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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Flash Fiction Contest, Week 4!

Hi y'all...

First of all, you should go over to Andrew Butters' blog Potato Chip Math to read the winner from Week 3 -- it's awesome.

So, on to Week 4... but a reminder of the rules:

It's very simple: we give you a prompt, and you write 500 words or less (including the prompt).

You can write in any style that you wish; just be sure to use the prompt exactly as it is shown, keep it under 500 words, write it in English, and ensure it's completely made up (this is a flash fiction challenge after all).

Next week Andrew and I will post the pieces we liked the best and will do a shout out on Twitter to those folks (if they so desire; if you'd like us to recognize you there, please include your Twitter handle). After a few months we'll compile a list of our favorites and we'll get the Internet to vote. The winner will win stuff (to be determined, but we're sure they'll love it).

Now, without further ado, we present this week's prompt:
"I have a secret.  No one in the world knows it but me.  And if I tell you, you have to promise never to tell another soul."
[image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Use the comments below to submit your work.  You can submit anonymously if you want, but wouldn't it be nice to be recognized?

The deadline is Tuesday, February 4, 2014, at 8:00 PM EST.

Have fun!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Flash Fiction Contest, Week 3!

My pal Andrew Butters, over at Potato Chip Math, has just announced the prompt for Week 3 of our ongoing Flash Fiction Contest.

Trust me, you do not want to miss this one.  This week is gonna be fun.

So run, don't walk, over to Potato Chip Math and check out this week's rules!

[Image courtesy of toffehoff and the Wikimedia Commons]

As always, the contest closes on next Tuesday at 8 PM EST, and winners will be announced the following day.

Have fun!

Flash Fiction Contest, Round 2, Winners!

I am pleased to announce the winner and the runner-up of Week 2 of the Tales of Whoa/Potato Chip Math Flash Fiction Contest!

The prompt was the following:

"Rays of red sunlight slant in through the window of the cabin.  The only problem is, I have no idea whether it's sunrise or sunset." 

 [image courtesy of Fir0002/Flagstaffotos and the Wikimedia Commons]

So without further ado, here is the winner of this week's contest, submitted by KBR:
I don’t make enemies. That’s a punchy, but clich├ęd way to start. It’s relevant though, because it explains why it is I’m so surprised to find myself hanging upside down by the ankles above a water trough in what looks like an abandoned cabin. Apparently having an enemy isn’t as glamorous as the movies make it out to be. I hope my use of the singular is accurate. Maybe if I use it consistently, life will adapt to the narrative? It must be better to have one enemy than many.

But I don’t make enemies. Maybe I’ve found an enemy? Or, given the current balance of power, an enemy has found me. That could be it: this is someone else’s enemy, not mine. A comforting thought, but not one that’s of any immediate use. First I need to work out where, and in what shape I am: I’ve seen enough spy movies to know that much.

Rays of red sunlight slant in through the window of the cabin. The only problem is, I have no idea whether it's sunrise or sunset. I start to ponder that, but quickly realise it’s not my biggest problem yet – it’s not even relevant at all unless I can work myself free of my bindings.

Let’s start by stretching my wrists – not much slack there. Next: ankles. No luck. Next step, and I’m pleasantly surprised by my logical train of thought, is to test the other end of the binding: I look up and a sharp pain stabs at my neck. It’s like I’ve slept with my head at right angles to my body. For a week. I won’t be doing that again soon. However, it looks like a half-rotten beam. Genuinely past its prime: I’m excited now. I can see, no: feel, a way out of this mess, whatever mess it may be. Quickly, I find myself capitalising on the adrenaline rush. Excited and nervous energy now pervades me.

Time to start swinging and bouncing on the rope – I can see the water trough crossing my vision, getting closer and further as I swing: back and forth, up and down. Each time I bounce I’m sure I can feel a bit more give. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe...with a not inconsiderable effort I look up again – Ouch! But yes! It’s cracked! Just a bit more work and I’m sure I can break it.

