Flash! Friday: Vol 3 – 7

WELCOME! Today the Flash! Friday team brings yet one more sparkly Year Three feature. (SO MUCH FUN! CAN YOU STAND IT!?) First we introduced you to our teams of dragon captains, last week we shook up the contest format, and today it’s the…

rof2RING OF FIRE!!!!!!

Today we launch the newest feature here at the lair: the RING OF FIRE! FF is a thriving and diverse community from all over the world, and many of you have written dozens of stories for our judges. Why should the champs be the only ones to earn a badge or get their names on a wall??

* BEGINNING TODAY, ALL FLASH! FRIDAY PARTICIPANTS can work toward earning the “Ring of Fire” badge. The RoF badge is separate from the judging process; think of it as a “frequent participant” merit badge. To earn the badge:

* Submit a story to Flash! Friday at least three times per month. (That’s it!)

* Note that as we’ve only two Fridays left in January (today and the 30th), the earliest anyone will be eligible for the badge is the first Friday in February (Feb 6). To keep/earn the badge in February, you will need to submit three times in February, which yes, can include Feb 6. A little tricky getting started, but we’ll untangle ourselves soon enough.

*  To request the badge, please contact the Dragon Team here, citing the three dates you submitted stories in a given month (the count begins today), and including (1) your name/penname, (2) city/country/part of the world, and (3) a 10-word bio & a single link to your blog or Twitter. Then your name will go up on the Ring of Fire “Wall of Flame” page (which will launch Feb 6), and you can flash this badge to your heart’s content on your own blog/Facebook/Twitter etc. The Ring of Fire eligibility starts fresh each month; once you’ve earned it, you’ll keep it unless you go a month without participating three times. And yes, we’ll remind you about this. A lot. ❤

REMINDER: New format: Remember the former “Dragon’s Bidding” (an element required in addition to the photo) is now focusing on the primary elements of story: character, setting, conflict, and theme. The new word count window is 190 – 210 (exclusive of title/byline). Please be sure to follow these new guidelines carefully!

Tweet any questions to the Flash! Friday team at @flashfridayfic. And HAVE FUN!!!!


Judging today are our mischief-loving (causing??) Team Three dragon captains Eric Martell and Carlos Orozco. Carlos liberally distributes bonus points for unpredictable plots, while Eric begs you to double and triple proofread your stories before submitting. Read more at their judge pages, linked above.        


Awards Ceremony: Results will post Monday. Noteworthy #SixtySeconds interviews with the previous week’s winner post Wednesdays.  I (Rebekah) post my own unbalanced writings sometimes on Tuesdays or Thursdays under “Dragon Munchies” (see the drop-down menu in the right-hand sidebar).

Now, grab your surfboards and get paddling!

* Word count: Write a 200-word story (10-word leeway on either side) based on the photo prompt.

HowPost your story here in the comments. Include your word count (min 190 – max 210 words, excluding title/byline) and Twitter handle if you’ve got one. If you’re new, don’t forget to check the contest guidelines.

Deadline: 11:59pm ET tonight (check the world clock if you need to; Flash! Friday is on Washington, DC time)

Winners: will post Monday

Prize: The Flash! Friday e-dragon e-badge for your blog/wall, your own winner’s page here at FF, a 60-second interview next Wednesday, and your name flame-written on the Dragon Wall of Fame for posterity.


(1) Required story element (this week: setting. The below setting must play a crucial role in your story):



(2) Required photo prompt to incorporate:

Old Woman. CC2.0 photo by Giorgio Grande.

Old Woman. CC2.0 photo by Giorgio Grande.


527 thoughts on “Flash! Friday: Vol 3 – 7

  1. The Resignation of Age
    by JM6, 210 words, @JMnumber6

    Marya slowed to a stop and dismounted from her bicycle. Although her old bones could no longer tolerate even the slightest chill, she paused to gaze at the teenagers on the beach, laughing and playing in the cool January air.

    It had been a long time since she had played on a beach. Or laughed.

    Her mind drifted back sixty years, to the end of the twentieth century. She’d worn a bikini and had let her skin darken to a golden tan, heedless of the dangers. She was the goddess of the beach. There *were* hints, omens that the world was changing and not for the better. Back then, however, she was young and high-spirited and believed, as all youngsters do, that she would live forever.

    But only the gods live forever. She’d had to learn that lesson through bitter experience.

    The screams shook her from her reverie. It was too late to flee, so she closed her eyes and remained perfectly still as the tentacles reached forth from the sea to claim those who trespassed on the beaches of the gods.

    When the screams stopped, she shook her head, muttered a prayer for the dead, then mounted her bicycle and rode away. She still had her shopping to do.


  2. Tamara Shoemaker
    Word Count: 210


    I’ve tracked the meandering course of time, watched the channels give way to tributaries which settle into trickles, then disappear into the dull cement of stillness. I’ve followed the ebb and flow of the tides that pull me through the hollows and swells of the years, sometimes buoying me up, other times hurtling me against the sand, pounding me with surf and sea foam, choking me with spray.

    So many if only’s stick in my throat. So many I wish’s haunt me in the hallways, hiding in my closets, taunting me in the bedroom. They chide me, pulling on the guilt that harnesses me to my past, the regret that shadows my every footstep.

    Now I walk the familiar path where we so often walked before, arm in arm, side by side, through life, we said. ‘Til death, we said. The echo of your voice is drowned by the roar of the waves, and I cross my arms in the cold breeze that blows across the Pacific Northwest.

    The sand flows through the hourglass; I count the grains one by one, letting them slip through my fingers like the years that refuse to stay, static, stationary.

    “I’m sorry,” I whisper to the green water that cradles so many secrets.


  3. Tamara Shoemaker
    Word Count: 210


    “What is this?”


    “What’s that stuff on top?”

    “Whipped cream, Granny. They thought you’d like it.”

    “Looks like mold.”

    The quivering mass shakes with the trembling hand, and the bowl slides onto the table with a clatter. Her faded eyes stare at the gnarled fingers; I twist my own in my lap. The silence stretches as she waits for me to mention the next pleasantry, whatever platitude she’s expecting. I seal my lips, determined to wait her out.

    I understand the words that spill from her stiff frame, that lie buried on her tongue.

    She’d birthed sixteen children, nine of whom had lived beyond four months. She’d been pregnant with the last one when Gramps had fallen through the silo roof into a smothering grain coffin. She’d guided the farm through droughts of rain and finances. All of her children had gone to college, not because there was money, but because Granny willed it.

    She was an ocean with riptides and currents, limited only by the beach. Now she was a cold bath, left to sit too long unattended.

    I dump the jello in the trash. “Let me take you out for dinner, Granny.”

    The nurses will fuss, but you can’t leave mold to grow.


  4. Late For Dinner
    (210 words)

    Natasha was out of breath when she made it to the beach. After she got off her bike, she looked up and down the beach, carefully observing the scene in front of her.

    All around the spirit of youth and summer danced on the warm sand.

    Young women in bikinis teased shirtless young men in shorts. Young men posed and strutted, trying to impress young women in bikinis. Children played in the sand and waves gently lapped at the shore. Seagulls squawked and fought over scraps of food left on the beach. The smell of the salt air and warmth of the sun brought a smile to Natasha’s face.

    Natasha remembered her own youth, her days at the very same beach. She closed her eyes and thought of her old friends for a brief moment. She thought of Yuri.

    Yuri was handsome and muscular, with a bright smile and eyes as blue as the ocean. All the girls wanted to be the object of his affections. But in the end, only one was.

    Natasha opened her eyes and looked again.

    “Yuri, quit staring at the young women in bikinis and come home. You’re too old for that sort of thing now!”

    She hated when her husband was late for dinner.


  5. Hastings Seafront

    ‘It’s mine! Please, give it back to me.”
    Tears pricked Poppy’s eyes as she was caught between respecting her elders and pure desperation.
    ‘It was by the pier.’
    ‘Yes, I left it there while we collected pebbles. I saw you take it. Please, I need it back. I’m meant to be home for tea.’
    Grace ran her wizened fingers over the handle-bars and dinged the bell. She gave a soft chuckle and thought about that morning, when she had free-wheeled all the way down Spencer Road, the salty air ruining her attempt at a Victory Roll to impress Freddie, who was waiting by the railings for her.
    She looked at the small girl, red-faced, staring at her.
    ‘Can I help you, dear?’
    She and Freddie often walked along the beach. The wind whipped away words of love and stolen kisses and allowed them to huddle together. They would pick up a pebble and make a vow. Grace slipped her hand into her bulging pocket and smoothed their dead-cold surfaces.
    ‘My bike. Please!’
    Grace allowed the girl to take her bicycle and pedal furiously down the promenade. She picked up a small grey stone and frowned.
    ‘Where’s Freddie? He’s very late…’
    Closing her eyes, she decided to wait for him a little longer.

    210 words


  6. ‘A New Life’
    Ian Martyn (@IBMasrtyn)
    200 words

    ‘Hey just look at it. It has a bell, flowers, white wall tyres, a basket. It even collapses so you can… collapse it. It’s just what you need at a very reasonable price.’

    ‘What d’you mean does it come in pink? It’s blue, it’s meant to be blue. It’s a blue bicycle, that’s what it’s called, the blue bicycle. I ask you does it come in pink. So d’you want it or not?’

    ‘Why am I selling it? Hey, I don’t need no bicycle where I’m going. And it’ll pay for the new board.’

    ‘Ironing board? Are you kidding me? Surf board, man, that’s where it’s at.’

