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Last Chance

Last Chance

And not just in the tournament.
Contest ended 1 year ago 3/26/2013 12:00:00 AM EDT

Contest Info

  • Cost: 5 credits
  • Jackpot: 100 credits

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First Place
# 1
By Brendan (Score: 7.294)
6

"I'm still not sure about this," Gareth said as the elevation pod descended.

"Too late now," Lotus replied. "We paid in advance. We're here. Let's make the most of it."

"You always get your way," he said.

"I'm willing to try to make this work. If I weren't, we wouldn't be here."

Below them, through the walls of the pod, they could see the lush canopy of Planet Turia stretching to the eastern horizon. To the north, pristine beaches gave way to a glittering sea.

"It's beautiful," Lotus said, placing her fingers on the glass. As a Magnifier, she had a natural ability to enhance The Power. The vista's splendor was a thousand times more thrilling to her than it could ever be to Gareth. He was a Producer, with the ability to create Power but never to enhance it.

"For what this is costing us, it had better be," he said.

"Can't you just appreciate the view?"

"Those trees are probably swarming with bugs."

They had been together for three years, and everyone said that Producers and Magnifiers made perfect couples. While it was certainly true in the bedroom, the attraction that had first brought Lotus and Gareth together hadn't been enough to overcome their philosophical differences. They each saw the universe a different way, and argued constantly.

They had come to Turia, home of Madame Mazel's Couples Retreat, in a last-ditch effort to rekindle their relationship.

***

"Lotus," Madame Mazel said. She was clasping a steaming chalice of Turian leaf-brew between two of her six hands. Bronze bracelets dangled from her many wrists. "Why won't you talk about what's really holding you back?"

"Because it's none of your business," Gareth replied, annoyed.

"Now, now," Mazel said. "There mustn't be secrets here. Not if Madame Mazel is to place you on the pretty, pebbled path to eternal love. If you won't reveal all, then I am blind."

They chuckled awkwardly at that, for Madame Mazel had no eyes. Her mouth was at the tip of a slender stalk that protruded from her face, and when she spoke, it bobbed up and down.

"We want different things," Lotus said. "That's the key issue. We have different approaches to solving problems. Gareth wants ... he always wants to think big. To kill a hundred birds with one stone. Me ... I want to take the bird apart and analyze it."

"Analyze it to death," Gareth said. "I'm a Producer, she's a Magnifier. I have so much Power ... I could really be somebody. I could set the world on fire, but she's holding me back. She dictates everything. Wants to do things her way."

He heard Lotus stifle a giggle. Here he was, trying to open up, and she was laughing at him!

"Our galaxy contains a billion civilized worlds," Mazel said sagely. "We all look at them differently. Consider my husband and me. Only last week, he got around to telling me that he doesn't like gurglebruk, and I've been serving him roasted gurglebruk for a hundred years."

The mouth-stalk bobbed up and down, and Gareth heard Lotus trying to conceal another giggle. He realized she wasn't laughing at him, but at Mazel.

Come to think of it, the renowned relationship counselor was rather silly-looking. That ridiculous, twitching mouth.

"So what?" Mazel continued, oblivious. "Does that mean we can't be partners? Why focus on that which makes you different? Isn't there something you both love? A passion you share?"

Her mouth-stalk bobbed, and this time Lotus giggled aloud, and Gareth laughed along with her.

Lotus nodded. "Yes. There is something."

"We have a hobby," Gareth said. "Something we both enjoy. But that's where Lotus is holding me back. I have such Power ...."

"Yes, so you said," Mazel said. "But you didn't say which Power. Mine is Insight. My husband is also a Producer, and his is Music. Our sons are Magnifiers, but our daughter, her Power is Animalspeak. What is yours?"

Gareth told her, and Mazel shrank back.

"That isn't funny." She clutched her cup closer. "Madame Mazel, she doesn't like jokes."

"He isn't joking," Lotus said. "And like I told you, we both have the same hobby. Maybe you're right. Maybe we don't always have to do things my way."

Madame Mazel had the Power of Insight, but she rarely used it. Most of her clients required no effort; a few hours of listening to her catchphrases, followed by two days in the Turian sunshine, strolling the beach and promenade, were sufficient to send them home with their love lives recharged. She hated to waste Power unnecessarily.

But now she used it to peer into Gareth and Lotus, and she saw the hobby they shared. Saw and heard it vividly: the flashing knives, the desperate shrieks. Saw them bathed in blood ... smiling at each other, coming together, tasting their victims on each other's lips.

It was always Lotus in control. Lotus relished the intimacy of a single, individual encounter. Each scream and whimper sent shivers of pleasure down her spine. She wielded a blade with the finesse of a surgeon, and cherished the magical moment when she saw the light vanish from another's eyes.

But Gareth longed for more ... much more. He longed to dominate, to conquer hundreds at a single stroke. No, not hundreds. Thousands.

Millions.

And with his Power ....

"I suppose we could give it a try," Lotus said, looking into Gareth's eyes. "Just this once."

"No," Mazel said. The chalice fell and shattered. "Wait ...."

"Do you really mean it?" Gareth asked. He held out his hand, and Lotus's fingers twined with his. She could feel The Power surging through his body, waiting to be unleashed.

"Yes," she whispered, smiling. "I'm ready to try."

"You have no idea what this means to me," Gareth said, and unleashed his Power in a single, orgasmic rush.

Lotus Magnified it, and it surged from their bodies like a tidal wave. There was a bright orange flash. Madame Mazel's flesh boiled before pouring from her bones. The wall behind her blew out like flimsy paper.

