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This was quite a challenge in and of itself!

The prompts were interesting, but the entries were few. One reviewer agreed to review the entries and fell sick. Eventually the lovely Joy Lennick came to our rescue and all our entrants have received her feedback and are very grateful for it. Thank you Joy…

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Joy Lennick

“Born in Essex at an early age…evacuated three times during World War 11. Separation from  parents (to Wales) was softened by reading Hans Christian Anderson and The Brothers Grimm stories, etc., by candle-light. The reading bug encouraged writing…Happily married 64 years; three great sons. Retired to Spain 17 years.
Writing-wise: I’m an eclectic writer – keep a diary and have written many poems and short stories (several published in various anthologies); ran a poetry group in the UK and had ‘Celtic Cameos and other poems’ published. Won the lst International Short Story Competition in 2005 in Torrevieja, Spain. (My first two factual books were published by Kogan Page Ltd., of London in 1984/5) There was a wide gap while husband and I ran a few businesses and brought up the lads. Had ‘My Gentle War’ – a memoir – published by WordPlay Publishing; re-published by QGS Publishing last year. Wrote ‘Hurricane Halsey’ from the log books of an epileptic seaman adventurer; then ‘The Catalyst’ – my only novel – based on an actual terrorist train bombing in  London in 2005. Last year, I adapted a book for a friend: written by his grandfather Frederick Knight.’From the Prairie to Passchendaele.’ One of 12 children, born in the late 1800’s he migrated from Kent, UK to Canada, aged 17, became a farmer, before the First World War claimed him. He was nearly killed and lost his right arm. He retrained and prospered; returning to the UK. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, aged 83, he typed the m/s of his book with a head device. A brave man indeed! Last year I also edited and typed my husband’s memoir ‘A Life Worth Living’ and am about to have ‘The Moon is Wearing a Tutu’ published by QGS Publishing. It’s a modest, (hopefully) humorous collection of silly poems, limericks and jokes (many by my husband) perfect (?!) as Christmas stocking fillers…..I Chair the writing group ‘Writers’ Ink.’
Books available from Amazon, Kindle and CreateSpace and a few lesser known sites. My website address is: https://www.joylennick.wordpress.com/
Her books include:The Catalyst  and My Gentle War, among others tha can be found on her website.
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The prompts:
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Prompt 1 – Where do you live in this picture, and why don’t you want to live on the other side of the water?

Prompt 2 – Write a story about a place where the landscape changes daily.

Prompt 3 – “It’s what I do in the middle of the night.”

In Wonderland

by Shalini Vaghjee

Prompt 2 – Write a story about a place where the landscape changes daily.

The big day finally arrived, that day which all little girls dream of: when their charming prince will take them to their dream world. Finally, after a few days of great celebrations, we were married. And as the culture or law or ritual would want it, I had to leave my parents house to start a new life in my husband’s mansion which was quite far in the countryside. As we drove, I felt apprehensive; I don’t know if I was ready for this new life. I felt homesick. How will I cope in this strange house, with strange people? My heart pounded as these thoughts rushed through my brain.

I was lost in my mind when the driver stopped the car and said: “here you are! Enjoy your new place and your new life” I lifted my eyes and to my utter surprise, in front of us was a rather old wooden house which I often dreamt as a child, or maybe I had seen in movies. I hurried outside to breathe in the summer air and the sound of birds as well as the tinkling of wind chimes nearly took my breath away. I felt a new gush of excitement rushing through my veins. It was nearly dawn and we unpacked only a few important stuffs. We were so exhausted after many days of wedding arrangements and celebrations that we were off to bed. But now with mixed feelings…

After only a few minutes, which actually were a few hours, I woke up by the sound of water dripping. Oh, another broken tap, I thought! And then I realized, oh this is a new house, so I need to look for the taps. I started my search: on the first floor bathroom and sink: no broken tap. Then I came downstairs: in the kitchen, bathroom and every possible corner, I looked for the sound of water dripping. In vain, I went outside. Using a torch to see where the soil would be wet, I searched and searched. Now, that was a huge garden… And suddenly, I heard the sound becoming louder and louder… Got it! I thought… And I moved in that direction. But the sound seemed further away… I stopped and looked up. The view was breathtaking… The full moon was glowing with its millions rays, illuminating the whole garden and there the sound was… A white waterfall! I was stunned… I don’t know how long I stood there but I finally went into my room… And opening the curtains, I was delighted that my room faced this awesome view and as I watched it again, I dozed off…

As I woke up the next morning, I smiled at the magnificent view of the night’s eve and wished for a bright sunrise near the waterfall. To my amusement, in front of my eyes, extended an array of lush green trees – ebony, bamboo and even fruit trees like mango and litchi. It was a leafy paradise.  My ears perked up at the whistling sound of the bamboo leaves. These trees lined the banks of a magnificent river whose water sparkled with the first rays of sunshine. Then, suddenly the sky was overcast, and at times it drizzled making the paths muddy. A large crowd had gathered under an old banyan tree, and a few people were singing. These occasional drizzles created puddles of water in places… I tried to listen to what they were singing… It was such a sweet melodious music and I dozed off with this divine music…

