View Poll Results: Please vote for the story you like best

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  • The Prediction

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  • Big Break

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  • The Boy from the Clouds

    4 80.00%
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Thread: February '15 Elimination

  1. #1
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    February '15 Elimination

    Please vote for the story you like best and the winner will be taking part in the final vote at the end of the year.

    Discussion of the stories, to avoid influencing the outcome of the poll, are not allowed.

    If contributors would like to ask questions, they should email us at [email protected].

    Please note that the authors agree to keep their identities secret when they enter the competition.
    Those who breach this rule will be disqualified automatically.

    Good luck, everyone!

    Competition Rules
    Note: This poll will close on March 2nd.
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

  2. #2
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    The Prediction

    Rachel and Juan were drinking smoothies across the hall from the Amazing Psychic’s office door in the hotel lobby after taking a Miami harbor cruise. Juan told her if she was so interested in having a reading, she should give it a try. Now Rachel wanted to give it a try, but she also didn’t want to find out anything and so she told Juan to check it out for them.

    Juan went to the closed door feeling nervous like he was going to confession except instead of reporting to a priest his sins the psychic priestess would be telling him what they were. He turned the knob, but the door was locked. Relieved he went back to Rachel who said, “Well, she isn’t psychic enough to know that someone would be coming to her office.”

    They walked around the block through a park. At the far end, they saw a man with a sign pointing back to the hotel with these words on it: “Amazing Psychic Readings Available.” Rachel pointed out the obvious, “It’s a sign.” They went back to the hotel and saw the amazing psychic, a middle-aged woman dressed like a suburban housewife, unlock the door. She smiled at them, left the door and went inside. Juan expected someone more exotic looking. Rachel pushed him toward the door.

    When he was seated across the table between them, the woman explained to Juan his choices and then got up to close the door so the “energy” would stay inside. He listened and answered questions for about ten minutes feeling like the movement of her mouth was hypnotizing him. The only thing that made her look as if she had any psychic abilities whatsoever, not that he would know what to look for, were her long fingernails that she used to pick at and move the cards he selected lying in front of her as if she didn’t want to touch them herself.

    After Juan was back with Rachel he told her, “She said we will sell the condo and that we should not lower the price. She also said I got a promotion, but I probably don’t know about it yet.”

    “Hey. That’s good to know. I was thinking we should lower the price. Did she say anything about me?”

    “Yes. She said you loved me and that you were my trophy wife. Well, she didn’t use the words ‘trophy wife’.”

    “You should have known that already.”

    Juan disclosed other things, but not everything. The psychic also mentioned that Rachel or someone near her would have a medical problem and this would cause some anxiety that they would have to work through, but she emphasized that the problem “can be cured with medicine.” Juan didn’t want Rachel to worry and since there was nothing to worry about given the psychic’s assessment, he didn’t let her know.

    When they returned from their vacation, Juan found out that his entire office would shut down through company reorganization, but Rachel got a promotion that required her to travel more. Juan wasn’t sure if he should credit the psychic with an accurate prediction or not, but she did predict a change, until he accepted a job offer that would have been considered a promotion in his old job.

    In the spring, they sold their condo. The buyer initially counter-offered with a price ten percent lower. They refused and the buyer, who had other things on his mind and wasn’t that interested in negotiating but felt he had to go through the motions, accepted their original price.

    With a score of 2 to 0 so far in the psychic’s favor, Juan wondered just how much free will he had left. Was there anything he could do about the medical problem Rachel was supposed to experience? Was the psychic really predicting the future or was she creating it in some way? How did she know all of this? In addition, because he couldn’t help believing the prediction, once it existed in his awareness, how was he himself creating or modifying it?

    After the condo sold, Rachel was on her tenth weeklong business trip to Dallas when she phoned Juan saying that she would be spending the weekend there this time for an unexpected team-building exercise. Juan said that would give him some time to spend with Pablo and other friends.

    On Sunday morning, Rachel felt uneasy and went to a clinic in Dallas. After getting the diagnosis, she had some questions for Daniel, one of her colleagues. They settled their differences the best they knew how and she boarded her flight.

