Fortnightly Writing Competition: After the Fire (RESULT)

Started by RootBound, Tue 14/11/2023 16:15:30

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Choose your vote for the winner of this FWC!

MANDLE: The Greatest Novel of All Ti...
1 (11.1%)
WIGGY: Untitled
2 (22.2%)
SINITRENA: In Miller's Ash
0 (0%)
SINITRENA: After the Fever
2 (22.2%)
BARON: Fires of the Heart
2 (22.2%)
STUPOT: That Night
2 (22.2%)

Total Members Voted: 9

Voting closed: Fri 08/12/2023 01:03:10

RootBound

UPDATE: VOTING IS CONCLUDED. We have a winner! See comments below.

--------------------


Hello all,

@Mandle and I have settled of the following theme:

After the Fire

Something has burned. A meal? A house? A forest? Perhaps simply a piece of pottery in a kiln?
Or has it burned metaphorically - burning your bridges, torching your relationship, or anything else where a "burn it all down" metaphor would be appropriate.

The caveat is this: whatever type of fire event you choose, the story must take place after that event. The focus should be on aftermath, repercussions, fallout... whatever comes "next."

Bonus points if you can avoid a big dump of exposition, but those points will be up to the voters, of course.  ;)

My understanding is that the hosts may also write entries, but we'll see whether I have enough time.

Deadline is November 30.

J. They/them. Here are my most recent games:

Mandle

Love this theme. It was definitely the best of the bunch.

Baron

Quote from: RootBound on Tue 14/11/2023 16:15:30My understanding is that the hosts may also write entries....

Love this understanding of our hallowed rules.  Cue further debate!  ;-D

RootBound

Quote from: Baron on Thu 16/11/2023 01:44:41Love this understanding of our hallowed rules.  Cue further debate!  ;-D

I mean, if I'm wrong that's totally fine--I would sort of feel weird about entering while hosting anyway.  (laugh)  I'm hoping we get enough participation that I won't need to enter.  ;)

Spoiler
I actually did just sit down and write something short, though. Because I wanted to.  :P  We'll see whether it's necessary to enter it.
[close]
J. They/them. Here are my most recent games:

Stupot

Generally the host doesn't enter. Occasionally they might still post a story but declare it as not an official entry.

In this occasion though, considering the three of you had been discussing the themes in PM, it's not as though Rootbound has had much more of a head start than the others, so I don't really mind if the host enters in this case.

In fact I'm not particularly against it anyway, especially if it means more entries.

Mandle

Quote from: Baron on Thu 16/11/2023 01:44:41
Quote from: RootBound on Tue 14/11/2023 16:15:30My understanding is that the hosts may also write entries....

Love this understanding of our hallowed rules.  Cue further debate!  ;-D

It was actually me that suggested that rule to RootBound for this round. When he said "it is my understanding" that probably meant his understanding was for this round. I actually don't mind if the host enters every round, but that's not the reason why I suggested the exception to the rule to him in this case.

The reason was that we have someone other than the usual gang who is potentially interested in submitting an entry.

Rootbound, feel free to write your entry and submit it. Like I said to you via our private discussions, if anyone doesn't approve of the host entering, they can just ignore that entry when they vote. The contest isn't even about "winning" it, really. It's just a motivation to write something every two to four weeks, and always feels good when something gets released no matter how few people read it. Well, it feels good to win as well, and the more participants we have, the better that feels as well.

I'm actually currently putting together a much-revised compilation of stories I have written here over the years into a short story compilation with hopes for some kind of publication. I wasn't even serious about writing the first time I joined this contest. You never know where bashing out a story every 2-4 weeks can take you.

Oh, and I finally have an idea in mind for MY story for this round... YAY!


RootBound

We'll see what happens. I'll have something written either way, and if we get at least 3 other entries, I will post it as a non-entry.

Side note, not a big deal, but I realized I've never been clear about my pronouns on here, so, added them to my signature.

J. They/them. Here are my most recent games:

Sinitrena

Quote from: Stupot on Thu 16/11/2023 02:37:21In this occasion though, considering the three of you had been discussing the themes in PM, it's not as though Rootbound has had much more of a head start than the others, so I don't really mind if the host enters in this case.

Two. I didn't participate in any discussions. As a matter of fact, I just now saw Mandle's PM concerning possible topics, because I hadn't logged in for a few days and for some reason I didn't get an e-mail notification.

Anyway, that's not the point, neither is a head start on the topic - it's the need in all contests for a neutral arbitrator.

I can't stop the host from entering, of course, but I'll repeat again and again that it is not a good idea, even in a little friendly contest like this one.


 Oh, and I'm already working on something, if I have the necessary time, it should be done fairly quickly. Love the topic!

Stupot

It is a great topic. I've already splashed out a good half of mine. The planets aligned and I had a long break at work followed by a string of cancellations and I happened to have brought my laptop to work.

RootBound

Gonna be a busy week for me with the Thanksgiving holiday and everything, so I finished up my writing piece ahead of time. So without further ado, here is my non-entry which will not be included in the voting.  :)

Hope you enjoy!

-----------
Traces

Shrapnel from the habitat dome littered the yellow rock plateau in front of Tess—pieces of plexiglass, carbon fiber, and aluminum, all charred at the edges. Through her helmet, everything felt sealed off and distant, even when she bent to pick up a copper coil from one of the environmental regulator systems that had sparked the fire. Her spacesuit glove as thick as three layers of blanket.

All the bodies had been recovered already, along with personal artifacts and salvageable tech. Once Tess finished this final official comb-through and climbed back into her cleanup freighter, she'd leave this place abandoned.

She dropped the coil into the robo-bin behind her, and kept walking. The robo-bin followed, its many wheels lifting and falling in waves as it rolled over useless wreckage.

Glaring sky and yellow ground made everything too bright to see. Tess pulled the sun visor down on her helmet. Another layer insulating her from the tragedy.

On a hospital cruiser in orbit, the few survivors still struggled in intensive care—this settlement's weak but beating heart. Tess lifted another of its shattered bones.

Underneath lay a houseplant, desiccated by airless cold. Long leaves mummified into curled strings.

Next to it, a plastic arm from a pair of eyeglasses. An overlooked personal effect.

Tess had known no one here, but the proximity to someone's death seeped through her suit and stirred her gut. No insulation could block it.

She knelt and used tongs to lift the plastic arm from the charred yellow gravel and sealed it in a padded bag. The robo-bin dutifully opened a drawer, where she stowed it.

The withered houseplant, its base a potless tangle of root, didn't qualify for recovery.

Still kneeling, Tess breathed and ran a gloved finger along one dried leaf, the touch imperceptible through her layers. Likely the only evidence left of people here—with all other traces swept up for next of kin, this rubble could have belonged to some automated outpost.

Her heart bristled at that. If she were to die on her cleanup freighter, she'd want her coffin assembled from its pieces. It existed for someone to fly it. For her to fly.

The families deserved any belongings, but the settlers' lives had been here. A scavenged debris field didn't make an especially reverent grave.

She couldn't abandon this place yet.

Tess sheltered the papery dead plant under a dome-shaped shard, and laid strips of blackened siding around it, radiating like petals.

Back on her feet, she regarded the crude flower she'd laid on this grave. Then she continued on, hoping her spacesuit could still dull the act of picking bones clean.

-------------
J. They/them. Here are my most recent games:

Mandle


Wiggy

I haven't done one of these for a while, so here goes.

Take me down
Safe and sound
The ground beneath your feet.

The fire services leave, the engineers are here to tow the aircraft to the bay, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) offer my First Officer and I a lift to the terminal, conditions apply, being a formal interview. It beats walking about 4 km. Passengers are long gone thanks to our only casual Flight Attendant, Julie, who commandeered some airport vehicles before heading off to her day job at a major retail store.

Have you ever wondered "How can things go so wrong so quickly?"
      I have.
You wake up on a beautiful morning, make the perfect coffee and a delicious breakfast, and at the end of the day you find yourself in a Vietnamese prison with a naked chinese guy licking your feet. Life is like that sometimes.