Waking up, I tried to listen again to that music… But to my surprise, I found a huge white canvas as if waiting for the artist’s colors. I felt a sudden chill inside my bones and this is when I realized that huge snowy mountains were erected in front of my window… A gentle hush cloaked the land and the empty skies were silent. I turned around and saw the fire glazing in my room. As my body shivered, the radiant light of the fire warmed me up. It was a ghostly cold night and I did not want it anymore. By now, I knew that the moment I close my eyes, I will be further surprised.

Why not? My prince charming had brought me to an enchanting world. He knew that was what I always wanted. I was thrilled about it now. And to my delight, there lay in front of my eyes the most stunning view I could ever imagine.  A strange and densely forested form of volcanic mountains over which run clear streams of sweet water was surrounded by dazzling white sand beaches, a spectacular coral reef and sparkling turquoise water. The coral reef enclosed a turquoise lagoon which was busy with people snorkeling and enjoying other water sports. On the white sand beaches, palm and fir trees stood majestically. Throughout the island were sugar-cane fields with their silvery-purple plumed tops waving in the balmy tropical breeze.  Deep blue skies and clean, fresh air were the crowning glories of this little spot of heaven. I opened my lungs and relished such pure fresh air… I knew that I needed it most…

The next morning I woke up with a bright sunrise revealing an intriguing area of sand dunes comprising sand of seven distinct colors (approximately red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow). It looked ancient, as if, over the years, rains had carved beautiful patterns into the hillside, creating an effect of earthen meringue. At first I noticed shadows on the hills, creating the illusion of different colors, but soon I realized that the colors were real and the shadows were the illusion. I ran my fingers through the colorful sand, trying to mix them. To my amazement, the colors separated from each other as each tried to desperately retain their stubborn personality. These rolling dunes of multi-colored lunar-like landscape were definitely spectacular. As I relished such beauty, I dozed off.

What happened next was even more exhilarating. The sound of waves and water breaking at a coral reef woke me up. I looked out just to be amazed to find myself in the middle of the sea. Oh yes, it was like a chalet in the water. I opened the door and went in the balcony. The bright sun was shining happily and I watched the waves and even saw a few moorish idol swimming just next to me. These beautiful fish with a distinct zebra stripes, yellow fins and tail are believed to bring happiness and I knew that they had come for me… I let myself float away as our house danced on the waves. It was splendid…

That night revealed the most spectacular array of stars in the sky. No telescope was needed and yet, the dark night sky was completely illuminated and bright.

I did not know where we reached but the next thing I saw was a large spread of sand dunes, a few brown shrubs and some camels. We were in a desert and I could feel the wave of scorching heat striking and burning my skin at the same time. I read about deserts at school and today I was experiencing the torrid heat which nomads had lived through. How did they survive? I wondered…. Suddenly I saw myself on the back of a camel and we were riding towards a group of other camels. From the top, I felt my body was roasting but the patience and endurance of the camels overwhelmed me. How could these animals be living in such harsh conditions? No complaining, no irritation, and very patiently they moved. I hugged the camel and whispered in his ears: you are awesome! I even saw a grin on his face…

As I was enjoying the ride, I felt happy to be in this wonderland and I could not wait to witness the next mysterious yet magical landscape. I was finally in my enchanting world, the place called home, the best place ever.

— End–

Nim

by Noor Nass

Prompt 2: Write a story about a place where the landscape changes daily.