    ‘Why do I need a surf board? Hey I’m off to my new life, hanging out down at the beach with all the other surfer chicks and dudes. Catching waves, throwing three sixties, soaking up the rays. They said I’m a natural, must have been a Dolphin in another life.’

    ‘No of course I won’t need it. It’s all about the look, the image, man.’

    ‘What? No you can’t have the coat as well. You need to keep warm when you’re riding the big dippers. So d’you want this bicycle or not?’


  7. A Woman Needs a Man like a Fish Needs a Bicycle

    @Making_Fiction #FlashDog

    209 words


    Ariel was the pretty one. The one the sailors died for. The one the crustaceans sang to.

    Ariel was lured to the stagnant lands, the desolate dunes and the harsh dryness of air and sun. By…by…a man. A man!

    She’d seen his type before. All skin-tight wet-suit, goggles and widened eyes. At first she thought about dinner, well, what else was there to think about when seeing a man? However, there was something more to him than just mere meat, sinew and marrowbone. He had a look of contempt about him. Like he’d seen a thousand beautiful sirens before.

    She sang to him.

    He just ignored her. He. Ignored. HER!

    What did she need with a man anyway, if he were not food?

    The ocean ebbed and flowed, tugged by the invisible net of lunar gravity.

    She dreamed of him.

    He returned. Only to ignore her.

    She’d show him. She’d go to his land where he would see her mesmeric beauty. Then she’d ignore him back. That’d teach him.

    But sirens can never return.

    And now, after sixty years, she stands every day on the wrong side of the beach. She dreams of abandoning her bicycle, of luring lonely old men for a final swim in the cold sea.


  8. What You Don’t Learn At School
    201 words

    “There she is,” Gabriel said. “Same time every day.”
    “So what?” Claudio replied. “We’re here the same time every day.”
    “Sure, but it’s easy to see what we’re doing.”
    “Skipping school.”
    “See, easy. But where’s she going every day? There’s nothing that way but beach. We should follow her.”
    Claudio shrugged assent.
    “Why does she push the bike instead of riding it?” Gabriel asked.
    “She doesn’t look like she could ride it. Maybe she stole it.”
    “No. She pushes the same bike every day. I recognize the handle-basket.”
    The old woman moved out of sight, the road following the base of the cliff.
    As the boys drew near to the corner a young woman cycled towards them, hair streaming behind her in the breeze.
    She waved at the boys, they both shivered and genuflected.
    “Where’s the abuela?” Gabriel asked.
    The boys sprinted to the corner. No-one was in sight. They looked back at the woman dwindling into the distance.
    “I don’t like this,” Claudio said. “We should go.”
    Gabriel ignored him and carried on along the road. He recoiled from something, then waved Claudio over.
    In the sand a dismembered cat lay in a circle outlined by its blood.


    nb* abuela is Spanish for grandmother


  9. A Tangled Web

    Scene 1: Take 1


    The camera pans from right to left. In the distance, beneath an overcast sky, the sea tosses and turns. In the foreground, sand skitters along the beach.

    The camera stops panning and zooms in on a ribbon of blue-and-white tape snapping in the breeze. It reads: POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS.

    The camera pulls back to reveal DI Laurence, crouched and looking down. She hunches her shoulders and lowers her head. Slipping her hands into the pockets of her mac, she stands and steps to the left.

    The camera swings downward and focuses on a brown swede shoe. Slowly, the camera scans to the right, revealing a stockinged-leg, the hem of a black-and-white checked coat and finally a hand, palm-up on the sand, fingers curled inward like the legs of a crab, its skin like crumpled baking parchment.

    The camera sweeps upward and zooms out in time to catch Laurence ducking under the tape. She holds it up for a crime scene officer already shrouded in white. The officer turns to look at Laurence, his expression sympathetic.

    The camera stays on Laurence as she walks toward it. Just before she fills the frame, she crouches down.

    The camera focuses on her face. She smiles.


    210 words


  10. Paradise Lost
    A.J. Walker

    The year of Paradise Beach had been good for the town bringing hope and excitement. That was until the water quality report from the environmental authorities had been released. They’d said the artisian wells had been sunk into groundwater impacted by the nuclear testing. There had been inevitable legal wrangling and half-hearted studies to see if the desert sea could be sourced some other way, but everyone knew it was hopeless. Simple science and cold regulation killed hope and community.

    The Paradise Beach Resort had been the last chance saloon for a town misplaced – its death quickly killed the community and now only Agnita remained. She said she stayed for the waters, visiting the beach each day to soak in them and recall a lover: that perfect summer.

    Immersed alone in the warm waters she always felt better. She couldn’t say with certainty if the water’s properties were healing or whether it was her recalling her past that rejuvenated her each day.

    Today though she didn’t feel better. Agnita felt as craggy and chipped as the decaying car park. She looked west for one last time to the remnants of the beach envisaging the colourful joy of children. Her dry tears reflected a life that could have been.

    (209 words)



  11. The Cursed Sands of Time
    A.J. Walker

    Kat couldn’t understand why anybody liked beaches. She cold shivered just thinking about them. Sand was dead; reminding her that even granite didn’t last forever. Thankfully there was usually no call for her to visit them – sand was useless to her. Today though she was on an ingredient mission. She could do it, but still cursed her sister for sending her; Nat always won at rock-paper-scissors.

    “Just pick up thirteen seahorses,” Nat had said, as if it was that simple. “And bring back ice-cream.”

    Kat’s suggestion of buying them from an aquarium had been dismissed. Kat wasn’t sure if Nat was being truthful, but it was her call.

    There was no-one around now on the beach road but just in case she tried to look the part with her unassuming ladies push bike. She had no idea how it worked, but she could push it. The westerly wind blew sand into Kat’s eyes, she swore under her breath in archaic tongue.

    She knew the rock pools here were almost guaranteed chock full of seahorses – she’d get in, get out and get away from the dead sand quickly. Kat swore that her spells would always omit beach life and that next time they would toss for it.

    (210 words)



  12. Under the Pier, Where Lives are Made

    She returns each day to the place her son was started. She shackles her bondi-blue foldaway to the railing, and lets the salt-wind rustle her memories.


    Under Saltburn Pier it was, in 1941. Billy Hurles was her man, and he was going off to fight Hitler.

    “Give me something so I don’t forget you,” he said.

    “A lock of hair?”


    So they crept under the pier to be alone. But other couples were there, and she saw her own distaste reflected in the eyes of other girls. It was over quickly. She kissed him sweetly, and told herself she’d done her bit for the war.


    She knew she couldn’t keep the bairn. She’d accept, in time, that he’d be better with a proper family; without the shame. Perhaps one day she’d see him again. But the bairn was born blue; quiet, tiny and unmoving. A priest came into the room that was already crowded with men.

    “Shall I bless the child? Help him find his way to the Lord.”

    “You shall not,” her father said.


    She returns each day to the place her son was started and prays he is at peace: some days she looks up, some days down.

    201 words


  13. @susanOReilly3


    206 words excluding title

    Ah I loves me bike gets me from a to b keeps me old bones moving. I especially love cycling down to the beach especially on days like today when I need my coat and shawl as it will be almost deserted except for other brave souls or fools depends on your point of view.

    It must be the Piscean in me I adore anything to do with the sea, soothes my being. There’s nothing to match the calmness that enters my head space, although the chill probably isn’t doing my arthritis any good but one must try and find a balance so me doc says anyways.

    I wonder if my aul pal Charlie will be there today, I always go the butchers on me way and get a bone for him, that’s some use for the basket. These days everything has to have a use or my daughter will throw it out.

    Oh yes, Mathilda in my opinion she needs to come down here and let the wind blow her hair. Tight as the purse-string of a miser she is. I bet I’d move more in the bed than she does, still three adorable grand-kids she’s giving me, so she has a use after all.


    191 words

    Red painted guttering and downpipes seem to sink back into the varying shades of white. The torn and tattered flag splutters against its rusting pole as the chalk flint sandy washed cliffs fade along to the west with pebbles rattling. The narrow walkway encasing the modernist box wobbles gently as you squeeze past the dog walkers with their little warm plastic bags. That almost perfect square white cube is sharp with its neat straight lines and pointy corners and only the shadows delineate white window frames.

    Down on the beach again you stand and stare back up at
    its flatness

    think of all the others that have never stood here and wondered about it

    cows and giraffes, katherine mansfield, a large latte with three heaped sugars, che Guevara and the pope’s red shoes, polythene pam, arthur rimbaud, a hostess trolley and barney the purple dinosaur

    and some who did
    edward elgar in his tweedy three piece suit and manky hat and
    possibly albert einstein licking his ice cream
    even shy Christina who returns every year on her bike in memory of Ronald
    (lost at sea, young and in love)


  15. Mirror | Mirror

    @Making_Fiction #FlashDog

    210 words

    Her paddleboat is a glorified bicycle on water. Yet it skims the mirrored surface, on dreams of tranquillity. She is leaving the shores of eroded memories, of this long and prosperous life. She envisions the sunsets of Monet.

    How she has lived. How she has loved. How she has taken everything, from every day.

    She leaves behind the solid and the firm. Her world is becoming liquid and malleable.

    She sees the glittering grains of distant shores. Of warm sand between her toes. Of sipping salt-rimmed Mojitos that she will savour in the breathless wind.

    In life’s mirror, she sees herself.


    Beneath the mirror of the surface, they watch her cycle across the great sea, on dreams of delusion.

    They will have her soon. They will gorge on her refracted versions of history. For they know what she has done, they know what she has chosen to forget.

