Saturday, 7 December 2013

Cold Winds Blow


There's a wicked storm making its way across the U.S., and while I'm out of the worst of it, the cold is bitter indeed. All the better for staying inside, drinking hot beverages (with or without a bit of liquor, I won't be saying), and snuggling up with a nice bit of darkish fiction.

While there were only four entries last week, they were each of them a delight to read. The one that cut through my fluffy down blanket to near-freeze the blood was AJ Humpage's A Sign of Things to Come.  That was a fine and nasty piece of (I hope) fiction.

I know it's a bit of a rush with the holidays and weather being unpredictable, but do feel free to invite your friends over to The Prediction to share their words with us.  I would so love to see our community grow, whether from old friends returning or new ones being made.

And now that I've done my little push, here are the words I hope might tempt you:

Flatter
Cotton
Shackle

So innocuous, and yet I see great potential for mischief in them.

The usual rules apply: 100 words maximum (excluding title) of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above in the genres of horror, fantasy, science fiction or noir. All variants and use of the words and stems are fine.

79 comments:

  1. Congratulations, AJ, fine writing as always.
    Talking of fine writing, I have accepted a story from Sandra D for an ongoing anthology, At The Stroke of Thirteen, which is different and outstanding. I sent it on to my co editors, one has already said yes. Waiting on the other one now. This place has brought out some superb writers.

    Thanks for the judging, Rebecca, hope you survive the storm without being frozen stiff. Today we have mild weather, for which we are most grateful. The island is having a series of Dickensian activities this year, it's Ryde's turn this weekend, we have all sorts going on out there. Me, I am looking for inspiration in my head and mind - these words seem made for the Captain this week.

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  2. Congratulations indeed A J - truly nasty piece of work.
    And thank you, Antonia, for the invitation to submit.
    I have developed my writing via several 'restrictive' challenges (six sentences, ten minutes and one hundred words) all of which, used regularly have exercised different muscles, but they would all atrophy were it not for the opportunity to read others' versions of the same challenge and receive and reciprocate with genuine feedback.
    So thank you Rebecca - and trust you stay warm. It's not so bad here in the North East.

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  3. What a lovely surprise, thanks! I wasn't expecting that, especially as I turned up fashionably late. Apologies for not commenting on the other entries, I've been fixing wobbly roof tiles and fencing panels after our own terrible storm on Thursday. Now back to normal, thankfully.

    Congrats Sandra on being accepted for At The Stroke of Thirteen. You'll be joining yours truly. I can't wait to see the full list of authors - I know Antonia is a stickler for quality writing, so this anthology is going to be amazing.

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  4. Congrats AJ and Sandra on the anthology. Very exciting. :)

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  5. And I confess I don't know where this came from, and certainly not where it will go!

    A change of focus [66]

    Vanessa driving this time, through landscape black and flat enough for Mississippi cotton but which let them follow the shifting red-eyed gleam of Jack’s escape.
    ‘You’re not even trying to catch him.’
    ‘Not yet. John, not everyone’s career’s as... uncompromised as yours.’
    ‘You flatter me. I’m not so driven snow...’
    ‘And you’ve let murderers go...’
    ‘And also slept with them, as I assume’s the case with Divine?’
    ‘Who?’
    ‘Sally-Ann. But at least she wasn’t shackled to me at the time, as I hear he was?’
    ‘It made things... difficult.’
    ‘And then you found he had the key, and freed himself!’

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    Replies
    1. Loved the first line describing the landscape ('...shifting red-eyed gleam of Jack's escape'), and excellent rapid-fire dialogue.

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    2. Oh, Vanessa! You're such an interesting creature, but I fear your taste in men is simply dreadful. Another great episode. Can't wait to see what's next.

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    3. What Zaiure said! =)

      Wonderful imagery in the first line and dialogue that works so hard (and works so well!).

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    4. so much going on here, outlined in sharp believable dialogue. Loved it.

