Below you will find the second batch with 10 more stories (you can read the first batch here). Basically we will have 7 batches with 10 stories each. They will get published every Monday, and the poll stays open until the following Sunday.
Once we have the 7 batch winners, we will post the stories together for a final voting round. You are free to leave feedback for the authors on the comment section below also. Remember that RSS and email subscribers might need to visit the website to be able to cast a vote on the poll.
1. Everything and Nothing by Alece van Rensburg
“Wanna go to the park?” Becca asks. “Sure!” I scurry to my room to put on my shoes.
We head outside and walk a few blocks. The sky is gorgeous. It’s after 7:00 at night, but it’s still sunny. I love that about summertime.
The park is small, but quaint. It’s right by the Milwaukee River. We walk straight to the swingset; I swing so high it actually scares me. I challenge Becca to jump off her swing, but really hope she doesn’t do it. She slows to a mediocre speed and leaps off dramatically. I giggle.
We end up on the merry-go-round. I wish the playground version wasn’t called the same thing as the large, ride-a-horse-up-and-down-while-listening-to-creepy-
carnival-music version. But it is.
I lay down on my back and look up at the sky; Becca gives us a good shove and hops on. The swirly sky makes my stomach do a somersault; I shut my eyes tightly and let out a lighthearted groan. Becca laughs at me. With my eyes shut, my tummy settles down.
We talk about everything and nothing, both of us laying on the merry-go-round, Becca peering at the clouds and sunset palette, me peering at the insides of my eyelids. Round and round we go, literally and figuratively, until the go-round comes to a stop; we debate over the actual timing of its stoppage. Becca gives us another push; we spin and talk and laugh some more.
It stops again, but we barely notice this time. Contentedly, we lie there. Our conversation is peppered with silence. Not the awkward kind, but the good kind that’s indicative of only the best of friendships.
The mosquitoes are out in full force. I hate this about summertime. I’ve swatted, squashed, and shooed about a dozen already. I smack one on Becca’s arm. There was a skeeter, I promise! We decide we should head home.
We pick some dandelions as we walk. (I think there should be a different name for the soft, picturesque, gone-with-the-wind ones, so that you automatically know I’m not talking about the bright yellow jobs that older brothers do goofy things with.) We blow them and watch as they split into dozens of delicate pieces and float through the air like little parachuting men. Somehow this turns ugly, and we’re blowing dandelions into each other’s faces.
Suddenly we’re hurling each other around in an all-out wrestling match of sorts. We’re out of breath with laughter. That is the best out-of-breath-ness there is.
As the moon comes up, we head back inside.
I love everything-and-nothing friends.
2. The Symphony by Tepring E Crocker
I raise my arms and feel silence press into the hall behind me. The concentration on the faces seated before me is palpable, an energy I could touch if I dared move my hand. Eighty breaths are held as one. Time stands still. I flick my baton, bring it down with a sweep of anticipation to tap the wellspring that lies at the bottom of the arc.
Sound flows. I work the air with the baton and the sound swells. It pours off the stage into the audience where it is soaked up by those who are parched with worries, thirsty for comfort. I mold the sound with my arms, my body sways. My toes push my heels off the platform. I weave the sound, stroke it, cajole it. I yank it and jerk it until it ceases to be air vibrating against string and shuddering brass. It is no longer frequency and decibel. It no longer belongs to words like “harmony” and “counterpoint”. Once it passes through my arms, it becomes more than any word can contain.
The sound unfolds differently within each listener. Some become drenched in memory, some swim as peacefully as in the womb. Some struggle and weep. Some find joy in the sound’s creation and peer past the transformation of my weaving onto the stage, hoping for a glimpse of genesis.
And then I begin to tell the stories.
My baton calls to the strings. Tears spring forth and spill off the stage to join the deluge. Mothers cry and Angels weep.
The drums are summoned. War marches through the hall and the cry of battle echoes from balcony to balcony.
The horns answer. A hero rises! Evil is defeated. Love conquers.
Flutes and oboes rejoice. All of nature sings.
My arms tire and the flow ebbs to a trickle. I look to the faces before me, and together we reach into the depths of creation to wring out every last ounce of sound. With a final, excruciating sweep, I bring the baton to rest. It hovers, motionless, before the orchestra. Eighty breaths are held as one. Time stands still.