Beyond Mazel's quarters, the posh Turian Restaurant went up in a fireball. Lotus closed her eyes as the screams began. The sound enhanced her arousal; she threw back her head and moaned with primal ecstasy, and the Magnification intensified. The patio area, where diners had been enjoying afternoon cocktails, became a mile-high column of flame. The surge of Power reached the edge of the crowded beaches, turning sand to glass, and water to steam, and howling tourists to slag and cinders.

Near the far end of the retreat compound, the cozy ocean-view bungalows began to explode, one by one, all in a row.

And still The Power churned outward. Gareth and Lotus clutched each other more tightly as their excitement grew. A Turian porter, the same one who had carried their bags to their room, ran past with his hair and hands on fire. An acre of rainforest became an inferno. Then another.

"You were right," Lotus gasped, exhilarated. "I'd still like to do it my way once in a while, but this is fun."

"I love you," Gareth replied.

And he meant it.

Word count: 1195
 
Second Place
# 2
By Sumax1 (Score: 6.984)
7

The email shocked her.

Heather,
My wife and I have decided to make another go of it, so I feel it only right to let you know that our relationship is at an end. Please don’t try to change my mind.
Tony

Two years! Two bloody years, and you treat me with such contempt? You won’t take my calls on your cell phone and your secretary won’t put me through at the office, so is this what we’ve come to? You ditching me by email? How spineless! I don’t understand why you haven’t shown me the courtesy of telling me face-to-face. I’m heartbroken and I want to meet for one last time at least. I want you to tell me to my face. Call it closure. H

Heather,
The reason I don’t want to meet up is because you’ll get hysterical and beg me to stay, etc. and you know I can’t take that. Let’s just be grown up and call it a day.
Tony

Why is it that men call a woman hysterical if they even so much as complain? All I want is for us to meet up again and say a proper goodbye. Half of me thinks you’re running scared because you care for me more than you want to admit. Are you worried that you’ll capitulate and get back with me? If this isn’t the case, why not be a true gentleman and face me? Why are you treating me so badly? Will you at least come round for one last martini? I can then feel that we have said goodbye on a personal level. I promise not to cry or to make a fuss. H.

Heather,
You’re right. I have been a bit of a coward about this. It’s just that I don’t want to unduly string this out, and although I know I’ve hurt you, I can’t take the crying and the shouting thing. Please know that I won’t be swayed. I’ll come round at 6pm on Thursday evening for a farewell drink and, as you state, closure. Please don’t embarrass yourself by trying to make me change my mind about us. It’s over Heather and there’s no way back. Please don’t continue this correspondence. I’ll see you on Thursday evening.
Tony.

***

Thursday:
Heather stood by the kitchen sink looking out of the window. He usually came via the back yard, well away from the twitching curtains on the main road; such being the way of illicit lovers. Not for them the proud promenade down the street, arm in arm; he displaying her publicly among a swarm of people. Theirs had been a two-year hole-in-the-wall closeted twosome affair.

He’d park his car in the adjacent road and walk down the back alley dividing the yards. She always unlocked the back gate when she knew he was coming and had, throughout their time together, taken the precaution of oiling the hinges on a regular basis so that they couldn’t squeakily announce that someone had entered the yard.

He was over an hour late and that wasn’t like him at all. His lateness made her nervous. Was he chickening out? Should she call him on his cell phone? No! Don’t do that, she thought.

She wouldn’t cry, but she had to know if there was one last chance that he would change his mind. She would have to ask, but somehow she was prepared for the answer. Or perhaps she wasn’t. She couldn’t bear the fact that she would never feel his strong bronzed arms around her again.

He would never leave his wife. She knew that now, but perhaps he could be persuaded to keep the arrangement as it was. She should never have pushed him to divorce his wife. Tony wasn’t the type to be dictated to. She’d now willingly settle for what she could get.

She walked to the bottom of the yard and checked the gate was unlocked. She knew it was, but it gave her something to do. All eventualities kept her mind in continuous turmoil, making her more and more nervous about this evening; but he’d relented and agreed to come - surely that was a good sign, wasn’t it? All she wanted now was this one last chance, either to save their relationship, or to say goodbye. She deserved that at the very least.

Don’t cry Heather. Don’t start wheedling or begging. Please keep your dignity, she repeated to herself.

She knew what he would be thinking. He’d be thinking that she would plead with him and make the meeting an emotional wrestling match. He was thinking that she’d want to know what had made him decide to give her up and now be faithful to his wife. He was thinking she’d try and keep him as a lover. He’d be thinking that it was probably going to be more trouble than it was worth. He’d be thinking that she’d tell him she’d given him the best years of her life … and all for nothing. He’d be thinking that she’d cry and cause a fuss. He’d be thinking ….

Maybe he wouldn’t come.

She’d mixed their favourite dry martinis an hour ago. The ice was melted and she threw the concoction down the sink, starting all over again. This time she’d put the cocktail shaker in the fridge to keep the temperature just so.

So she waited and waited.

He wasn’t coming. She was on her own then. Perhaps it was just as well.

His lateness had now reconciled her to his decision, and confirmed her feeling that she wasn’t important enough to him to care about her frame of mind tonight. It may have taken her some time, but now her illusions about the depth of their love for each other were well and truly shattered. He just wasn’t worthy of her devotion.

She freshened up the martini mix and, with a deep sigh, she poured herself one, replacing the cocktail shaker in the fridge.

She’d just taken a sip, when he entered silently through the kitchen door. His face told her that he would brook no scenes. She was just too pleased to see him to say anything. She smiled a hello and, opening the fridge, she poured another dry martini. Placing a green olive in the drink, she handed it to him and, as she always did, she clinked his glass with hers.