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  6. Threshold

    From the doorway all that could be seen was the gleam of his cotton shirt and the whites of his eyes. The rest of him was in shadow. Unsurprising: boarded-up windows allowed only a thin-drawn rectangle of light. He’d backed himself into the corner, somehow levered himself to standing, the bulk of him merging into the shadows. I had to trust the shackles held.
    Had to trust them too. I didn’t know why they’d sent me to fetch him. Didn’t know why they laughed behind me nor, when he saw me, why his teeth gleamed too, whispering, ‘Don’t flatter yourself.’

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    Replies
    1. What IS he? I am thinking the narrator should most definitely not trust the creature. Not sure s/he should trust those coworkers/conspirators, either. This whole thing is menacing an tense.

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    2. I agree with Rebecca, I'm really curious what he is. 'I had to trust the shackles held' was a brilliant line, and you ended with a very intriguing cliffhanger. I want to know more! :)

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    3. Love the dynamics here. The shadowed man-thing, shackled and impaired, but still dangerous, monstrous. The narrator too, caught between prisoner and masters, vulnerable yet not at risk (if only by virtue of being an unappealing morsel...).

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    4. Thank you! I recently read a novel in which the reader was, very, very subtly given to understand that an apparently threatening man was actually very attractive, and I wanted to try to do something similar. For just a moment I could 'feel' subtlety coming out right as I wrote this.

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    5. excellent winding up of tension here, with all the what/why/who questions bubbling out of every line.

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  7. (I saw RK's invitation on FB.)

    The Orphan

    The pup chewed the rope toy. The cotton didn’t produce the same satisfying noise of puppy teeth scraping bone.

    His mother had warned him not to change forms. Staying wolf was safer. And then she’d led him to the woman at the wildlife sanctuary. He liked playing with the woman’s 5-yr-old daughter. She hugged and petted him, flattered him with the name, “Handsome.” But he missed his mother. He hoped she would kill the men who chased them.

    In a laboratory miles away, his mother--in human form--was shackled to the concrete wall and observed through metal bars.

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    Replies
    1. I like the juxtaposition of the two forms of captivity. For a moment, you had me worried about the daughter, which heightened suspense. But the mother's sending him to safety was heart-wrenching, as there's a sense she knew she'd not be safe herself.

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    2. I also was a bit worried about the daughter at first. :) It sounds very bleak for the pair, and the title implies that his mother is not getting free. Excellent horrible (in a good way!) line at the beginning about teeth on bone.

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    3. I can't help but feel at some point he will reveal himself to her. Hopefully with better a better ending than his mother gets. How good is she at keeping secrets...?

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    4. this is good, a whole back story sitting there behind the conjoined images. Pleased you came to play this week, please stay and play some more!

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  8. Hi Deborah - this was a very uncomfortable juxtaposition of cute puppy and shackled humans - well done and welcome.

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  9. Visitors: 0

    He lay, shackled, flatter than a man should be. She wanted to touch him, but it was forbidden.

    “You are… a child?” He hissed like a radiator.

    “Not for a while.”

    “Need.” He sank further into the cotton blankets.

    “What?”

    “Drink? Drink.”

    “What sort?”

    He turned his head, yellow eyes blinking sideways. “Clean, pure.”

    She left, returned with a glass.

    He drank desperately.

    She stepped back as he dissolved from the inside.

    229: Showed me his eyes. Alcohol fatal.

    Water had been worse. She sighed. “Bring another, Sid.”

    Maybe this one would be saved. She was running out of chances.

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    Replies
    1. From compassion to experiment, via pitiful exhaustion. And the tension from this is exhausting too. So much within the words.

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    2. Wow this was a nasty piece! Loved the dialogue between the two, and the surprise at his demise. Several great descriptive lines, including 'he hissed like a radiator' and 'yellow eyes blinking sideways'.

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    3. Read this several times, drawing more from it each time. Starts off intriguing, and grows in meaning and, I think, in intrigue too. Keeps you guessing, in a good way

      It feels sinister in places, from both sides, but I'm left thinking that maybe it's not so sinister after all.

      I like this a lot! =)

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    4. me too! excellent piece of descriptive writing, with another back story going on, too! I have to do something with the Captain tonight to come close to this standard.