    How she has killed. How she has hated. How she had taken everything, from every day.

    She leaves behind safety. Their world is becoming solid.

    They see her future shores of whitewashed bones. Of hot lava underfoot. Of thirsty gasps for liquid rimmed with sulphur. Of ferocious winds that will never die.

    For life’s mirror is an opposite image, a reflection.


  16. Lemmingation

    Winter in a beach town is graveyard silent. Gone from the hotel are the packs of college kids cramming into one or two rooms. The few guests are visiting relatives that didn’t warrant visiting on the actual holiday.
    It’s so quiet that residents fear doing anything to make noise less they disturb the remaining population. That’s why we all came out to see what is making the metal rubbing sound. Through the night’s darkness we spot the sound’s source.
    Flight instinct loses to curiosity for so many of us. In the distance are hundreds of people on bicycles.
    What nitwits do a race this time of night? The crowd readies to enforce our peace.
    When the riders get closer it’s clear they are all old women with the traditional coats and scarves on their heads. Their worn faces and tired eyes draw our sympathy. Leading the column is a man in all white on a three-wheeled bike.
    Our anger returns to curiosity.
    The procession rides down the main street, past us towards the pier.
    They do not stop.
    In horror we race after them. Braver townspeople dive in to save them to no avail. The riders are gone.
    Only the sounds of their bicycles remain.

    206 Words


  17. The generosity of the sea

    @geofflepard 203 words

    Gladys was proud of her bicycle. She’d spotted it nearly buried in Neptune Dunes. March ’72. Her mother had scoffed. ‘What you want that for?’ But when Gladys brought back twice her normal load mother stopped moaning. That was her way of praise.

    Gladys preferred the solitude of the sands, scouring the scuffed shoreline with her once beady eyes. She was a Finder; she could spot treasure quicker than the riptide could drown a man. She could still beat the offies and outlanders, bloody scroungers. Stupid too. Missed the good stuff – the bits of metal, the still edible food. You never wasted the sea’s gifts. That was the first rule of Finders. You could live here ok, if only they left you alone.

    But now they’d come, with trucks and diggers, upsetting everything. Tape across the beach too.

    Gladys turned for her shack. The storms never stopped, ripping up the dunes and pulling down the cliffs. She put on the kettle (spring tide, April ’82) and sucked on an orange (yesterday, south-easterly storm). She thought it might happen one day.

    Her mother had taught her everything about the sea, except how to hide from it the things you couldn’t use.

    Like bones.


  18. The Pier
    (210 words)

    Daisy tightened her headscarf. The air whipped and snapped at its playthings today. This was the last place her son had been seen. He’d finished his shift at the hotel, sat on this bench next to where the ice cream van parked all year round – for only adults paid the cold any heed.

    Her son had passed some time talking to the ice cream vendor that night – no doubt swapping tit bits of their average lives – before continuing on his unfinished journey.

    In the first few weeks, the vendor had looked through pity at a lost mother who’d lost her son, but she’d seen that expression change into awkward resentment. He hadn’t the nerve to tell her to get lost that her pain was turning the ice cream sour.

    But he didn’t know, and she wouldn’t tell.

    She sat on the bench she’d occupied each day for six months and looked out at an accomplice to a songstress. She listened to the laughter howling on the wind, and she knew her weak-willed son had succumbed.
    So she sat there knitting up her charms that would tear up beds and dissolve the salts of the sea, for it was time for a sweet sounding temptress to silence her treacherous song.


  19. Undercurrents
    Margaret Locke (@Margaret_Locke or margaretlocke.com)
    210 words

    Every day, she stopped at the beach.

    It’d been a long time since she’d taken off her shoes and stockings to walk across the sand. A long time since she’d dipped her toes in the freezing waters, felt the rocks underneath her heels, the salt spray across her face. Forever since she’d let the sound of the surf lull her into thinking life could be smooth, easy, as predictable as the tides.

    But every day, she stopped.

    She watched children scampering across the dunes, their exuberance bringing smiles to all around them. She watched older ladies sunning themselves, their hats and sunglasses vain attempts to protect youth long since gone.

    And she watched lovers, strolling hand in hand across the ocean’s edge, reveling in the lapping of the waves over their feet as they clung to each other, certain nothing could be better than this.

    She’d been that once. A lover. Young. Beautiful. No cares in the world.

    Until the day he drowned. Not her lover. Their son.

    She’d only looked away for a moment, but a moment was all it had taken.

    Now every morning, she paid homage to atone for her sin, attempting to cleanse herself from the unbearable grief.

    She never could.

    But every day, she stopped.


  20. Sarah Alone

    The winter beach was barren, of both people and the typical flotsam and shells. The bitter cold tide was hungry, stealing up sand with each wave.
    Sara stood and watched, shoulders hunched from seventy years of life.
    Her sons had played on this beach on hot summer days. But now they were gone. Off living lives that had little to do with her.
    Even before her boy’s era on the beach her sweet Aaron had brought her down here one evening and dropped down to one knee. His promises of love and his question of marriage rising in volume to compete with the crash of the waves.
    Aaron had been gone for five years now. As Sara contemplated this passage of time she wiped a tear away from her wrinkled cheek.
    “Come be with me,” she felt the ocean call. She heard its plea to lay down her sadness, to let water wash over her in gentler ways than time had.
    “Not today, you ol’ wench” Sara shouted at the ocean and then hopped on her bicycle.
    Her old legs still knew how to gather steam. She cried out a big “Yaroo!” pedaling away, wisps of electric purple hair streaming out from under her deceitfully demure headscarf.

    207 words


  21. 200 words w/o title


    I can’t ride the thing any more, of course. If I tried, I’d end up in the hedges with a broken hip and hysterical neighbors and the relations coming in from every which way to witness my demise.

    I can walk it, though. I like the crunch of the sand under the tires. The ocean air has dried the basket to a brittle state.

    I used to pack that basket full of wildflowers. Then I’d ride home, petals flying behind me like I was some sort of fairy hippy. Distributing the love.

    He said that’s how he first saw me, pedaling along, winding down toward the water’s edge. That man had teeth as white as sun on sand, and eyes that picked up the blue right out of the water.

    The wind stings my ears while I fumble in my bag for the urn. Nobody will tell your ashes from the sand, love. But I’ll know you’re here.

    I’m going to take my sandals off, and stand in the waves until my feet sink down and I get dizzy watching the water rushing out. Taking you with it. Go get eaten by a fish.

    Then I’ll walk this thing home.


  22. Chances: Abysmal
    (209 words)

    Nox5 hadn’t been on the planet long before realizing mistakes had been made. How had Quax41 botched things so completely? All the other lifeforms in the area were wearing scanty garments covering only their reproductive organs, and in view of the temperature of the planet, that was a good choice. Their star put out considerable heat, and the strip of crystalline deposits edging the saline body seemed to attract lifeforms wishing to reduce their body temperature.

    As a female lifeform, Nox5 realized he lacked critical resources necessary for his mating research. He appeared to be well over the breeding age for the species, and over body mass by normal standards.

    In short, Quax41 had made him old, fat and unattractive. He’d also provided garments intended for the solar apogee rather than perigee and he saw four-wheeled transports cruise the periphery.

    Quax41 must be retaliating for what happened between Aquix12 and Nox5 on that yellow planet. Mating with another researcher’s partner had been unwise.

    Now Nox5 found himself pushing a primitive two-wheeled transport amid gawking young humanoids who snapped his picture with communication devices and laughed. His translator switched on.

    “Nice bike, granny,” someone shouted rudely.

    His chances of finding a humanoid mating partner by the next star rise?



  23. Friday Cookies
    202 words

    When I’m old, I’ll still pedal to the beach on Fridays. I will still bring cookies in my basket, eat more than the one I promised myself, and deliver them with a smile. If that smile is made of dentures, I won’t be ashamed. I’m sure the lifeguard on duty won’t mind. That lifeguard won’t be Sally, but whoever it is will still be saving lives.

    Sally loves her Friday cookies. We met a year ago when she saved my life. She taught me the importance of lifeguards and made me want to show my appreciation. She smiles when she sees me and my basket.

    It’s Friday. Today they tell me Sally’s finished nursing school and she quit yesterday. I stare at the cookies in my basket. I wonder when they stopped being “Thank you” and became “I love you.”

    Why didn’t Sally say goodbye? I think of the old-lady-me handing cookies to a stranger. I think I’m crying. After I dry my tears, I look up. She’s waiting for me on the sidewalk.

    “Would you like to go to dinner with me?” she asks.

    I imagine old-lady-me smiling with denture-teeth at my beautiful wife.

    The lifeguard can still have the cookies.


  24. Traces
    206 words

    “Just try, Grandma.” Ruthie leans the bicycle against the railing and departs.

    Dread and memory brew in Margot’s mind. Ruthie said the bicycle would make errands easier, but Margot hadn’t dared to ride, not since—

    Years fall away.

    They rode up wet, hard sand. Daniel pedaled; she perched on the seat. They flew past the German bunker and the u-boats hulking in port. They raced beyond all the traces of war, until only empty sand and gray water stretched before them. Freedom.

    “Daniel. We should go back. Tante Anna—”

    “I’m sick of rules!” Daniel mimicked Tante’s forever-worried voice, “Stay off the beach. Stay close to the house. Ugh.”

    They dismounted and Daniel stepped into a shaft of sunlight breaking through the clouds. The yellow star on his chest glowed.

    “Was ist das?”

    Both children whirled. A German soldier kicked their bicycle.