She turned her back from the big window at floor sixth. The glass was stained with blue segment. It was XXXX meter high from ground level. She made the penetrated sunset noon from the glass window reflect the last rays of the day. She remained at the floor in an office made from marble fitting. The room had a white ceiling with downlights made by yellow Philips electricity. The dim surrounding reflected from the ground office on floor sixth by the light exposure. It felt like a library after sunset that had so much stories that was archived for each white-collar officer with secrets. Some of these officers would hide it away from the new intern. Including, hiding it from previous secretaries without the Boss. Nim was not that tall, medium height for her country men and women. With long shoulder black hair and yogurt skin. She thought to herself that she has been lost in wonderland for too long. The days would turn into nights and the nights would turn into days. The days would overlap and begin to remind her of what she missed in him. Dust has been what she ate without his presence or even a hint of his shadow. The logic would not come through; the phone calls she conducted for her meetings with her other coworkers would not make sense. A friend of her boss would come talking to her about the accounts that she was always so good at it and so fast with identifying and following up with him. But not this time and not after he left. Elle was very tall came from Persian English descended. He would talk and talk and she tried to hold what he said to her but nothing would come through. She was more in love with Elle’s wife that was from Levant origin. Being in love with him to see love then opening her mouth to something else then love was love by itself. Perhaps that would reflect of Williams sudden take off without goodbye, she thought to herself. For even a phone call he wouldn’t break his finger for NIm – to his very own personalized Coordinator. Could it be? coming to it. Nim stood in that office that afternoon reoccurring all the events and all the conversations. She thought of crossing the bridge for answers to the other side of the second building. She paused for a while wondering to herself that she should cross it or wait for escort to grab her. It was few days before waiting stopped sounding like the word waiting. Perhaps even feeling the weight of the weight but more like a transformation to the things undone. She couldn’t stand doing nothing she was being transferred into this helpless creature that would sound like a zombie more than a woman that was taken. Now, William was tall and slender in physique had no mustache and was white in skin that was well groomed. Her Boss Catherine was a red head with green eyes also very tall but filled with joy. She grabbed the phone after few weeks from the enlightenment that hit her tiny officer Nim in denial. She requested Nim to escort the secretary to her office. Nim spoke to Catherine about the technological advancement that was responded back for the new communication arrangements, the dig of the past. She was transferred with shouts of being a victim but not a lover as she had to travel back with the new arrangements and ignore the fact that she was left at the altar. Who wants to live like a victim Nim wondered that’s not a way of life she would respond with a shout back to Catherine. That’s not my life or my wife, or even a husband. That was not the years that Nim sacrificed in lucid dreams only to be understood by the fact that William can awake it and take off with it. At that instance Catherine wouldn’t handle it anymore. The shouts, the screams of a big brother figure in demand. She needed her to make the decision herself but not before she met RSO. Now RSO was not like any regional security office that placed the lock on the door and cameras near the car park. Instead they wanted that human security of what would happen if they handed Nim weaponry devices for her protection. Catherine thought it was too much for a girl of banking background creating financial analysis for the bilateral relationships in the gulf. But it was necessary to break things down then mend it, if it prevails. She met Sonia. Sonia was about the size of Nim but triple the apetite with daily workouts. She was introduced by Catherine and Michael. Michael looked Roman and not Irish double the size of Sonia but very blonde with white ways. He told her to sit down and get comfortable. Michael walked in the room after four to five minutes of silence after putting Nim on alone in the room. Nim looked at the pitch-black room then she opened her eyes wide and descended to the life of her sinful nature. It seemed to her that room had a jacket suit hanged on the hanger. Black mug with writings on it on the table something even for the usual daily shifts from a sports athlete for security concerns on the premises. to Sonia’s suit for his now and then meetings for briefing on negotiations. Yet he still did not enter the room. Instead, she kept her waiting in thought after the pattern shifted from William to Catherine to Michael. Michael with Sonia entered on Jewish grounded notion, the other one entered with Roman grounded notion. It seems to me that I gave myself to the pathos and ethos and …. of Segments Freud mind set when she saw this. She was shamed and had to hide it with all the wrong things. I had Sonia mesmerized with the fact that Nim was shy from it. Perhaps, that they were in her face about it but very in acceptance. Then she descended more to a world that Michael made at the Base. But without the wife or the trifle. She became white in the face, memorized in love and respected for it. Sonia began with logical questions according to the mass problems. She was helpful in breaking it down to direct contact, then allowing a pause to rejuvenate. The psychological assessment did not halleluiah with the expected results. Neither, did it complements the future, since it was lacking evidence. Including, the science in it. Sonia said nothing but vibrated the prerequisite for some day of tentacles. Nim had no one to testify for her in the name Christ, but only in the name of history that was abandoned. Which, did not shout her name or had a spoken of destiny. Instead of feeling sorry to herself, Catherine thought to Nim. Catherine advice was that Nim should focus on the present that was filled with un-tensed events. But to Nim it seemed like she entered the past to recall the objects capturing each notion to where it belongs from England to the Netherlands. Hoping that her mobster thief would let go. How gorgeous William was but what a mobster by all means that killed the ambiance to the attention of the team’s future. She was a Banker by every dimeter she walked on. It did not compliment Nim at all, because they all left. Sobbing with disgrace after being left at the alter like a runaway bride she couldn’t handle the truth that he couldn’t handle the ducks. if only there was a bridge for Nim and William that the mess of the mass would be the perfection of a respected, white revolution. Sonia could not say more or agree to disagree or agree to agree to disagree. Instead she thought that Nim forgot what was given, before William took off without a word. Sonia though that her very own security presence should be an archive enough to tap into the questions that she dared not to dip in. They were very close to each other to the extinct of sniffing cheese and having meals together. that is what Sonia and Michael really thought. But that was not all of her they added as they shared notes together. When Michael added to the lot of assessment about her network and encounters she mentioned one that got close to her by the name of Shani. Michael asked her what was the nature of the relationship. She remained silent for a while and told him that she can only recall his Evernote applications on PC and cellule. Since it diminished the past and played with Nim in the present. They spoke about all kind of matters of woman empowerment and dignified respect not to mention the financial risks. Michael had enough. Sonia did not disagree. The situation was the ending for the interview in the room. Michael concluded in his assessment that the end of the middle east partnership initiative should take immediate effect and close the books. Psychologically Nim was sent on a thread if not less than a thread back to creation. As she got out of the room for the termination to take immediate effect she went back to search for evidence. She existed the secured door and went outside the room into the square waiting room outside. She walked back to the other side of the building into the office room, she passed the tables of the staff to each of their own world with their own rule. Non of it spoke of William except for his business deals that perished when he left. Nim decided to take things into her hands, touch it, smell it, and sense it. Just to restore what was left of the sliced organ that they call a heart. After searching the office upside down trying to communicate with whatever smelled like him on the table, on the chair, the pens that were not there, the papers that were gone and the phone that began looking like plastic. Nothing would make sense. She went to the very end of the office hallway walking between the diced walls into the slaves’ worship zone. And the explanation would be the non-logical socio desire of nonsense. Whenever Nim would ask, she would get a respond of a gossiped goose instead of the top of the pops magazine for political acceptance. She thought to herself it was a chaotic act, anyways. Nothing would prevail. She asked Sonia and Michael in the small office restaurant at level Seven on a bowel of salad and night of heavy duty weight lifting. obviously of security concerns to terminate the presence of her contract until things clear out. She was unable to identify the presence of William. Let alone surf above her sinful nature to a righteous concern, she was in pain and she had to see why. It was not the wise decision neither was it her but from the language used on her she thought it was enough to complete her Bachelors education with proper social recognition based on personal views. Her conclusion was this that life took its toll of six years in disgrace but she lived it up to the best. Nim was the lonesome knight in denial, a dark ranger for the stand of the sword in a rock without her prince. Dust to dust for life did not blossom with flowers in spring, the days turned to weeks the weeks turned to months the months turned to years and the years forgot it was years and the season turned into quarters and the quarters forgot the days and the days forgot the day. When day turned to the night the night forgot it was late. After all is said the tiger eye watches the red sunrise as Nim said her goodbyes “Farwell her lover, Farwell her friend, you have been the one for her. She was filled in Williams presence, however empty handed but alive in his hands.” Nothing will quench that thirst, and nothing will quench it, either. She left the building pretending he was on foreign grounds.