    When Rachel arrived home, Juan put his arm around her waist. She expected this and had a script prepared in her mind telling him that she wasn’t feeling well, but “It’s not serious. It can be cured with medicine.” Juan looked confused. He wanted to do this right, now that he thought he understood, but he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. It was not how he expected the evening to end. Rachel looked confused as well. It was not how she thought he would react. Why were there no further questions? Perhaps she lucked out this time.

    Her next trip to Dallas was in seven days. The weekend after that Juan said he would be going with Pablo to a friend’s bachelor party. Rachel’s maid of honor warned her about marrying a man with a close friend like that saying, “Pablo would sooner knock a girl down than knock her up,” but she also admitted, “It’s good that men like Juanito have someone to watch their backs.”

    After that next business trip, there was no one home when the taxi dropped Rachel off on Friday evening. She called Juan. She thought he and Pablo were leaving on Saturday and she anticipated spending the evening with him.

    “We left yesterday for South Beach. I thought I’d give you time to take your medicine.”

    Medicine? Confusion takes time to inflate a bubble. Understanding comes along and explodes it faster than the speed of light: nothing’s hidden.

    Juan didn’t know what to think when he heard Rachel say, “That will never happen again. Don’t let Pablo hook you up before we talk this through.”
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

  3. #3
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Big Break

    Did you ever notice what a comedian says after he bombs? “I died out there.” And the opposite, with the crowd doubled over in hysterics? “I killed.”

    Not literally, okay? The violent talk is just a metaphor, but I never met a phor I didn’t like. I’ll tell you something else. Comedy is not a peaceful stroll through the park on Sunday afternoon. It’s guerilla warfare -- after an 800-pound gorilla pushes you off the couch and hogs the remote. It’s being stranded on a desert island with a bunch of lawyers and your mother-in-law. It’s walking into a biker bar where all the drinkers are looking for a fight, and nobody’s willing to defend you except a priest, a nun, and a rabbi.

    Would I allow let any of that negativity murder my dreams? No way. Nothing was going to stop me from making my debut on Open Mic Night at the Yuk Shack, located at the Holiday Inn over on Route 44.

    I was ready, believe you me. Locked and loaded (though pretty much sober.) But don’t go thinking that my preparation came instantly, like popping a Hot Pocket out of the microwave. It came over the long haul, after a lifetime of study and practice. While other kids wasted their time with mindless video games, I stood in front of a mirror and talked into a hairbrush.

    I’ll never forget the night my parents walked into my room and caught me in the act of honing my craft. They must’ve thought I was deranged, because they discussed calling Dr. Krashlow about upping my Ritalin prescription. That’s when I knew it was time to reveal the plan for my future.

    You know how grownups ask little kids what they want to be when they grow up? Adults always expect -- and usually get -- the standard answers: An astronaut. A fireman. Or a proc-tol-o-gist. So you can imagine the reaction of my folks when I made the announcement: “Mom, Dad, I want to do stand-up.”

    After waiting for both of their chins to hit the floor and return to their faces, I explained how lucrative a career in comedy could be. The path to get there is simple. First, you get your clown shoes wet in some local yokel live venues, then tape a couple of your monologues to post on-line. Then you count the hits and the number of followers as you watch your stuff go viral. The good kind of viral – not the kind of virus that makes it burn when you pee. (I didn’t share that last part with my parents.)

    Pretty soon some important Industry people start noticing you and book you as an opening act for headliners on tour, leading to a bunch of 4-minute shots on the nightly talk shows. Then maybe a special on Comedy Central or HBO, leading to a supporting role in a movie, and the next thing you know there’s an offer to star in your own sitcom. After a long run, you’ve got a steady stream of residuals from syndicated reruns endlessly running on cable tv. Then you’re set for life, in like Flynn (whoever he was.)

    Right away my folks tried to talk me out of it, just like they did to my sister when she wanted to go to vet-er-in-ar-ian college. They told her that she’d lose interest the minute she had to put her hands up a cow’s butt. In my case, my mom said I was too delicate to withstand the pressure of show biz. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world, Dear.”

    “Maybe if you had let Sissy become an animal doctor, she would’ve tamed those dogs, ” I said.

    “They’ll laugh you right off the stage!”

    “But that’s exactly what I want –“

    My father was in deep Ward Cleaver mode. “Your mother’s right, Son. It’s a tough game. You’ll need a steady job to fall back on.”