Interviews, paperwork, and even more paperwork. What is an "Air Safety Incident Report" anyway, and who gives a flying rat's arse? It must be time to go home now, it's approaching 10 o'clock. Call into operations on the way out, and our ops controller, Rose, is crying her eyes out. She took the call from Air Traffic Control who told her of our issues and had added "You might lose this one." Not on my watch... still a big hug can mend a lot of grief.

Out past the check-in gates and I see Julie dressed in mufti, eyes very moist. More hug therapy and a reassurance that she did great in the evacuation. Time to go home.

The journey takes me past "Dooley's", an Irish pub in Fortitude Valley. Mmm...Guiness! How many pints are there in a gallon anyway? Eight I seem to recall, but Australia is on the metric system now, so it might be ten. It's only five minutes walk to get there although the stagger home could take an hour or two... Never let fear hold you back!

Eventually home is reached and the Guiness has turned my brain to chalk, which is absorbing the import of what we went through today. I call my F/O and apologise for having consumed a Black Lake* of Guiness and he apologised for having consumed a bottle  of the "lunatic soup" rum distilled in Bundaberg, our point of origin that day. [Note: this is a truism: Consume a bottle of said rum on a full moon, and you will find youself in the aforementioned Vietnamese prison with the Chinese guy. It's written on the bottle in very fine print.]

"Do you realise how close we came today?" I enquired.
"Why do you think I've had the Bundy?" was the reply.

The aircraft was returned to flight, but caught fire twice afterwards, the airline folded and the aircraft is now a dive site on the Barrier Reef. Julie got divorced and followed me to Cairns, developed cancer in 2007 and died in 2010. I think about her every day.

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

This true story happened on 17th February 1995 from my logbook.

*A Dubh Linn which could be a good name for a Capital City.

RootBound

1 week left! 2 solid entries so far. Best of luck to those of you still working on your own writing. I hope you finish!
J. They/them. Here are my most recent games:

Sinitrena

Shall we double the number of entries? Here, have two for the price of one (see next post for second one.)

Now, point of order because it's RootBound's first time hosting: We normally allow more than one entry from one person, but voting is done for the story, not for the writer. So, I'm kinda my own competition here. You can decide to do it differently, of course - not allowing two entries or having the votes done per author, it's your choice in the end.


-------------------------------

Warning: Gore; Death of children



In Miller's Ash


The fire still burned in her eyes, dying embers, even though before her there was nothing but ash. Before her lay nothing but ash and destruction, death and fear. Before her lay destiny.

On her fingers, the last flames still danced. Like a coin they jumped from one to the next, to the next, and back again. Still they were red and hot, when before they had been blue and filled with ice cold revenge, and soon they would flicker and die, as all must die when its time has come.

And if it would not die on its own, then she would bring her flame and her heat, she would bring the fire, inferno, and she would leave nothing behind but ash.

The house had stopped burning just a moment ago. When the flames had eaten the walls and the furniture, the blankets, the pots and the pans, the toys and the tools and the man within, then it had stopped and only then. Now, nothing stood there any-more, no house and no tree in the garden, no feeding trough and no cows, no fence and no shed and no wagon or bread. The mill had crumpled and fallen, the long vanes had crushed to the ground before the fire had eaten them too, and only the millstone, heavy stone now as black as the raven perched on her shoulder, still lay, as the last remnant, the last memory, among the ash of what had once been.

This was where her eyes were fixated on now and this was where she went when she now stepped into the destruction. A moment before, her eyes had still burned, now they slowly took the colour of cooled ash, grey and cold.

There, between the blackened millstones, a few lost grains of wheat still covered the surface, some turned to ash, some turned to dust. But she wasn't interested in them. She knelt down and she brushed them away and a cloud of dust drifted into her nostrils. She smelled nothing, nothing but the fire that had singed the little hairs in her nose, nothing but the flames. Slowly, the ash settled again, but a spot was now blank on the millstone.

"Find!" she commanded, and the raven fluttered from her shoulder onto the millstone, where it began to pick in the ash she had not brushed away.

It picked and it picked until its dark grey beak slowly became almost white. And it put little pieces in front of her hands, where she had placed them to either side on the millstone's empty surface. One after the other, hard, white pieces drop down, some no larger than a flake of ash, some as large as her fingernails, long and pointed as they were. One tiny bone dropped down, then another fragment, splintered and broken even before the fire, half crushed beneath the heavy stones, a bit of powder that once was a being. More and more pieces the raven dropped and she watched, higher and higher the pile of bones became. There was no expression on her face, just ashen blandness.

After the fire, after she had been fire, she was now just ash like the world around her. Wan and pale, grey eyes and dusted hair, that before had burned in red, her coat coated in dust, she was nothing but a shadow in the approaching darkness of the evening.

"Enough!" she said after a while when more and more bones, or remnants of bones, kept coming, and the raven paused and perched at the edge of the millstone. "It is enough."

Slowly, she reached into the pile of death, not searching with her fingers, not even looking with her eyes, but still she reached right to the one fragment she wanted to find. It was the largest, whole even after being thrown into the mill, whole even after her fire. It was tiny, tiny for what it was, blackened at the edges, whitened all around.

"Proximal phalanx, right middle finger." she said dispassionately, turning the bone from side to side, until she let it rest on the far larger corresponding bone in her own bony hand. "A young one. No older than five, six maybe."

The raven cawed sympathetically and touched her hand with its head.

"I know, I know," she said and let the bone fall back into the dust. "But it was a child, just a child." She tickled the raven under its beak, "A child that will never live again."

She found another fragment in the pile of bones, still clearly a bone, though not even she could tell which one it once had been. "What would you say, if you could still talk?" she asked the bone, "That I was not wrong? That I found him? That I found the one? It does not bring you back, child."

In the silent after the fire, her ears could hear even the slightest sound. Voices drifted over to her now, agitated voices and heavy steps. The village of Miller's Ash was about a fifteen minute walk from the mill on its hill. The fire had burned for less than five, hot and greedy, an inferno. It was far too merciful. But at least that way there was no time to extinguish it. The villagers were too late.

Slowly, she stood up and brushed soot from her skirt. Only turning her head slightly, hardly looking at the raven, she told it: "Leave."

Without hesitation, the bird obeyed, even though it looked back at its mistress with worry and circled high above her head.

The instinct was always there to run, the fear. It boiled in her like her fire, fight or flight, both were fire in her body. But she fought them down, extinguished them. Her work here was not done and she stayed. With dignified, dainty steps she walked through the ash. She did not bother to circumvent the house, stepping over the burned down walls, now slightly shimmering as obsidian in the setting sun behind her back.

At the edge of the property she stopped, staring down into the valley, towards the approaching villagers.

"What happened?", Gabor, the thatcher called, not yet recognizing her, blinded by the sun that now stood deep over the hill, clothing her in fiery rays.

"What's going on?", Fred, the innkeeper asked.

"Mathias, are you alright?", Elmer, the carpenter, addressed a dead man.

She said nothing, but waited for them to get closer, her eyes dispassionate, her arms hanging unmoving at her side. Only her hair, as black as her raven's feathers and now coated by dust, swayed mildly in the evening wind, the last remnants of the inferno that had roared here such a short time before.

"Rivina, is that you?" a short woman Rivina didn't know, asked out of breath, just before she made a sign against the Evil Eye.

She had lived here for a year. The miller had murdered for three. Still, it was her they feared, and her they derided and scorned. They threw stones at her and made signs against dark magic behind her back, signs that did not work. When they saw her now, they faltered, they stopped in their tracks.

"A fire." Rivina said, "A simple fire."

"Oh God, no!" another woman shouted, pushing her way through the crowd.

Rivina waited for her to come through, but then, when her eyes fell on her, a flame ignited in them again. It grew, until it seemed to flick over her eyelashes, painting them in burning red, while she just stared at the other woman. Homely and portly, with grey hair in an orderly bun, she looked like a gentle mother. But that wasn't what Rivina saw and the fire in her eyes flared up until it licked her eyebrows.

"You knew." Rivina said, staring deep into the woman's soul. "You knew. And you looked away. You turned away when another child was gone, turned away when there was blood again in the shed, shrugged when the chickens ate meat you hadn't bought. You knew what your husband did and you looked away."