— End–

“It’s what I do in the middle of the night.”

By Preeti Rana

Between dusk and dawn. It is what I do then.

I can’t return to the day. It held back when the light started to fail. So, I am alone here, in the middle of the night. The darkness is still and unmoving. I have instinct and a fickle moon for direction.

Direction.

Stopping at the textured silhouette of a tree I remember my brother saying all directions were the same. Measured only by association, he had explained.

The Person-I-Love, misquoting Lewis Carroll, had been cruel about my directionless life. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

There isn’t really

Anywhere to return

Or somewhere to go still

But nothing here stays

That was all me, to myself.

The day gone, the night stalling, I am restless. It’s a night the rain left soggy. We aren’t meant to be still, he had continued. My brother. He held a ringside view of the cosmos from his café window. At 600 kms per second, nothing is still. I remember him chuckling, looking at the lake he loved. I loved him. He extended my poetry. Drew fine silk from it. Weaved it into code and quantum physics. We say the same thing in different ways he would say in his review. His face creasing into fine lines and a smile. Then the rumble of laughter that shook his shoulders and his chin would lower deeper into the smile. I knew him by heart He did more to my feverish, impatient scribbling than anyone. He placed it in the position of a distant, mysterious star. I was fine with that.

Distance.

I liked distance. Kept it. With everyone. Even reason. Yet here I am in the middle of covering distance. I will consume it till I stand toe to toe. With the Person-I-Love. I seem to have lost the moon. And track of time.

Time.

Time is such a concept. One of our finest notions. So fantastically layered it has become the spine of our existence.

A lifetime without him-the Person-I-Love seems equal to the two years with him. never lived before meeting him. Not this way.

He had made me weary. I changed in a multitude of ways. They seeped into my

being. I see how pain stains. I remember storming into the café and thrusting my latest under my brother’s nose. I was hurting afresh then. And my brother was trying to save me.

Reaching Before time Sometimes I wait For reason To catch up Join my flight It does on occasion Rotates my view Shows me falling From its virtuous height I fly still

in a wondrous Y Pitying Reason’s plight

He had looked up. His full smile meeting my crooked one. My eyes had filled. It happens to the best of us when facing understanding. I had needed to sit down. And some Coffee, please.

Dad died a year after I fell in love. It was unexpected. Not dad dying but the falling. I was in the middle of it. Dad died like a beached whale. I saw life ebb from his eyes. When they flickered towards me, his eyes would glow, telling. No one has ever looked at me like that. Except my brother.

