Monday, November 3, 2014


Welcome back! I won't take up your time reading a bazillion words from me. If you're like me, you're doing NaNo...and you need to spend your time writing. :) Go check out the prompt and take a break with something completely different from your NaNo project, or just use the line in your project somewhere to get things moving. Have fun!

If you haven't read the full version of the rules, go here. Otherwise, here's the short version:

1. Start with the given first sentence.
2. Up to 500 words
3. Keep it clean (nothing rated R or above)
4. Optional Special Challenge
5. Stories submitted must be your own work, using characters and worlds that you have created. Sorry, no fanfiction.
6. Include: Twitter/email, word count, Special Challenge accepted
7. The challenge is open for 24 hours on Tuesday EST

Oh, and feel free to change pronounspunctuationtense, and anything in brackets to fit the story/pov/tone. I'm not going to be TOO picky... Our judge however...

Our Judge today is Michael Simko. Read his winning tale from last week here! Michael is a story teller who writes novels, shorts, and dabbles in flash fiction. He's a father of two, a lover of storms, and works as an engineer and instructor. He is a regular contributor to (he's the barkeep). He can be found on Twitter at @MichaelSimko1.

 Your first sentence for FINISH THAT THOUGHT #2-18 is:

The first time you hear [their] screams is [always] the hardest.

 Your SPECIAL CHALLENGE from the judge is:

Incorporate at least THREE spices. 



  1. Last Dance
    481 Words
    Challenge Accepted

    “The first time you hear their screams is always the hardest,” she told me, “or so I've heard. None of mine have ever screamed. But, if it happens to you, don't let it get to you; it's just the air releasing from the inside the bugs.”
    “Quit calling them 'bugs', Jenny," I said, “or I won't be able to enjoy the linguine.”
    She shrugged. “It's all the same to me, you're the one who wanted my recipe.”
    I scowled. She was right; Valentine's Day was coming, and I wanted a special dish to present to Jorge.
    “You're going all out,” she said, “serving lobster and everything. Are you anticipating something special?” She tapped her wedding ring meaningfully.
    “I dunno,” I admitted. I put my head down and doodled a lobster claw in my notebook. Jorge and I had been dating for two years. I'd started hinting at engagement after our six month anniversary, which had changed dynamics of our relationship into a bizarre game – me, dropping hints about marriage, and him, dancing his way around them.
    He was good looking, and good company, so I'd tolerated the dancing. But, I was growing tired of calendar dates, pregnant with romantic possibility, coming and going without him asking that question which would propel our relationship to the next level. I'd determined that this Valentine's Day would be the last that I would endure this romantic purgatory. No question this year would mean the end of Jorge's dancing.
    I didn't want to tell Jenny any of that, so I brought the subject back to linguine.
    “Let's say I've got them cooked, survived the screaming, and all that. Then what?”
    “Okay, so, I forgot to tell you. You need to get some Old bay seasoning and toss it in the water with the bugs. It's sold in the supermarket, by the garlic and basil and stuff.”
    I made a note about the Old Bay and nodded.
    “So, okay, you've got them cooked, cleaned and shelled, time to make the pasta.”
    Jenny droned on for several minutes about preparing the linguine, and I dutifully made my notations. Meanwhile, I was remembering of the many dances of Jorge. I thought about the two weddings we'd attended together, how I'd cried while he'd shifted uncomfortably in the pew next to me. I remembered two Birthday dinners that were lovely, but perfunctory, rushed through so we wouldn't miss opening kick-offs. I recalled other occasions of disappointment, not even related to the question of engagement, moments when I'd felt back-burnered, and un-important.
    I wasn't angry, I realized, and I wasn't hurt. In that moment, I realized that I'd quit caring enough to be hurt some weeks ago. Sitting there, I began to understand that, question or no question, I was ready to make this my last supper with Jorge.
    “And that's all there is to it,” Jenny said, “I hope I've been helpful.”
    “You've been super-helpful, Jenny,” I replied, closing my notebook, “I know exactly what to do, now.”