I drop my arms.
The dry silence lingers for a moment. Then one drop of sound plops onto the stage, splashed from a pair of hands near the front row. Then another. Then a dozen, then thousands of hundreds of raindrops bathe us in applause. The hall rumbles with the thunder of approval. I bow into the gale, then wave the orchestra to its feet. My cheeks are wet. My eyes are damp. I bow again.
“Mom! When’s supper going to be ready?!”
I hastily wipe my eyes as my cozy kitchen reappears around me. The spaghetti is bubbling on the stovetop and steam rises all the way to the vent in a misty column.
“10 minutes. Go wash up!” I yell back. The bread is almost ready and I need to set the table.
Still humming, I turn off the iPod.
3. The Passage of Time by Iris Pak
The people turned blurry
Her eyes could see no more.
She stood in the middle of the crowded room, feeling dizzy as though she would faint anytime. It must be from staying up too late too often. Maybe it was because she was rushing through her paperwork too fast the night before. Or it could be the movie marathon just now – she watched three movies in a row on the small monitor of her aged yet loyal computer, to reward herself for a work well done. As she began to walk to one of the benches, she began to feel regret.
The sun rose
And almost immediately
It set into the horizon.
She looked at her watch – 8:35 a.m. She was getting late, but the bus was later. Patience was never one of her best attributes so she took a deep breath before letting it out, to control her impatience and anger. Her heart was beating faster. She needed to be calm. Stay calm, stay cool. She closed her eyes and concentrated. Ten minutes later, the bus arrived. Only ten minutes but it had seemed like forever. Her pulse was still racing beneath her skin.
The passage of time zoomed past her
From day to night
Time passed and she didn’t know how.
She fumbled with the keys on her clumsy hands. Her hands were shaking as if tremors ran through her body. The keys fell onto the floor. When she had picked them up and opened the door, she dumped everything in her hands onto the sofa and headed straight for the bathroom. The cool water that caresses her naked form soothes her. She wished forever could stay that way. But time passed her by.
Every one was rushing through
Every thought was racing
across her tiny brain.
She switched on her computer. Time to work again. The typing on the keyboard could be heard clearly, speedy. Then she clicked on an icon, but the pointer remained there, unmoving. her already thinning patience was threatening to crack. No, must control. She wondered what was wrong with her these days. She simply couldn’t pay any attention. The pointer was still frozen. She nearly banged the computer with her fist, wanting to release her anger.
Only for a while
Let it all dissolve
Just for one moment
Let her breathe
She went out to the balcony, leaving the computer. She took in the fresh air of the night. Staring dreamily up to the starry sky, she wished she was lying on a land of green. Utopia. Oh, how she wished to find her own.
Give her a break
Accelerate no more
Let the passage of time
run its own course again.
And as she lied down on her bed, she closed her eyes and dreamt of Utopia.
4. The Child by Danielle Shirley
The wind swept down o’er the rocky crag; howling mournfully it raced round the exposed child. Who was the child? It was no one – not even a name, but ‘the child’.
Huddling closer to the rough rocks that served as a hostile shelter, she, the child, began to weep. She was abandoned by her mother – was it her mother who tossed her out of the cart on the way home? Nay, her mother was dead. The woman driving the cart was no relation to the child and had no use for the child any longer — the woman had beaten every ounce of strength out of her thin body, and then left her in the ruthless winter wind.
“Where is the child?” asked the woman’s sister, who was stirring a pot of watery soup.
“Oh, the child, thar’s no need fer her no longer. She ete more then she worked fer. If thar’s anything I despize, it’s a child wastin’ food”, the woman replied brusquely.
The sturdy beams of the old house creaked and groaned under the wind’s diabolical load. The two women glanced worriedly at the ceiling, one in fear for another and one worried for herself.
“I hope you did not leave the child out in this wind—it’s terribly bitter and fierce out there tonight”, the sister spoke, breaking the hushed silence.
The woman made no answer.
The child lay limp; her shallow breath enveloping her in an icy cloud. It began snowing and the girl fell in to a deep sleep. As the snow covered her frail skeleton she became unconscious.
The snow storm stopped and the brilliant sun rose, to melt the top crust of snow.