    Daniel shoved Margot. “Run!” He ran straight at the soldier. “That’s my bicycle!”

    Margot dove into their secret beach cave and watched the soldier drag Daniel away.

    She left the bicycle to rust in the sand. She had never seen her brother again.

    Now she eyes Ruthie’s bicycle. Daniel would tell her to ride it. She steps onto a pedal and pushes.


  25. The Danger Zone
    (209 words)

    Antonio had picked out the perfect spot at the beach.

    It wasn’t too far from the water and it wasn’t too far from the concession stand. But most importantly, it wasn’t too far from the pretty girls playing volleyball.

    Antonio sat on the beach and watched the game for a minute, slathering suntan oil over his body until he felt like a shiny, greasy demi-god. Donning his aviator sunglasses, which he thought made him look like Tom Cruise, Antonio flew into action. He walked over to the girls and struck a pose.

    “Eh ladies,” Mario began, “how would you like a man to show you how to play? I’m good as Maverik and twice as handsome. No, I just kid about that, except for the handsome part.”

    His words were met with fleeting glances and stifled laughter. Antonio laughed along, assuming the girls were laughing at the joke.

    Meanwhile, Maria had stopped on the walkway to rest. She often rode her bike by the beach and watched the people.

    As Maria watched Antonio try and impress the ladies with his skinny legs, rotund belly, flaccid arms, hairy back and witless charm, one fundamental truth came to mind.

    Some men shouldn’t go to the beach.

    Never mind wearing a speedo.


  26. At the Beach
    210 words

    She looks confused when we arrive. Questions form and fade on her face before her open mouth can catch them.

    “We’re at the beach, Gramma,” I say in my great-grandma’s ear, “remember?”

    She shakes her head, though I’m not sure that she’s heard me. She clings uncertainly to my sister’s bike.

    “Here, Gramma,” says my mum, kindly. “Let me take Millie’s bike. Why don’t you sit down?”

    Mum puts out a chair, and slowly, Gramma sits. She gazes out to sea, and then raises her hand and begins tracing the line of the barrier between the sea and the land, moving her gnarled finger along, and along.

    “Are we…going swimming today?” she says.

    “Eeuw!” says Millie. She’s cycling in small circles in a space between two cars.

    “Er- no, Gramma,” I say. “That’s the sea, remember? You can’t swim in it. It’s not safe.”

    “I expect maybe Gramma did swim in it, when she was a girl,” says my mum, handing round the sandwiches. “I mean, things were different, then.”

    “That’s gross!” says Millie.

    Gramma is slowly trickling breadcrumbs through her fingers. She says nothing.

    I settle back into my chair, enjoying the strength of the wifi signal, and the warmth of the sun on the tarmac at my feet.


    • Wow, such a crisp encapsulation of the generational gap in experiences, and in what each generation deems pleasurable. This line really got me: “She gazes out to sea, and then raises her hand and begins tracing the line of the barrier between the sea and the land, moving her gnarled finger along, and along.” What a terrific image!


    • Brilliantly done. “Wifi signal” and “tarmac” were a slap in the face. Here’s to that future crashing and burning before it comes ’round.


  27. Mother Jarvie pushed her bicycle along the street that was now part strand; she could not have pedalled through the sheets of sand the night’s storms had lifted across the road, shingle spattering and cracking the windows of the fisherfolk’s cottages. The road was ridged with grey-gold sand, as if the beach were edging away from the roiling sea.

    She pushed on, her thoughts lost in the sea, in the past, in the howling of the long ago storm when her Peter had been dragged to the seabed, dragged down and bounced against the sand and slicing sharp rock and spat out peaceful, drained, to the waiting beach one Sunday morning. When they slowly lifted the weed from across his thin white face, she fainted dead.

    She pushed on. The sea would not stop her, the sand it had thrown would not stop her. Her arms burned, her back ached, pain filled her head from jaw to crown but on she pushed. People watched in silence from behind loose windows, sheltered from the constant wind. The sky was black.

    She pushed on, in her basket the scraps of bread she would throw to the sea so it would never again take a young one. She pushed on.

    207 words


  28. Sand

    Dan and I were enjoying a beach day—looking at babes and drinking brews—when we saw the strangest sight of our lives.

    At first we just chuckled as the crinkled woman clawed a hole into the sand. Children kept hitting her with shovels as they zoomed by. The sun scorched into her stupid long coat and scarf. She paid no mind.

    I was just flipping over when she rose and triumphantly raised her gnarled fists to the sky. “I release you!” she cried.

    The sand trembled, rolling and tumbling us all about like dice. Sand shot up out of her hole and formed into an enormous beast with fiery eyes and sleek black hair all over its bull-like body. It stamped and snorted, pawing the ground as if to destroy us all.

    Then it saw her.

    A breeze played with her scarf as the beast gently nuzzled her. It lay down, and she climbed onto its back. It reared up, and she transformed into a beautiful young woman with long black hair. Her coat melded with her skin, becoming black feathers. Wings formed on her back from the scarf. The beast leaped with her into the waves, and her joyous laughter echoed in our minds forever.

    207 words


  29. Return to the Days Before
    210 Words
    @jamesatkinson 81 / http://haberdasheryofstories.blogspot.co.uk/

    She bought the flower stickers because they remind her of the time before the dragons came, blowing the beach to glass, the land to ashes. The flowers she knew from her adolescence, and are a way to take her mind, at least, back.

    She was on the beach when they arrived. Not the hottest day, but dry and bright with only the slightest breeze. Her circle of friends had normally loved to find a little crater in the dunes to make their own. The beauty of the day had probably saved them then, as they’d had no need for shelter from sun or wind.

    Instead, they’d sat atop the dunes and gained a good view of the approaching storm that had been forecast only by rumour; and a wonderful view of the first bursts of fire emanating from it.

    They felt the heat, heard the screams.

    And ran.

    They, ran, then cycled, home, ignoring every sight on the way, intent only on getting far enough away.

    She served as a dragonslayer after, has seen too much for one lifetime. Left tired but victorious, she seeks ways to link up with the before time we are trying to restore the world to. Her bicycle and those stickers are her latest attempt.


  30. Grain of Sand

    200 words

    Age had wearied her, the years had condemned her and she had been forgotten; the commemorations had finished and Rosemary’s generation had been thrust back into the shadows.

    She gazed out at the now deserted beach, seeing herself as just another grain of sand amongst thousands, no longer individual but an anonymous mass to be trodden on, compacted down, made invisible. Her bike lay forgotten at her feet.

    In the distance came whoops of laughter, shouts and hollering; the dread voice of youth. Like those that had come last night, and the night before and the night before, mocking, taunting. She trembled at the sound, clutched the metallic disc in her pocket tighter, tried to draw on old memories of strength and courage as she walked down to the water’s edge.
    The sea had long been her friend and now it sent foam-crested wavelets, the playmates of days-gone-by to tease at her feet, an invitation that tugged both mind and body towards the horizon.
    Rosemary smiled as the sea’s gentle song calmed her, washed away the fears that had clung to her for far too long, freed her from the prison of her isolation. It was time to let go.


    • Damned if I didn’t do it just once but twice. Posted my comment for your post on my own. Anyway I will try one more time. If it does not work this time …….. well I’ll think of some personal torure to put myself through

      The original comment
      Nice. Also interesting that the image and the setting prompt created a similar feel in yours and my posts. Death and the beach go together I guess.


    • I really love this line: “She gazed out at the now deserted beach, seeing herself as just another grain of sand amongst thousands, no longer individual but an anonymous mass to be trodden on, compacted down, made invisible.”


  31. MRMacrum

    The Last Ride – 199 words

    Rene was looking for a place to empty his bladder in Montreal when he found Mona crumpled in a heap behind the Holiday Inn in 1962. She had been beaten, gang raped, and unknown to either of them, she was now pregnant. Rene took her back to Maine, married her and never once asked her any questions about that night.

    Both of them went to work in the textile mills in Sanford. 52 years, five children and 12 grandchildren later, Rene died. Mona took it in stride. She knew her life was closing out. She had one last thing to do.

    She purchased a used blue bicycle from a local bike shop. The next Sunday after church, she strapped the shoe box containing Rene’s ashes to the rack behind the saddle and headed down Rte 109 to the beach in Wells. Several hours and 17 miles later she leaned her bike up against the guard rail separating the beach from the parking lot.

    Shoe box in hand, Mona walked onto the beach and into the surf. She opened the shoe box and dumped Rene’s ashes into the knee high waves. Kneeling down, she crossed herself, keeled over and died.

    This was a tough one. I probably wrote a couple thousand words in 5 or 6 versions before I found this somewhere in a dusty corner of my mind. This one felt right.


  32. @stellakateT
    197 words

    The Call of the Sea

    Lydia stopped to berate the child. Her thin lips pursed together reminding him his poor dead mother would turn in her grave and his Papa would have to marry the spinster school ma’am if he didn’t mend his ways. She prayed for him every Sunday and before going to bed because she could see the Devil hiding in him. She crossed herself twice.

    Marco looked at his friends playing on the slippery rocks, the waves rolling in to signal high tide was coming. All he wanted was his Mama to put her loving arms around him and whisper bellissimo, beautiful boy. He’d watched Mama taken by the angels and her body buried in the dry, hard ground. He was glad she could turn in her grave, it seemed a tiny narrow box his Papa had helped carry into the church.