She could see he was tense and prepared for a hard time. His face was strained. He drained the glass in one go, as he always did, and she sipped hers, as she always did.

Her hands were shaking as she emptied the remains of the cocktail shaker into his empty glass and again clinked it with her glass. He thanked her.

Now they’d be together always, she thought, as he dropped his glass and started to choke and grasp at the air around him. She sipped some more of the poison, only too willing to join him in death, albeit more slowly. She was so glad he’d managed to make their final meeting after all.

Word count: 1182
 
Third Place
# 3
By Vercingetorix (Score: 6.926)
9

I decided abruptly that I must be dead, and that this must be the afterlife. But why would I think that? I don't remember anything else, just this place. White walls, bars on the windows, and a swarm of shuffling forms wandering purposelessly about all busy mumbling echoes of a life now escaped from their grasp. And the TV. Oprah was on.

I liked Oprah.

I sat down to watch, letting her celebrity gossip and chatter flow over me. I nodded kindly to Bill, my old college friend who always watched the TV with me. We'd been best friends since the 60's, and not marriage, not children, not moving to different countries could really separate us. "Huh, what'd'ya think of that, Bill," I asked, referring to whatever juicy gossip Oprah had just revealed.

Bill looked at me strangely and wheeled away in her chair. Her? Bill wasn't supposed to be a her. Something tickled the top of my spine, right where the head meets the neck.

I scratched at it, and the feeling went away. I looked around aimlessly. I didn't recognize the program, looked like one of those afternoon chat shows that always come and go. Somebody was playing chess with themselves, so I moseyed on over to see if he'd mind a partner.

The man playing chess seemed to recognize me, and gestured for me to sit down while quickly putting all the pieces back in their starting positions. "You going to finish a game today, Tom," he asked.

I hesitated before sitting down. "Do I know you?"

"We play a couple moves of chess nearly every day, and I know you, but I guess you still don't know me."

I sat down, finally recognizing him. His name was Vincent something; I could never pronounce his last name even when I had it written down in front of me. It was always us playing for the school chess championship. One year I'd win it, the next he would. It was senior year this year, so now we were playing for all the marbles. "Good luck, Vince," I said cordially, "but I'm going to graduate with the trophy. And I've been practicing since last year, won't let you dictate the match like you did then, no I'll show you how it's done this time."

Vince shrugged, e4. I quickly countered e5. He moved d4. I paused to consider my options. No need to hurry through this; it wasn't a timed game. Was it? I looked around to see if there was a time clock that I should have been hitting. There wasn't one on the table, so I looked around for a judge. There was somebody over there watching us. I'd better go clarify the rules with them.

"Excuse me," I said, getting up. "Be right back."

"Later, Tom." He started to play both sides. I had something I was going to do anyway. I walked briskly in the direction I thought I had to go and came to a window. I pulled up a nearby chair and sat for a while, just watching the trees sway in the wind.

"Mr. Emmerton?" A voice behind me was looking for somebody. "Tom?" I turned around to see what was going on.

"We've got somewhere to go today, Tom," the woman said to me. Her bronzed skin made her seem like something from out of this world, where everything was white and all the bodies pale and sickly. I decided that I'd better follow her, in case she was an angel.

She led me down the promenade to a parked car, opening the door for me and buckling me in without saying another word.

Trees, buildings, cars, people, everything flew by like a half-remembered dream. I pinched myself to see if I was sleeping, but it didn't stop the images from racing by. I closed my eyes to try and make it stop.

A woman was shaking me awake. I was at a hospital; I could tell just by the look of the building, I didn't even need to look at the name of it. So this must be a nurse, I thought, looking at the woman. Her tanned skin showed signs of age and stress. I didn't envy the people who had to work in these places, surrounded by the sick and dying. Too hard of a job. I installed carpets all my life, which took a toll on the body for sure, but at least it wasn’t a constant emotional drain.

She led me into the hospital, checking in at reception. We went up an elevator, around turns, down corridors. There were no bars on any of the windows. That seemed strange to me for a second, but I wasn't sure why. I didn't remember my room being so far away either, but when the women with the hats took you somewhere, you just assumed that they knew better than you.

We finally arrived. There was an old woman lying in a bed, alone in the room. She had all sorts of wires and tubes coming off of her. The door closed behind me, leaving me inside with the old woman.

"Funny how you can lose your mind and have a perfectly healthy body, and I'd lose my body while having a perfectly healthy mind. We always did complete each other though, didn’t we Tom?"

She seemed to be talking to herself. I looked around apprehensively, pretending out of politeness that I wasn't listening.

The old woman sighed heavily, causing her to hack and cough as if the simple act of breathing were hard for her. "I don't know if there's much of you left in there Tom, but I just wanted to try. The doctors say my heart's just about ticked its last, and they want to try some newfangled machine on me. But I just feel it in my bones that I won't make it through this one."

I sat down, a little tired of standing. "Do they serve coffee here," I asked. Little caffeine would get me through the day just fine.

She motioned me closer and rested her hand on mine. She was all skin and bones, no strength left to actually hold on. "I said my goodbyes to you a long time ago, but I just wanted one last chance to see you."

I held her hand firmly and stood up. "I'll miss you, Martha," I said, kissing my wife's emaciated forehead. "Love you."

Tears welled up in her eyes. "I know. Now get out of here before we ruin this."

I took her directions and left the room. A woman was waiting outside for me. She had a little hat on. I had to follow the women with the hats.

As we drove away, I watched the sun set through the window. I felt profoundly empty, drained, as if part of me were missing and could never be replaced. Something was gone forever, but I couldn't put my finger on what it was. But the feeling didn't go away.

