoned domicile to perhaps in his own mind satisfy an unquenchable curiosity.
Nothing actually came of that quixotic foray, nothing that is apart from a chance discovery, in the drawer of an antique dresser of a manuscript.
A suicide note perhaps? maybe not. A last will and testament? no one, however, questioned its authenticity when it was scanned and reproduced in the local weekly under the adopted son’s byline. The absent author alluded to his own ineluctable disappearance in the form of a poem. Simply perhaps to add to whatever mystery was bound to ensue from his vanishment.

When winter’s cadence sounds,
burn their pictures
the photographs of the dead
burn them,
so that they shan’t
trouble you again
when winter’s cadence sounds;

the gardens are shrouded
in snow
upon which no earthly foot
will fall,
and the door chimes dormant
hang suspended by a thread
of your own disbelief;

an imperceptible menace
waiting for a breath,
a snap of cold winter’s
air to cut the thread
and send it crashing,

crashing onto the floor,
where you shan’t hear it
except in your imagination’s
ear firmly fixed on the
sound of winter’s cadence.


Bio:

Louis Kasatkin is Founder of the renowned U.K.based Destiny Poets and Editorial Administrator of http://www.destinypoets.co.uk. Other than that Louis is an inveterate blogger and polemicist, local community activist and has been described as a general nuisance to the status quo. The rest you can google for yourselves.



 

I MOVED
Jean Wolfersteig

You woke me in the middle of the night in my last year of college. Standing at the bottom of my bed – tall and blue with a bandage circling your head like a turban – you looked so real I thought I’d left the back door open. Then, you faded away. In the days that followed, I found the shower running, doors wide open, and knick-knacks rearranged when I returned home from my classes. The house was built in the 1800s, and no doubt its bones ached with some tragedy. I imagined you were angry you’d been seen.

I moved

to a trailer on the other side of the county where I’d found a job. I relocated from a liberal college town to a rural hamlet to work at the local psychiatric hospital. It was a huge culture shock. Woefully, when I came home at night, the doors I’d locked in the morning were open, the shower running, the knick-knacks shuffled. I realized you’d moved with me. I went on vacation. The landlord found the doors open, the shower running – and fifteen hundred feet of telephone wire missing from beneath the trailer. There was a cemetery across the street. What did you have in mind?

I moved

to a tiny house on a hill with a bathroom bigger than the bedroom, living room, and kitchen combined. I lived there happily for a few months. All was quiet. I thought you’d found your place in that cemetery and finally left me to my own life. Until one night while I was sound asleep in the darkened room, my cat flew through the air, screaming and scratching at my arms and face. The air was heavy and drenched in evil. I hurried outside and waited on the stoop for the sun to rise. The cat took off for good.

I moved

to an SRO at the psychiatric hospital where I worked. It was a strange place to live. Long hallways lined with single rooms and communal bathrooms, occupied by poor people doing shift work. Food service workers. Housekeepers. Ward staff. Cooking meals illegally on single burners in their rooms. Buying and selling drugs in the common areas. Telling stories about crazy people. Trying to feel better off than patients, as if they weren’t imprisoned, too. I kept to myself. Ate packaged soup and crackers. Showered while others were not around. Read. Went to work. I couldn’t feel you anywhere. I supposed I’d finally found a place to live where you didn’t feel welcome. But neither did I.

I moved

to a lovely little house in another town, less isolated, more tolerant. Almost perfect. No more anxieties about fitting in. No more worries about your ghostly presence. But something isn’t right. The air goes cold, ruffling the hair on my arms and the back of my neck. And there’s a bad smell in my shower drain, like ammonia and rotten eggs.

Maybe it isn’t the house that’s haunted.


Bio:

Jean Wolfersteig retired as CEO of a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York and turned to writing fiction and teaching yoga. She is currently looking for a home for her novel, The Room Where the Elephants Go to Die. Her short fiction has appeared in the Akashic Books Mondays Are Murder and Duppy Thursday series and will soon appear in their Fri Sci-Fi series. She lives in the Mid-Hudson Valley, and, in the tradition of her beloved Catskill Mountains, thrives on ghost stories.



Haunted House
Debjani Mukherjee

Titli kept running up and down through the spiral stairs of her new house. She just loved her new house. Before they used to stay in a flat where there was hardly any place to play but here in this big house with so many rooms Titli is very happy to fly around. One by one she checked all the rooms and selected the one in the southwest corner of the house, the one which has the biggest window of all, opening to the garden.