The fire now burned on her hands as well. Her hair sizzled in electric heat coming from her body, blowing the ash away from her black hair, nurturing the flames within.

For a moment, for the fraction of a second, this was nothing more than a confusing picture, nothing more than a witch standing in front of a burned-down mill.

But then the wife felt it. She felt the heat coming from the witch, felt it on her skin and in her eyes. They started to bubble and brew, started to sizzle and steam. Tears became smoke, words became screams. The woman's skin turned red with fire, bubbles formed on her flesh, boiling and burning and cooking, cooking her alive in her own seething blood.

"You knew." Rivina said again, dispassionately. And she raised her arms and the fire burned on them as well. But for her skin the flames were caressing silk, embracing her and engulfing her with revenge for the children the miller had murdered.

The men and women jumped back, away from the miller's wife and the witch. Screaming, scared. They had no weapons on them. They had come for a fire, not for a witch. Buckets clattered to the ground. Not filled with water yet, they were nothing but empty wood.

Flames encircled the witch and flames encircled the miller's wife. One screamed and fell to the ground, singeing the grass that hadn't burned in the inferno before. Blood dripped and splashed from open wounds where the fire had opened the skin.

"Be quiet." Rivina said and the fire touched the woman's vocal chords, scorching them apart. She did not offer her a fast death. And even though the house had only burned for a couple of minutes, Rivina had made sure that Mathias didn't have a fast death either. He had found himself surrounded by flames. Knowing what was to come but with no way out, he had screamed even before the pain reached him.

"You will call me a murderer. You will call me a witch." she said as calm as she had ever been. "And I am both." A step forward made the villagers scream again, made them jerk away from her. "But more than that, I am your children's vengeance. - Three years. For three years he murdered them. For three years she looked away. He lured them here with toys, with sweets. Threw the meat to the chickens, put the bones in the mill. And you burned them into your bread, you baked them into your cake. Your children, your own children, you baked them, you burned them, you ate them and shat them out. One after the other, after the next. Twelve children he took from your village, twelve. And you did nothing."

Rivina stepped forward again, leaving the dead miller's dead wife to the side. Some of the villagers stumbled backwards, some turned around and ran. Rivina didn't stop them, but she didn't stop her own feet either. She kept walking, closer and closer to the men and women, the fire frizzling her hair.

"He drowned in the river, the current took his body away." she said, but it was the mayor's voice that echoed from her lips.

"She ran away, she wanted more, always.", the sobbing of the laundress became mockery in Rivina's repetition.

"The wolves were hungry last night, so hungry, they took three, three little boys." And their own voices, their own words echoed in their heads. Over and over again they burned themselves into their minds. These were the words they had said because they didn't want to think something else.

Now in her own voice again, Rivina continued: "The little orphan, do you even remember him? - And the miller's apprentice boy? He was always lazy, wasn't he? No wonder he fled." She had tried to stay dispassionate, empty, but the anger always burned in her.

Descending through the veil of flames, her raven landed on Rivina's shoulder. It nudged her head and cawed silently. Rivina hesitated and petted its feathers.

"Don't worry," she whispered, "Don't worry, I won't kill them all. They'll live, they'll live and they'll know, even though their children will not. Even though they didn't protect them."

Some of the villagers scrambled further away from her, some used the time she was distracted to stand up, take sticks and stones and all they could find to defend themselves against the witch.

But Rivina didn't care. She came close to the mayor, who was still on the ground, and spoke directly to him now. The flames around her body singed his hairs.

"Twelve children you lost. Twelve children he killed. Twelve children you devoured. With the wheat you bought from him, in the flour he gave to you. Twelve children."

She reached down to the man and pulled him onto his feet. "And still you will hate me. And still you will fear me."

Abruptly, she turned around and the veil of flames fell from her shoulders like a heavy coat. "But at least your children are safe."

She stalked through the ashes of the mill, her back to the distraught villagers, past the corpse of the wife and the cinders of the miller, as stones started to fly around her head.

Another village she could not visit again, another temporary home gone. She did not care. Another murderer had burned in her flames. And another would follow. And another and one more, for she was fire and vengeance, for she was ashes and death.

Sinitrena

Warning: Gore, Animal Cruelty, Death of a baby


After the Fever

The fire had burned for five days, but she didn't know that. Her father had brought it from the town, but she was the one to fall sick. It had burned in her lungs and her veins, the fever, in her body and mind.

After the first day, she remembered nothing, the first day when she got water from the well, when she stumbled and fell. Her father had carried her to the bed and for once it was hers alone. Her mother had dragged the milking stool into the house, because they had no other chairs, just the bench around the kitchen table. She had sat next to her, feeling her forehead, wrapping cold cloth around her calves, talking constantly.

She wasn't here now. When Ines woke from her dreams of blinding lights and chaos, her mother was not at her side. Her father did not rummage around behind the wall separating the single bed from the kitchen. Her little baby brother did not scream.

Ines blinked a couple of times, blinked the weird dreams from her mind. It wasn't dark in the room, not light either. It was the strange transition between day and night, night and day, when dreams became reality and ghosts danced in the shadows. But it was not enough light here, not enough dancing shadows. Normally, the fire from the kitchen hearth would flicker through to the bedroom, but this wall was dark. The light came from the single window, pale and weak through the stretched cow skin there.

"Mother?" Ines asked with a weak and hoarse voice she hardly recognized as her own. "Mother, I'm thirsty."

But her mother did not answer and no jug stood next to the bed. The bowl her mother had used to wet the cloth again and again to cool her fever stood there still. She reached down for it. The cloth was still wet but all water was gone from the bowl as if it had been soaked up the last drop.

"Mother?" she called again, louder now, even though it hurt, but no-one answered. Her father was probably with the animals, but her mother should be here, should be feeding her little brother, or cooking, or cleaning, sewing. She always did something, was always around the little house. With just two rooms, just the bedroom and the kitchen, the half-open barn with the four cows next door, the well just five steps from the rickety entrance door, where could she have gone?

"Father?" she called now, a cough interrupting the word, "Father, where are you?" And again no answer came to her question.

In all her life, her little world had never been so silent. When she had called out to her mother the first time after her fever broke, she was thirsty, for the second call she was curious and confused, and now she started to worry. It was not normal for nobody to answer, nobody to react to their sick daughter's call.

The woollen blanket on her legs felt heavy, heavy even to her arms as she dragged it away now. The world swam in front of her eyes as she stood up.

"Mother? Father?" she called again. "Tobias?"

Tobias could not answer, did not even know his own name yet, not even before God. He hadn't been christened yet. That's why her father went into town, to get the priest – and sell some fruit, of course – but the priest was busy. Too many dead, too many sick that needed him more.

She still called out for him, for Tobias, for her mother, for her father.
Nothing, and she rounded the corner of the wall.

Her mother sat at the kitchen table, the baby in her arms. She leaned against the back wall with her forehead, her own back to her daughter, the open hair hanging over her face and her exposed breast, the little boy, hardly more than a bundle of cloth, leaned against her skin, her arm on the table to better hold the boy.

"Mother?" Ines said, relieved, "Didn't you hear me call?"

A strand of hair slipped from the woman's shoulder in a mild breeze from the door. There was no other movement.

"Mother?" Ines stepped closer. One step, then two, three. Then she stopped.

Her brother didn't play with the hair, didn't suck, didn't cry. Her mother's chest didn't move up and down, up and down.

"Mother?" Her voice had changed. There was need before in this word, confusion and worry, now it was nothing but cold, haunting fear. "Please, Mother, answer me!"

And then, for a second, hope returned. Surely, she had just fallen asleep, tired from taking care of a sick daughter and a baby boy, she had fallen asleep at the kitchen table. But then, why wasn't her brother moving, why wasn't the fire burning in the hearth? Ines knew the answer, had known it already when her eyes found her mother sitting there, had sensed it when she had woken up from the fever.