  2. Alissa, word count is actually 500 exactly. This word count is from a previous draft. Sorry!

  3. The Harvest

    The first time you hear their screams is always the hardest. It hurts your soul deep inside where no one else can see it, leaving scar tissue behind. It begins when you are an Apprentice, only fourteen years old and have just taken your draught of Dragon's Blood, so thick, dark black and vile tasting, which lets you hear the voices of all the plants and all the animals. It's the first time your Master directs you to perform the deed. You will always remember the way they begged and pled for mercy and their lives. How they squirmed and twisted in the hard grasp of your hands as you raised the razor-edged silver athame, claiming them. The days elapse and you become inured to it. Months turn into years and you begin to take a dark, twisted pleasure in their sacrifice. You turn into a fiend.

    You anticipate the ocassion, waiting impatiently. You plot and plan from the end of one season to the beginning of another. You ruthlessly weed out the weak and inferior, picking out your Chosen, taking only the biggest, the best, and the brightest. You turn it into a ritual. You take pride in the precsion of each stab and every slice, expressing your individuality, your style, your artistry. You experiment with spices, adding a pinch of cinnamon, a dash of ginger, a sprinkle of nutmeg ,or a smidgeon of ground cloves. You make it into a competition. How many can you complete in an hour, a day, or a week? How exotic, bizzare, or extreme can you make them? You study and practice relentlessly, seeking to become first better, then best, and finally infamous. It consumes your being, driving your every thought, action, and mood. It is your be all and end all. Until all that exist is the Harvest. That's the big downside to being a Cooking Wizard, when it comes time to reap your living pumpkinpatch, carve out your Jack'O Lanterns and make your holiday pies.

    333 Words
    Special Challenge Accepted

  4. Prophet

    500 words; @weylyn42; no special challenge

    The first time you hear her screams is always the hardest. They say this as if you get used to the sound. And judging from their faces, maybe they did. But you'll be different. You've been hired as a caregiver.

    You first see her from behind the plexiglass wall, a bedroom with none of the things you expect in a child's room. No toys, no books. Just stacks of drawings of paper that spill over desk, bed, chair. Spread across the floor, taped and tacked to the walls and ceiling.

    Tape marks show some had been on the glass, but those are long gone. She is asleep, curled up with charcoal in her chubby fingers, arms gathering stray pages to her like a stuffed animal. She so rarely sleeps, one of them says.

    Enjoy it while you can, says the other.

    You don't realize how quiet it is until hours later, when the scream breaks through the paperwork haze. The HR worker looks up, eyes pinched. She points to the last places you need to sign. You do, but your hands shake as the piercing cry echoes from the walls, digging into that tender spot behind your eyes.

    Can't she be comforted, you ask, hands pressed against your ears the the next day. They shake their head, they've tried, nothing works. One of them finally takes pity and gives you earplugs.

    Sometimes she eats, but most of the time the tray is ignored for stacks of fresh paper and her charcoal, pens, markers and crayons.

    You watch, make suggestions for how she should be cared for - different foods, different toys, different coats on the people collecting the pages. But your predecessors have tried all of these things, during their varied lengths of tenure. At month two you surprise people by still being around.

    And the screams become commonplace, part of the job. But they never get easier. That was a lie.

    Your head pounds, and you review the list of everything you've tired. Everything anyone has tried. You don't ask about the drawings, the predictions, that's not your purview. She is.

    Pounding on the glass now accompanies the screams. She's out of paper - someone will be by to refresh it soon.

    But the pounding continues, and no one is around. Frustrated and in pain, you scoop up the papers you are working on, and head to the door.

    She looks at you, stops pounding, still screaming.

    You ignore the page in front of her, the explosion and fiery death she sees, this child, this prophet. You crouch down, laying fresh paper in front of her. She starts drawing again. A broken body of a boy, a few years older than her, appears on the page. Tears run down your face as you realize you've failed to protect her. Someone else should be here, not you.