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  10. Seth couldn't resist. (For new folks, this is part of a series. The whole thing can be found here: Nate & Seth) I expect Colleen will have Nate come roaring back shortly.

    Daily Grind

    “We need a vacation.” I hacked off the grasping hand of a zombie girl.

    Nate kicked her grandfather in the chest, then pulverized his head. “Ya think?”

    I doused the room in kerosene. “I’m thinking Kaia, some shackles, and a thick cotton flail…”

    “Dude, no! I don’t need to hear this.” Nate tossed in a match and slammed shut the doors. “Besides, you flatter yourself if you think she’d beat you, much less for free.”

    I grinned at his possessive tone. “Never said I’d be the one bound.”

    Nate snorted. “Keep dreaming, Seth. First, we have a priest to kill.”

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    Replies
    1. Truly impressed that you two always manage to continue the rapid-fire banter week to week. It does so much to drive the piece! I laughed out loud at the line 'you flatter yourself if you think she'd beat you'. :)

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    2. Yes, those final three lines of dialogue had me grinning in delight - long may these two continue sniping.

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    3. Great juxtaposition of 'matey' dialogue and brutal zombie killin'. =)

      I actually think this works well as a standalone, although it's richer for the background knowledge and story of the series too.

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    4. John's right, it would stand alone, and very well too but knowing these two characters makes it much better in many ways. Perfect instalment.

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  11. Twice-Born

    All the twice-born girls were shackled at their first blood. Silvery iron, so thin it could have been mere spiderweb, linked every girl to a watcher. Beauty came with first birth, but the power, able to destroy man and worlds, unravel even time, came with the second. It was for this, that the watchers were bound to the earth-breakers.

    DeSata, golden-tongued and silver-haired, was the first to break free. Slitted eyes bound with thin cotton, she flattered her watcher into trusting repose. Ravaged and eyeless, he was found with her broken shackles.

    And so it was that the culling began.

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    Replies
    1. Goose-pimples on my neck at the harsh brutality of 'And so it was that the culling began' after the beauty of what came before. And so intrigued by 'twice-born'. This is wonderful.

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    2. Superb language. I love fantasy that is evocative enough to not need lengthy dry exposition (and authors brave enough to realise it); truly an imagination-freeing piece, with a chilling final line.

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    3. I love everything about this story: the description of their captivity, the reasons for it, the escape and - especially - the ending. It's beautiful and horrible and feels completely right.

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    4. exciting concept going on here, and described so chillingly too.

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  12. (rise)

    "So..." Charlie scratched his pocked face with the spanner, "You can tell us what parts to take. What's most valuable, like."

    "Don't flatter her," Ruth scoffed, "she could be talking horse crap."

    Olivia balked at the crude word.

    "Ha. Look. Been wrapped in cotton wool your whole life, ain't you?"

    "Ruth." George held up his hand, half in pacification, half in warning.

    They were interrupted by a long howl, followed by more, and high yips and yells. A rising cacophony, some unholy mingling of man and mutt. It sounded to Olivia as if the hounds of hell had been unshackled.

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    Replies
    1. The possibilities of fluctuation within this group have become addictive, The characters all admirably well delineated, Charlie's uncouthness and Ruth's hostility; George's mild common sense.
      I'm hoping this will run and run.

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    2. I agree with Sandra, great character development. I get a good sense of their personalities. And the cliffhanger at the end leaves me wanting more. What's going to happen next? :)

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    3. You have a gift for building character without seeming to do so. To wit, Olivia's innocence is reflected in Ruth's cynicism, making both more defined and interesting. The introduction of a new threat ups the ante. I would read a whole book of this, gladly.

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    4. really good instalment, taking the story on and building yet more characterisation at the same time. Good one.

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  13. (alpha)

    Adam flew upwards. He tried to tear the creature off but its grip was like steel shackles chaining them together.

    They rose higher and higher until its snarling growls grew muffled in the thinner atmosphere, as if someone had shoved cotton wool in his ears. But still it hung on, and he needed to breathe – his one physical weakness – so he began to drop.