    “I don’t want to fall back. I want to spring ahead!”

    Clearly the old man wasn’t listening. “You ought to get some marketable skills,” he said. Take some classes. Learn a trade.”

    What, like go to welding school? What a waste of good material! Not to mention taking away precious time and energy. I had no intention of diluting my talent for some rinky-dink job any random dude on the street could do.

    My parents simply didn’t understand that comedy was my life! I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do more than rattle off zingers, grab those losers by the seat of their pants, and destroy ‘em. There can’t be any thrill greater than getting out there on the stage and soaking up the love!

    Speaking of which, I used to believe that going into comedy was a chick magnet. But that’s clearly not the case.

    In those articles where women are asked to rate the qualities they look for in a guy, they always put “a sense of humor” near the top of the list. On paper maybe. Turn to the page with the celebrity pix and you won’t see many hot women hanging off the arms of former class clowns from their high schools. They go for guys with big – wallets. A lot of these lucky stiffs are just that – stiffs, or soon will be, ‘cause they’re geezers. Rich geezers. I know what their gal pals are thinking: “When there’s a will, there’s a way. If I can just hang on long enough, I’ll get everything – or at least what’s left after covering the bills for the Viagra prescriptions.”

    Yeah, well, wait till I hit the Big Time and pull down all those super-sized megabucks. That’s when the chicks will start chasing me, and I’ll have to beat them off with a schtick.

    Meanwhile, I’ve had to compete with ex-frat boys infesting singles bars. They believe women find them irresistible when they hit on them with one-liners like “If I told you that you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?” They think that’s the epitome of wit.

    What did I say? “EP-i-tome?” No, I meant “e-PIT-o-mee.” That’s always been a little quirk of mine, that I say words exactly how they appear in print. So right before appearing at the Yuk Shack, I knew I had to be careful. On the marquee right outside in the Holiday
    Inn parking lot, there was a sign saying “Open Mic Night.” I had to force myself to pronounce it “Mike” instead of how it’s spelled, otherwise some proud Irishman in the audience would think I’d insulted him with an ethnic slur.

    Well, I was prepared for every ex-i-gen-cy, even hecklers. Ignoring them is lame; taking the bait is even lamer. In no time the situation can de-ter-i-or-ate into a one-on-one shouting match that ignores the whole rest of the audience. So if some nitwit in the audience should happen to scream, “Get off the stage – you stink!” I’d be ready. I’d just toss off a throwaway line like “Ooh, nice to see the school board was able to make it tonight,” and move on.

    At the same time that I was silently rehearsing my monologue over and over, my head was packed with little professional notes which I’d made a point to remember. I knew enough not to skip on stage and shout, “How’s everybody doing?” or to patronize the crowd by telling them what a fine-looking audience they were. Or when I was wrapping up, not to
    say my own name. Many times have I heard some jokester say, “Thanks! I’ve been
    Ricky Ratzafrazz (or whatever the name was)” and I’d think “You’ve been Ricky Ratzafrazz?
    Who are you now?” My brain was chockablock with things not to do.

    So on that night, I was fired up and ready to roll. As I stood “backstage” – actually a little cubby next to the Holiday Inn men’s room - a bespectacled chick carrying a clipboard tapped me on the shoulder. She was a tall drink of water, but I seem to recall she could be considered hot after a few drinks (in her, I mean, not me.)

    “Joe Muller?”

    “Miller. Joe Miller.”

    “You’re next.”

    Ten seconds later, I was on: “Did you ever notice what a comedian says after he bombs? ‘I died out there.’ And the opposite, with the crowd doubled over in hysterics? ‘I killed.’
    Not literally, okay? The violent talk is just a metaphor, but I never met . . .” That’s how I got my start.

    As for my big finish, I’m still waiting.
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

  4. #4
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    The Boy from the Clouds

    Hestia pulled her veil closer over her head as the other women, laughing and mocking, threw herring bones and tried to pin bloody chicken feet to her gown. Once past the throng, she caught her breath and slowed her pace as she ascended the stone steps to the top of the hill. At the summit, the ruins of the parecclesion stood silently behind the palisades that crowned the mount. Hestia approached the circular stone sanctuary and positioned herself behind the open doorway. She faced into the wind, enervated from her exertions but exuberant at having reached the peak. She took a draught from the flask she carried, containing a drink made of fermented barley and mint.