Ouch again. The beam broke. But it brought the roof down with it. I don’t think I’ve been out long. My head’s bleeding, but that’s not the worst of it. Looking down past my still-bound hands I see a large sliver of rotten-looking wood sticking out of my side. Yup, I sure showed that beam. I woozily right myself and shuffle to the edge of the trough, gasping for what is to be one of my last breaths. I notice that the red light that now bathes me through the collapsed roof is rapidly fading. Oh, I thought: it’s sunset.
And I'd just like to add that this should be the beginning of a novel, or at the very least, a short story!

And honorable mention goes to Angela Matthew, for her story of a plague victim in a very, very bad situation:
I try to wake up, but the dreams hold me. A whirlwind of images.

It takes all my effort to break through the barrier that keeps me from my consciousness.

I am aware of my body now and I feel the air going in and out of my lungs. Slowly, I shift all my attention on my eyelids and blink.

I can see.

I find myself in a bed pushed up against a wall which is part of what looks like an unkempt cabin. My muscles protest as I prop myself onto my elbows and look around, trying to find anything which might tell me where I am, or when.
Rays of red sunlight slant in through the window of the cabin. The only problem is, I have no idea whether it's sunrise or sunset.
I push myself up further and lean against the wall- it is cool and solid, quite opposite to the thoughts running through my head.
Where am I? Who brought me here? Is my family safe?
-and the most confusing one of them all- Why am I still alive?

The doctors had said I was infected. They had taken away form home and locked me up in one of those clinics.
It was hell.
People screaming and crying for their families, the stench of blood, vomit and death everywhere. I remember telling myself that if I pinched hard enough I would wake up and find out that it was all a dream. That the plague had never happened.

After what seems like forever I manage to stand on my feet and walk, it feels unfamiliar, as if I hadn't moved in a long time.

I stumble toward the half-open door using the wall as a support. A few steps later I am able to walk on my own. The floor is cold and every step hurts.

Finally I reach the door. I stretch out my hand to push the door, but I pull back.
I can hear voices.

"- wake up. Maybe she won't survive," a woman was saying.

"We have to hope, she's doing good so far. Maybe tomorrow she'll come around."

A chill creeps down my spine- they're talking about me.

"And then what are we going to do, Mark?" says the woman "Study her system? Hope for a cure in another couple of years?"

Mark is silent for a moment.

"We'll have to harvest her blood," he says slowly.

"But that means-"

"Yes, she'll die. But we have to try. What is one death compared to thousands? She's the only one immune so far. Maybe it'll work. We need-"

The sound of my heart pounding is so loud I can't hear him anymore.

They're going to kill me, I think. I survived the flu, and now they're going to kill me.

The room around starts spinning and I feel my knees give away as unconsciousness pulls me back into it's arms.

I am going to die.

Thanks to all who submitted -- and look for the next prompt, over at Potato Chip Math, today!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Flash Fiction Contest, Round 2!

Welcome to the Second Week of the Tales of Whoa/Potato Chip Math Flash Fiction Contest!

The rules are very simple: we give you a prompt and you write 500 words or less (including the prompt).

You can write in any style that you wish; just be sure to use the prompt exactly as it is shown, keep it under 500 words, write it in English, and ensure it's completely made up (this is a flash fiction challenge after all).

Next week Andrew and I will post the pieces we liked the best and will do a shout out on Twitter to those folks (if they so desire; if you'd like us to recognize you there, please include your Twitter handle).  After a few months we'll compile a list of our favorites and we'll get the Internet to vote.  The winner will win stuff (to be determined, but we're sure they'll love it).

Now, without further ado, we present this week's prompt:

"Rays of red sunlight slant in through the window of the cabin.  The only problem is, I have no idea whether it's sunrise or sunset."

[image courtesy of Fir0002/Flagstaffotos and the Wikimedia Commons]

Use the comments below to submit your work.  You can submit anonymously if you wish, but wouldn't it be nice to be recognized if you win?

The deadline is Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 8:00 PM EST.