But buried beneath it was the still body of the child.
“It’s getting’ awfully cold, should I go out and get some more wood?” asked the sister, with chattering teeth.
“I s‘pose you might as well. It is gettin a bit chilly,” then as if she was afraid her sister would think her weak, she added, “But you were always the frail sensitive one”. The sister went out, and returned, ‘too soon,’ thought the woman.
“There wasn’t any more wood, all we have is that in the wood box.. You were going to do it when you got back from town but the storm came up.” She walked over to survey what was left. “We only have a few sticks left!”
“Well, the storm won’t last very long—I hope.”
The storm wore on, and the women tried all they could to stay alive; they burnt the few pieces of furniture, but to no avail, at last they fell asleep from exhaustion.
Morning dawned and found two still forms on the floor. The woman breathed no more. The wind swept down o’er the rocky crag — and three graves.
Revenge was complete.
5. Ambition and Comparison by Ashutosh Ghildiyal
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. ~Oscar Wilde
In the city of Mumbai, there was once a rare bird, called Bugun Liocichla. This bird was one of an endangered species, with the only known population estimated to consist of 14 individuals in Mumbai. This bird had two sons who were growing up and had started asking him questions – on life, on conduct, on work, and on wisdom. The bird was reputed for his wisdom among all the birds of Mumbai. He had the reputation of being an ascetic who was not concerned with material riches and was content with whatever little came his way.
One day his two sons, who were about to finish their education, asked him what profession they should choose. They told him about the popular professions that were being pursued by other birds at the time. Of all the professions being pursued by the birds of Mumbai, the professions of crow or pigeon were the most popular. Everybody wanted to become either a crow or a pigeon since it is always safer and comfortable to do what many people are doing.
The father, the rare bird, listened to them patiently and said these words, “Are you an ambitious bird? Do you know what ambition is? It is the desire to become somebody, is it not? And do you know what it does? It causes us to be against one another. Everybody is struggling to be rich, to have fame, to be more clever. You want to be greater than the other person and he wants you to be greater than you. So ambition really means trying to be something you are not. And which is important? To be what you are or try to be something you are not? You must first look at yourselves and begin to understand what you are. And then perhaps you’ll never ask what you should do.
“Do not compare with what other birds are doing. Don’t try to become like them, even if everybody else becomes like them. It is hard for you because comparison is the basis of our so-called education, and of our whole culture. Comparison is the most destructive thing in the world. If you compare yourselves with others then how can you find out what you are interested in, what your capacities are? Don’t imitate, don’t try to become like anybody else, no matter how great. It is you who are important, not somebody else. Find out who you are.”
The two boys understood what their father said. No more did they want to be a crow or a pigeon. No more did they want to become like others. No more did they want to become common. They said to themselves, it is better to be a rare bird than to be a well known crow or a pigeon; it is better to be an unknown than a known poisonous creature; it is better to remain obscure than to shine with artificial light.
6. The Other Side Of Dawn by Raine
Sunlight has long fled, leaving shadows haunting the star-forsaken room.
In the distance, dawn trickles through the clouds–for the moment, forgotten.
The nights seem the same.
I don’t want to leave, yet I cannot… stay…
Soon–the boys–your little ones–would wake.
They’d open their eyes. They’d see you: the father who abandoned them.
The father who can’t stop coming back.
Leaving should have erased the memories, the shadow you cast upon their lives.
Why is it still there?
You watch over them as they sleep, curled up with arms still protectively hugging minute bodies.
The surrealism, the reality… I can’t understand…
In the silence, you refuse the justifications. Yet you insist it is the wind.
As if that is the answer.
How many years has it been?
You were always too afraid–to hug them, to play. You didn’t know what to say, what to do when instinct brought two pairs of footsteps running to Daddy.
Because Daddy would know what to do. Was supposed to.
What if Daddy didn’t know–if Daddy was afraid, too?
Now Mummy and Daddy are both gone, and there’s only the two of them left.
Neither of them can offer any comfort on long, winter nights.
You’re not supposed to touch them, but nonetheless, you reach for them and you wonder if, so many years from now, you’d be able to remember…
It’s a temporary fulfilment of a hollowness that… hurts.
Daddy, make it better!