Word count: 1176
 
4
By Merbley (Score: 6.587)
6

Horns blared as the elephant calmly stepped into the busy intersection.

"This was yet another of your bright ideas," Jake growled.

"At least I have ideas," Christina responded. "Everything was going fine until you climbed on." She grabbed his arm for balance as the elephant dogged a minivan.

"Don't blame me for this one. You're the one who arranged for the elephant in the first place."

"Yeah, for your daughter. You know how much she wanted an elephant at her birthday party. I thought she should have at least one positive memory of her childhood before her useless dad leaves."

"Of course, It's all my fault. Must be nice to be Miss Perfect and never do anything wrong."

"That's not true. I married - " Christina screamed as a city bus bore down on them. The pachyderm shook his head in annoyance at the shrill sound. Tires squealed on hot pavement as the bus screeched to a stop.

"Quiet, you're upsetting the elephant," Jake hissed. "Good boy, that's a good boy. Take us back to the party…"

"He's not bothered by a bus, but my scream annoys him? Really? And do you think that elephant has any clue what you're saying? What are we going to do? All our daughter's going to remember about her fifth birthday is that her parents were killed by an elephant."

"People killed by elephants die from trampling, not from riding. It's the people in front of us who should be scared. Now shut up and hang on. I need to find a way to stop this big boy."

"Where do you think he's going?"

"Do I look like the Elephant Whisperer?" Jake asked. "For all I know, he's searching for his lost love."

"Maybe this saddle is digging into his spine."

"I don't think it's called a saddle."

"Oh, so sorry. Let me rephrase. Maybe this beautiful bronze seat lined with red silk and adorned with golden tassels and where we are currently sitting is annoying the delicate spine of our mount. Better?"

"Much. Thanks."

"Jake."

"Yeah."

"We're on top of an elephant. A runaway elephant. Wandering around town."

"Yeah. Crazy, huh?" Jake started to chuckle. "Can you believe it?"

"As you said, better to be on top than in front. Did you see the look on that bus driver's face?" Christina started to giggle. "Wonder what he was thinking?"

"'Oh my gosh! There's an elephant in my lane!""

"No, I know! 'Darned woman drivers, shouldn't be driving an elephant if you don't know what you're doing."

"Ha! I agree with that!"

Christina punched him lightly on the shoulder. "No you don't, you've never complained about my driving."

"Well, you're not doing so good with this elephant..."

Suddenly, the elephant picked up his pace. The howdah rocked back and forth, throwing Christina against Jake.

"Hold on tight, it's going to be a rough ride," Jake said.

"Wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard that," Christina muttered.

"I never heard any complaints," Jake said with a smile.

"No, there were some things we got right."

Sirens wailed in the distance, coming closer and closer.

"Sounds like the cavalry is on its way."

"About time. Have you looked around us?"

For the first time, Christina took her eyes off of the elephant and glanced around. A swarm of people had formed behind them, most holding up cell phones to take pictures and video. Christina buried her face in Jake's shoulder.

"Great. I'm going to be all over You Tube tonight. I can see the titles, 'Mom Ruins Daughter's Birthday by Running Off with Elephant.'"

"I think it's about to get better. Do you see where he's heading?"

"No. Please no. He's not heading to the River Promenade, is he?"

"Yep. We're about to enter the most upscale part of town on the back of an elephant."

Christina started to laugh.

"Christina, what's wrong?" Jake asked. She only laughed harder, pointing to a large sign at the entrance to the promenade.

Keep our Promenade clean
Clean up after your pet
Minimum fine $50 per violation

"Is our elephant considered a pet?" she managed to ask.

Jake laughed. "Do you remember our first pets?" he asked.

"Yeah. Those mice you got."

"They were the only thing we could fit in that tiny efficiency apartment."

"And they hated each other. They fought the entire first night." Christina shuddered. "I didn't know mice could make noises like that. Or hate each other so much. Do you remember what you did the second night?"

"I separated them in the cage."

"And halfway through the night we woke up to the sound of a mouse fight."

"Chewed right through the darn divider."

Christina smiled. "You were so mad. Here were a couple of mice keeping us awake all night long - and we'd actually paid for the privilege."

"As soon as the sun was up, I liberated them."

"You took them into the alley and let them go."

"Same thing."

"And that was the end of our first pets."

"Wish I had one of them now." Jake said.

"Why?"

He smiled. "To scare the elephant."

Christina laughed. "You'd try that, too."

"Strange circumstances dictate strange solutions."

"That's the Jake I married."

"Look, the police finally got here."

"Jake, you don't think they're going to shoot the elephant, do you?"

"I hope not. He hasn't done anything except take a stroll through town."

"It would be a shame to end like this. It started out so good." Christina smiled wistfully.

"Yeah, Sarah was having a great time. Did you see the look on her face when she went into the back yard and saw the elephant? This really was a great idea."

"Monica Walhgren's birthday is next week. Let's see her parents try to top this."

"We'll be telling this story to our grandkids," Jake commented.

"Separately."

The promenade around them swirled with activity, but it was silent in the howdah.

"We've had a lot of fun together," Jake said.

"Where did we go wrong?" Christina asked.

The elephant paused at a food truck and helped himself to a snack.

"We stopped having fun," Jake replied. Christina thought about it.

"We were busy. Our careers. Sarah. The house. We didn't have time for us."

"Yeah, we have it all," Jake said bitterly. Christina touched his hand.

"We had fun today," she said.

Jake smiled. "Yeah, we did. If I ever get abducted again by a runaway elephant, I hope it's with you."

"Me, too."

"I don't want to leave," Jake said bluntly. "I want to be there for all of Sarah's birthdays. I want to have more times like these. With you."