    They plummeted, the morning's second meteor.

    He wrestled and manoeuvred his struggling opponent underneath him. The thing would soon be a whole lot flatter, hammered between Adam and the ground. Or at least unconscious... he hoped.

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    Replies
    1. 'cotton wool' - never thought of that. Good to be reminded of words such as 'muffled', 'plummeted' and a vivid description of Adam's manoeuvrings,

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    2. Loved the mention of Adam's weakness. Weaknesses always make heroes seem more plausible, real. :) Laughed out loud at the end. Loved the mix of danger, uncertainty, and humor.

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    3. Have you ever read J. Michael Straczynski's Rising Stars? It starts off with the murder of a super. Someone has worked out vulnerabilities, ways to kill seemingly invulnerable people. Factor in that there is a limited set of supers, and every time you kill one the power is redistributed, making the remaining few stronger. Great series.

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    4. I agree with Zaiure; weaknesses make superheroes more interesting. Adam's attempt to defeat the creature bristle with his frustration, a nice counterpoint to the action in the scene.

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    5. @John No, I haven't. That sounds very interesting. I'll add to my reading list, thanks! :)

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    6. weakness often provokes strength in extreme circumstances. In one of your stories, John, there are always extreme circumstances... this is a good one - again.

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  14. Axe-Wielder

    The tree changed; one moment a slim birch, the next all human limbs, wild hair and furious gray eyes. “An axe, Erik?” Eva said. “You dare to bring that here?”

    Erik looked around the grove. Hastily he lowered the axe, then dropped it when Eva’s expression didn’t change. Wiping his hands on his cotton shirt, still stained with blood and dirt, he attempted to weaken her glare with a wide smile. She’d always been unable to resist in the past.

    “Five years, Erik. Five years since I saw you, shackled to the Axe-Wielders.”

    “Just as beautiful-”

    “Save your flattery.”

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    Replies
    1. Sense of a wicked, grown-up fairy tale here, the word malevolent comes to mind. "he attempted to weaken her glare with a wide smile" says so much.

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    2. I know it gets said a lot but I really want to know more. Whose blood? Is he of her kind, human, or something else? Has he been turned by the Axe-Wielders, or did he break free? Tension, intrigue, creativity. Excellent. =)

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    3. This story is so much larger than what we see here, and although it works as a stand-alone, I would love to read more. I want to see what Eva does next and find out what happened to Erik. You have a real talent for hooking a reader.

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  15. (rise)

    The bestial discord was only a few streets away. Olivia couldn't place it exactly; it reverberated around the buildings and alleys wildly. Its tone shifted between human and animal, and flattered neither.

    "Dog lords," Charlie said, paling.

    Harry looked at the low sun, "But it ain't night yet."

    "The people have risen," George said, "The old rules don't apply no more. Seems like the dog lords want a piece of the action, have thrown their shackles early."

    Olivia shivered. "It's terrifying."

    "She cottons on quick," Ruth said.

    "What do we do?"

    George helped her off the crab. "We run."

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    Replies
    1. Oh!! 'bestial discord' - how horribly resonant. And in a sentence apiece you've delineated the characters, again. Bravo John!

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    2. I may have squealed a little at your use of 'cotton.' I was so hoping someone would go there. George is such a steady presence throughout this story, so I echo Sandra's awe at your ability to establish character depth in a few words. Now, who/what are the dog lords??

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    3. Loved the new turn in this story. Who are the dog lords indeed! Love the hook. :) Quite a few excellent lines as well like "its tone shifted between human and animal, and flattered neither" (loved that!), and "seems like the dog lords...have thrown their shackles early". Also agree with Rebecca, I love when one of us figures a completely new/less obvious way to use a word. :)

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    4. clever use of the prompts, some scary descriptions, and all left hanging for us to work out what's going to happen next, what more could I ask for???

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  16. Infinity
    35.
    The damned to eternity sails have been flatter but when, I cannot be remembering. No wind. Nothing to drive us on. We be shackled by lack of power on our journeying. The First Mate calls for cotton to fix this and that and piece of his clothing – what about mine? Do I not have an image to maintain? Does he think so little of his captain he could ignore my needs too?
    Do I then turn my thoughts to the mundane so I think not on the occult? Anything not to dwell on the shadows? I wish I knew.