That’s where my father was when I last saw him. At the edge of something. In the middle of something. That’s where we are at death.

I was sent off on an errand. To the next city. Across a sea. He and my brother had conspired. I never saw him without his body that betrayed him.

He left me in the middle. With very little left. Or right. Dad took my childhood with him. It was in his safekeep. It had roots that nourished me.

The second year of loving was all about death. Death of illusions, of myself as I knew myself to be, of love itself. I didn’t meet my brother. He would stop the dying. wanted to die. Rid myself of all these perishable facets to my thinking. I wanted them to die.

But it was my brother who died. He tried to reach me. Then he let me be. Found someone else sitting at his window when I returned. A family of three. The anthology of poems dedicated to him was picked up and kept on the chef’s shelf as I walked away.

I needed the Person-I-love. He too had left without saying goodbye. It felt like I didn’t exist anymore. I loved him beyond reason. I need to reach there.

Love

My brother and I often spoke about it. I said love was a flow of a river. He said it should be placid, deep as an underwater-spring lake. With bulrushes and ducks. He said flow is directional, one way. Yes It was, I argued. What is returned in the name of love is gratitude at best. Love began from snow-capped mountain peaks. Without reason. But it had to be about free will.

Free will

He was always reading or with his audio books. The first volume of Pullman’s His Dark Material lay open at our last conversation. He took off his earphones to listen to me. The sun had tinted the sky pink outside his window. My brother looked a beautiful autumn. He was wearing his old brown sweater with the intricate pattern knitted by his love. He wore it on days he found tough.

I had turned our conversation to his book. It would become about me soon enough. He said it described a world he could visualise.

“Then it’s like yours. You only visualise what you know.” That was me, probing. He said yes. His way was always of gentle agreement. Even when he disagreed.

“That’s proof isn’t it.” I had leaned forward, eagerly. “That we know more than we know. And it’s really about catching up. Not gaining ground. That’s why we can never choose any other way.”

“Our free will is the constant. It releases variables. Every choice, every part played is to the rhythm of our heart. Like the Mandelbrot set!”

Bingo! he had smiled his smile. He taught me what little I knew about fractals.

Every change is a choice he said. Then muttered something to himself. “What was that?” I asked as I gathered my bag, phone, my scattered thoughts and pages. “We can always choose again.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. As I stared he said, “make that my epitaph, willya.” I never fully understood. He had held my hand in a tight grip, “Let me pass away without significance.”

Significance

I am walking again. It’s the middle of the night. Two men had left me. One chose death and the other a life without me. I haven’t stopped walking since I left the cafe. I have reached his street, The Person-I -Love. His house resembles him in its

silence. All the curtains are drawn. There is a yellow glow in the new room

upstairs. I never visited. He had kept me firmly on my side of the story. I am a doorbell away from ruining the quiet of the house. His family would see anew in the shadow I would cast when the door opens. From across the street under the flickering lamppost I watch his window. I am tired.

My father taps me on my shoulder. Reminds me to submit my work on time. It’s due next week. My brother tells me to choose again. Love. I will cross the street. Destroy him. And then destroy myself.

Time. I will move on. two years can be pressed between pages of my memory. I will live for more.

Distance.

I will cross the street. To the bus stop. The early bus will be here in a while. Take me back to the café. In time for the funeral. I will read out a new poem . In the middle of the night, I choose again.

Death

I am often by the lake. Your café window still holds the bulrushes and ducks. And my reflections. The flow of living and loving settles as always at our table, into a calm. On nocturnal walks to the pond’s edge, some days, I see the bed of stars. So clear and still is the water. There are corals too I imagine, of our pain, fed by sunshine.

Carrying our worlds within worlds within worlds, brother, I continue to write for you.

Telling stories that a moment holds even as we live all those moments for a story.

–End–

 

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What started out as the April challenge, eventually became the May-June challenge. Four very interesting tales were sent in to be reviewed.

Entrants had the following prompts to choose from: A Campfire, The rain wouldn’t stop, and finish this sentence: “I didn’t plan to be a superhero, but all of that changed when I got bitten by a __________. (And then write a story that follows it.)

Martin G. Parker

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Our member and writer Martin Parker, very kindly agreed to be the reviewer and sent in his detailed critiques of the pieces entered. Thank you Martin!

Profile: Martin was born in 1956 in Uttoxeter in the English Midlands. He has worked in factories, retail, the funeral business, driven taxis and played trombone in a British Army regimental band, but since 2000 he has worked as an Associate Professor of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Bahrain, specialising in the history of the English language and meaning in English. He has published two novels, They Also Raise Chickens, and The Conscientious Historian, and a collection of writings, Improbable Tales From Unlikely Places, all available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon. Martin is also a musician; he sings, plays the guitar, mandolin and harmonica with the Bahrain-based Celtic-music band, The O’Dwyers. In addition. Martin runs the monthly meetings of the Bahrain Acoustic Music Group who hold their regular sessions at JJ’s. Martin lives in Bahrain with his wife and 12-year-old son.