    A strong breeze had been blowing all day. It blew tiny wisps of clouds like cotton under the deep blue sky so close to the earth that Hestia jumped up to try to catch one, but it was beyond her reach. As she stood in the threshold of the doorway, she felt the breeze on her face and heard it whistling through the gaps between the stones. She felt a kind of warmth in the breeze and a kind of substance, like soft, powdery particles. It felt good. She let fall her veil and shook loose her hair.

    The breeze blew in rhythmic gusts like breaths. The powdery material that floated against Hestia’s cheeks grew clumpier. It felt as though feathers were gliding past her. She turned. With her back to the wind, she could see more clearly. Yes, white, ethereal material like dandelion parachutes hovered in the air all around. Just behind Hestia, in front of where a wild grapevine had entwined itself around one of the fallen longitudinal stones, the feathery substance was clumping together in mid-air, creating a sort of small, billowing, cloudlike form just above the ground.

    Hestia watched in fascination as the cloudlike form took shape and gathered substance. It took the figure of a boy, a small boy who appeared to be five or six years old. Hestia clapped her hands in delight. He was the cutest boy Hestia had ever seen, with wispy soft hair, smooth white skin, eyes that mirrored the deep blue sky, and a dimple on his chin. He stretched out his arms and gazed on his hands with wonder. He touched his face and felt the fluffiness of his hair. He looked at Hestia and faltered for words.

    “What… Who… What am I? Who am I? How came I to be here?”

    Hestia laughed and clapped her hands again.

    “You are my boy! The boy that I always wanted! The boy that I have dreamed of! My darling boy! My own! My very, very own!”

    The boy smiled at this. “Are you my Mama?”


    Hestia knelt down, and the boy ran to her. He was so light in her arms! They held each other tight while the white feathery particles that still lingered in the air vanished one by one with a tiny, streaking flicker like so many shooting stars.

    Wiping away tears of happiness, Hestia stood up, took a step back, and looked upon her darling boy.

    “We have so much to do, you and I” she smiled. “We must go down the hill to our home in town, get you some clothes, prepare the hearth, and bake you some bread to eat… oh, so much to do!”

    “I will go with you, Mama,” the boy said taking hold of her hand.

    On the way down the hill, Hestia veered off the main path of the stone steps to follow a footpath leading to a nearby vineyard. Rows and rows of lush, twisting green vines strung between tall, wooden stakes sparkled in the sunlight. Under the shade of the leafy foliage hung, heavy dark purple bunches of grapes gravid with nectar.

    “You must be hungry,” she said. “Here. Try this.”

    “What is that?” he asked holding out his hand.

    “It’s a grape.”

    He took it into his mouth. His eyes expressed pleasure at the taste.

    “Oh, silly boy! You’ve eaten the seed!” Hestia laughed.

    She bit halfway into another grape and showed it to the boy.

    “See? This is the seed. You can take the seed and plant it in the soil like this. Then you give it a little water every day, and after some time, a new plant will sprout. The plant will grow, and from this one seed, another vine and many more grapes will come. We call it ‘abundance.’ Here. Take the rest of these. We will eat them along the way.”

    “Abundance,” repeated the boy as he ate another grape, this time removing the seed from his mouth and inspecting it closely. “I like that.”

    At the edge of the vineyard grew a line of tall juniper trees, and behind them various smaller trees, scrubs, and shrubs. From the trees came a trilling, melodic sound.

    “What is that?” asked the boy.

    “Isn’t it beautiful?” asked Hestia. “It’s a nightingale. Come. Let’s go closer.”

    The song increased in volume as they passed between the juniper trees. They walked slowly so as not to disturb the bird. But alas! They approached too near. A sudden fluttering sound succeeded the trilling, and they glimpsed a streak of light brown color diving for cover into the farther vegetation. Just as suddenly, they heard another bird flutter off – this one had been very near, almost at their feet.

    “Oh, look at this!” cried Hestia in an excited whisper. “Their nest!”