The whole day went in unpacking. Her parents took the room at the opposite side of the long hallway joining both the rooms at both ends. Titli unpacked all her toys and arranged them on the shelves beside the bed. Put all her clothes in the closet and arranged her little bed with a pink bed sheet. And then she hopped to the garden. She just loved the garden with so many trees. In Kolkata, there were very little trees planted only by the side of their building but here she got a whole garden to play in. She was no more sad about leaving her friends in Kolkata. She actually started loving her dad’s transfer here.

After dinner, Titli kissed her parents good night and went to her room. The big jalousie wooden window on the garden side was kept open. Titli slipped in her bed but couldn’t sleep. This was her first day in the house so she felt a little uneasy. She went to the window and closed it as she was unfamiliar with the solid darkness of the countryside. She didn’t remember when she fell asleep but woke up in the middle of the night by a whistling sound. It was coming from the garden. Titli tried to sleep ignoring it but the sound kept growing and after a while, it became so clear that she felt like it was coming just from the other side of the window.

She got afraid and hid her little body under the bed cover. But the sound kept growing even louder and this time she felt that it was coming right from under her bed. She shivered in fear and clutched the pillow hard pressing her face into it she wanted to call her parents but the room was too far and she knows her voice won’t reach to them. Suddenly the whistle stopped Titli slowly pulled down the cover from her head and looked around the room. There was no one in the room and just then the bed moved. Titli screamed like mad but no sound came out from her throat. She screamed again but only a silent gush of tears spilled through her eyes.

The bed stopped moving. She sat up on the bed bathed in her own sweat. Collecting courage she stooped down the bed to see what was there under the bed, but there was no one. She felt a little more courageous and stepped down the bed to run to her mother. She sprints to the door only to find it closed. She kept the handle twisting but couldn’t open it. She screamed in horror and banged the door vigorously but no sound came out at all. She felt her heart in her mouth and fell down on the floor and there it was written clearly with blood “Turn around I am just behind you.”


Bio:


Debjani Mukherjee
 is a MBA in applied management and also a poet and a writer. Her poems, short stories, and articles are published in several international anthologies and magazines.




 

Volume 1 Prompt 30

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What was that?
Just there out of the corner of your eye? Was it the girl you have a crush on, looking your way? Was it your husband, checking illicit text messages? Was there something there in the shadows, waiting for you to pass? Your partner checking his gun before getting out of the patrol car to investigate a strange man, laying on the sidewalk? A moth fluttering around a streetlamp?

This week, dear readers, I want you to look at what you cannot see directly. Explore your character’s peripheral vision, what is possible to discern and how they infer that sideways information.

As always, 500 words or less due by Thursday at 8 pm EST.

 

Volume 1 Issue 29: There was no other way.

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Listen to the podcast for Vol. 1, Issue 29.

“There was no other way.”

How do you read that? Do you think of it as the truth, in the way a determinist might? Does it make your existentialistic heart rage?

Or do you get all swoony for stories of fate and destiny?  Soulmates and fortune tellers?
Do you look at the palms of your hands as maps that you must follow?

There was no other way, no choice. How many times have you been in a situation where you thought that there was only one option, one door to open?

This week we have six stories that explore these very questions from Karen Schauber, deb y felio, Francine Witte, Kelli J Gavin, Debjani Mukherjee, and Sunil Sharma.

Enjoy! And please come back tomorrow for the (first ever!) podcast featuring two of these stories, read aloud by yours truly.



 

Conscious Uncoupling
Karen Schauber

Harold drums his fingers on the gummy Formica tabletop. The thumb leading the procession picks up the pace. A second cup of coffee now cold, stale, and thin, sits untouched. Donna, he grumbles, late again.  He tries convincing himself she’s not worth it; no sense inviting further humiliation.

Time to blow this pop stand, he murmurs. He digs his aluminum chair’s heels in, scraping the mustard yellow linoleum and drives back hard into the wall. The metallic screech raises hairs all around in aggravated protest. The woman with the bouffant updo seated at the adjacent table turns away as if to signal her displeasure. Harold pushes up out of his seat; a loping simian asserting dominance.

At checkout, he twirls a handful of silver coin on the counter. They glitter like whirling dervish. The cashier’s eyes light up with delight. His hand waves away her adulation and the receipt, before slamming the heavy glass door of the diner behind him. There will be no reconciliation today.