Have fun!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Past Imperfect - excerpt from a work-in-progress

The intrepid psychic detectives of Snowe Agency are on the case again, this time investigating a thirty-year-old note from a teenager that hints at murder.  Here's a bit of the first chapter of the fourth installment of The Parsifal Snowe Mysteries, Past Imperfect.

            Seth Augustine picked up two pieces of firewood from the neatly-stacked pile on the porch, and turned around in time to see the front door of the cabin close with a bang.
            Then there was the sound of a lock turning.
            He strode up to the door, and kicked it twice with his bare foot.
            “Hey, what the hell?” he said.  “Let me back in!”
            Bethany Hale’s voice came from the other side.  “Not until you admit I was right.”
            “You heard me.”
            “It’s fifteen degrees out here, and I’ve got nothing on except my boxers!”
            “Then that gives you a little incentive, doesn’t it?”
            Seth set down the firewood, and gave the door handle a futile jiggle.
            “Seriously?” he said.
            There was a snort from the other side of the door.  “How long have you known me?”
            The wind blew a spray of snow onto Seth’s bare back, and he gave an involuntary squawk.  “C’mon, Bethany, I’m freezing to death out here!”
            “You’re still talking, so you’re not beyond hope of resuscitation.  Admit it, you were wrong and I was right.”
            “Are you even kidding me right now?”
            “Hmm, maybe I’ll get into the hot tub.  Yeah, that’ll be nice.  Too bad you’re out there, or you could join me.”
            Seth gave a strangled, inarticulate noise of outrage.
            “Hey,” came a voice.
            Seth looked over to the next cabin, only about thirty feet away.  An old lady in a plaid bathrobe, wearing a bright orange stocking cap, was standing on the front porch, leaning on the railing, watching Seth with obvious interest.
            “Yeah?” Seth said, his teeth chattering.
            “If your girlfriend won’t let you in, honey, you can come over and warm up in my cabin,” the old lady said.
            “No, that’s okay,” Seth said, his voice rising in alarm.  He rubbed the backs of his arms with his hands.  “Bethany, dammit, let me in!”
            “Wow, the water is really nice and warm,” Bethany said.  “Oh, yeah, and I’m not wearing anything.  Just thought I should mention.”
            “Fuck,” Seth said under his breath.  Fine.  You win.  I admit it, you were right, and I was wrong.  The Earth is closer to the Sun in winter.  Even though it feels pretty goddamned far away at the moment.”
            There was a click as Bethany, wrapped in a towel, unlocked and opened the door, and she motioned him in.  “There,” she said.  “Was that so hard?”
            “If she locks you out again, you’re welcome here any time!” the old lady shouted after him as the door closed.
            The warmth of a wood fire struck his skin, and he shuddered a little.  “You are ruthless.”
            She kissed his cheek.  “Damn skippy I am.  Now, come on, get into the hot tub and warm up.  You could have caught your death of cold out there, you know.”
            Seth glared at her, then dropped his boxers, and put one foot into the bubbling water, and yelped.
            Bethany slipped her towel off, and stepped into the hot tub herself, settling in with a sigh.  “Oh, c’mon, you big baby.  It’s not that hot.”
            “Easy for you to say,” he said.  “You didn’t just narrowly escape hypothermia.”  He climbed the rest of the way in, then sat down, wincing a little, and leaned back and closed his eyes.  “It was that important to you for me to admit I was wrong?  I mean, we looked it up on your laptop, and you proved your point, and everything.”
            “Yeah, but you didn’t say it.  ‘You were right and I was wrong.’  So I decided that you need practice.  After all, if I had been wrong, I would have admitted it graciously.  But I, unlike you, remembered my high school Earth Science class, wherein Mr. Grunder explained in some detail that axial tilt causes the seasons, and that the Earth is actually closer to the Sun when the Northern Hemisphere is having winter.”
            “In my Earth Science class, I was too busy thinking about how to get into Jennifer Kaplan’s pants to pay much attention to orbits and so on.”
            “You have a one-track mind.”
            “Yeah, but I like that track.  And you seem to be pretty fond of it, yourself, Ms. Hale.”
            Bethany reached over and rubbed his shoulder.  “Are you having fun up here?”
            Seth opened his eyes, and smiled.  “Of course.  Aren’t you?”
            “I love it.  I’ve always thought the Adirondacks were gorgeous.  And this is my first real vacation in years, unless you count visiting my mother.”
            “That’s not a vacation.”
            “No, it’s not.  So this is nice.  I’m glad we came here, together.”
            “Me too.  Even if you do periodically try to kill me.”
            She laughed.  “Relax.  I wouldn’t kill you for real.  I’m happy not to be hip deep in murder for a change.”
            “Same.”  He looked over at her.  “But are you serious about not killing me?”
            “Of course.  Why?”
            “Because I left the firewood on the porch.”