The next three steps were fast, as fast as her weakened body would carry her. She stumbled almost over the table. She first touched her mother's hair. It was smooth as always, like the most expensive silk she had only ever seen once when a lady brushed past her at the market. And then her eyes fell on the waxen skin of her brother, on the open and empty eyes that had lost their colour, on the look of desperation on the little face when he had sucked and sucked on his mother's tits but there was no more milk. Ines didn't need to look up into her mother's face, didn't want to, and still did. It lay in shadows, the eyes were closed and had she not known already she could so easily have lied to herself again. She is just sleeping. She is just tired from a long day, a long day of hard work. But Ines knew and Ines did not lie to herself. The skin was wan and gaunt, cold to the touch, the muscles hard and stiff.

There! A cry, a little gurgle!

She turned back to the boy, back to her little brother, tried to pry her mother's stiff hands from Tobias' body, but she could not move them. She wanted to hold him, warm him, press him to her chest.

And then she looked at him again and knew that there was no life to press back into him. Whatever she had heard, it was not a sign of life. Maybe it was just an illusion, maybe it were the last remnants of the fever running through her own body.

Exhausted, she sank down on the bench next to her dead mother. Fondling her brother's head, she asked: "Where's father? Is he alright? Is he alive?"

There was no answer, of course.

"Is he with the animals? Is he with the cows? They need feeding, no matter what, don't they?" But deep down she knew that he was not feeding the cows.

For a while, Ines just sat there and stared at the table, at her own hands that were nearly as pale as her mother's.

"He's... taking a while, isn't he?" she asked then. "Maybe I ... I should go help him. I... I'm feeling better, you know?" She didn't know how she felt. The fever was nearly gone and hunger and thirst were forgotten for now. And other than that, she was just numb.

The door stood slightly ajar. A cold breeze drifted through the gap. The corn swayed gently in the autumn wind and the sun was about to set behind the hills. All was so normal, all was so empty. Ines looked around for a while, just looked at the farm she was so familiar with. Any moment now her mother would call to her to not dawdle, her brother would cry in her ears, her father would come around from the back of the house where the barn leaned against the hut.

He did not come. He did not curse out Milly, the cow who always kicked him when he tried to milk her and only ever stood still for Ines.

When Ines went around the house, she found Milly standing there under the roof, Ama next to her. Clary and Lana were gone, as was the waggon they used to bring goods to the town. Both mooed pitiful, their udders heavy, far too heavy with milk.

"Where's father?" she asked, going over to the animals and petting their flanks, "Where are Clary and Lana?"

Petting them and looking at the filled udders, she said, "I'll take care of you in a moment, don't you worry, don't you worry, girls." She turned around and she stopped.

The milking stool was still in the house, next to the bed, past the cold hearth, past the kitchen table, past her mother, past her brother.

She didn't go for it, kneeling down next to the cows instead. The even, rhythmic strokes along the teats, so familiar, so normal, were soothing. The tsheet, tsheet, tsheet of the milk streaming into the metallic milk churn was one with her constant heartbeat. And for a moment, she allowed herself not to think, not to know what she knew.

The waggon was gone, two of the cows were gone, her father was gone. He had taken the waggon, had left her mother, her brother and her alone here, sick and dying. Had he gone for help, had he fled?

They come and burn down the houses of the sick! he had said when he returned from the town the last time and brought the fever back to Ines. They throw the dead on piles in the streets, they burn them to cinders and ash.

But here, out on their farmstead, away from the people, here they were safe.

They were not safe.

Once both cows were milked, Ines put the churn to her mouth and drank the warm milk in long and deep drafts. The creamy liquid quenched both thirst and hunger she had forgotten about. It slid down her throat and took some of the hoarseness with it. As warm as it was, fresh from the udder, it cooled the last bit of fever in her veins.

When she sat the churn on the ground again, the first of many unbidden tears followed. They dripped from her chin onto her hands, they slid into the dirt. She knelt there, next to the cows, sobbing uncontrollably into her apron, without words and without proper thoughts, while the sun slowly set behind the horizon.

"Father!" she called again after a while, not sure if she was calling for him, asking him where he was, calling out to find him or just calling out to him. Or if it was even her father she called, or rather the one she was taught about all her life, the one far above all in the heavens above.

How long ago had he left? There was no way to tell, but Ines knew the way he had gone. There only ever was one way to go from the farm, deeper down into the valley, towards the town and the church. She would find her father there.

She had only walked a couple of hundred steps when she heard voices, heard them even before she saw torches shining over the fields.

"We've found him!" a man called out, and then, "He drove his cart into the ditch."

Ines ducked down into the corn and crept slowly forward. A pitiful, weak mooing filled the silence before another man spoke. "He dead?"

"Don't know."

"Well, check him!"

"I'm not going near him! He was glowing with fever when he came to town!"

There were three men speaking. Three men stood with torches around the waggon and the cows in the ditch, her father's body not far away on the ground.

"Well, then throw the torch, get done with it!" the third man said and Ines just managed to cut off her scream.

"What about the cows?" the first man asked.

"What about them?" the second guard shrugged, for Ines now recognized them as guards of the town.

"They might be worth something."

"They might be sick like him. And his whole family." With that, the man threw his own torch onto the waggon.

Ines suppressed a second scream. Hidden in the tall corn and protected by the missing light of the night, they neither saw nor heard her.

Slowly, the flames caught hold of the dry wood of the old waggon, licked over the bed and the seat, danced along the reins and the harness. They shot up the yoke that, still attached to both waggon and cows, stood at a weird angle up from the ground. Clary and Lana, standing crookedly in the ditch, had already been fighting against the pull of the waggon, but now they noticed the fire from the corners of their eyes. They bucked and jumped forward, but without coordination and the waggon was laying on its side. They dragged, they pulled, but they could not get away, could not move the waggon.

One of the guards went over to Ines' father on the ground and kicked him towards the burning waggon, deeper into the ditch. He might have fallen off, he might have crawled up the side before fever or injury took him, but now he rolled over the ground until his head crashed against one of the wheels.

The fire reached further and further towards the cows fighting against the waggon. And then it licked from the yolk to the fur of Lana, ignited it. The harness broke, the cow jumped forward, but the fire came with her. And both cows started to scream, deep, panicked. They kicked and they screamed and sparks flew from her burning flesh. And Lana tried to run but her legs caved under her and Clara couldn't even get away.

And Ines ran. She turned around and she ran back towards their little cabin, to her mother, her brother, her house and her cows. She started to cough, her chest burned, but she could only hear the screams of the cows. And she knew that the men would follow soon, that they would find her mother, would find her holding her dead brother. They would not care about the cows in the back, would not care about Ines either.

And so she only stopped for a moment to open the fence. "Run!" she called, "Run!" even though she knew that the gentle animals would not listen to her.

She herself kept running, deep into the fields of corn they were supposed to harvest just a week or two from now. She fought through the thick stalks, pushed them aside. The corn closed behind her, over her head, until she was completely surrounded. And still she pushed forward, deeper and deeper into the maze. It wasn't large, their fields were small, but even before she reached the forest on the other side, her legs would not carry her any longer.

Ines fell, exhausted, coughing, as bright flames from her house illuminated the dark night sky.


-------------

I assume a high fever is an accaptable interpretation of fire; and that you don't mind more fire after the beginning.


------------

Also, I have a third idea, though I doubt I'll finish it. We'll see.

RootBound

Just a few days left! Any last entries, now's the time to finish!
J. They/them. Here are my most recent games:

Stupot

Mine's pretty much there. I just need to tie up a couple of loose ends and give it a proofread. ✍️

Sinitrena

Quote from: Sinitrena on Thu 23/11/2023 15:47:24Also, I have a third idea, though I doubt I'll finish it. We'll see.

As I thought, I won't finish my third idea (I had no time to write since my last post), so don't wait for it.

Baron

Fires of the Heart

   The day was cool, with the clouds hanging low over the valley, but Tangam was breaking out into a fearsome sweat.  Just yesterday he had bounded up this very path, but as the Elders would tell him yesterday was as far away as the stars.  Sighing at their wisdom, he decided to cast his crutch aside for a moment to rest on a path-side log.