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And so without further ado… here are our entries

The Rain Wouldn’t Stop

By Preeti Rana

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I didn’t plan to be a superhero

By Rifat Najam

…But all of that changed when I got bitten by a pair of toddlers. My twin toddler nephews are a great booster for me. Whenever I feel dull, I rush to visit them to boost my energy. With them I get to act all insane, thus forgetting all the temporary stresses of the day. When the super aunt and nephews go crazy with their super powers, the mother’s heart starts to beat so fast that it seems it might jump out at any moment, yet she pretends to act all normal as if she is carefree. Kids are a blessing, in their innocence they bring us back on track when our steps wander away.

I recently saw a documentary, Teen Press, by T. C. Johnstone. Although the maker tried to portray his vision of ‘you can be anything you want’, from my perspective it gave out different messages to different minds. “Everyone has a story to tell” and “they are just people”, were comments made by two teenagers that really affected me as these are two of the few things that I had recently been struggling with.

Kids are innocent beings who know no limits to the etiquettes that Life teaches. Their innocent souls value gold and sand as one. Love and laughter are the language they speak and share. Many times they clear our blurred vision when we go astray. I love taking advice from my niece when that blurred vision strikes me. The other day I was irritated for some reason when she made a comment, “happy times, happy memories, when you come then we talk happily”, which completely took my irritation away.

Recently I asked myself a question: why is it rare to see assistance being offered before it is asked for. You don’t have to possess super powers to understand when help is needed. People nowadays seem to have covered their eyes with blinkers in order to run in one particular direction. Our lives are divided into professional and personal halves; professionally, a lot of potential is waiting to be discovered and given assistance before this neglected talent fades away. And personally every being has a responsibility towards its surrounding.

Nature has taught us how we are all interconnected. Rivers flow so life can flourish and if that came to an end life will become extinct. Similarly, if the winds stopped blowing globalization would come to an end. When nature has taught us to share, then why do humans act selfishly and hold back what tomorrow doesn’t promise to be theirs.

In simple words, step up and be the change that explores the one in need and help before it gets too late!

Superhero

By Michael Rollins

I didn’t plan to be a superhero, but all of that changed when I got bitten by a bug called fatherhood: Quite a statement, I know, but I also know that I’m no different than most other fathers out there. The thing is, it’s not about us; it’s about our children: They make us superheroes.

*

My daughter, Maya, was just five when my best friend, Michael, died. She called him Mikey; no-one else did, and he liked that. Michael was her favourite visitor; she attached herself to him from being a few months old and that was that.

Michael was a friend I’d known at school and later, by chance, a work colleague, when the firm I worked for merged with his. We developed a friendship based at first on mutual respect for each other’s work and then because we just…‘clicked’: The same sense of humour and a love of reading fiction being two of the main reasons. I remember the drunken discussions we had over James Ellroy and Cormac McCarthy, which trailed like ribbons unspooling deep into the night. Eventually, Michael became my boss or, as my daughter referred to him, my ‘work teacher’.

And we worked well together. And we had some great times. And Michael knew he was dying long before my little girl was born.

*

Michael never really disclosed anything about his condition; he was not secretive but quite vague, and all anyone really knew was that there would be no recovery. Like many people in this position, he helped his family and friends through it all. For a few years there was little noticeable change in his physical appearance. Yes, he had to rest more frequently and was steadily losing a small amount of weight, but there was no sudden change. Until, in his final year, over a few weeks in the autumn, he melted away like the reds and golds of the October leaves.

*

Explaining to a five year old what death means can be like trying to separate the milk from a cup of coffee. We were prepared to talk about what people think might happen after somebody dies and had tried to ready ourselves for the questions that a five year old would probably ask. When Maya had listened to what we had to say, she looked at us for a full minute, her eyes as sad as those of Christ in a painting of the Sacred Heart.

‘Why wasn’t it me?’

We had no answer that was worthy of the question. My pathetic words ‘It was his time’ folded and crumpled in my mouth, into the dust they deserved to be.

*

In the weeks following the funeral, Maya became another girl. She was uncommunicative and guarded, where she had been confident and friendly; uninterested and a little cold, where she had really loved life and the living of it. Our baby stopped smiling, but she hadn’t cried, and that, more than anything, broke our hearts.

There were a couple of incidents at school. Nothing major, although we were called in one time after she had told two of her friends that they or one of their parents could just

disappear one day without even telling them, and never come back. The girls had both burst into tears at this and the teacher told us that Maya just shook her head at them, walking away like a parent who was out of patience.