    Mama loved the beach, running together through the sand, laughing as it chafed their toes, swimming in the blue warm water like two dolphins. Then walking along the promenade, Mama laughing as he mimicked the school ma’am. He prayed Lydia was right the Devil was inside him, he needed his help when it was time. To avenge!


  33. After happily ever after
    208 words

    Forget about the Disney film. And the fairytale. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between.

    Our colony was near Lundy. The sea was grey, pinpricked with rain, and when I made my yearly pilgrimage to the surface, it was all seals and birds. I longed for excitement; bright lights and bustle, not grit and granite.

    The next year I swam inland, until I saw the twinkling lights of the Grand Pier at what turned out to be Weston-super-Mare. And Norm, fishing off the end of it. I was hooked.

    Like hundreds before me, I swapped my tail for a man. Norm and I ran a boarding house overlooking the wide flat sand. I never tired of watching the holidaymakers. Building castles, riding donkeys, running shrieking towards the sea and back when it touched them.

    Twenty wonderful years, until Norm passed away. The stories never talk about what comes next. I had pushed the sea to the back of my mind for so long, but then the tide turned. My feet shriek when they meet the ground, so I use a bike for errands. My ears are shells filled with waves.

    Soon I’ll give in.

    But I don’t know if the sea will have me back.


  34. Grandma’s Day Off

    209 Words

    Grandma whistled cheerfully as she cycled away from the cottage; her contract stated clearly that she was entitled to a day off, a day away from the woods, from little girls and boys who didn’t stick to the rules. It would be nice to get away from it all and just be herself.

    The sky was clear and the sun shone brightly. She could smell the sea before she saw it, laughing delightedly as she free-wheeled towards the gleaming blue ribbon edged with gold.

    First things first.

    “A 99 please.”

    The ice-cream seller’s face went as white as his Mr Whippy. His customer looked as though she wanted to eat him, not his product.

    “Not today,” she said and wolfed down her cone in one go.

    She bought a hot dog; smiled as a child screamed at the sight of ketchup dripping from her canines. And still her appetite grew.

    Bucket and spade time. Soon she had dug a fine trench and enticed a solitary young man in red shorts into humouring an old woman.

    “My Grandma, what big teeth you have,” he joked.

    “You really shouldn’t have said that,” she sighed, and gobbled him up.

    You see some habits are hard to break, even on a day off.


  35. Drifting Memories
    I reach for our front door’s knob and stumble inside when it’s opened from the inside out. Grandma brushes past me wearing her Sunday’s best—except it’s Monday. Monday afternoon.
    I take her arm and spin her back toward the front door. She blinks at me long and slow. Then pushing away, she bends to collect my old bike.
    “Grandma, you can’t.”
    “Yes. Now,” she says.
    I sigh, place my backpack inside, and close the front door.
    She smiles and takes off walking.
    Five blocks, and three turns…at least we’re not going in a circle this time. “Grandma, do you remember where you wanted to go?”
    She leads me away from the sidewalk, heading for the sand dunes. Sand seeps into my shoes before she stops and stares at the waves.
    When I was little Grandpa would carry a bucket and me and Grandma would collect hundreds of shells. Does she remember?
    “Grandpa proposed… Right there.” Her eyes fill with tears, and I know this is a true memory. “Thank you.” She turns and kisses my forehead. “Want to bring home some shells?”
    I nod, scared my voice will shake. Today, we’ll bring home more than just shells—memories. Ones I hope she’ll remember again tomorrow.

    words: 206



    Brian S Creek
    196 words

    Edith pulled the collar of her coat tighter around her neck as the cold sea breeze threatened to infiltrate her layers. She was trying to keep her eyes on the horizon and resented the wind for forcing her to blink.

    It wouldn’t be long now. She normally hated waiting for anything but for Harold she brewed patience. She could wait an eternity just to see his smile. He was her everything.
    So many perfect nights they had shared over the years but that first night, that was the keystone on which their love had been built.

    How fitting that his ship would return him today to the very beach where they first met. It had been hard while he’d been gone but she’d gotten through it. She was grateful that his absences were rare.


    Edith looked around to see her eldest son running across the sand towards her.

    “Mum, we’ve been worried sick. What are you doing out here?”

    “I’m waiting for your father.”

    “Mum, please, for the last time, father died at sea seventeen years ago.”

    Her heart skipped a beat as the sound of a ships horn brushed over her ears. She smiled.



    Brian S Creek
    197 words

    Jacob picked up an odd looking stone and brushed the sand off. He looked up at his grandma and wondered how she was being so brave.

    “What’s on your mind?” she asked him without taking her eyes off the horizon.

    “It’s not fair,” he replied.

    “Life isn’t fair, dear boy. Why should death be any different?”

    “But you’re not sick.”

    “No,” she said. “No I’m not. But I have outlived my usefulness to the state. I can no longer help Britannia so she can no longer help me.”

    Jacob turned to his father who was stood a few feet behind them. “Will daddy have to take the walk in the waters when he gets old?”

    His grandma nodded.

    Jacob watched the deep blue sea. He saw things moving beneath the surface and felt the goose bumps spread up his arms. “Will I?”

    Holding Jacob’s shoulder for support she slowly knelt down next to him. “We all have a limited time in this world,” she said. “Just make sure you do something amazing with it before you have to leave.”

    As his grandma embraced him, Jacob watched further down the beach as other families waited with their elders.


  38. Strands Of Memory
    208 words

    The sunrise was a thin pink line of icing on the purple-green sea. The waves whispered, hissing softly as they crept away from the beach. She stood, here where it had all happened, and remembered.

    Learning to run in slow motion had been the hardest part.

    Learning the storyline had been a doddle by comparison. Every week some extra would be sent out into the sea, where they would fold, arch, then sink like the Titanic, while putting more syllables into the word “help!” than Penelope Pitstop could. The running would then begin.

    But there are only so many ways in which you can rescue someone from death by overacting, so the show had folded, eventually, leaving her with only memories and a complexion like Popeye’s. It might have lasted longer, she reckoned, if things had occasionally come out of the sea – mermaids, perhaps, or the Aquaphibians from Stingray.

    The Hoff versus Godzilla – now that would have been some episode.

    She picked up a flat stone and flicked it out into the sea, where it sank like, well, like a stone.

    It was like her career, she reflected.

    Because before it sank it had bounced and skipped, briefly but spectacularly.

    She smiled to herself, and turned towards home.


  39. Nonna
    By Laura Carroll Butler
    205 words
    We saw her with her bicycle our first day at the beach. It was really too cold to swim, but it was our Spring Break, our first vacation with friends, no parents, and we resolved that we would enjoy it to the fullest. We jumped out of the water as quickly as we jumped in. She laughed merrily, muttered something with a deep smile, and rode away.

    The next day, she waved. We waved back. The third day, she brought almond cookies, crisp and sweet. We gestured to our blankets and she sat with us. We talked, she in Italian, I suppose, wildly gesturing and we understood each other despite the language barrier.

    We did not see her the next day, but she returned to the beach on our last day, bearing more almond cookies and strong, fragrant coffee. We were back to wearing jeans and sweatshirts, too chilly for swimsuits and ready to admit it. She waved her arms at us and laughed, pointing to herself and her feet. It took us a bit, but we understood, finally. We stripped our shoes off, myself, my friends, and the old lady and walked hand in hand into the ocean, the cold water tickling our feet.


  40. Where Only Sand Remains

    The sand was our salvation. We fled to the beaches and there our craftsmen breathed life into it. Melting it. Moulding it. Shaping the sand of the shore into ships of sheer glass. Ships that could ferry us to safety. Through the watchful nights the fires of the furnaces glowed and burned like the gaping mouths of lava-filled fissures. Like the breath of the dragons we’d left behind.

    At the furnaces dark silhouettes fashioned glass through the night while some slept and others sang the magic songs to the glass; trapping the words even as it hardened. Those too old to work stared at the sea and told stories of the lands beyond the waves, beyond our shores. But none of us had ever dared to sail to where the sky and ocean met.

    We unfurled the sails and left our shore for the horizon on the day the wind rose and the fog covered the land. Our songs caught the wind and we soared into the sky until we could look down at the beach where our old memories and old lives remained beneath the fog. There, where now only sand remains.

    I turned to watch the sun rise.  

    Words: 200


  41. Strand.
    @CliveNewnham – 204 words

    She’d learned the memories of the sea, collected from this sandy beach, held the seashells to her ear while dancing circles for the waves.

    She’d heard the siren songs, the pirates’ guns, the wails of wrecks, the mournful gulls white and gliding effortless – ghosts released from watery depths.

    Upon this shore she’d skipped with boys, made spangling rainbows in the waves; but some had gone to Utah Beach and some she’d known no more.

    Beneath the stars along this way she’d walked with husband Tom, and bringing picnics for the day she’d watched their children swim and play.

    And they all grown did much the same, day trips to the sea, building dreams and castles while the waves lapped on, forever lapping on.

    And still she’d cycled to the sea; removed old boots to feel again the gritty warmth between her toes and smell the ocean breeze.

    The sand has shades, so many shades, each grain a memory – red of blood, yellow sun, white innocence and black passed on.

    The lugworm digger does not see her watching him, and before he shoulders fork, her face dissolves, grains flowing through her clothes, all collapsing, merging, sand upon the beach, the memories living on.


  42. Watching

    The sun was rising as I went out on the tiny porch filled by a wooden rocker, holding a cup of fragrant coffee golden with real cream. I was living my cherished dream: solitude in a homely cottage by the shore a la Gifts from the Sea.