   The valley stretched out before him, sombre in the dreary light.  If he cocked his head just right he thought he could still hear the mourning bells that would chime until the sun set.  The Elders would tell him that he should be at prayer this day, but then they would also tell him that he had a wayward streak that was the seed of his own misfortune.  Tangam shook his head ruefully.

   It was chilly up here, high in the hills, and a shiver snuck down his back where the sweat had pooled.  He should get moving again, but his leg still ached and he felt that he was not yet in the right frame of mind to make the final ascent.  The Elders would tell him that prayer was the gateway to that peace, but Tangam was not really sure he truly wanted peace yet.  For a long cold moment he considered the path forward, considering why he was really here.   

He clutched the stolen erlika that dangled from a cord around his neck and struggled with feelings that were stronger than he could admit even to himself.  The Elders would tell him that it was a fruitless endeavour, dredging up the tragedies of the past, but Tangam felt that he could not move on without some sense of closure.  It was a bit selfish, and he felt more than just a little guilty for it, but something deep inside compelled him to this course of action.  The Elders could squawk and bluster tomorrow when he returned the sacred talisman; today, Tangam hoped, it would bring him at least a measure of peace.

"Sitting around like an old monk," Aeria teased him.  Tangam almost jumped out of his skin in surprise.  She was waiting for him up the path, hands on her hips, the disapproving look in her dark eyes making them all the more fiery.  How had he never noticed how her bushy hair wisped in the wind?  The way her lips turned when she pouted, making her mischievous dimples pop unwittingly?  If he hadn't known any better, he would have fallen in love all over again.

"Come on," she sighed, breathing deeply of the fresh hillside air.  "We don't have all day, you know."

Tangam nodded.  He grabbed his crutch and hobbled after her.  Maybe yesterday he could have caught up with her, but....   Tangam sighed again.  The Elders would not approve of such thoughts, but watching the way Aeria's hips swayed on the path had a kind of hypnotic effect that even now somehow managed to banish the wisdom of the Elders into the back of his mind.

Sweat was beading on his brow once more when they cleared the final rise and he could see the ruins of the old sanctuary.  In his mind's eye he could see how it had stood, steep roofs shingled in cedar to shed the winter snows, but now it looked like the charred remains of a campfire that had been prematurely doused by rain.  Blackened posts stuck out towards the sky in jarring angles, making them look more like spears of war than the ribs of a sacred structure.  For a moment Aeria had slipped from view, and Tangam cursed his clumsy heart for skipping a beat.

"What if you didn't train for the priesthood?" she asked, startling him once more.  She emerged from the woods behind him, a playful smirk on her face.

"What if you weren't so rebellious?" he shot back in the snappy way that she preferred.

A genuine smile danced across Aeria's beautiful face, and Tangam's insides melted.  But with a capriciousness that stunned even the mountain weather her mood changed in an instant. 

"Stop trying to change who I am," she growled angrily.  "I am not a piece of clay to be moulded!"

Tangam shook his head, memories flooding back to squelch the spark between them.  "I see only what is already there," he whispered softly.  "But you're right, I prefer to see you only from your best side."

"The more fool you are for it," she scolded, her anger flushing her face to further heights of beauty.  On this, at least, she and the Elders agreed.

"You have always brought out my best foolishness," he snapped back, and again there was that fiery glow deep in those eyes.  Honestly, he could stare at them all day long and never blink.

She shook her head, but let the issue of his stupidity lie.  "I don't know what you expect to accomplish here," she said seriously.  She waved a hand at the burnt out ruin.  "What's done is done."

"What is done is done," Tangam repeated, nodding his head at the truth of it.  "It's just, with my injury yesterday, and our last fight, I felt..." he trailed off, noticing her attention wander.  He shook the erlika again, hearing the precious bone shards rattle around inside, trying to collect his thoughts.

"You feel too much," she grumbled.

"And you interrupt too much," he shot back.  That brought her back around.  "I just felt you could have one more kick at me before we go our separate ways."

Aeria let the faintest trace of a smile curl the side of her lips.  "And I thought I was the one who liked to hurt myself," she laughed.  "But suit yourself.  You wanna bend over or...?"

Tangam shook his head.  She had his measure, that was sure.  And if he was being truthful, he had hers.  She would never let him get close, he realised that now.  She would always be one step ahead, just out of grasp, the one that got away.  He had to laugh at the impotence of his efforts.

"I would have thought this to be a solemn occasion for a priest-in-training," Aeria commented snidely.

Tangam shook his head.  He loved the banter, the achingly good looks, the wild emotional ride as if she had him tied to a runaway minecart.  But did he actually love the woman?  She could give him the attention he craved, but only as a cat playing with a lesser beast, more out of boredom than hunger.  She could be cruel, and angry, and so incredibly selfish sometimes.  He surveyed the blackened ruins and shook his head again.  So incredibly selfish....

"Aeria," he announced, trying to put his thoughts into words.  "Before we start, I wanted you to know that I-"

"-It's over," she interjected, forestalling him.  "Done.  Ended.  Whatever it was that you felt, you need to let it go."

Tangam's brow deflated in disappointment.  "I had hoped..." he began.

"Hope is so much smoke from the Elder's incense," Aeria declared.  "It gets in your lungs and chokes you up, but in the end it adds up to nothing more than fluff in the wind.  You know I never agreed with any of their mumbo-jumbo.  What are you trying to do, repeat the same sorry mistakes again and again?  You know I came up here to escape all that, right?"

Tangam swallowed hard.  "I know," he mumbled.

Aeria nodded self-righteously.  "Right.  Over there, wasn't it?"  She strode off to stand in the centre of the burnt out ruin.  "I guess they took the bones back down to the village?"

Tangam nodded.  He dragged his feet to join her, realising at last the finality of... whatever it was they had.  He crouched down, feeling the dry ash crumble in his hands, letting the acrid dust burn his nostrils.  There wasn't even the faintest ember left in what had so recently been an all-consuming inferno.

"Farewell," Tangam said, for he could think of nothing better to say.  "I wish you peace on your long journey."  The erlika shook in his trembling hands.

Aeria tapped her foot impatiently.

Tangam closed his eyes.  Before he could talk himself out of it he tipped the charred bits of bone from the erlika into the bed of ash.

There was a sudden burst of light, and Tangam opened his eyes to see that the sun had miraculously burst through the low-hanging clouds.  Aeria was now aglow, her lips parted, giving him perhaps the most genuine smile he had ever seen from her. 

"Honestly, I didn't think you would do it," she smiled.

"Honestly, you didn't make it easy on me," he retorted.

"I wish you peace as well," she said earnestly, reaching out to caress him on the cheek.  But as her hand brushed against him she turned to dust on the wind.

Stupot

That Night

*** Content warning: foul language, cigarettes, underage drinking and sensitive subject matter ***

It was terrifying and beautiful. Oranges and reds flickered and flitted around the upper edge of the block of flats. Smoke billowed ceaselessly out of the windows like a volcanic eruption. Outside the Calgary House flats was a blur of fire engines and ambulances and evacuated residents, gathered in the playground below watching in anticipation as firefighters battled against smoke and flame.

"That poor maaaaan," Gregg heard his neighbour cry out. Gregg knew the flat. It was Mr Thurlow's. There was no way he would have survived if he'd been inside. As if in response to Gregg's conclusion, some firefighters yanked a limp and lifeless hunk of charred meat from the window of the flat. Gregg watched as Thurlow was brought down the hydraulic ladder of the fire engine and given the barest of cursory checks before being bundled, still smoking into a body bag. Gregg turned around and went back into his own apartment, closed the door behind him and burst into tears.

Gregg spent the next two days in a haze. He didn't go to school. He wasn't even sure if his mother had noticed, and the school hadn't called, as far as he knew. The door knocked. He decided to answer it.

"Where the fuck have you been?" It was Jason. Gregg was happy to see him. He was even happier to see the crate of beers Jason was holding. Seeing Gregg's eyes he explained, "I nicked these off the new stepdad."

"You mean Brian, or another new Stepdad. I've lost track."

"Fuck you, Gregg. At least my old man ain't still doing time."

"No, only because he left your mum and found a peaceful life."