"Then stay." Christina threw her arms around his neck. "I love you," she whispered in his ear.

He wrapped his arms around her as the elephant started to kneel. "I love you, too," he replied.

The handler climbed into the howda with a police officer close behind.

"Are you OK? I don't know why Francis took off like that."

Christina lifted her head. "We're fine." She smiled at Jake. "Now."

Word count: 1179
 
5
By celticfrog (Score: 6.249)
7

Father Mike Muholland walked through the grey streets of his parish. The streets were grey, the sky was grey, the sins that swarmed through the community were grey too. A wife dreamed of adultery, a husband considered murder, but the people didn't have the spine for real sin. No, Father Mike thought, that wasn't fair. The people were crushed by poverty and violence. Those sins were black enough though no one came to his confessional to ask absolution for them.

He opened the side door of the church and headed for the confessionals. It wasn't Friday evening, so he didn't expect any sinner but himself to show up. He couldn't absolve himself, even after all these years.

Father Mike settled into a position that was worn into comfort by years of use. He slipped his flask out of his pocket and took the first sip of the night. He occasionally tried to convince himself that he was praying, alone here in the almost dark. He shook his head and took another sip, he was never very good at lying to himself. He was hiding. Hiding from his sin, from God, from the fear that he might again be asked to risk everything for the sake of mercy, from the fear that if asked he would once more fail.

He had no idea what time it was when he realized that there was breathing on the other side of the grill that separated the compartments of the confessional. His flask was a good deal lighter now. He took a moment to try and clear the fog from his head.

"What can I do for you, my child," he said.

"I killed a man tonight," the shadow on the other side said, "that's nothing new for me, but he killed me first."

Father Mike was suddenly overwhelmed by the smell of blood and more a pungent smell. The comfortable booth became claustrophobic. He clutched at the bronze cross that hung on a cord around his neck and said his first real prayer in a long time.

"Murder is a hard sin to carry," Father Mike said.

"I've been carrying it a very long time, Father," the shadow said. There was such a hardness to this voice; Father Mike had no trouble believing the shadow.

"It isn't the worst sin, though," the shadow continued, "that was my first sin, the one that is beyond forgiving."

"There is no sin that God will no forgive, my child." Father Mike looked at the flask in his hand and carefully put the cork back in and returned it to his pocket.

"No?" the shadow said, "I never met God, but all his people told me that I was going to burn for what I did. Not one said anything about forgiveness."

"Tell me your sin, my child, and God will forgive."

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned," the shadow said. Father Mike had never heard those words spoken with such anger and contempt, or such sincerity. "I am a murderer," the shadow said, "tonight I shot a garda, but I've killed many men; some may even have deserved it." The shadow took a long breath and coughed. The smell of blood grew stronger. "I don't have much time, so I'll give it to you short." Another coughing fit interrupted. "I was young once, and foolish with it. I loved another. That you'd call a sin too, no doubt. I call it nothing but folly, but for the result. I but a child and carrying the child of a soldier. He wanted nothing of me or my babe. So I committed the sin that has shaped me all this time."

"You killed your babe?" Father Mike couldn't keep the anger from his voice.

"Nay," the shadow said, "I could have been forgiven that. I went to a butcher in a back alley and gave him the money that the soldier had given me to go away. He told me it would be easy, but it felt like my insides were being torn apart. I went away from that alley bleeding and childless. I found my way to my father's house. He would have turned me away as the harlot I was, but my mother feared for my soul. She didn't think that I would last the night so she brought me in and sent for the priest."

It was like a knife blade in his gut. Father Mike knew what came next and he dreaded it. He must have made some noise.

"Tell me priest, if some mother came in tears begging you to come a shrive her daughter who was a harlot and a murderer, would you stir yourself?"

Father Mike tried to force words past that knife edge, but the shadow continued and the words didn't need to be spoken.

"No, he wouldn't come. Just fresh into the parish he was and full of his holiness. He told my mother to bring me to the hospital and he would come on the morrow. He was preparing to say Mass and had no time for such a sinner. The doctors didn't care what I'd done. They cut me open and took out everything that made me a young and foolish girl. Then they sent me to prison for my crime. I was no woman any more, so I became a man. Hard and cruel and thoughtless as I thought men must be."

"Not all men," Father Mike said.

"Not all men," the shadow said, "but too many. There is such violence in our land that no one missed a butcher from a back alley, or a soldier who used a young innocent for his pleasure. But violence dictates violence and hate, hate. Soon all I was good for was death. Then tonight I got careless, maybe I'm tired of death and even hell will be a respite from this life. So the garda and I shot it out on the promenade over the body of yet another who had no choice about dying for someone else's cause. We are both dead. Though he goes to his reward sooner, I already feel the burning of the flames."

"Do you regret your sin?" Father Mike asked.

"Regret?" the shadow said, "I regret dooming my babe to hell because I feared the shame."

"It wasn't holiness," Father Mike said.

"What?" the voice was getting weaker and now he heard the girl beneath the harshness.

"It was fear," Father Mike said, "I was new in my calling and I feared I would fail, and so I have failed, and failed, and failed."

"Fear..." the shadow coughed and whispered now, "fear, I understand."

"I absolve you of your sin, my child. One Ave as penance."

"Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum..." they said.

Then the shadow whispered "My child, how you've grown..." and Father Mike was alone again.

He finished the prayer, then said the Mass for the Dead with tears on his face. When he was done he took the first breath free of the burden of his sin, and though the confessional was dark, he gave thanks for the light.