    Someone was coming down the path from the village, someone small and wiry pushing an old fashioned bicycle through the sand. She wore a dress and a coat and a kerchief. I was delighted – how perfectly droll! I reached for my pen.

    She stopped at the water’s edge and gazed into the distance, still and intent. At length, she toiled back up the path.

    She came every day for the entire month of my holiday. I tried to speak to her once, but when she turned, her lined face and white hair stilled my tongue. I had thought she was a girl.

    That winter was harsh. They warned me the beach would look different, that the wind and ice and snow had taken their liberties with the sand.

    I waited for her to come again. I willed her to come. But then I found a strange form half buried by sand – a rusted fender, a tattered seat.


    • It took me a minute to catch up with the fact that she returned to the same locale for a second holiday. Once I got it, I discovered a great appreciation for this piece. I love that it leaves us both with a sort-of answer about the woman and the narrator without her answers.


  43. @bex_spence
    208 words

    Setting sun

    Glancing across at the sea, Esther stopped in her tracks, she walked this way everyday but this evening there was something different, The sky was ablaze with colour, reds and oranges seeping into the cool aquamarine. Palettes ran, bleeding into one another, painting a picture for her old eyes to remember.

    Taking in a breath of salty air a tear gently rolled down her weathered face, Esther placed her bike on the road, walked across to the beach. She hadn’t stepped on it since that day years ago, the last time she saw her beautiful nipote, a golden angel, lost so young. Stooping carefully Esther eased off her shoes, rolled down her heavy tights, let the cool grainy sand flow between her toes, wriggling them it so it danced at her command. Moved in her direction. Kneeling slowly, her knees groaned as she scooped the sand, lifted it high, let it run through her fingers, a human hourglass, watching the sand fade away, setting it free to the wind.

    Minutes or an hour passed, Esther sat still watched the flaming sky fall into the sea, watched the ever changing skyscape as the sun finally set. Her time was done.She returned to her bike, cycled into the night


  44. Time to Retire

    Agatha hobbled down the street, leaning heavily on her bicycle. A nice young lady stopped to ask if she needed any help.
    Agatha smiled, “Why yes dear, could you point me towards Ray’s beach bar?”
    The young lady looked puzzled, “It’s just over that ridge, but are you sure that’s where you mean to go? It’s rather unsavory.”
    “Oh yes, I’ve heard there’s a lovely view from the patio. You can see all the way across the bay to the harbor.”
    “That’s true. You just be careful ok.”
    “Careful is my middle name dear.”

    Ray’s was indeed where it was supposed to be, and there were already patrons. How unfortunate for them. Agatha counted seven, big guys. They saw her enter but paid no attention, no one ever did. They didn’t see her twin silenced pistols until it was too late. She mostly aimed for kneecaps, except for the guy that pulled a knife on her. He took one to the groin.

    She ignored the groans from the bar and wheeled the bike to the patio. She carefully removed the broken down rifle from the wicker basket. The view was indeed spectacular. Her mark was sunbathing on the deck of his yacht, right on schedule. Time for someone to retire.

    210 words


  45. Never too old

    ‘Why you make me do this?’ the old woman asked, staring down at the small blue bicycle.

    ‘Because it’s fun! Come on, Nanna, you’ll see!’

    Madele, this is not for me. I am ninety-one.’

    ‘So? Gran, you’re never too old to learn something new, isn’t that what Opa used to say?’

    Bringing her grandfather into the conversation, the girl knew, was mean. But if it worked, she was happy to be mean – just this once. It was for a good cause, after all.

    The old woman sighed. ‘Yes, that is what he said, but your Opa never had a bike.’

    ‘But Nanna, we’re on vacation, and the beach is only half an hour from here. I want to ride to the beach with you!’

    Nanna looked at her with a raised eyebrow. ‘The beach?’

    The girl saw the sudden youthful twinkling in her grandmother’s eye. ‘Yes, Nanna, the beach.’

    The old woman looked down at the bicycle again. It always seemed so easy when others did it. And Opa had always been right about everything. How difficult could it be, really?

    She really would love to go to the beach…

    … to see the ocean for the very first time.

    200 words
    Sandra C. Hessels


  46. Human Interest Story

    208 words

    The old woman and I walked along the soft sandy beach. Her recent birthday just made her the oldest person in our small town and it was my job to bring her to the masses. I had reached for her bike to help but she gave me a look that stopped me. Not mean, just a look that said no.

    She spoke about her sister Lily working in the factories at nine and being hidden in a closet when the inspectors came, her mother teaching how to make the perfect pasta to lure a man and that it did in fact work beautifully. She always liked the pasta better than the man. Her eyes twinkling with memory.

    She looked over at the ocean. Blue and wide. Sun dancing on the ripples.
    “This is where my father and brother died. They were fishing, a huge wave caught the creaky boat taking it down. I remember my mother screaming, my sister’s howls. I had been building with my bucket, the sand was coarse and wet. It covered my hands. Antonio, the eldest, ran to out the the water, but they were so far away. ”

    Wrinkled fingers still strong gripped the handlebars. In one swift movement the bike was turned around.



    208 words

    Dolly had always wanted her own action film franchise but, as an osteoporotic octagenerian, she lacked the necessary box office pull. Instead, she carved out a living as an extra in European Art House films. She never quite broke through, but she managed to get a couple of Kieslowskis and a Fassbinder under her belt. Something in her bone structure lent itself to hackneyed symbolism. To impress young women, earnest, slightly older, men would feign amazement at her performance as Wizened Crone #3, “See her in the background,” they’d say, “She’s a proxy for Stalinism,” as their girlfriends yawned and wondered if they’d be able to make last orders at the Student Union.
    If Dolly was disappointed at her lot, she was enough of a pro not to let on. But with the advent of internet piracy, it became progressively harder to make a living in cinema. She tried to reinvent herself as street artist but there was no call for elderly woman personifying abstract concepts. She tried her hand as a busker on Brighton Pier but the audience tired of her meaningful silences. Destitute, she threw herself into the English Channel. Everyone who saw agreed, it was a tragic ending, but what a perfect allegory for Sebastopol.


  48. Title: Among Us
    Words: 210

    His human skin was melting. Well, her skin was human, and it was her skin melting. The ‘he’, Mason, wrapped inside, was not. The scarf, a wonderful human invention, kept the human skin attached to his head.

    “Why do we always stop here?” Hogarth asked.

    “Shut up! There’re humans around,” Mason whispered at the bike.

    “No fair you can talk whenever and I can only talk to you,” Hogarth grumbled.

    “Just be quiet,” Mason responded, blinking hard so the woman’s eyeballs did not melt onto her cheeks. “Bikes aren’t supposed to talk. You’ll blow our cover.”

    “Yea, and when all the humans see that woman’s skin your wearing puddle to the ground, that’ll be just fine. Seriously, why do we always stop here?”

    “Because every day I think about leaving you in that ditch. That’s why we stop here,” said Mason, pushing Hogarth along.

    “Very funny. You’re such a…what ‘s that word that humans say when someone’s being a jerk..? A beach! Yea, Mason, you’re a real beach.”

    “Shh! That human just looked over. You’ve got to stop talking!” Mason said. At that moment Hogarth spun his tires and Mason almost fell to the ground.

    “You deserved that,” Hogarth whispered.

    “Beach,” Mason griped and they carried on down the street.


  49. Silent Shores

    Silica swims sandy before her, grain piled upon grain. Jana wades her way through, to surface – waking – clear tides ebbing with the influx of sensory data. Reality holds fast flow now – grey replacing blues and golds, as far as the eye might see. Jana sits – points. Four-square, rays pinion her centrally – a bright ball blinding – relentless. Jana basks momentarily, eyes closed – though heat is lacking, coin being scarce. Soon, perhaps. Reluctantly, her grey eyes open. Time, too, evades her. “Beach,” she says, commanding.

    Whispering laps, as Jana inserts her ear piece, placing the jack into the port at her wrist. She stiffens, then relaxes, as the waves flood upon her – floating in, then upon them in their wake; one ocean of miniscule molecules, populated by swimmers, save for those already safely ashore. Liv and Grady; waiting, off-screen. “Soon,” she says. “Soon.”

    Silence breaks bitter – salt traced phantom across Jana’s bottom lip; blood tracked slight across her skin. “Beach,” Jana sighs, breathing out. Gradually, her eyes gain focus – hope dimming at the double flame digits scored livid into her flesh. Lines crease her brow. The skin is puckered surrounding the numbers; withered as far as her elbow. “Too soon,” she says, eyes filling. Inevitability beckons on her horizons.

    (210 words)



  50. Buried Deep
    210 words

    Beatrice groused at the construction site planted squarely across her route to Walgreen’s. Couldn’t they let one old lady through?

    “Sorry, Granny,” the boy twirling the CAUTION sign said. “Try the beach path.”

    Too crowded. The sea air wreaks havoc on the hair.

    She would have unloaded on him about arthritic knees but for the way his brown eyes peeked like twin otters through kelp-gold hair.

    Fine. The boardwalk, then.

    The pedals grew stiff. Must’ve been the sea air. She got off and walked. Her legs turned to clay. What was up?

    The sea wreaks havoc…

    Wait now. In what lifetime did she ever make a fuss about her hair? Harold was the one who hated the ocean. She chuckled. Old couples inevitably internalized each other’s habits–like how she still dunked rhubarb pie in coffee.

    The blue horizon probed her brain like a tongue fussing at a loose tooth. She tromped across the sand, determined to break through the resistance.

    The tide swirled around her ankles. Dormant memories surged to the surface: racing currents, twisting though kelp forests, plunging into indigo. Selkie!