            The next days were filled with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, followed by basking in front of the fire, sipping wine, and reading.  Seth had brought along his Kindle, and was absorbed in a spy thriller; Bethany preferred actual books, and her tastes ran more to historical fiction.  But both of them settled quickly into the sweetness of shared down-time, Bethany lying on the sofa with her book propped up in front of her, and Seth sitting with her legs across his lap, one of his hands and his Kindle resting lightly on her ankles.
            It was on the fourth day there that they decided to venture down into Finn Hill, the nearest village, for some groceries and a change of scenery.  Finn Hill was nothing more than a few businesses and some widely-scattered houses and churches, but it was picturesque and quaint and looked as if it could provide at least a couple hours’ diversion.
            They made a stop at the Nice ‘n’ Easy and Kwik Fill, where they bought bacon, eggs, milk, and provisions for lunches and dinners.  Then it was off on a brisk walk through the town.  The walk was made even more brisk by the frigid temperatures, although the sun was high in a brilliant blue sky, making the snowbanks almost too bright to look at.
            The main road was lined with a row of businesses, of which the first two – a bakery and an antiques store – seemed the most interesting.  They purchased scones at the bakery and then went next door to Parker’s Antiques.  The door shut behind them, and the jingle of the bell coincided with a sour voice saying, “You can’t bring that in here.”
            Seth looked up and saw that he was being scowled at by a rail-thin old man, mostly bald, with wire-rimmed glasses.
            “What?” Seth said, his mouth full.
            “Food,” the old man said.  “Sign on the door.  ‘No Food Inside.’”
            “Oh,” Seth said, and popped the rest of the scone in his mouth.  “There,” he said, a little indistinctly.  “All gone.”
            “What about her?” the old man said, gesturing with one gnarled finger at Bethany.
            Bethany wrapped up the remaining half of her scone in a napkin, and put it into her purse.  “There we go.  I promise I won’t take it out until we leave.”
            The old man turned away with a snort, mumbling something about “Damned out-o’-towners,” and disappeared into the back of the store.
            “Charming gentleman,” Seth observed, as Bethany went over to a display of old mantelpiece clocks, each with hand-carved scrollwork surrounding the face.
            “My uncle had one of these,” Bethany said.  “I’ve always wanted one.”
            “Don’t they ring every hour?”
            “His did.  Also the half-hour.”
            “How do people sleep with that racket?”
            She smiled.  “I never found it disturbing.  It was kind of soothing, really.”  She lifted the tag, and gave a low whistle.  “Never mind.”
            “How much?”
            “Twelve hundred.”
            “Jesus.  For a clock?”
            She shrugged.  “I guess some people will pay that.  Not me, however.”
            Seth looked briefly at a box full of ancient tennis rackets and baseball bats.  He picked up one of the rackets, examined its worn wooden frame and gut strings, and took a tentative swing with it.  “Man, this thing weighs like fifty pounds.  I’ll keep my carbon-fiber racket and just go lift weights if I want to bulk up.”
            “Young man,” came the nasal voice of the elderly proprietor, who apparently had the ability to appear out of nowhere whenever anyone did something that was against the rules.  “Please do not swing around my merchandise.  Anything that you break, you must pay for.”
            “Gotcha,” Seth said, rolling his eyes a little, and put the tennis racket back into the box.
            Bethany wandered over toward a shelf lined with old books.  She ran her finger lightly down the worn cloth-bound spines, and then pulled one out.  She smiled and motioned Seth over.  “Hey, this one is right down your alley,” she said.  Babu the Jungle Boy.”
            “What are you saying, dear?” Seth said, joining her in front of the shelf.
            “Well, it appears to be about an uncivilized savage who runs around without any clothes on, and how he was tamed and taught etiquette.  Maybe I should buy it.  You know, for suggestions on how to proceed.”
            “Good luck with that.  And don’t forget that as you try to civilize me, I’m trying to wild you.  And I think, all things considered, I’m making more progress than you are.”
            She shut the book with a snap, and pulled another one off the shelf.  “Hey, look,” she said, her voice rising in excitement, “it’s a murder mystery by Dorothy Sayers.  I love Dorothy Sayers.  The Nine Tailors.  I haven’t read that one.” She opened the cover.  It creaked a little, and Seth got a whiff of the familiar dusty old-book smell.  Inside was a pocket, now empty, that said, “Property of Finn Hill Public Library.”  Underneath was a word stamped in purple ink that said, “WITHDRAWN.”
            “I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by her,” Seth said.
            “Amazing writer.  And her detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, is the pinnacle of civilization, just so you know.” 
            “I’m sure.  But I thought you were glad to get away from murder.”
            She gave him a sheepish grin.  “Actually, I miss it a little.”  She rifled the pages.  “I’m kind of looking forward to getting back to it, to tell the truth.”
            And that was when a yellowed piece of paper, folded in quarters, fell out of the book.
            Bethany leaned over and picked it up, then gently unfolded it.  Seth looked over her shoulder.  It was handwritten, in a sloped, scrawly cursive.  It read:
I expect by the time anyone reads this, I’ll be dead.  Maybe long dead.  I’d tell the authorities, but who would believe me?  I tried to tell my uncle, because he’s the only one I can trust, and he just told me that I read too many fanciful stories and now I think they’re real.
Maybe, though, someone will find this.  So I guess I’ll talk directly to you, person in the future who is reading this; if I’m dead, it wasn’t an accident or natural causes or any of that sort of thing.  I was murdered because of what I heard at Denny Goldsmith’s funeral, and what I know because of it.
I’m not asking for revenge, or whatnot.  It’s just that I think someone should know the truth.  Even if it’s too late for me, the truth should get out somehow.
Martha Darnell