We knew after this episode that trying to ignore the profound change in our daughter, hoping this was temporary, was not an option. To get our little girl back we had to encourage her grief.

But how?

My wife and I had always shared the opinion that everyone grieves in their own way; that there are too many judges in this world. We all deal with loss differently, as individuals, and it is fundamentally wrong to expect everybody to behave in the same way. However, we had on our hands a confused, frustrated and unhappy young girl that we loved more than anything in this world. We had to think of a way to help her out of the shadow that had been cast over her since Michael died.

*

In the end, the answer was simple, as these things often are.

Just after Maya turned four, she went through a phase. Every parent knows about ‘phases’; this word covers all those difficult periods in a child’s life that parents go through. Those times when Mum and Dad are pulling out their hair for a solution to a new pattern in their son or daughter’s behaviour that is inconvenient.

For instance, there is ‘Question Time’. For everywhere you go and everything you do, there are is an unlimited, unstoppable flood of questions; unanswerable questions that drown you in a wave of words. ‘Why is he a policeman?’, ‘What is a bird for?’, ‘Who thought of butter?’

Maya’s phase involved getting out of bed within minutes of our leaving the room. There had always been the conversation about her day, the two stories, the ’cuggle’ and the kiss goodnight: a ritual to rival any sacred rite.

I remember the first time she ventured downstairs. She must have followed her Mum out of the door within seconds and walked into the kitchen where I was pouring our ritual glass of wine; a quiet celebration that all was done for the day and that everything in Paradise was just as it should be. Except this evening, it wasn’t.

‘Maya, what are you doing?’ I asked as she opened the fridge door peering inside like she had a particular sandwich in mind.

‘I’m minding my own business.’

It was clear that Paradise had a problem…

*

At last, as we were approaching the outer realms of our sanity, my wife came up with an inspired idea. Music. Maya had always responded well to music, almost all of her favourite children’s programmes were musically based and when she was only a few months old her Mum’s singing would soothe her like nothing else. So we created a file for an i pod and each evening, after the kiss goodnight, Maya would snuggle down and drift off on a cloud of melody. Perfect.

*

Just like everyone I ever knew, Michael had a ‘guilty pleasure’:1980s love songs. He could not get enough of them, he…well, he loved them. And there was one in particular that he seemed to adopt as a kind of theme song; He was always humming or singing the damn thing. Leo Sayer: I Love You More Than I Can Say. I used to call him morbid, because of the line, Why must my life be filled with sorrow, but he would just laugh, said if I listened to it all I’d see it was uplifting. We agreed to disagree.

He sang the song wherever he was, to whoever happened to be listening. To Maya.

And that was it; that was the simple answer.

*

When I entered the half-light of the bedroom, I was sure that she had fallen asleep, but as I moved closer, I could see her blue eyes were open and glistening with tears.

‘That last song made me cry Daddy,’ she whispered, as I sat down next to her. She took my hand and I leaned forward to brush the hair from her forehead, smoothing my palm over her hair until I held her head cupped gently in my palm.

‘Why, Maya?’

‘I don’t want to talk about it. Will you hold me while I go to sleep?’

I stayed there and held her all night. And I felt like a superhero.

A superhero by a campfire in the rain

by Dr Manish Tayal

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This was sent separately and wasn’t part of the challenge, however, inspired by all the writing prompts, one of our new members, Dr Manish Tayal, decided to write the following story based on all of them)

I didn’t plan to be a superhero, but all of that changed when I got bitten by a familiar, restless yearning.

Growing up on the beaches near Karachi, I’d been raised on warnings of the dangers that lay across the black waters, the kaalaa paani. But I’d always had a rebellious streak, and I’d taken to visiting the old man who lived alone in the woods and listening in awe to his stories. I still remember the day he’d arrived in the village, freshly electrified and inspired from his travels and all he’d seen; and I remember how he’d tried to show and tell us, and how he’d been cut off mid-flow, his excitement turning to confusion, then disappointed understanding, and finally sorrowful acceptance, as my fellow villagers had cast him out. Impure, sullied by crossing those forbidden oceans to the distant, unclean worlds beyond, he could not be allowed into the village, lest his presence pollute innocent minds. Young minds like mine: eager for the promise of excitement, adventure and more.

The old man had long passed away, and the harsh realities of life pushed thoughts of distant, forbidden adventures far from my mind, as I grew and matured into a young farmhand, learning from my father the tools and techniques of our most noble of trades, producing food (and money) from the land of our master, the zamindar. Even though I’d never met him, and he knew nothing of my existence, I was loyal to my master, who provided for me and saw that I was fairly rewarded with my share of the fruits of my labour. And so, when the recruiters came to our village, singing songs of riches, glory and opportunity, I too joined my friends in ridiculing their extravagant promises. In our small world, we knew little of the great war building in faraway lands, but we knew that the tales those crazy fools spun had nothing to do with us.