    Beatrice barked with laughter. “Oh, Harold.”

    The depths beckoned their lost daughter, but Beatrice turned back. There was a rhubarb pie cooling on the counter back home.



  51. “The Boy With The Hazel Eyes”
    by Michael Seese
    210 words

    Agata never forgot the boy with the hazel eyes. He introduced himself with a cannonball that splashed water in her face. She knew then it would some day be love. That summer at her family’s cottage on Lake Scharmützel was the true beginning of her life.

    Saying goodbye tasted like poison.

    He wrote every week. When he’d send a photograph, she soared. But once Hitler’s serpent tongue stated seducing the country, his letters became less frequent. Too soon, they stopped altogether.

    Then the monsters with machine guns came to their door. Their new home embraced them with a ring of razor wire.

    Still, she never forgot the boy with the hazel eyes. Memories of the splash of water, the hidden kisses, were all that kept her alive. Agata held out hope she would see him again.

    Two weeks after her father died, Agata’s prayer was answered. Immediately, she wished Fate had ignored her.

    Gone were the crisp brown shirt and black shorts from the photos. In their place clung the uniform of death. He didn’t see her, or he pretended not to. For this small favor, she was grateful.

    When the war ended, she walked out the gates alone.

    And she never could forget the boy with the hazel eyes.


  52. “Undercurrents”
    by Michael Seese
    210 words

    Most family traditions grow from joy. Some, though, are born of pain.

    This beach will forever remain embedded in my very fabric. To this day, I can close my eyes, and relive it all. Building sandcastles with my brothers. Chasing seagulls. My father’s white nose. Sometimes, seeing dolphins dancing above the waves. And eating ice cream ALL DAY LONG!

    So many good memories.

    And one horrible memory, of hearing my mother’s screams when she looked out into the ocean and saw that Bill and Max were gone.

    From that day, we lived beneath a cloud that never rained upon us, yet always threatened to.

    Our family returned to the beach every year. We’d stay in the same hotel. And my mother would sit in the same spot, just staring at the blue emptiness. Though it was never said, I always believed my parents held out hope they would see them again.

    Why don’t they? I wondered.

    I did.

    I tried to tell my parents. But they never believed me.

    “Maybe when they’re in heaven,” Max would say.

    Even after my parents passed away, I would return to the beach. I’d sit there for hours, watching the waves. And I’d try to understand why my brothers no longer spoke to me.


  53. Anne and Marigold

    “Let’s go to the beach, Marigold! Isn’t that a fun idea?”
    Anne knotted a scarf around her head, disguising the candy pink curlers wrapped in her hair.
    “Come on, Marigold, that’s a good girl,” Anne said as she beckoned for Marigold to follow, despite Marigold’s grumpy demeanor.
    The two females waddled outside together, the smaller toddling behind the larger.
    “Let’s get you strapped in safe-like, dearie,” Anne said, carefully using the appropriate bits and such on the bicycle.
    Anne climbed up on the bicycle and began to pedal, the wind bringing pink cheeks and cheerful smile.
    “Just lovely, isn’t it Marigold?”
    Marigold stayed mum on the matter
    The beach came into view and Anne grinned even broader, brining the bicycle to a halt and chaining it to a tree before turning to free Marigold from her safety harness.
    “Let’s put our feet in the water,” Anne said, smiling down at Marigold.
    Once again the two waddled off, toward the water instead of a bike this time.
    As soon as their feet touched the water Marigold began to swim away.
    “Oh no, come back Marigold,” Anne called out, waving her hands.
    But Marigold had remembered that she was a duck and decided to set off for waters less strange.

    209 words


  54. Uncle Joe and the babushka
    205 words

    Ioseb walked alone on the cleared Black Sea shore. At the end of the beach he headed towards his black ZIL limousine. As he crossed the road an old woman pushing a bicycle passed in front of him. He jerked to a halt.
    “Babushka,” he said, “be careful.”
    She turned to him with vacant, distant, eyes.
    “Someone put earth in my poppy seeds,” she said. “It hurts my teeth.”
    Ioseb stared. People did not stop him, did not engage him, did not come near him. A henchmen climbed out of the car. Now his retinue were on the ball. He wondered if they’d be more attentive in Siberia.
    A bony finger poked his shoulder.
    “You have a pure heart,” said the old woman. “How do you have a pure heart, Ioseb Besarionis Dzugashvili?” The woman clicked her teeth together, it reminded him of spoons banging in a draw. She sighed, a noise like dead souls wailing, then said, “Single mindedness is not real purity. I’ll get you another time.”
    Ioseb wanted to strike the impertinent woman, but he was stuck.
    She walked away, her legs clacking like bones. Then a howling wind whipped sand and dust around. When it died down, she was gone.



  55. Title: Boys Club House
    words: 200

    “I was at the beach when Magdalena the witch walked by! I swear, the ocean waves slowed and all the seagulls who stick around in the cold season flew away. They were scared of her!”

    “As they should be! Tony said she killed her husband then fled to Europe for a couple years.”

    “That’s just Tony talking about things he knows nothing about as usual. He once told me that Katie, the girl down the street, was actually a robot.”

    “Magdalena is witch though! I saw it myself! She just walked along with her bike – you know, the blue one with the flower sticker on it – and she sneezed! The next day a major car crash happened in that exact spot. She cursed the spot!”

    “That’s ridiculous! Accidents happen everywhere.”

    “I heard Nelson say he bumped into her once. He didn’t show up to school for the next week, came down with the flu. His parents thought he wasn’t going to make it.”

    “She looks just like an old lady but she’s different. She’s got that walk. And that face.”

    “Everyone walks and has a face.”

    “Not like Magdalena!”

    “Well, are we witch hunters or not! Boys, grab your gear!”


    • Oh dear, this reminds me of kids in my middle school who were convinced that the cauldron in their neighbor’s yard proved she was a witch. Your tale captures that type of youthful insistence so well! Great job!


  56. Memories Stink!
    210 words

    Shore is a thin, blurry line of demarcation – an ever-drifting segment constructed of both land and sea. Shore marks its territory with an unforgettable smell – components of vegetation, fish, brine and sand mixed endlessly by tumbling waves.

    The butcher shop in Vierville-sur-Mer, just up the bluff, oozes the coppery tang of fresh meat – the same tang which conspired with the stench of hot metal and the acrid bite of smoke to overpower Shore’s scent 6 June, 1944.

    She clings to the handlebars of her bicycle, seeing, but not seeing, the crowded shop. The street-chatter delicately fades behind the knife-sharp laceration of blood-soaked recollection. She hears again the staccato tap-tap-tap of machine gun fire echoing off the bluffs cradling Cote de Nacre’s Shoreline. The tortured screams of agony again rip from the raw throats of men dying on the beach. She sees, in perfect detail, the wet, tattered meat and white bone of a casually discarded human arm in front of her hiding hole and the flowering blossom of blood crawling through the sand toward her feet.

    Sand should never be red. Waves should never wear pink froth.

    Men will do what men will do when conflict boils away common sense – but she will forever carry the scars of witnessing…Normandy.


  57. Blowing Apart (210 words)

    They said I was crazy.

    I am.

    To be conscious, to have any sort of synapses still firing away in the cranium, was to, in some way, be crazy. After all, to be conscious is to realize with every inhale of breath and every fortunate exhale of breath, that at some point, we will cease to be.

    To be.

    To be this amalgam of dandelion petals captured in a moment of chaos into something that loves, breaks love, feels fear, gets angry and yes, eventually, blows apart again.

    That’s why I pedaled faster, despite my heart’s insistence that my peddling days were far behind me.

    You have to understand. I spent most of my years in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Brutish, rough winters that forged my skin into rawhide. Yeah, yeah, we heard talks of summers in America, of these expansive beaches as far as the eye could see where women and men wore nothing and fornicated in the bluest of waters, waters filled with money and gold.

    We had our myths, too. To be is to mythologize. Or better, to be is to cope.

    I guess my family would say I’m coping now, pedaling as hard as I could to a myth with death and the wind at my back.


  58. @twinkieconfit
    210 words

    At Long Last

    Dearest Moirin,

    Ronan has delivered this letter and package to you after my death because I am a coward. We have left this unspoken for too many years, and I cannot bear to face you now.

    I have loved you since the night I first saw you, your pale skin glistening in the moonlight as you danced over the sand. You were, and still are, the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. I can still feel the brush of your silken fingers against mine as you, laughing, pulled me into your dance.

    The weeks between full moons were long. When I could no longer bear the wait, I hid your true skin and hoped you would embrace our new life together with joy. You wept during those early days, and I often held your skin in my hands with the intention of returning it to you. Alas, I was weak and selfish. And yet, you forgave me.

    You have given me such marvelous gifts: your love, a comfortable home, and strong sons and grandsons. We have led a long, blessed life. I hope you were as happy as I believed you to be.

    Wear your skin in joy. Dance once more in the moonlight.

    All of my love,



  59. Reunion (209 words)

    Shuffling down the winding walk, she stopped, listening. She lifted her downcast gaze toward the ocean. Past the sand. Past children playing, building castles, chasing each other, splashing in the spraying surf.
    She looked past the point where waves broke into blue pieces. Past where they mellowed into gentle hills, rising, falling. Like poetry.
    Without knowing it, she stepped forward. Into the sand. Her bicycle clattered to the sandy sidewalk. She did not hear it. She looked to the place where the ocean joined the sky.
    A whisper met her, its voice braving over the ocean breeze. And she remembered. She took another step.
    Her mind glanced past seventy-two years of living and working, of heartache and dying. The whisper grew clearer. Was it a memory? Or a voice on the wind?
    Her frail steps trembled over the shifting sands. Her gaze remained upon the merging of water and horizon, and it sharpened.
    Words filtered over the rushing zephyr. “I wait for you. No ocean waters can keep us apart.”
    She remembered, and in that place where blue and gray blended into life, she saw him waiting. Her footsteps no more timid, she touched the ocean. She held out her hand. He took it. And waves surged the shore.