Flashing a quick look up and down the street, Harold surveys the oncoming traffic for Donna’s pink Declasse Tornado. He bid pretty low for the beauty at Dixie’s auto auction last June and got her for a steal. Now she’s been forked over in the settlement. The optics are not good. He shields doubt and embarrassment behind cobalt blue Ray-Bans and stands fidgeting in tired cowboy heels a while longer.

He’ll give her a few more minutes. Truthfully, he has nowhere else to go.

Across the street, he slides into the parked dusty brown Chevrolet slumping low into threadbare upholstery and pushes up the visor for a good sightline to watch her arrival. She never does show.

He will say nothing. Bringing up her defiance would be like inviting two bobcats into a burlap bag. Instead, he will call the lawyer in the morning. Another 300 bucks down the drain. There is no other way.


Bio:

Karen Schauber is a seasoned Family Therapist practicing in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her earlier writing is non-fiction and details three decades of psychosocial and analytical cases. Flash Fiction is a new and welcome adventure for her. Karen’s flash fiction is published and forthcoming in 25 Literary Magazines and Anthologies including Brilliant Flash Fiction, Bending Genres, CarpeArte, Ekphrastic Review, Fiction Southeast, and Poems for the Writing: A Textbook. The upcoming Group of Seven Flash Fiction Commemorative Anthology celebrating the Canadian modernist landscape painters is her first editorial flash venture http://GroupofSevenFlashFiction.weebly.com. In her obsession with flash fiction, Karen also facilitates http://VancouverFlashFiction.weebly.com. She can be reached directly at http://karenschauber.weebly.com



 

Hidden Discussions
deb y felio

We thought about this carefully
before setting out the plan,
despite the numerous casualties
we assumed people would understand.

How to spin the message
give it a proper reason
without all the baggage
that didn’t sound like treason.

The profits that were gained
came at a price of course,
the progress we obtained
required a little force,      

That’s the story we are telling,
the press we are releasing,
the product we are selling,
the palms we are re- greasing.

We cannot admit that we ignored
the data from the experts
who begged us and implored
not this!  children will get hurt.

Was there something more philosophic,
something else we could have done
maybe less catastrophic
and still we could have won?

Perhaps but then there wasn’t time,
immediacy was the essence —
there were other hills to climb,
give the ratings extra presence.

When someone asks what’s going on
what’s causing all the chatter
reassure them nothing’s wrong
and the issue doesn’t matter.

So set aside the could have beens
and what we’ll never say,
the official statement to the crowd –
“there was no other way.”


Bio:

deb y felio is a witness poet exploring and writing on the mundane, the miraculous and the under-represented sides of historic and current issues. deb lives and writes in the hills of Boulder Colorado and is active in the Denver Lighthouse for Writers and the Stain’d art community. Her work is published in multiple online sources) and in the print anthologies Hay(na)ku ( Eileen Tabios, editor) and in Minnie’s Diary, A Southern Literary Review October 2018.



 

Love has rules
Francine Witte

Love has rules

and you can’t change ‘em. I tell this to Harley again and again.

Been like this forever, I say. He ignores me, but still I try.

I sit him in his favorite chair. all fluffy pillows and doilies where the fabric quit.

I say, Harley, you gotta start bringing me flowers. Daisies are my favorite. You can pick ‘em out back.

He is already shifting his shifty feet, big clunky boots that are waiting to walk him straight back to Loretta.

Who I know all about, and the spell she cast over him. With her big brown eyes, her fingers quick as a bluebird. Harley once told me that the first rule of love is to obey your heart and that’s what led him to Loretta.

Well, I gave him that. At least, that time he listened. But if he was gonna stay with me. He would at least have to act sorry. And sorry meant flowers.

So right now, that’s all I want to know. Where the hell are my flowers? He finally says, they are busy out back, and not ready to pick. And I needed to give them time to grow.

I remind him that the rules of love say that time has no meaning. How it seems too long when you’re away from the one you desire.

Speaking of which, are we done here? This is taking forever, he says.

Not for me, I tell him. Time just flies when you’re around.

And that’s when he gets up to leave. Leave me for the very last time.