            “Wow,” Seth said, in a hushed voice.  “Be careful what you wish for.”
            Bethany turned toward him, her face a little pale.  “This has got to be a prank, right?  No one would do this seriously.”
            “I dunno.  It doesn’t sound like a prank.”
            One corner of Bethany’s mouth curled upwards a little.  “You can tell the difference?”
            “Yeah, I think I could.  Don’t you think if it was some kind of joke, they’d put in less detail?  Why mention names?  Just write, ‘I’m in danger.  People are trying to kill me, because of secret stuff.  Please send help!’  The names make me wonder.”
            “Hmm,” Bethany said, frowning.  “Maybe you’re right.”
            “Can I hold it?”
            Seth reached out and took the slip of paper, and pressed his fingertips against the faded print.  Through the point of contact, he got a confusing array of sensations; fear, distrust, arrogance, curiosity, anger.  And loneliness.  Pervasive, all-encompassing loneliness.
            He looked up to find Bethany watching him, her eyebrows drawn together in a concerned expression.  “What?” she said.  “What are you getting?”
            “Well,” he said, quietly, “it’s real, I think.  I’m assuming that the last person who held it was the one who wrote it – that’s the impression I’m getting.  And I think that the note is truthful at least in the sense that the person who wrote it thought she was being persecuted.  But whoever wrote it – Martha Darnell? – she was a drama queen.  Highly emotional.  And not very honest, I’d say.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that what she wrote was a lie.”
            “Well, we can see what the shopkeeper knows,” Bethany said.
            “Good luck with that.  He’s the human porcupine, as far as I can tell.”
            “Well, I can try.”  She turned, still holding the book in one hand and the note in the other, and walked across the wood-plank floor toward the register at the back of the store.  The sour-faced old man was standing behind the counter, leafing through some receipts, and didn’t look up until the third time Bethany said, “Excuse me?”
            “Yes?” he said, and gave a harsh little sigh of annoyance.
            “Do you know of families around here named Darnell and Goldsmith?”
            He looked at her through narrowed eyes for a moment, as if he was trying to figure out a good reason to refuse to answer.  Finally he said, his voice heavy with suspicion, “Yes.  Couple of Darnell families hereabout.  Matt and Lawrence Darnell.  Brothers.  Both live up on the north end of the village.  Lots of Goldsmiths.  Old family name in this part of the county.  Goldsmiths and Parkers and Jenkses, and a couple of others, founded this village back in the 1700s.”
            “How about a Martha Darnell and a Denny Goldsmith?”
            There was a long pause.  “Why’d you want to know about them?”  He peered over at the note, but Bethany had it angled upwards so he couldn’t read it from where he was standing.
            “Just curious,” she said, with a smile.
            “Both of ‘em died a long while back.  Maybe thirty years ago.”
            “And the two deaths – they happened right around the same time?”
            He frowned.  “Yes.  I reckon so.  But why…”
            “Do you know anything about how they died?”
            The old man had evidently reached his tolerance level for answering questions.  “Nope,” he said.
            “You’re sure about that?”
            “Yup,” he said, and his mouth shut tight.
            “I want to buy this book,” Bethany said, setting it down on the counter and tucking the note into her purse.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Flash Fiction Contest, Week 1