    On a whim, a goodbye of sorts, you pull her into your arms.

    Her drawing slows, but doesn't stop.

    But the screaming does.

  5. When the wind blows...

    499 words Special challenge accepted @geofflepard

    The first time you hear their screams is always the hardest. You're alone, that's why and no one explains. There are precious few of us and we're thought mad by the standards Society sets. All sorts of frightening things happen to you as you grow. Injections, abandoned at school, your first period. But there's someone there with an arm around the shoulder, a kindly word. Someone understands. Even those who can't, they try and empathise.
    That's because these shocks are normal and there is someone to pass on their experience.
    But if you're gifted and you try and explain, they frown, they tell you not to be silly and then they shy away.
    I suppose it helps that tree empathy doesn't develop until adulthood. It is difficult to know exactly - people don't talk about it, do they? It is my belief it only affects child bearing age women, something to do with fertility. For some it's just a background hiss, like a tingling tinnitus which sets your nerves on edge. For others like me it's a cacophony of sounds, usually suppressed but you'd better be ready when they roar.
    Autumn is the worst. Branches broken in the wind, men with chainsaws hacking off limbs. That first scream, a blood freezing stiletto cuts to the soul, punches out the wind and leaves you reeling. You look around, convinced someone has been decapitated and yet everyone else carries on as normal. It's because you don't know where it comes from and no one else hears it that makes it so awful. It took me three months before I was sure.
    I've tried drugs, booze, tranquillisers you name it. Loud music. You know the only thing that works? Fruit. Well anything the trees give willingly. Spices are best. Strong flavours. They soften the agony. It doesn't go completely. Cloves, cinnamon sticks, if they've not been cut off, nutmeg are best. Nutmeg is my favourite. If there's a storm coming I chew a nutmeg. Does your teeth no favours, mind.
    Look, it's not all bad. When a tree is laden with fruit, in those days before they drop, they breathe out their joy. It's like a long sigh of achievement that wraps every molecule of your being. And the drop itself is a painless and ecstatic birth. Why did God give that to trees and not us?
    I was lucky. Most of us are either locked away, slowly driven mad by the anguish around us or we take our own way out. Hanging inevitably. My father knew I wasn't lying. He couldn't watch me deteriorate so did the only possible thing. He bought me this wood. No one can chop or cut or saw here. Storms are bad but they're not often and I have my spice cabinet to help.
    What do they say? If a tree falls in a wood and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? What about me? When will anyone hear my screams?

  6. The interrogation. By Mark Driskill
    wc 497 not counting title
    “The first time you hear their screams is always the hardest.” Damien calmly explained, extinguishing his last smoke. He spoke with a sickening sentimental sweetness that made my skin crawl. Never have I sat in on an interrogation quite like this. It’s the kind of conversation that leaves you numb on the inside, and slimy on the outside. Trying to look deep into his eyes and find a speck of humanity was about as effective as staring into a pit of tar hoping to find a tiny diamond. My neck hair bristled at every detail of the crimes, spoken with no more emotion than if he had been talking about the weather. His story was like a lost car on a dark old mountain road twisting and weaving up and down in and out. The ride was as nauseating. One moment I teared up with pity at every detail of his past life, the next I was repulsed at his arrogance and lack of remorse. How could such a monster live in the tiny, seemingly frail frame that sat across from me in that dark room? I asked to be excused when they showed him the pictures and asked him to identify his victims. But then I couldn't leave when I saw how he treated each photo as if he were looking through a family album. The cuts, the scraping, seemed to fill him with glee at points. What really got to me though was the way he spoke of some of his crimes. “This one was so easy. I really enjoyed how the eyes came out.” And “Oh look, I really botched that one. I should have used a better knife for a smoother cut.” This made me want to scream out, “What kind of animal are you?” But All I could do was sit frozen in disbelief.
    It had taken a week of following scene after scene to finally bring him in. What was almost as shocking as the crimes was the way he was caught. The police say he was sitting calmly on his porch, sipping a cup of tea. He looked up at the officers, with their guns drawn, and said, “Oh I’m so glad you came. I was just thinking I’m a little tired and would love some rest.” Then he walked over and gingerly held out his wrists, and asked to be taken in. For the next two hours I sat listening to his story. After I had heard all I could stand I assured him that, despite my disdain for his horrendous crimes, I was required by law to give him the best defense possible. “But” I warned, “The court isn't going to be very lenient on someone who does this sort of thing. I mean, stealing Halloween pumpkins from your neighbors and carving funny faces on them just so you can hear people scream is at the very least a misdemeanor. But I’ll see what I can do.”