"Brutal, man. Anyway. We're going to Thurlow's place. Phil's meeting us there later."

Gregg looked at Jason with sorrow in his eyes. "Jase... Didn't you know? The fire?"

"Course I fucking knew, you twat. That's why we're going there. Have a few beers in his honour."

"Are we allowed..."

"Who gives a fuck? Thurlow was our friend. Anyway. They've blocked off the whole top three floors coz of health and safety. No one will know."

They left Gregg's flat in Vancouver House and walked across the communal area towards Calgary. Some little shit three years younger known as Little Kenny, strode up to them holding a car key. It looked like he'd been going round all the Fords testing to see which ones it fit. "Alright? Giss one o'dem beers!"

"Fuck off, Kenny." Jason told him. "You're too young!"

"So are you, you cunt. My cousin's gonna smack you up 'orrid." Little Kenny liked to talk big. Gregg had heard of this famous cousin of his before but suspected there wasn't one. Kenny turned his attention back to the cars.

They went behind Calgary House and climbed up the outside staircase. Halfway up, the way was blocked by some yellow tape. It was clear this part of the building was out of bounds. They went in anyway and continued up the concrete steps to Mr Thurlow's flat, or what was left of it.

The place was completely black. everything was ash or soot. Jason threw one of the warm cans of beer to Gregg. "There's nowhere to sit," he said.

Gregg prodded the floor with his foot. "I'm not even sure it's safe to be standing here."

Jason opened a can and began downing its contents before remembering why they were here. "Oh yeah. Here's to Mr Thurlow! Rest in peace you weird man."

"Rest in peace, Roger." Gregg followed up with.

Jason laughed. "Remember that time we was snooping through his letters and found out his name was Roger? He didn't like that. He musta known we was gonna take the mick."

"I can't even remember why it was funny," Gregg admitted.

"Me neeva really, but it's like... you know... Rogering."

"Why do you think our mums didn't like us coming here? He was alright. Just a bit weird, like."

Jason finished his first beer and cracked open another. "My mum reckoned he was some kind of pedo."

"No way. What the fuck? Nah man. He just liked our company. He gave us sumpfink to do. We went and got his newspapers and he gave us a quid for some football stickers. Nothing more than that." Gregg fell quiet for a second and then faced Jason with a seriousness in his eyes. "He never done nuffink to you did he, like?"

"No way, man. Like you said, he just liked hanging around with us. I used to walk his dog, Princess, till she died. And he gave me a quid for some toffee crumble... He did give me my first puff on a fag though. But my mum never woulda known about that."

"Yeah, me too. He liked a puff." Gregg put his hands in his pocket, and took out a pouch. "Talking of which."

The boys smoked a couple of cigarettes in peaceful silence. Gregg heard a noise coming from the ashes behind them.

"Fawt I'd find you two 'ere."

"Philip. Grab a beer. I nicked 'em off Brian?" Jason explained.

"Who's Brian. Another stepdad?" Philip said, pulling the ring and hoovering up the froth.

"Fuck off, wanker. Didn't your dad try to leave you in a hot car on purpose?"

"No. That was my sister."

Gregg intervened. "Calm down boys," he said, passing his half-finished cigarette to Philip.

The boys drank and smoked and reminisced about Mr Thurlow for half an hour. They talked about the time they found an old army rifle in one of his cupboards (it was the only time he'd ever kicked them out for being too nosey). They talked about how they almost never saw him standing up, yet he always seemed to have a hot cup of tea next to him when they went to his house. They talked about secrets he'd told them, secrets they'd told him, stories he'd shared about the war, and about his time in the police force, and about his family, his daughter he hadn't met for 20 years because of a "misunderstanding".

"Hey. Remember that time Thurlow shouted at Phil for trying to unlock his bedroom door?" Gregg said.

"Oh damn, yeah." Philip moved over to where the door to Thurlow's bedroom was. It was heavily burned but still on its hinges. Technically it was still locked, but with only a small nudge the door jamb crumbled and the strike plate fell away. "I s'pose now we can have a gander."

The space where Roger Thurlow's bedroom once stood was slightly less charred than the rest of the flat. The fire must have started elsewhere. The bed, the wardrobe, and a desk were all at least identifiable. Gregg moved over to the desk, situated beneath a large window, and tugged on the handle of its only drawer. Some papers had survived, but they all looked boring. He glanced up and caught the view from the window. For the first time in Gregg's life, he saw the charm of Canada Place, and understood why an old bloke like Thurlow would want to live here forever. It was surely the best view in all three blocks, or "houses": Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. From this angle you could see the playground at the centre and the car parks and even as far as Pickard's shop up the road where the younger kids stuffed their sleeves with chocolates and the older kids lingered outside, trying to get the grown-ups to buy them fags and white cider. He even saw Little Kenny in the car park, hunched over the back wheel of Old Vera's Citroën Dolly (so it was him who'd been letting down her tyres). Made sense. He was always messing around in that car park.

Gregg put himself in Thurlow's shoes. Just a lonely old man, watching the world go on around him. He probably spent hours every day at that window. It was a special place. No wonder he didn't let anyone in here.

"Come and have a look at this." Jason had opened the wardrobe and found something: a large box, which seemed to have largely survived the fire, being inside the wardrobe.

"It's full of photos. Less 'ave a look!" Philip said.

Jason spilled the box out onto the bed and the three boys hunched over the packets of photographs. "Maybe it's pictures of his dead wife."

"Or that daughter who hates him," Philip guessed.

Gregg couldn't contain his excitement. "Go on then."

Jason picked up one packet and pulled out the first photo. It was an overhead view of a playground, where a group of kids sat on the roundabout. Gregg immediately had a sense of déjà vu. He was looking at the same view he'd just been admiring from the bedroom window. "Let me have a look," he said yanking Jason's hand away and pulling out the next photo. It was the same playground, only zoomed in.

"It's us," said Philip. "Why was he taking pictures of us?"

They spilled dozens, no hundreds, of photos onto the bed. All of them had been taken from Roger Thurlow's window. Gregg, Jason and Philip saw themselves in some of the photos. Others contained some of the other children from around Canada Place. Little Kenny appeared in a few, doing something to one car or another. That little boy looked so lonely and vulnerable when he didn't know he was being watched.

"Shit. My mum was right."

They fell silent.

"What do you mean?" Philip said.

"He never done nuffink to you did he, Phil?" Gregg asked his friend.

"No way man."

Jason repeated what he'd said to Gregg earlier, "My mum reckons he was some kind of pedo."

Philip recoiled. "What? No way man. He never done nuffing like that. But..."

"But what?" Gregg and Jason said in unison.

"Well... funny you should mention that, because my dad also finks he was some kind of pedo. And another funny thing is..."

Gregg and Jason leaned in and waited for Philip to continue.

"After the fire... my dad came home and made a phone call. All he said was 'It's done', then hung up. Nothing else. First, I thought he might be talking about helping to put out the fire or something. But I've suddenly remembered something else... he stunk of petrol."

"Wait, what? Hang on... do you mean?" The cogs were still turning in Gregg's mind.

"I dunno. I dunno. Fuck, I hope not."

"Your dad, killed Thurlow!" Jason exclaimed, with a surprising amount of glee.

Then Jason's face changed. "Actually... my mum got a weird phone call that night too. The phone rang and she picked it up and just went 'okay'. Nothing else."

Gregg said "My mum never even came home that night."

"She was at mine. They was in the kitchen. I fawt you knew. There was a few of 'em. Some kind of get-together. They kept telling me to stay in my room but I kept coming out to get another gander at Kenny's mum."

Gregg said, "Who else was there?"

"Six of 'em, I fink...."

Philip started pulling his hair out. "So hang on... all the mums fawt Roger was some kind of pedo so they got my dad to set light to his flat? I ain't having that."

The boys went quiet again for a bit. Phillip was shaking with anger. Gregg had closed his eyes, like he was solving a puzzle. Jason just stared blankly into space.

Finally, Jason said, "I'm getting out of here. This is fucked up."

Philip tugged Jason's shirt, pleading "Don't go, Jase. I dunno what to do?"