Days later, at his funeral, I strew his sorry casket with daisies. Nice, big plump ones they sent from the store. I squeeze out a tear, but no one believes it. Not Loretta, who is still angry about the stabbing, not the policeman over there in the corner waiting to take me to jail, and certainly not the newspaper guy, who named me Crazy Daisy and chuckled when I said that I was just obeying the rules of love, and when it’s clear that a love thing is over, you need closure or something, and if only Harley had listened for once, it might have been different.

But since it wasn’t different, really, there was no other way.


Bio:

Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two flash fiction chapbooks. Her full-length poetry collection, Café Crazy, has recently been published by Kelsay Books. She is reviewer, blogger, and photographer. She is a former English teacher. She lives in NYC.



 

No Other Way
Kelli  J Gavin

When she left him, it wasn’t a moment too soon.  She had stayed for far too long but couldn’t imagine her life any other way.  She felt stuck. Stuck where she lived. Stuck in this situation. Stuck with him. She needed to get away, but where would she go?

5 years together was a long time. A lifetime. An eternity when you didn’t want to be there. 5 years was never something to brag about. 5 years meant nothing except for 5 years of insults, 5 years of assault, 5 years of beatings. He raised his hand to her 4 days after they were married. 4 whole days. But of course he didn’t mean it. He was a passionate man, and she had upset him so much when she wore that short skirt and too much makeup for his liking. She was told she was married and didn’t need to dress and look like that anymore. She was told that if she ever did it again, she would have more than a busted lip.

When stitches were needed the first time, it was because she was a half hour late getting home from work.  A half hour. She stayed late to earn some more money to pay for a nice birthday gift for her husband. She did it for him. And how was she repaid? With a gash three inches long splitting her eyebrow.  She told her friend she tripped and ran into the open front door. She smiled and tried to joke about her clumsiness. She was anything but clumsy. Didn’t she use to be a graceful dancer? Her friend knew she was lying. This was the first of may lies.

She lost the baby when he kicked her so hard in the stomach after she decided she wasn’t cooking dinner that night.  She felt so sick all day and had no appetite to eat. Maybe a few crackers later if she was up to it. She had plenty of leftovers to serve him, but leftovers were never good enough.  How dare she feed him “food that shouldn’t be served to animals!” She ran when she saw the rage in his eyes and balled fists that were never going to relax. The running made him more angry. She didn’t want to make him angry. She realized that too late as she was running from him. Running to save herself. Running to save the baby.

The baby was not saved. But she was. That night, she told the doctor in the ER how many times he had hurt her. She knew it was the last time. That night, her mom and friend packed up all of her belongings. She would never return to him. She was ready to leave town, if only for a short time. But she knew she had to leave. She would create distance. So goodbyes were said and tears were shed. There was no other way.


Bio:

Kelli J Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company.  Look for Kelli’s first book of short stories and poems in 2019. You can find her work with The Ugly Writers, Sweatpants & Coffee, Writing In a Woman’s Voice, The Writers Newsletter, Writers Unite!, Academy of the Heart and Mind, The Rye Whiskey Review, Spillwords, Mercurial Stories, 121 Words, HerStry, Ariel Chart, The Basil O’Flaherty, PPP Ezine, Southwest Media, Otherwise Engaged, Pleather Skin, Paper.Li, The New Ink Review, among others.

Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin

Blog found at kellijgavin.blogspot.com



 

 A Lesson**
Debjani Mukherjee

From a very early age Kritika was attuned with the admiring looks in the eyes of her fellow male classmates. A blooming rose always gains the attention of the bumble bees. Kritika understood this fact right in her early teen but never indulged those bees in her life. When she walks through any public place, few heads always turns following her motion just like the sunflowers which turn their head following the direction of the big bright fiery sun and why not!  Kritika’s beauty and charm is no less than the monarch of the universe. With Her creamy white competition, hazelnut eyes, rosy plump lips and perfect figure she looks no less ravishing than a star. She is now habituated getting love proposal almost every week which she obviously turns down. Her close friends have great fun times discussing about the number of new Romeo’s she earned till date. Kritika smiles at their comments but never indulges the discussion. She is more happy discussing books and music instead of these meaningless things.

Kritika is now twenty-one and studying law, nourishing the dream in her eyes to become a top corporate lawyer one day. Her fan following in the law school is no less than the past but her reserved personality leaves her male friends with no option than to whiff cold breathes into their chest. With age people develops ego and with the fear of getting humiliated they learn to act with patience and understanding. The male acquaintance of the law college thus refrain themselves from proposing Kritika as her reticent personality and quite nature bespeaks the message “not interested’ in bold letters.