Word count: 1193
 
6
By Mearth64 (Score: 5.776)
5

Jennifer looked out over the ocean and at the moon glowing almost white in the sky. To her left, in the distance, she could see the lights from the [promenade] where she and Andrew had walked a hundred times. This was the beach where they had been married. Now she was looking for answers and hoping they might be found here. She drew a question mark with her finger in the shimmering wet sand, and then she closed her eyes and let the warm summer wind brush back her hair and whisper in her ear.

Jennifer had thought that forgiving Andrew would be the hard part, but it wasn't. That surprised her.

This wasn't just about him; she, too, had been deeply affected and changed by what had happened. She had begun to question her own judgment - to scrutinize things more closely and to doubt - and that was the scariest part. How had she missed what must've been right in front of her all along?

She'd met Andrew the night of her 25th birthday. He had come to her party as a guest of their mutual friend, Matt, from whom she had heard countless stories about "what a great guy" Andrew was; "what a talented artist" he was; "what an independent thinker" he was. Naturally she had been curious to meet him.

He was nothing like the clean-cut, professional types Jennifer had always dated. Andrew was a man who'd rather die than work at a desk and his life goals didn't center around getting rich and retiring young. He rarely shaved two days in a row. His hair was dark brown and he had a bright smile that flashed fairly often, and the kind of skin that would [bronze] in summertime. He was relaxed and easy to be around, and he could make her laugh. They'd talked for hours at her party - about everything. He told her about painting his way through Europe after college, and then just the previous year, through parts of Asia. She loved how uninhibited he was.

From that night on, they'd been inseparable, and hardly anyone was surprised five months later when they announced their engagement. Reaction was generally encouraging, with one exception - Jennifer's father, John:

"Baby, are you absolutely sure about this thing? How much do we really know about this boy?"

"Give him a chance, Daddy," she had said.

They were married in the spring and for nearly a year, Jennifer had been happy. And then it had all unraveled. She had come home from work to find Andrew lying unconscious on the bathroom floor. In a panic, she had called an ambulance and a [swarm] of medical personnel had responded. Andrew was rushed to Presbyterian Hospital. That's where she heard the words that had shattered her:

"Mrs. Cain, your husband has taken an overdose of a drug called morphine diacetate - it's heroin. Were you aware of his use of narcotics?"

No, she had not been aware. Andrew had made sure of that. He had used during the day when she was gone, and he'd created excuses to paint late into the night up in the attic studio after she'd gone to bed. At other times when they were together, he'd made sure to have a drink in his hand, or nearby, so that any unusual behavior might be attributed to his having had too much. He had invented many ways to hide it from her.

She had said, "Oh, no . . . no, that can't be right. There's been a mistake."

But by the time she was able to see Andrew, she had accepted that what she'd been told was the truth and she was fighting back her anger.

"I don't want you to have to see me like this," Andrew had said with tears forming in his eyes.

"Andrew . . . I don't understand any of this. Were you trying to . . . kill yourself?"

"No, God no, it was . . . an accident. A stupid accident."

Stiffly, she'd said, "So, you use drugs? Are you an addict? How long has this been going on?"

"It started when I was overseas - a few months before I met you. I tried it just to see how it might affect my painting. When I came home from the states . . . I kept experimenting. Lately it's been getting harder to control."

"My God, Andrew, who are you? What else are you hiding from me?"

"Nothing . . . I swear it," he'd said softly.

"Are there drugs in our house right now?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

"In the studio . . . there's a wooden box . . . "

She had left the hospital more angry than she'd ever been in her life and gone straight home to find that box and destroy it along with it's contents. Touching those things was like touching the possessions of a stranger - someone who'd been inside her house without her knowledge.

When Andrew was released from the hospital, she told him she was moving out. He had insisted that she stay in the house - he'd be the one to leave - but she could still imagine him lying half dead on the bathroom floor and she didn't want to stay there. She would move in with her father until she found her own place - if it came to that. Andrew had accepted her decision, and even though he knew he had no right to, he asked her to make him a promise: "Give me some time to try and make this right. Just . . . promise me you won't do anything right away. Please."

She had agreed.

That was four months ago. Since then, Andrew had completed an outpatient program and was seeing a counselor. He was going to NA meetings and had an excellent sponsor whom Jennifer had met, and liked. Andrew had shown her that he had a [spine] - he was taking responsibility for his mistake - she had to give him that.

He had called her today. He wanted to meet her tomorrow to talk.

"No pressure, I just wanna see if we can figure out where to go from here. You [dictate] the terms and I'll accept them. If it doesn't work for you anymore, I can accept that, too, but I'm gonna do everything in my power to earn back your trust. And I'm gonna keep trying until you tell me you don't want me to try anymore."

Could he earn back her trust? Did she want him to keep trying?

She loved him, but she wondered if she had ever really known him? Wouldn't he be different without drugs? She was different, too - more guarded - more cautious. Could they make it work?

It occurred to her that there was only one way to find out.

As the seawater gently encroached upon the sand in front of her, Jennifer opened her eyes. She could see that the question mark she had drawn a few minutes before had been erased. No more question mark. No more questions. She was going to give her marriage to Andrew another chance. It would be up to him to make the most of it.

Word count: 1173
 
7
By HeyDoofus (Score: 5.153)
5

Like many species Paradise Ducks mate for life. While this does have some advantages for the species as a whole it can present difficulties for individuals.
.....

I doant noe wut 2 sae 2 him wen he getz lyk thiss, i reelee doant. Iz lyk torquen 2 miself, altho @ leest i lissen 2 me.

Hoo duz he fink i am - David-bleedin-Attenbra? I hav noe eydea wye wee r a cuppel. 1nce i fort i cud pik an chews hoo i pared wiff, but apparrintly i doan hav that opshun; thu 1st 1 iz thu onlee 1. Bugger! I wauz eckspekten 2 hav lots a maits in mai lyf, nawt juss 1. Yoo noe, a bitta vareyetty, thu spyce uv lyf an all that. But Muvva Nachure dictates uvver wyse, thu cow!