Gregg took a sharp intake of breath and then said "We need more clues." He started emptying more packets of photos out onto the bed and ruffling through them for any sign that these were just innocent photos. "Remember, he said he used to be a copper?" The others nodded. "Well, maybe them pictures is just him doing a bit of neighbourhood watch. I mean, in all those pictures it looks like we're up to no good. Maybe he kept them as evidence or somefing."

Jason grabbed Gregg by the shoulders. "He's got pictures of us playing, Gregg. You gotta admit that's weird."

"Well, there must be somefing. I know Thurlow weren't no pedo."

Suddenly, there was a noise coming from back in the living room. The boys froze, petrified and stayed silent, as small dull footsteps criss-crossed the ash-covered floorboards of the other room.

"Oi! I know you lot are up here." It was Little Kenny.

The three boys went out of the bedroom and into the living room. Gregg said, "Fucking hell Kenny, you scared us."

"Sorry," Kenny said, Gregg noted that was the first time he'd ever heard the kid apologise for anything. "I guess you know?"

"Know what?" Jason said to the younger boy.

"That it was me."

"You?" The three older boys said.

"Oh... I thought even you three dickheads would of worked it out." He looked at Jason. "My mum went to your mum's Ann Summers party. I was bored." He turned to Philip. "Your dad's car was just there, so I thought fuck it and decided to syphon the petrol out of it."

"Why?"

"I dunno... something to do." Kenny looked down and drew an arc in the ash with his foot. "But then, Thurlow catches me, don't he? Tells me he's got pictures of me 'breaking the law'. He's gonna show the police and I'm gonna get taken away from my mum.  So, I follow him, don't I? Back to his flat, and pour the petrol through his letter box and set alight to it. I didn't know it was gonna go up that fast." The kid fell wailing into the ash. "I'm sorry, Mr Thurlow."

The older three said nothing for a moment. Gregg's gears were turning again. "Hang on... so our mums were all at some party at Jason's?"

"Ann Summers," Phil said.

"What's that?"

"No idea," Jason said.

"Not hiding out while Phil's dad killed Thurlow?"

Little Kenny's wailing halted suddenly. "What... what are you all talking about?"

Phil explained, "We thought all the mums got my dad to kill Roger because they fawt he was a pedo."

"Hahahahahaha... You fucking dickheads." Kenny seemed back to his normal mouthy self already.

"Well, he stank of petrol."

"He was probably cleaning up the mess I made of his motah."

"What about the phone call?" Phil asked.

Gregg offered, "Could be anything. Wait, Jase. What time was that phone call your mum got?"

"Well Quantum Leap just finished, so about 10."

Philip started laughing and crying at the same time. "Thank God... The call my dad made was well after midnight."

Jason turned toward the door, "I've had enough. Let's get the fuck out of here."

Little Kenny broke down again. "Wait. What's... gonna... happen... to... me?" He managed through heaving sobs. "You ain't gonna say nuffink to nobody are you?"

"No, Kenny." Jason said and left the room.

Philip followed him, "You was with us all night, Ken."

Gregg looked at the broken boy, "Anyway... we don't want your cousin after us, do we?"

RootBound

Wow, what a bumper crop of entries! Amazing work, everyone! Before I close out the contest at the end of the day, one quick question--how long does the voting phase usually last? One week?

Thanks!
J. They/them. Here are my most recent games:

Sinitrena

Depends on when you have time to close the competition and how many entries there are. I'd say a week is about right, but usually not more than that.

RootBound

SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW CLOSED! Thanks to everyone for a great number of entries.  ;-D

Please use the poll above to cast your vote! There should be plenty of time to read all the entries.

Also, I encourage everyone to comment with their reactions. (I'm very happy to hear any responses to mine as well even though it wasn't a formal entry). Let us know why you voted the way you did!

Good luck, everyone!  ;-D
J. They/them. Here are my most recent games:

RootBound

Just finished reading the last few entries, so here are my thoughts. I didn't vote because I wasn't sure if I'm supposed to, but I do have some favorites.

Spoilers below.

@Mandle Clever and fun. Very short, but it works and I enjoyed it. Probably it wouldn't work as a longer piece, so I think you ended it at the right time. Simple and effective.

@Wiggy This was in my top two entries. Really concise and also moving, conveying things well without big exposition. You accomplished a lot in a very short space. Nicely done.

@Sinitrena First of all, great job getting two complete short stories done within the two weeks. That takes some dedication!  8-0 I'm impressed. Your first entry was good but a little grim for my tastes. Nothing wrong with it, just not my cup of tea. Still well written.

Your second entry, however, was actually my favorite of the contest. It's bleak, but I felt a lot of heart while reading it. It's absolutely gutting. The prose was also very well done--so much emotion is conveyed not through explanation but through action and through the juxtaposition of past and present. I also really like the metaphor of fever as fire--definitely counts toward the theme in my opinion.  (nod)  Really great work. If I get a vote, it goes here.

@Baron I enjoyed this one too. I might have to read it again to piece the whole past-story together, but the gist was clear and effective for me, and the ending works. Nicely done.

@Stupot I found the overall characterization of the boys effective (though only one or two them were given enough detail to be fully distinct from the others, but as a group it still works well). I also enjoyed the twists and turns throughout, and found the decision at the end believable. Really solid entry!

Thanks for all the participation! It was great to see so many entries and so much work put into them. A very successful contest in my opinion. Glad you all liked the theme!
J. They/them. Here are my most recent games:

Mandle

My brief feedbacks and vote:

Rootbound: I liked the story. Not sure if I could see the world in which it took place in completely. It had an impact on me considering the religious group that goes into the battlefields in current times to retrieve the dead at the risk of their own lives, but that's probably just a personal reaction.

Wiggy: The story felt like an authentic experience the whole way through, and then that turned out to be because it actually was you writing about something that had really happened. The shock twist at the end about the death certainly hit you harder in real life, but I think I did feel a slight bit of that through your writing. Amazing entry and was a contender for me for my vote.

Sinitrena: "In Miller's Ash" was extremely well written. But I did find myself a bit lost about what exactly was going on until the villagers started talking. Then, by the end of the story I understood that it was about a person with superpowers traveling the land to punish evil wrongdoers, and that sounded like a great story I would like to read, except I would want to know what was going on a bit earlier in the story than you could manage in this short format. I couldn't really feel much for the killed children as I never really knew them except through some brief lines later on. Feels like the start of a longer story that I would definitely read!

                   "After the Fever" was a powerful and centered story around the viewpoint of the main character, so I never felt lost as I sometimes felt during your other entry. A very dark tale that I took as a bit of an analogy for the paranoia we all went through about disease all too recently. The denial of the main character reminded me a lot of the shocking aftermath of the brother in the movie Hereditary after the drive back from the party: just trying to deny what had happened in their shock... trying to pretend that everything was normal, even though they knew otherwise. Not being able to cope with the horror. Was a very strong contender for my vote.

Baron: I was caught up in the story as soon as the characters started talking. Then I realized that there was a lot of backstory that I had to keep reading to understand. And I did read on, intrigued with their history together, but by the end I couldn't really figure it out, except that maybe he was regretting having burned down the church in a fire that killed his love and was returning her bones to that resting place? Probably I just didn't get it completely.

Stupot: The core strength of your piece is the realistic banter back and forth between the kids. The secret of the fire in what I read as basically a mystery story kept me plugging on and forgetting that I was just reading words on a screen. The twist at the end was unexpected but logical. And the final decision of the hush-up was brutally honest and left me haunted a bit by what the future holds for Kenny. Your story got my vote, but just barely above Wiggy's story and Sinitrena's second one.   



Sinitrena

RootBound: I liked what I read, though I don't think it feels finished. The action, yes - the background and world - no. It's a bit difficult to really get the world this is set in, but a few clarifying lines should be enough to give us this sense of the general world. Is Tess an oficial or is she just in it for herself? What exactly exploded? Why? This story feels like it is set in a world we are supposed to already know. But it reads very well and I'd love to read more about Tess.