But there are always few people in this queer world who believes in the never give up theory. Subhash is one of them. No matter how well the fact is acknowledged in the premises of law school that Kritika is not a girl to wish for, Subhash is not ready to give up. He is happy to act like some ambitious soul alluring himself with this impossible dream, which has every chance to get rejected in near future. He sets his voyage for the mission marry Kritika with the best whack of his. He is a CA, already running a farm successfully and joined the law graduating course to get more clients of big companies. He is elder than most of the students in the college and of course already successfully earning good money. So he has got some respect among the students. He is a little short in height and his eyes are ornamented with spectacles. His fair skin goes red whenever he becomes a part of a college canteen debate as he has a tendency to prove his point with utter conviction. He became a member of the same group in which Kritika dwells and keep finding ways to praise and support Kritika in anything and everything.

Kritika understands the meaning of every gesture Subhash performs from passing her the canteen tea glass before anyone else, paying all the food bills of the group voluntarily, talking always in support of Kritika, she surely understands it all. Subhash is not leaving any corner untouched but Kritika was nowhere to give in for any of his efforts. As somehow these constant endeavors of Subhash to impress her makes her feel very uneasy and embarrassed. One day he even visited their house by surprise and chatted with her mother for long which Kritika didn’t like at all.

Theirs is an evening college as many people like Subhash who are already established in other field intend to pursue the law graduation as an add-on qualification to enrich their portfolio. After the classes they walk back home in a group. Some of them who come from far walk to the bus stop to catch a bus. Some take the bus to the railway station to board a train and some like Kritika whose house is just at the walking distance walks back to her house. And here something Subhash does every evening which absolutely disgusts Kritika. Subhash who stays at the next town comes to college riding his bike and every day after the classes are over and the group starts walking together to a point where they gets apart for their respective destinations Subhash pushes his bike along with them saying that he want to be with the group for more. But the true reason is known to all which makes Kritika so embarrassed that she wants the ground to split and submerge into it.

That evening after everyone leaves for their own destination Subhash takes out a book from his bag and gave it to Kritika for a read saying “it’s a great book please read it. I know you will love it.” Unwilling in heart Kritika takes the book as it is not mentioned as a gift , though she could see the shining brand new cover of the book “Thakur Barir Andormohol” ( the inner life of the Tagore house) by Chitra Deb. But as it is not mentioned as a gift, turning down a good book like this seems illogical so she takes it without any word. After reaching home she opens the book to read and discovers a single line written on the empty page at the beginning of the book. “Gifted to the person I love” no to or from mentioned just a line which says it all but leaves her with no option to confront it. Kritika got extremely angry, after being an embarrassment for her every evening now this man got the guts to pronounce it loud too!! She is absolutely disgusted and wants to teach this educated idiot a fitting lesson for all his calculated steps towards this disgusting climax.

After few days Kritika gives the book back to Subhash, thanking him casually she proceeds to her class for the lecture. Subhash gets disheartened by not receiving any reply from Kritika. May be the message was too passive in manner he thought. He was going to put the book in his bag when a folded paper slipped to the floor from the folds of the book. Subhash’s heart started racing, he could almost hear the lub dub repeating wildly inside his chest like a hammer. He grabbed the paper and sat on the staircase at the end of the huge corridor of the collage and as he expected it’s a letter.

My Love, 

                 You are the most beautiful thing ever happened to me. I fell in love with you right at the moment when I saw you for the first time. I never believed in love at first sight but see it happened to me. The intensity of my love is at a constant raise. Increasing with the waves of time my days and nights are getting more consumed by your thoughts.  My imaginations come to an end when I think how my life would be, if it’s not with you! I could only weave the pictures of my future around you. I know you too love me with the same intensity so let’s paint a life together with the colour of each other’s life.

                                                                                Yours and only yours

                                                                                            Kritika “

Subhash is so happy that he couldn’t even realize where he is and all his emotions of the joy of victory got sketched on his face instantly . The best girl in the college is now his. He got what others never could. He surely is the best so the most beautiful girl in the college is now his girlfriend and may be the would be wife. When he will walk with Kritika the other boys of the college will burn their eyes with envy. Having a girlfriend as beautiful as Kritika is no less than a dream come true. He was always an achiever, minting money with both hands in so early edge he was always way ahead than others. So if not him, then who could win the princess of the college!! Certainly Kritika couldn’t have found a better boyfriend than him. Along with the high bank balance in this early age now he has achieved the most beautiful girl also surely he will be the talk of the town for the rest of his life. He thoughts kept dancing on his eyes but then something caught his eyes at the other side of the page. It’s just a short note of one line. “P:S- I Love you Subho from the bottom of my heart.”