  60. A Mother’s Visions
    (210 words)

    “He didn’t come in last night.”

    “Give him some space, Yessica,” Mortinus calmly replied. “He’s twenty-two. One night away from home? He’ll be in.”

    Yessica was already buttoning her heavy overcoat. “I’m going out. I know where to look.”

    “Not another vision.” Annoyance was sneaking into her aged husband’s voice. “I suppose you’ve ‘seen’ him.”

    “He needs my help, Mortinus.” Jessica was already through the kitchen door, mounting her bicycle to comb the beach.

    Yessica pedaled the deserted oceanfront, watching the tide lines, all the way to their small village. She saw nothing.

    Stopping at the local tavern, the keep was tidying up from the night’s crew. “Last night, was my Johannes here?” Yessica was weary from both the night’s visionary turbulence and the trip.

    “Left early, Yessica. Crabbing with the locals out Becca’s Breakers. They were…”

    “They were going to check the cages just beyond the sandbar.” Yessica completed his sentence.

    “Yaha! How did you know that?”

    “Call the Balliff. Get the trawler to the sandbars. There’s been an accident.” With take Yessica was gone.

    Traveling much slower on her return, Yessica surveyed the incoming tides as they broke against the beach front.

    “There!” she stopped, alone on the beach. “Debris… I see two bodies!”

    Yessica stood and waited.


  61. S. Todd Strader
    209 Words

    A Sun Filled Day At The Beach

    It started simple enough.

    “Care for a refreshment?” he asked with a sheepish grin and eyes to match the waves. Without waiting for a response, he lifted a bottle from the ice bucket planted in the sand at his toes. Yes, that was where it started. The woman stood motionless astride her bicycle lost somewhere over the sand between the bike path and the coming tide; somewhere between that long ago day and all the intervening years.

    What began with a friendly clink of bottles moved to an afternoon bike ride and then to an evening respite on a park bench. A bench like that one across the way where presently sat an old man. She traced the memories in her mind. How many times afterwards did they walk the beach, ride this path and sit on that bench? All life was a sun filled day at the beach until the accident.

    And then he was gone. Suddenly sullen, the woman peddled away, away.

    The old man on the bench looked up. His heart quickened. For the briefest moment he glimpsed a woman upon a bicycle. It was the spitting image of… no it couldn’t be. It was ten years since the accident and still he saw her everywhere.


  62. AL/Z!-M#R

    The sand splayed out before Zoe, shards of glass sparkled like jewels amidst the undulating dunes. Poseidon roared again from his lair, a frustrated wail that filled the world. Dropping to her knees Zoe plucked at the glass, a scarlet bead bursting into existence as a barbed thorn pierced her skin. Waves rolled down over black clouds as Zoe sucked at crimson. Meanwhile Poseidon thrashed and wailed, oblivious to her pain.

    He hadn’t meant it, how could he when the Furies had cast their influence so deep into his very soul. All Zoe could do was perch on the edge of the storm watching his once noble face contorted by confusion and pain. When he had grabbed at the hourglass, demanding to know where she was, the love of his life, the giver of existence to Zoe, she had tried to calm him. To assure him that everything was going to be okay.

    He had screamed in disbelief at the revelation, holding aloft this revered relic whose grains had counted Mother’s daily writing ritual. When blue skies were omnipresent and they were still together.

    In dismay he had cast the hourglass down, showering the floor in glass and time.

    Time, which had eroded his consciousness like sand.

    207 words


  63. The Audition
    210 words

    “How was the audition, Sweetie?”
    “Fine, I guess.”
    “Fine? You know that play frontward and backward. You could recite your lines in your sleep. Heck, you could probably recite the entire show in your sleep. Surely, you nailed the audition, and are just being modest. Am I right?”
    “Sadly, no. I mean, I knew my lines, and everything. It’s just that, well, this director’s interpretation is very different than what I’m used to.”
    “In what way?”
    “Well, the bicycle basket is mounted on the back of the bike, and not the front.”
    “That’s fine. Your character doesn’t even interact with the bicycle.”
    “It isn’t just the bicycle – it’s the tornado, too.”
    “How does one reinterpret a tornado?”
    “By changing it into a tsunami – the whole second act takes place on the beach.”
    “The beach? How does that work?”
    “The yellow brick road is a stretch of sand along the ocean.”
    “It’s what?”
    “Yeah. And there aren’t any ruby slippers, either. Only a pair of sensible shoes and a magical babushka.”
    “I see. But, tell me, please, that the director hasn’t tampered too much with your part.”
    “Funny, that’s the one change I think actually enhances the show. I mean, what could be sadder than a dolphin with no brain?”


  64. SAGE (WC = 198)

    With contentment overflowing her sage-brown eyes, Grace savored the break from island education by gazing at the horizon. Gray sea met azure sky in an undefined band of hazy, smoky clouds; the haziness similar to that lack of clarity she sometimes felt when answering the astute questions of her four children. Yet discoveries bound the family as the youth prepared for their own horizons.

    Grace’s toes found warmth in the tide-rippled sand as she pondered those many youthful queries. Her toes sifted small shells from the grains, like clear answers surfacing in the milieu of information available to her at the time on the isle. Her children formed their thinking skills from the discovery of myriad shells among the chaos of grains along the shore, from the gems among patterned waves.

    Grace’s memories of her children settled comfortably in the laugh lines of her mouth and eyes. As drift wood displays its character with age, so too did Grace’s skin. She carried her island days with her family in face print, easily interpreted by the newcomer: Grace embodied her name, with sun-kissed skin etched gently with the mirth of giving, guidance, happiness and time with those she loved.


  65. Temptation
    by Alissa Leonard
    209 words

    It was the swimsuit in the shop window that caught her attention. And held it. She probably would have been perfectly content to pass from this life, but for that swimsuit. They just didn’t make them like that back when she could wear them.

    Her mind conjured an image of herself – a vision of youth instead of her current, decrepit body – reclining on a beach, wearing that practically non-existent swimsuit, and wouldn’t let it go. The image became a dream. The dream, an obsession.

    Before she could let herself think of the ramifications, she bought it. Along with the shades, sandals, beach towel, wide-brimmed straw hat, and sunscreen.

    “Ma’am, I don’t think your packages will fit into your basket.”

    She eyed the handsome, young clerk who’d walked her out. “I don’t have far to go – a block and three doors.”

    “I can carry them that far, if you want.”

    “I’ve been known to devour handsome, young men in my time.”

    He chuckled. “I’ll take my chances.”
    She kicked the husk of the clerk aside to admire her new swimsuit in the mirror, and vowed it was the last time…again.

    “I can quit anytime,” she muttered then glanced at the clerk’s remains. “You can’t say I didn’t warn you.”


  66. Foy
    Word count: 209

    A Country Atones for Her Sins

    He doesn’t expect the noise, a sounding fury. His boot hasn’t touched the shoreline before the 152-mms rupture his tympanic membrane. Shrapnel bites into his left foot, dropping him into the surf; salt washes over his tongue, stinging his eyes into blindness, and flooding his parched throat. The M1 is slipping from his fingers. Stiff and icy, they’ve constricted into a useless claw but he dredges the waves until he finds his lifeline.

    “Keep moving!” Harry grabs his sleeve, hoisting him up, and shoulder-to-chest they storm the beachhead. Around them, death spits and howls and claims its own. Men he barely knows but calls “brothers,” huddle against ironworks, pinned down by enemy malice. Spent, he collapses into the arms of insentient i-beams, just as a slug pierces his right side, clipping his lung. Rasping at the air, he crumples, face grating against unforgiving dunes.

    And then he sees her, shuffling among the fallen, bending in the grit and guts to whisper into ears covered by matted hair. Mom? He squints, granules pricking his eye-flesh. No, this isn’t his mother but she shares her spirit. She’s closer now and he can see she’s older than conflict, a transcendent being in an unholy realm.

    Her mouth opens, “Bitte verzeihen Sie mir.”


  67. The Last Pilgrimage
    (200 words, @pmcolt)

    Gretchen’s journey ended seaside. The roiling clouds of the machines gathered at the horizon, scrubbing away the blue skies. Her blue bike, the last loyal machine, had carried her a thousand miles over broken asphalt, but gave out in the end. She reminisced as she walked that last mile to the beach. In her lifetime, she had lost good friends, two husbands, and both children.

    But the sadness of their loss did not wash away the joy of their memory. She had given birth to a million lines of code and two sons, and shared uncountable laughs and international coffees with friends long gone. A thousand moons was time enough to understand that all things ended. So it was with mankind.

    Gretchen settled herself onto the sandy bank, letting the timeless ocean lap at her sore feet, and breathing salty air into her aching lungs. As the sky darkened, gusts of wind cut through her woolen overcoat and babushka. The swarms of molecule-sized machines had been fruitful, and multiplied, and now they had subdued the Earth.

    Unnatural dark clouds encircled the last remnants of blue sky. Directly overhead, the faintest sliver of the Moon smiled down at Gretchen. Close parenthesis.