  7. “Killing Time”
    by Michael Seese
    487 words

    Special Challenge ACCEPTED. There are 5 spices... can YOU find them all?

    The first time you hear their screams is always the hardest. Quickly, though, it becomes downright comical. Of course, if you don’t want to hear it, aim for the throat. That shuts them up right away, aside from the gurgling.

    I like to go killing at sunrise. The long shadows make it easier to spot them. And with the sun in their eyes, they have a harder time seeing me. I’m not big on fair fights.

    Though it’s not like the hunt is anywhere near fair.

    First, my ride is second-to-none. I go out in a standard issue U.S. Army Humvee, which I picked up... let’s just say “for a steal.” Armor plated. Run-flat tires. Bulletproof glass. With that baby, I don’t even need a gun. I could just drive the streets and run over them. But where’s the fun in that? Besides, my arsenal is sweet. If you’ve seen it, read about it, or used it in a video game, I’ve probably got it. I even have a flame thrower on order; I can’t wait until that arrives.

    I like to give my customers options.

    Some people want to pepper a whole crowd. Score as many kills as possible. Those are the ones who ask for an Uzi. I prefer precision. There’s something almost beautiful about taking off the top of a skull, and watching the guy standing there, not realizing at first that half his brain went with it. Though once, I did borrow a friend’s AK-47. Shot a line from his crotch straight up, and clove him right in half.

    I suppose if I really thought about it, I might have trouble sleeping at night. After all, killing is killing, whether you’re talking about a bird or a human. The women, especially, tend to get all misty about it. I just tell them to do what works for me. Don’t look at them as humans. Try to see them in a different light. Think of them as big, gross hairy bugs which need to be stepped on. That usually helps.

    The left-wing, touchy-feely crowd think I’m a jerk. But I don’t care. It’s not like I need to curry any favors from them. They’re not my customers. My patrons are your good old-fashioned, red white and blue, red state, heavily armed (and heavily bankrolled) members of the right. The kind of folks who screamed every time the government even looked funny at the Second Amendment.

    That is, back when we had a Constitution.

    My life sure has turned around this year. Six months ago I was a lowly criminal. A bunch of armed robberies and a B&E or two to my name. Then came the rapid-fire (sorry... sometimes I can’t help myself) turn of events.

    The collapse of the SALT III talks.


    The construction of the wall between us and the “hot zone.”

    And the establishment of my cash cow...

    “Mutant Safari, Inc.”

  8. Secret Masala

    The first time you hear the screams is supposed to be the hardest, but honestly, it never gets easier. Even now, as you struggle with the anemone-like tendrils of the yaksi twined around the cinnamon stick, its shrieks frazzle your nerves like a nutmeg grater.

    You retreat and poke your head into the den.

    There he is, lounging in the window box. His expression is golden despite the thick clouds leadening the afternoon. He catches sight of you and beams a sunny smile your way. Your heart does this little lopsided leap it hasn’t done in years.

    "Are you sure you wouldn’t want a latte?" you suggest.

    He shakes his head. "Too acidic. Havoc on the stomach."

    He wants chai. "Okay." Cloves, black pepper, cardamom, ginger.

    "But if it’s too much trouble…"

    "Not at all!" you pipe. Dying a little inside, you close yourself back in the kitchen. The spice tins rustle all around you.