Mandle: Short, very short; and very meta. I think it's an interesting choice to post this entry as a picture - which made me wonder why you didn't go all the way with it and added some traces of burning to it? It's good for what it is, though.

Wiggy: I was utterly confused by the comment about "The chinese guy licking your feet" on the first read-through, even with the explanation later in the text. It's so inredibly random. Also, it's not really clear what happened to the airplane. A fire on board, but no crash - is what I gathered, but it could be clearer. There are so many details in this story that sound interesting and need more details, but are brushed aside as something the writer clearly already knows. Intersting over all.

Baron: I'm not sure what caused the fire in your story, if it was an accident or not. I like the twist in the end, though I think it could have been stronger if the whole set-up wasn't about saying goodbye and seperating anyway. I'm also not sure if what Tangam did was according to their traditions or not. He seems to go against the rules of the elders, but at the same time it feels like a practiced, normal ritual, something that Aeria wanted. Nevertheless, without a doubt, my favorite story this round.

Stupot: For such a short piece, there are a lot of twists here, though I actually would have prefered the first idea the boys had as to the culprits (their own parents) to the actual solution in the end. Or rather, I might have combined the two (Kenny lies to his parents that Thurlow touched him in order to get rid of him). As it stands, I'm surpried the other boys didn't know about the photos: Thurlow told Kenny he had pictures; didn't he ever tell something similar to the other boys? Anyway, my second favorite of the bunch.


Ponch

Voted! Really good variety of entries. Tough to pick a favorite.

Mandle

Quote from: Sinitrena on Mon 04/12/2023 20:39:45Mandle: Short, very short; and very meta. I think it's an interesting choice to post this entry as a picture - which made me wonder why you didn't go all the way with it and added some traces of burning to it? It's good for what it is, though.

I did actually consider making a graphic of the story as if it were on a charred piece of corner paper, but then I thought that that would spoil the reader's fun of finding out for themself what the situation was. I did post this story as just text at first, but then the fact that that the format did not work on all devices was brought to my attention. So, I had to make it a graphic, because the format is the main point.

RootBound

Just a couple more days to vote! Anyone else want to weigh in?  :)
J. They/them. Here are my most recent games:

Wiggy

Voted. Thanks to all for the entertainment.

If you're wondering what was burning on our plane:

Spoiler
It was the wiring, a very rare occurence evidenced by high generator loads (100% on both) and a dreadful electrical burning smell. If one of the generators had exceeded its load limit and dropped off line we would have lost all electrics, therefore all flight instruments. Naturally the weather on that day was horrible with widespread rain and cloud down to 100 metres so with no flight instruments we would have spudded into the ground or water. When I declared our emergency to Air Traffic Control I requested a "Radar marshall to cloud break" (i.e. send me where it's clear) which is a military term with which not all civilian controllers are familiar. As it happened, a departing aircraft on the same radio frequency was flown by an ex-military pilot who heard this and transmitted "Send him to Deception Bay - it's clear over that way." The controller put us on a south-easterly heading and we continued our emergency descent and sure enough there was a break in the cloud and no rain. Lo and Behold the Deception Bay area, visible in the distance the threshold of Brisbane runway 14 and no finer sight have I ever beheld.

Unfortunately this "very rare occurence" happened again on 2nd September 1998 off Halifax Nova Scotia to Swissair flight 111 an MD-11 New York to Geneva with 229 passengers and crew. They hit the water at 300 knots and were all killed instantly, the accident report stated the cause was "electrical and instrument failure due to fire".

There but for the Grace of God, and a few fortunate coincidences, go I...
[close]

Baron

Nice work everyone.  (nod)

@Mandle: It's like, a fragment of a novel about a fragment of a novel of a... whoa!

@Wiggy: I read your story with great interest, but the tone bounced around so quickly it felt like my head (and heart) were just balls in a ping pong game.  The MC seems to be a very cavalier joker, but maybe that's just how manly men deal with all the pain?  He seems to be conflating the near-miss at the airport back in '95 with the pain of losing Julie 15 years later, although the tangential connection between the incidents makes it hard to follow the point he's trying to narrate.  Is life just funny like that, in a tragic kind of way?  I did try some token research to see the significance of Feb 17, 1995, but couldn't come up with any major reported aviation incident.  The piece was certainly well-written, but I think a few more details and a bit more insight into MC's thought process jumping between incidents would make the story more impactful.

@Sini: The idea of a vigilante witch travelling from town to town to solve murders (à la Fugitive) is intriguing, although I did find it difficult to empathise with Rivina despite her obvious righteousness.  She was just always so angry and... burny.  I think if we were able to see her in another light, even just briefly, we readers could root for her more.

      I liked your fever story more, despite it being a wrenching emotional ride.  The feeling of tragic grimness is present right from the start - there's just a gnawing feeling in your gut that the story is not going good places.  If I had just one complaint it's that the poor cows being burned alive hit me harder than the death of the mother and baby brother, probably due to the desperate vividness with which you portrayed them.  It was great writing but... I think strategically it distracts the reader from the deeper pain of Ines losing her family.

@RootBound: I really liked the running theme of the settlement's body being ripped apart by this tragedy.  The hospital orbiter becomes the weak heart of the surviving settlers, the debris of the explosion being the shattered bones, and the dead plant filling in as a kind of soul that is now lost.  Although brilliantly written, I think the metaphor of Tess being insulated from the incident by time and (physical protective) space somewhat detracts from the power of the piece, as we really don't feel much emotional connection to human tragedies that must have unfolded: in the end I felt more for the poor plant than whomever had their glasses blasted off of their face.

@Stupot: A savagely raw indictment of growing up poor in the projects (er, council housing).  I loved the realistic banter and the authentic if ill-considered logic of the friend group.  The mystery of what exactly was going down at the lingerie party still gnaws at me, as well as what else old Thurlow might have been hiding (why were the boys never allowed in the room - if because of the pictures, why did he carelessly reveal their presence to Little Kenny?).  In the end I was disappointed in the complete lack of justice in this world, but I suppose that's a fitting moral for the denizens of such a desolate housing complex.

RootBound

Voting is over and wow is it spread out far too evenly! A four-way tie seems like a bit much to me, so I think I should go ahead and cast a tiebreaker vote (I did not vote in the poll) unless that's against the rules. If that's not the way things work, then the four of you will have to sort the next theme out together!

As stated in my comment from a few days ago, my favorite story was "After the Fever" by Sinitrena. So if my vote counts, I therefore declare this the winning entry unless someone wishes to object. @Stupot care to weigh in?

Congratulations on a great contest, everyone!
J. They/them. Here are my most recent games:

Stupot

@RootBound Yeah, I'm not sure we've had a consistent policy on tie-breakers for a while, but it is quite normal for the host to decide the winner if they didn't vote in the initial round. And as you say, if you had voted, you'd have gone for After the Fever, so it makes sense that this should be the winning story.

It also happens to be the story I voted for.
(Forgive my delayed feedback but I did read the stories.)

RootBound

Perfect!

Congratulations @Sinitrena ! Fantastic job. The next round is yours!

Thanks to everyone for putting in so many quality entries this time!
J. They/them. Here are my most recent games:

Sinitrena

QuoteShe [Rivina] was just always so angry and... burny.  I think if we were able to see her in another light, even just briefly, we readers could root for her more.

When I started writing the Fever story, for a moment I considered connecting the two stories, making Ines and Rivina one and the same, giving Rivina a bit of a backstory and showing that Ines managed to live through it and come out stronger, but still clearly damaged. Interestingly enough, the third idea I didn't manage to finish would have been about someone harvesting the energy of a volcano, basically showing Ines turn into Rivina (although all three ideas were seperate in the beginning.)
In the end, I decided to let both stories stand independently from each other.




Thanks for your votes, everyone.

Yeah, a four-way-tie would have been a bit much, and that's why we keep the tie-breaking vote with the admin.

Anyway, it's this time of the year, so I have a question: Are you all in the mood for some seasonal theme or not?

Stupot

Quote from: Sinitrena on Fri 08/12/2023 13:50:36Anyway, it's this time of the year, so I have a question: Are you all in the mood for some seasonal theme or not?
Colour me jingled.

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