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    Replies
    1. The captain's spirits have become as becalmed as the Infinity, and his thoughts turned to gloomy once again. Let's hope a breeze springs up soon.

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    2. There seems to be a growing paranoia to the captain, or perhaps a wavering of sanity. I can't help but wonder if the shadows are pushing him to the brink. I did like his focusing on his image. He seems to cling to it for solace.

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    3. It does seem like he's becoming a bit unraveled. Loved the line "we be shackled by lack of power".

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    4. thanks for the encouraging comments! We will keep going... if a fair wind comes to fill the sails and head us onward.

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    5. I wonder if the shadows will not become worked up while the ship is becalmed, with no piracy to appease them.

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  17. Calling Time

    A low hum crept along floorboards, edging beneath the glare of softened hall lights.

    Her head felt like warm cotton; light yet strangely dense. Her surroundings seemed to shift; shimmering in a non-existent heat. The hum grew louder.

    His shadow hovered; sharpened stainless steel glinted in the light.

    She felt shackled by his presence, locked to numbness, unable to move. Her eyes darkened as he raised the knife.

    He cut the rope from her neck.

    She sputtered; saw his bags in the doorway. ‘You can’t live without me! You need me.’

    ‘Don’t flatter yourself,’ he said. He never looked back.

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    Replies
    1. Fantastically creepy set up, great description, and a clearly defined menace... all turned right on their heads. I love when I don't see a twist coming. There are several kinds of horror in this piece, most of them never mentioned yet clearly present.

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    2. Definitely was surprised by the turn at the end! This suggests so much and I'm very curious what lead up to this point. Loved the phrase "shackled by his presence".

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    3. very clever, twists in 100 words - and creepy menace too. Brilliant!

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    4. I agree with RR, several kinds of horror alluded too. Definitely plumbing the darker depths of unhealthy relationships and states of mind.

      The opening is almost whimsical, surreal, and then with a re-read you know exactly what it is; the kind of layering of meaning and experience that short fiction can excel at with multiple re-reads in quick succession.

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  18. Inhuman Sacrifice
    “Light it, little brother. We gotta go see Kaia.”

    “What? Why? I thought the shackles and screaming ‘til you have cottonmouth had to wait!”
    I pulled away from the house, grinning, as thick rancid smoke and liquid screams poured from the windows.

    “Because, you sick little shit, she removed the infection. I don’t think the priest knows that, but I need to be sure. If he still thinks I’m infected, he still thinks he can control me. I can flatter him, get close, offer him something he really wants, and then…”

    “Wait! Nate…offer him what?

    “You. You and that jar.”

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    Replies
    1. Wow, way to set me up! This is definitely going to end in tears - and other sorts of suffering. I enjoy how Nate seems happiest, or at least most amused, when things are really, really horrible. liquid screams turned my stomach a bit.

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    2. Yes - a set-up for all sorts of nastiness. And thanks for the addition of 'cottonmouth' to my vocabulary.

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    3. Their story seems to be taking another nasty turn. I always seem to be left biting my nails! :) 'Liquid screams' was definitely a horrible, yet brilliant phrase.

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    4. I was knocked out by the liquid screams too! Very nasty twists here, what sort of minds do these people have, the characters I mean, not the writers... or do I?

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    5. Liquid screams, pouring. Excellent, as everyone has already said! =) And a great pivot into the next scene, with some nice hooks. You just know it ain't all going to plan...

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    6. I cannot thank all of you enough! I was honestly a bit nervous, this being my first entry actually able to compete in some time. "liquid screams"...yeah...I love that! And Sandra, "cottonmouth" is a great word, is it not!

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  19. Well, my friends, it's time to close the doors on this week's challenge. I am thrilled that you all decided to come out and play this week, even if it is going to be terribly difficult to pick winners.

    I will try to get winners and words up earlier tomorrow, because I am that eager to see what you all do next.

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