An on top uv evreefing als he tellz me that we gotta hav lotsa chiks coz ower speceez is frettened wiff extinkshun, an iz up 2 us 2 mayk shoor there r enuff in thu nex gennyrashun 2 keep us goan. OK, i gets thu poynt; i dunnoe y it haz 2 b mi job, tho.
.....

Itz a reel pane in the talefevvers wen she gose on lyk that. Sum tymes I 1/2 2 stik mai hed unda mai wing juss 2 blok owt the noyse uv hur goan on & on & on. It duzzent wurk tho, coz evenchewallee I 1/2 2 comm up fer ayr.

Weeve bean 2gevver naow 4 kwite a wile, neerlee 3 yeers it iz, & wee seamd 2 b doan OK. Weed hadda lotta fun, & I fort we enjoyd eech uvvers cumpannee, & I wuz lukken 4wd 2 a long lyfe togevver wiff hur, even tho she 1/2 sum strayng idearz sumtymez. We hadden had enny chiks but that wassent odd bcos it can tayk a cuppla yeers for payrs lyk us 2 1/2 a famblee.

But ova tym I began 2 fink a bit abowt responsubillitee & all that. Mebbe that wee shud be moar responsibbel 4 the fucha, or sumfin.

Or mebbe thatz juss Muvver Naycha mucken wiff mai hormoans.
.....

Because Paradise Ducks are generally monogamous the death of one of a mated pair can leave the surviving member without any partner. Under these circumstances the survivor will often bond with another duck; however bonded pairs that separate for other reasons are less likely to bond with another duck.
.....

I herd thu hoomins torken agen lass weak, an it seams us dux ar nawt diyen owt.

Wen i triyd 2 tell him he juss stuk hiz stoopid hed unda hiz wing an wooden lissen. I puld his tayl fevvers an that got his attenshun 4 a minnit. I doan fink he bleeves me tho.

We hav had a gud run 2gevver, i muss sae, but i am getten ichee 4 a chayng. An i muss admit i am nawt kean on raysin a cluch uv eggz.

Thu uvva dae i met a verree nyce yung drayk on thu big pewl in the creak. Hiz fevvers waz shinee an luvvlee cullers, bronze an grean an bloo (i fink he myt hav bean a aussie duk), an he sorta luked @ mee inna funnee wae. I thort abowt it 4 a minnit, but then thort i had betta nawt reelee. He kept wachen me wen i swam awa tho, i noe.
.....

She keepz tellen me that us dux rnt goan 2 b eckstink, but I fink she juss duzzen want 2 1/2 2 lae eggz. & 1nce she attackt me & puld mai tayl reelee hard - I dint lyk it, I gotta say. An aftawords she wassent even soree, & that mayd me even madda wiv hur.

Well, we r a payr, and she shooden be lukken @ them uvver drakes that wae. In fak, I doan fink she evva luked @ me that wae! & then I see hur promenaden arownd in fronta the uvva drakes, showen orf hur luvverlee white hed fevvers, and I gotta tellya it sends a shivva rite down me spine to me tayl! Iz nawt rite!

& she keaps asken me kwestchuns that she noes I carnt arnsa. Lyk, y r we havven 2 stae 2gevver 4evva, wen we cleerlee doan c eye 2 eye on fings. Wot kinda kwestchun iz that? Iz juss the wae nachure iz, I sez 2 hur. & she waddells orf wiff hur beek in the ayr, angri @ me oar sumfing I doan noe wot.
.....

Paradise Ducks typically lay a clutch of 9 or 10 eggs, in a nest under a log, or in shallow holes in the ground. The nest is lined with grass and feathers, and the female incubates the eggs for approximately a month.

She only leaves the nest for an hour or so two or three times a day for food. After the eggs hatch the male and female share the parenting.
.....

He torked to me 4 ages thu uvver dae abowt awl thu fings we hav dun 2gevver, an awl thu fings that we can do 1nce the chiks iz fledged an left us. I gess sumfing uv wot he sed got in2 my hed, an i kinda new that i had bean behaven rong, even tho i dint noe y.

He sorta pooshed me inta helpen 2 mayk a nest, tho i kepd tellin him i wazzint goan to yoose it. An wen he startd poolen fevvers owt to put innit i juss had 2 nawt luk.

He wuz verree nyce to me, an b4 i newwit i fink i sorta fell in2 his trap. 1 minnit i wuz paraden arownd in fronta thu flock an the nex i was sitten heer onna swarm uv egz thinken how clevver i iz.

I doan noe wot caim ova me! Mebbe it wuz whut he wuz saen that chayngd mai mynd abowt mai beehavyewer, but mebbe it wuz jess Muvver Nachure finalee getten hur wae. I izzint smart enuff 2 noe (i iz juss a duk afta awl). Sumfing seemz 2 juss hav clikd ova insyde uv me.

Mebbe i iz goan 2 be a OK muvva afta awl. Hoo wooda bleeved it?

Thu nest iz luvverelee an soft, wiff a nyce laya uv his fevvers sorta woven in2 the grass an twigs 2 mayk it coazee. Ther iz a big old rottin log jus above me that keeps off the wurst uv thu rayn, an hydes us frum syt.
.....

She haz fynalee undastood wot I 1/2 bean sayen, I fink, that bein az she iz a duk she needz 2 ack lyk a duk, and nawt lyk a sparra or a frush hoppin frum 1 mael 2 the nex. Us dux iz monoggy mouse, & we shud be raisin a famlee.