    It was too soon. You hadn’t been adequately seasoned when the kitchen bojha passed to you at Auntie Maya’s death, a legacy too longlasting to ignore.

    You remember that first day, introduced to the forbidden realm of Auntie’s kitchen. The honor of it shattered when the turmeric started screeching.

    Auntie laughed her gravel laugh and you learned about the yaksi, tiny protector spirits of the masala, coiled like naga around each spice.

    "Do they all do that?" you asked Auntie, not sure whether you felt horror or pity. They screamed like she was slaughtering their babies.

    When you suggested getting some yaksi-free spices from the market, she beat you with a ladle. The bojhi had been passed from maiden aunt to maiden niece. Who were you to break it?

    It’s still hard.

    You pry gnarled limbs off the ginger root. It keens as you slice off a sliver. The black pepper yaksi gnashes its teeth as you wrest the corns from its clutches. Chanting the mantra Auntie taught you, you distill the rage of the yaksi by patient alchemy until peace wafts up from the pot.

    He sips the chai and hums with pleasure. One cup and he’s yours.

    You don’t mean for it to happen. You resigned yourself to lifelong virginity. After all, the bojhi belongs to the childless, as a magical dowry to those housing a barren woman, or to preserve a widow from sati. As far as you know, a Westerner’s never been exposed to the masala magic.

    Had you known, you would’ve invited a gent home sooner.

    You smile into the warm darkness, listening to the ruffling of his sleeping breath. Wouldn’t it be something if you were pregnant? If, like your virginity, your infertility weren’t a given.

    A rustling under the door douses your afterglow. Your body cements itself to the sheets. The yaksi slither toward you. You realize, in a flood of fear and sorrow, none of bojhi women were barren—they’d been harvested.

    Now it’s your turn to scream. The yaksi don’t find it the least bit hard.

    500 words
    Special Challenge consumed

  9. Concerts: Performances of Life
    by @CharlesWShort

    “The first time you hear their screams is always the hardest.”

    We used these words to try and console each other, and the few visitors who came to our house. None of them ever returned. I think the ear-splitting shrieks were too much for children our age to endure.

    But it was alright, because we came to dislike having company. You see, we had to ignore the sounds, since we were there all the time. After a while your brain doesn’t register the cries, even though your ears still hear them. You can’t help but hear them. When a visitor lifted their head to listen, it called our attention to the sound again. It would remind us of the terrible nature of where we lived.

    I was seven when we moved into that shack. My brother was an older, wiser ten. He had seen more of the world, and he seemed to have a better idea of what was happening. But our mother forbade him to speak of it to me. She didn’t want me to know what the noises made plain enough.

    The clatter of machinery formed the base notes. Shrieks of terror mixed with—so much more—formed the tenor. We could never quite picture what it was in between, that formed the alto in the nightly concerts of our pain and injustice.

    It was a horrible thing to experience as a child, but the other locations we might have afforded were even worse. At least, that was the decision of our mother. She was the one who had to work to pay the rent. We would live here, where the rent was low, because no one else wanted to live constantly listening to the bedlam.

    Five years later I could no longer claim apathy or innocence to what was taking place. I had peeked through holes in the fence. I had asked a million questions. My sense of injustice was boiling over.

    It was about that time that a man began showing up more and more often, paying attention to momma. The year I turned fourteen, he married my mom, and we moved away from there. We no longer live in poverty. Our new home is large, safe, and quiet. At first we thought we would never hear those sounds again.

    Then our new daddy bought us season tickets. We went to the amusement park at least once a week. We found the alto voices were barkers on the midway. We felt the rumble of the bass as the machines lifted us up, and we threw our voices into the tenor parts of the nightly concert, on the way down.

    For us, it was no longer a concert of hopelessness, but of fulfilled dreams. From the top of the ferris wheel I could see they were tearing down the old shack. I was glad to see it go.

    I was sad to see it go. I want to always remember what it was like before.

    497 words, devoid of any mention of spices.