The Flash Fiction Contest is now live!  For the prompt, and to submit your entry, go to:

The rules are very simple: we give you a prompt and you write 500 words or less (including the prompt).

You can write in any style that you wish; just be sure to use the prompt exactly as it is shown, keep it under 500 words, write it in English, and ensure it's completely made up (this is a flash fiction challenge after all).

Next week Andrew and I will post links to the pieces we liked the best and will probably do a shout out on Twitter to those folks if they so desire. After a few months we'll compile a list of our favorites and we'll get the Internet to vote. The winner will win stuff (to be determined, but we're sure they'll love it).

Next week, I'll be hosting the contest, so watch for it.

Now, head over to Andrew's blog to submit your entry!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Flash fiction contest coming!

So here at Tales of Whoa we've got something new for all of you crazy writer-type folks.  I am happy to announce that I have teamed up with author Andrew Butters to run a weekly flash fiction contest!

Here's the basic low-down on how it will all unfold:
  • Every Wednesday we will post a prompt; sometimes just a word, sometimes a sentence, maybe even a picture 
  • Then, you leave a comment giving us 500 of your best words. It can be any genre or format that you wish, but it must follow the prompt and it must be totally made up (please, let's give ourselves a break from the real world for a few minutes, okay?)
  • The next week Andrew and I will give a shout out to the entries that we liked the best and we'll issue another prompt
  • Lather, rinse, repeat
Since both Andrew and I have blogs (Andrew's is called Potato Chip Math, and you should all subscribe to it because it's awesome), what we'll do is alternate the hosting of the prompt and capturing of the comments. Don't worry, though, when you come to either of the blogs there will be a redirect to the one hosting the prompt. We figured this would cause less confusion than starting up a whole separate blog just for this. Plus we would have had to come up with a fancy name for it and that seemed like a whole lot of work.

Oh, I forgot the best part! Every three or four months Andrew and I will comprise a short list of about 10 of the entries from that period and we'll put up a poll and have readers vote on which one they liked the most. After a voting period (exact amount of time still to be determined) the winner will receive free stuff! It will likely be free books written by either Andrew, myself, or someone who's graciously donated one for us to give away!

So gear up for some writing in 2014, and let's see what y'all come up with!