Blankets shift as, blearily rubbing at his eyes, he sits up.
“Is it time to wake up…?”
You inch backwards, away from the window feeding the faint moonlight that betrays your position, but your son catches the reflection.
With sight comes realisation.
I have to…
Torn between pride and despair, you only watch as he tenses, protectively shielding his younger brother from the man who should have been shielding both of them.
“You…?” You can’t miss the accusation lost amongst the scars you share.
My little ones…
“Why–why are you back…?”
No. Not back. And you remember why you left in the first place.
Indecision immobilises you as determination opens a path through the ocean.
One single word freezes your world. After all that–he still…
All this is… for you…
“Daddy has to go,” you whisper hoarsely as you blindly stumble backwards. You’re pressed against the wall, palms unable to find a grip–something to hold on.
“Jasper… take care… of your brother, too.”
There is no reply as realisation dawns. As Jasper accepts. Condemns.
I… I only know…
You turn, and run for the door. Your sweat-soaked fingers fumble with the doorknob and finally forces it open. The murmurs of your younger son ghosts after you as you flee as the door streams artificial light into a prison for two.
… I still love you…
You welcome the fresh sting of the night air.
As always, you blame it for the tears.
7. Madonna by Karthick
I have had every single intention of killing her. I wasn’t emotional about it. I was focused. This had to be done. She had ruined my life. Taken away my brother’s estate and what little was left of his soul. Left degraded she now feasted on Arthur McCain’s fortune. Who said vampires show themselves only at night? This was a full blown one at day. I left my house, I didn’t load a gun. I had something far more dangerous in mind to take care of her. We met at the restaurant. She was awfully chatty and spoke of the times when she first me and of those times where we raved and made love. She then shifted to high praise of my brother. He had more money but I packed in more gumbah. This was washed down with a 1994 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port. Neither shaken nor stirred. We decided to walk. The lanes were darker than usual and her hand went up my thigh. She had urges she said. And needs unfulfilled. It had been 2 months for her, and a lifetime for me. I clasped her head back and pushed her in the alley. I smelt her neck and nicked her shoulder. Good old times, she smelt lovelier than before. Was it Charlie? Her leg went up and wrapped across my waist. She was quicker than before and clasped me hard. That’s when she saw the glint. She backed off and stared at me. “What is that?”
“Retribution”, I replied. She tried to run. Amazing how the guilty flee. I clasped her hair and threw her down. I got on top of her. She never enjoyed it. She tried to push away. I held her down and slashed her once. And she let out her first scream. I clasped her throat she had to feel the pain of the three lives she had ruined. She screamed for mercy. My hands clasped her fast. I thought pleasure lay in the Chinese torture method. Skin her with many cuts. Watch her drip out the blood she had sucked from the others. Isn’t that justice? I raised my hand again. It was then I heard the faint ring. It was getting closer, a familiar tune. Sweat raced through, I had less time. And then I woke up. My gmail calendar reads – Meet her, restaurant, 1 hour.
8. Olivia & Gary by Lance Taylor
Olivia was rummaging around the freezer. It was dinner time, and this icy treasure chest held lots of tasty morsels to eat. But Gary would not be dining on the same food as Olivia. Tonight she had a surprise in store for him.
It’s about time he got what’s coming to him, she thought.
Day in, day out, without fail, Olivia served up his sustenance. And each day without fail, Gary guzzled on his food without as much as a thank you in response. Well, Olivia was tiring of the status quo. It was time to serve something slightly different on the menu.
With a chuckle, Olivia grasped at the small bag in the corner of the freezer. Brushing away fragments of ice she opened the bag, and peered inside. With a shudder she shut it again in disgust. The bag contained a clump of dead worms, which smelled like rotten meat, even frozen.
The thought of eating these primeval organisms made Olivia nauseous. But she had no intention of doing so. Instead, she planned to serve them up to Gary. In fact she was quite looking forward to it. It was nothing less than he deserved, after all.
Placing the dead invertebrates by the sink to defrost, Olivia chuckled once more at the thought of Gary gulping down his meal without a care in the world. She washed the slime from her hands and began to cook the pasta.
While she cooked, she reminisced on their time together. She loved Gary, she was sure about that. He had been with her through some tough times. But he no longer eased her boredom or loneliness. She had a constant feeling of being taken for granted, especially at dinner time. This was the only time he gave her any attention, and even then it was fleeting. Hopefully today she would get his attention.