    The boy bent down next to Hestia. There, in a small circular nest made of twigs, fibers and leafs, lay five smooth, glossy olive-brown eggs.

    “Inside each of these is a baby nightingale,” Hestia said. “In another week or two, they will hatch. They will bring new life and new beauty into the world.”

    “Am I new life?” asked the boy.

    “Yes, you are.”

    Before they reached the line of juniper trees, they heard another sound coming to them from under some brambles not far away – a squeaking, whimpering sort of sound. They followed the sound to a large fallen log, under which a shallow burrow had been dug out. They crouched down slowly a few paces away from the burrow and peered inside.

    In the semi-darkness of the den Hestia and the boy could make out the shadowy forms of eight newborn kits clambering over their mother, who was licking their fluffy fur in turn.

    “Look how tiny they are!” whispered Hestia. “They must be only a few days old. What a lovely family!”

    “What is a family, mama?”

    “A family is a group bound together by love and affection.”

    “Are you and I a family, Mama?”

    “Yes, we are.”

    The boy crept closer to the den.

    “They are fluffy – like me,” whispered the boy.

    “They are beautiful!” cried Hestia.

    “Am I beautiful?” asked the boy.

    “Yes, you are.”

    Hestia and the boy stood up and walked past the line of juniper trees.

    “But I am different, aren’t I?”


    “What makes me different, Mama?”

    “Because… because you have come to me by magic.”

    “But the seed. The seed that grows into a new grapevine. And the hatchlings still inside the eggs. And that family of foxes. Isn’t all of that also magic?”

    Hestia was silent. She didn’t know how to answer this question.

    “But those things. They are all real, are they not, Mama? And I am not real, am I?”

    “You are! You are!” pleaded Hestia. “You are the essence of all that is real!”

    The boy pondered for a moment and then replied, “Yes. That’s right, Mama. I am.”

    And he smiled with satisfaction at this thought.

    Then the boy cocked his head pensively and asked, “Is the world so full of abundance and new life and beauty, Mama?”

    “Yes, it is,” said Hestia.

    She smiled, but she was troubled by the turn of their conversation.

    “Now, come with me. Let us return to the road that will take us to hearth and home. We have much to do.”

    As they followed the footpath leading away from the vineyard to the rocky trail leading down the hill, a slight breeze began to blow.

    The boy stopped suddenly.

    “Mama!” he cried.

    Hestia turned to look at him.

    He was standing facing into the breeze with his arms stretched out in from of him, the palms of his hands facing up. The breeze picked up strength. A part of his hand and some wisps of his hair blew away. The wind grew in intensity.

    “Mama, what is happening to me?”

    Another piece of his hand blew away, and his arm disintegrated into fluffy, feathery particles. His legs transformed into swirling cylindrical forms of white powder. He was blowing away.

    Hestia stood transfixed, watching, helpless, tears dropping from her eyes like rain.

    “My boy! My darling boy!”

    The boy was fast disappearing. His face lingered, floating, smiling, beaming in the air.

    “Don’t be afraid, Mama. Don’t be sad. The world is filled with abundance and new life and beauty, but this – you and I – we were not meant to be.”

    And then the face dissolved into a thousand pinpoints of light that blew up and away into the sky.

    Hestia pulled her veil close around her head and descended the steps into town alone.
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

  5. #5
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Who is voting for a candy necklace?

    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

  6. #6
    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    I voted.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

  7. #7
    Inexplicably Undiscovered
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    next door to the lady in the vinegar bottle
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    Only 3 total votes from the entire "community"? What's the matter, NitLetters, is this too good for ya?

    I don't know what we can do to generate some interest in this competition. I surely hope it doesn't have to come down to the coercive tactics used by the National Lampoon on one of its covers, still legendary after several decades. The issue featured an adorable puppy whose sad eyes looked even sadder with a revolver aimed at the side of his head. "Buy this magazine-" the caption read "-or we shoot this dog!"

  8. #8
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    I voted! Don't shoot the dog!

  9. #9
    Registered User DieterM's Avatar
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    Voted. Rather give the dog a hug, will ya? ;-)
    "Im Arm der Liebe schliefen wir selig ein…" ("Liebesode" - Otto Erich Hartleben)
    New poetry collection available (Kindle and paperback)

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