Four months had passed since we’d lost my father to sickness. My mother wept as the zamindar’s men carried on talking to her, but I’d heard nothing more after their first few words, the rest of the conversation drowned out by the singing in my head, so loud was the memory of the recruiters’ songs, which until then, I hadn’t even realised I’d listened to, let alone remembered.

Bharti ho jaa ve
Baahar khade rangroot!
Aethe khaavein sukki hoyi roti
Othe khaavein fruit!
Aethe paavein phate hoye leere
Othe paavein suit!
Aethe paavein tutti hoyi jhutti
Othe paavein boot!

Join up, join up
The recruiters are outside!
Here you’ll eat dried roti
There you’ll eat fruit!
Here you’ll wear torn tatters
There you’ll wear a suit!
Here you’ll wear broken, worn-out shoes
There you’ll wear boots!

The zamindar had not been so oblivious after all. He knew me to be a loyal, hard-working, strong young man, struggling to provide for a mother, two sisters and a new wife. When the recruiters came to him, requesting ‘volunteers’, he knew he could trade me in return for not giving up his own sons. After the men left, my mother spat curses on the zamindar and his family, swearing that she’d never let me go, but she knew we had no choice – earn the displeasure of our master, or have the family comfortably provided for directly by the King-Emperor himself. Besides, that old yearning had started to return from the depths of my conscious, where it had laid buried for so many years, and I again wanted to cross the kaalaa paani and see for myself the lands the old man had told me about as a child. Within days, I was bidding my wife farewell, the taste of her tears as I kissed her cheek reflecting the cocktail of emotions within me: the bitterness of parting and cold fear of the unknown mixing with a bubbling excitement of adventure and the sweet, intoxicating taste of freedom.

I’d been to sea before of course, going fishing in my friends’ boats. But this was wholly different, an entire floating village housed in steel. So many young men from all over India, all with different stories: the woodcutter Mir Ali, enticed by the money, riches and fame; Gobind Singh, a proud Garhwali, who’d recently joined the Army, just like his father and grandfather, and generations beyond; Kartar Singh, a farmer like me, who at the recruiters’ call, had instantly set off to faithfully serve the King-Emperor. Old hands, like Ram Singh, who’d fought in North-West Frontier, Waziristan and elsewhere, recounted war stories, alternately thrilling us with tales of their adventures and terrifying us with accounts of grave horrors. But the long journey took its toll, and we were all glad to finally reach the shores of Europe. As we arrived in Marseilles, we were shocked at the unexpected heroes’ reception: smart ladies with creamy soft, pale skin and the sweet scent of roses, waved to us as we marched past, one running out to hug me, another pinning a flower to Kartar Singh’s chest; pink, bouncing children marched along with us, towels wrapped around their heads as turbans, babbling away to us in their unfamiliar tongue; and sturdy, bearded, red-faced men shook our hands and patted our backs, tears in their eyes.

Marseilles felt like a whole world away, and home was but a memory. The rain wouldn’t stop, the knee-deep water in the trenches soaking through everything, bringing with it a bitter cold that removed all feeling from my feet and made it difficult to keep a safe grip on my rifle. I held each hand in turn in my armpit, and as I did so, I felt for the reassuring hard metal of my bayonet – already, it had saved my life more than once, just the previous day sinking into a young German soldier, no older than me, who’d tried with his troop to storm our position. As he’d fallen, in horror I’d recognised his face and the memory still made me shudder. Just three weeks earlier, against orders, our troop commander, Captain Matthew sahib had laid down his rifle and walked out into No Man’s Land, to meet with the Germans. After some time, he’d called to us to join him, and in a mix of English, broken Hindi and stuttering German, he’d introduced and brought together those who’d spent months trying to kill each other, and would do so again once the day was out. But for those precious few hours, we all shared and celebrated together, exchanging personal trinkets and cigarettes – sahib tried later to explain to us about his festival of ‘Christmas’, but I only cared that for a few moments, I’d laughed and found warmth in the company of others. A deep, gruff voice cut through my reflections, as another soldier arrived to take my place in the trench. I hadn’t eaten or slept since the previous day’s attack, and suddenly realised how much I needed both.

As I walked back to the lines, I saw some of my friends already there. The langris, the cooks, had found some fresh vegetables in a nearby market that day, and had cooked them up to go with our standard diet of dahl, rice, roti, meat and potato. And so we huddled together to share stories, eat, and enjoy the company of the closest friends we’d ever know, and as we talked and ate, we forgot all about the cutting rain, the falling bombs and the homesickness, and we planned and bragged of the bravery and victories the following day would bring, until we honestly believed that our small troop would bring down the entire German Army, single-handedly winning the war for the King-Emperor.

I didn’t plan to be a superhero, but just in that moment, sat around a campfire, in pouring rain, with a bunch of men just like me yet each so completely different, I truly felt like one.

November 2017
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