Half an hour later Olivia sat at the dinner table with Gary, nibbling at her pasta. Gary’s dinner contained a large portion of slimy creatures, which he was gulping down in earnest just as she had predicted.
Better him than me, she thought. But she was disappointed. There was a complete absence of the sense of satisfaction she had expected. This felt the same as any other day. But she was soon to be satisfied.
Gary swallowed the last remnants of his meal. He swam up to the glass at the rim of his big round bowl, his scaly lips stretched into a grin.
“Thank you,” he said.
9. My Life by Colleen C. Gough
“When we are set free from the bondage of pleasing others, when we are free from currying others approval-then no one will be able to make us miserable or dissatisfied. And then, if we know we have pleased God, contentment will be our consolation.” ~Kay Arthur.
Sometimes in life, no matter what we do and how hard we try. Someone comes back to us and brings us down.
It is as though we go each day walking on nails. For some there is no getting their approval. Something is always going to be wrong.
I spent years trying to please someone and never getting it right. I lived in a constant fear that something
I had done could bring their raft down on me. This person could go back years and remember something they did not like that I did or said and the walls could crumble all around me.
I did have enlightenment in my life… I had my God. No matter what happened He watched over me. I reached a point in my life where I had NO SELF Esteem. I felt I was just taking up space in this world. I meant nothing, I knew nothing.
One day my best friend told me that I was worth something; that I was smart and I could take on the world and win. Shortly after that, my God gave me the strength to break away from the Hell I was living in and go on with my life.
That was 12 years ago. Today, I am happy, have had many successes, I went back to school. I became a leader in the industry I worked in and was looked up to by my peers.
My God took care of me. Always let me know I was His child and He had not left me. Knowing God was watching over me kept me going and today my love for HIM and Life is beyond belief.
10. Touchstones of Character by Kevin Zambrano
It’s been one night, and already I’ve given up on trying to remember my dreams.
I use to complain and complain about how I can never recall what had passed through my mind during the previous night’s slumber. I thought that my dreams held the key to unlocking the secrets of my inner psyche. They would explain why I don’t like being touched, why the slightest unpleasant odor can make me reel in disgust, why I have problems with people going into my room, why I prefer Coke to Pepsi.
At the very least, I thought they would make good stories.
I googled “remembering dreams,” since no one I know can stay on a subject long enough to provide any helpful information on it, and I discovered an article which, long story short, said that if you write down your dreams immediately after you wake up, you will remember them. I thought it was a stupid idea, after all, the problem with me wasn’t that I remembered the dream and then later forgot. The problem was that I seemingly did not dream at all. When I was younger I read that everyone dreams every night. It’s part of REM sleep or whatever, and it is unavoidable. The point is I wouldn’t have known I was dreaming if I wasn’t told so by some useless trivia I blindly trusted.
After looking for other options I grabbed a pen and pad of paper and put it next to my bed. Couldn’t hurt, right?
That night I woke up at three in the morning. I reached over, and after some fumbling I grabbed the pen and paper, the dream still fresh in my mind. It was short, but it was something. It featured my 14-year-old brother and our 16-year old cousin; the three of us were standing out on a street corner. My brother turned to my cousin and told her to hit me in the crotch. Out from behind her blonde head emerges an aluminum baseball bat, and with no protest from me she swings and hits me squarely in the groin. I fall over, even though I’m in no pain, look up at her and calmly say, “What the fuck, Taylor?” My two relatives burst into laughter. After writing this down (it takes about four pages of the small notepad) I go back to sleep.
I wake up again around 7, and read what I wrote. It’s a bunch of gibberish. Words grow and shrink in size at a whim, overlap one another, are not completely formed, and are almost shamefully misspelled. But I remember my dream. Satisfied with myself, I think about the possible implications of this dream. It doesn’t take long to hit me- it’s slapstick. A pratfall, a dick joke. Low-brow mindless bullshit. I’m a smart person, if my dreams are funny they should at best be witty, at worst absurd. They shouldn’t be dimwit personalized versions of the show Jackass. I’m above that, aren’t I?
Touchstones of character, my ass.