& she iz bean reel nyce 2 me, fanken mee 4 the nest. She sez that she iz lukken 4wd 2 seein the chiks runnen arownd & swimmen & stuff, juss lyk a reel muvva duk wood. It mayks me feal mutch betta.
.....

Paradise ducks live for about four years, on average, although the oldest recorded lived for 23 years.

They are very territorial and protective of their both their nest and their young, and will often simulate a broken wing to lead a threat away from the nest.
.....

Word count: 1198

The style is based on one used by Iain M Banks in his book Feersum Endjinn.

 
8
By Jessicaaib (Score: 3.935)
5

Being with someone else that can make you smile so much your cheeks starts to hurt and when you blink you feel disappointed that you have lost a nanosecond looking at the one you love. A love so rare you need to bottle it all up and keep it in a save place because it will not last forever and that is a promise.
Lindsey had that kind of love once in your life and she was the most content during the time her and her love where together. She, unfortunately, lost it, lost it all. Everything fell out of her hands one by one; bringing her to her knees more and more each time.
It all started when she got diagnosed with lung cancer, yes, she did bring it on to herself. She smoked everywhere, at all times. She was skinny and your clothes hung off her like sheets hang off a railing; her scent smelt like cigarettes and the air after a rain shower. Before this she was in love with a boy; that kind of love that looks like love but doesn’t feel like love. He did all the right things and said the right things but Lindsey wasn’t feeling the right things.
She was only twenty three when all the smoking caught up to her. Lindsey didn’t really care, she wanted to die. But before she died she promised herself to do the three things she always wanted to do. 1 Break up the dreadful boyfriend she had 2 buy plane tickets (Lindsey never flew in a plane before and never wanted to but she liked the idea of the tickets) 3 Sing in front of a crowd.
Lindsey started right away to dictate the poor situation that she was in. As the rings in her ear got louder when she called him, her heart beat increased more and more. Her poor skinny fingers wrapped around the phone ever so tightly. This was not tension of nervousness or unhappiness; this was the tension of the ending of something wicked to something great. This was like Lindsey looked into the beautiful, but short, future of her life.
He picked up “Lindsey… Hey what’s up” Lindsey replied fast and crisp “Sorry but this is not working out, goodbye”. With the quick click to the silence that leaded after that call made Lindsey feel free. She lived in a small apartment in New Jersey but she grew up in Central New York. The apartment was always cold; her boney body was permanently covered in layers and layers of clothing. The clothes warmed her in the outside and the cigarettes warmed her inside.
Lindsey didn’t have to stay in the hospital until a January, which was one month away.
She spent most of the one month in bed, eating and watching old television serious that she use to watch has a kid. She ate whatever she desired during that period of time; Lindsey figured she was already dead. Her family didn’t talk to her much; she did drugs in high school and overall was a bad kid. Her parents kicked her out at the age of seventeen and Lindsey made a pack that she will not communicate with the ones that ruined her whole life until she can come back better than before. She was on the right track but the not-so-unthinkable happened. Lindsey never told her parents she had cancer.
So far, at 2 weeks in, Lindsey only had one out of the three things she wants to do before she “peels over and dies”, is what she mentioned it as. But she didn’t really care; she crumpled up the list (metaphorically) and threw it away, discarded that the list was even a thing.
2 weeks and 3 days into the last month that Lindsey knew as freedom and her fridge drew a blank. Obviously she had to go out and get food because if the cancer wasn’t going to kill her, starvation would of. She threw on a plain white t-shirt and a stained pair of sweatpants, her hair looked bad (to be completely truthful). The walk down the five flights of stairs in her apartment building felt like hell to Lindsey. At the end of the last stairwell she sat down and cried; not any whimper but I full outcry. People that she recognized swarmed her, leaving nothing but their longing stares. She probably sat there for 3 hours until someone said something to her. A man about six feet tall first walked right by her and he became one of those strangers that made Lindsey feel even less important then she felt before. But just a couple seconds after he passed by (he most of turned around because he ended up right next to her side). She could feel the warmth radiate off him and his hip touched hers like it was meant to be touching. He didn’t say a word; he just wrapped his muscular arms around her withering body. His muscles danced off her spine like there was music playing. Sixteen minutes passed with not one word spoken but everything was said. He Lifted up Lindsey’s head and brought his eyes to hers.
“Lindsey, right, Apartment 4B on floor five?” he asked with such authority Lindsey even questioned if that was where she lived. She shook her head yes and in one clean swoop the man picked her up and brought her to her apartment. He lightly placed her on the bronze colored, scratchy couch in the middle of her living room. Leaving the apartment door open he left and returned about a minute later with two wrapped mc doubles in his hands. He pulled the coffee table closer and unwrapped the hamburgers. “I was going to eat these both for supper but, aye, this is cool too” he turned and looked at her hoping that she was laughing, and she was. That was the first time Lindsey had smiled since the terrible news.
They sat there in the couch, up against each other for the rest of the month. Never once did neither of them want to go out to promenade or go out to eat. Their scents twined together, they smelled as one and they were as one. They got to know each other and fell in love; that was never on Lindsey’s to do list. When the month was up Kyle, the man that Lindsey fell in love with promised to stay by her no matter what. After 2 weeks in the hospital Lindsey died but not Kyle’s promise. He stayed there by her side, her unfamiliar shoulder blade connected to the less familiar elbow and that connected to the most familiar hand that he held. The love that was worth the death and the sorrow is the love that is true.
A love that only lasted for minutes sticks around the longest.

Word count: 1152

The love that someone can get from lost can be more stronger then love from lust.

 

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