Subhash felt as if he missed his heartbeats for a while. The happiness of achieving the best girl in the college and then discovering it’s just a myth left him as a stone on the stairs. Kritika who was watching him from far hiding behind the door of the class smiled a little. She hurried to Subhash as if she didn’t notice his previous happiness and now this acquit disappointment flashing on his face. She said “Oh! Subhash I forgot an important paper inside the book please can I have it back?” she said it in one go pretending to be worried losing the paper.

Subhash stretches out his hand holding the letter, with a bewildered look in his eyes which gave Kritika an indomitable urge to laugh out loud but she kept her face straight and came back to her class room with the mock letter in her hand which she wrote to some nonexistent Subho just for this purpose. She was content with the thought that she taught the self-obsessed man with huge superiority complex a good lesson. She never liked Subhash flaunting his money in the canteen as if none of them could afford the snacks and those high volumes arguments of his where he never cared to listen to others view absolutely irritated her like anything. What did he thought Kritika will be allured with his show off!! She went to her seat wearing the smile still on her lips. She knows she did it brutally but what to do there was no other way.

(**Note from the editor: This story did exceed the word limit but there are exceptions to every rule.)


Bio:


Debjani Mukherjee
is a MBA in applied management and also a poet and a writer. Her poems, short stories and articles are published in several international anthologies and magazines.


 

The monster slayer
Sunil Sharma

The  trail goes to the cave of the monster. Slay your father-killer there.

The Old Seer to Kelly, the reluctant warrior.

The man with the golden locks and eyes of a poet would have rejected the challenge earlier but priorities change.

Then the nagging question: Why did it happen to me?

He was determined to punish the elusive beast.

As per the directions of the Wise One, young Kelly undertook a long and dangerous journey; the Wide River and stars, only compass. There were craggy mountains and treacherous paths; swift streams and fatal falls. A misstep—you are dead meat.

Last part, most testing!

The warning sounded true.

As Kelly approached the final trail, things grew strange. The cave did not look formidable or dangerous but rather beckoned!

An outside garden with a murmuring brook. The trees were in bloom and birds sang merrily. The seductive aroma of the exotic flowers and the soft breeze lulled the brave quester into sleep.

Waking up, he found himself tied on a rough table.

And a host that announced most cheerfully: Welcome, my lunch!

Kelly had never seen such an odd creature. The huge and unwashed hybrid stank badly. Bones littered the entire floor. The kitchen fires blazed, giving some light and warmth in that damp place. Dismal sight!

The giant reassured the victim gleefully: Do not be afraid. I kill my victims without pain. Only problem, I am bit slow for their liking.

Panic.

The monster got excited by the scent of fear: I thought you were brave but I can sense terror. Mortals! Easily scared!

Kelly was repulsed by the hollow laughter.

—Not fair! Kelly was calm.

—What?

—This uneven contest.

—Life! Never fair!

—You are philosopher also.

—I reflect. Observe things.

—Like?

—Humans love to invent their own monsters!

Kelly was astonished.

—A thinking man’s monster. Not a complete brute!

—Fairy tales! Why do you create appalling images of the other species? Why this need for terrifying aliens?

—Because the unknown is dreaded. Part of evolution. Kind of processing threats in great images.

—Nice thinking, Kelly!

—Know my name?

—I can read the tattoo.

Kelly became quiet.

The fiend said: Monster is created to make you feel human, superior, master.

Kelly nodded.

They looked at each other for long.

— I like you, Kelly. Here is a game: Run for freedom. After an hour, I come after you. If you reach the border before, you win. Now run.

They agreed.

Kelly ran against the wind and crossed the border. Monster kept his word and let him live.

… Having survived the ordeal and returning home happily, Kelly remembered suddenly: Father killed by a beast-cum- cannibal.

He felt angry.

He was there to slay him, not escape.

Killing the giant, not easy.

Kelly knew he was to overcome fear and go back to the cave only.

There was no other way!


Bio:

Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:

http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html

For more details, please visit the blog:

http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/




 

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