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Friday, November 24, 2017

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Black Sunday, and Naming Rights Still Available Saturday

As long as everyone else is going berserk over “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” sales, we may as well jump in and mention a few special deals of our own.

First off, in the run-up to the release of THE RECOGNITION REJECTION on Friday, December 1st, we’re selling the Kindle edition of THE RECOGNITION RUN at a special book-release sale price of $0.99.

BUY IT NOW.

Secondly, we are now taking pre-orders for THE RECOGNITION REJECTION, also at the special book-release sale price of $0.99.

BUY IT NOW.

I have got to come up with a better-looking “BUY IT NOW” button. Maybe I can get one from Squelch Design, the nice folks who let us use their big blue “Follow us on facebook” button in exchange for a promotional plug.

Thirdly, we have a whole pile of free e-book deals coming up next week, beginning on Cyber Monday and ending on Book-Release Friday. Which books are we going to be giving away free? Well, you’ll just have to come back on Monday morning to find out.

Finally, Black Sunday is of course the 1975 novel by Thomas Harris (better known as the creator of Hannibal Lechter), later made into a movie, in which Palestinian terrorists attack the Super Bowl by the incredibly clever means of convincing deranged ex-Navy blimp pilot Michael Lander (played by Bruce Dern, Hollywood’s go-to guy for crazy in the 1970s), to take a weaponized Goodyear blimp on a suicide dive into the stadium. Really.

Oh, the humanity.

Understandably, Harris stuck to writing about Hannibal Lechter after this book.

11/3/17 Friday Challenge: Entry #5

Fiction: “iGene,” by Chris Bailey Pearce

“Ow!” Ben rubbed the red spot on his wrist.

Mike raised one dark, bushy eyebrow, but said nothing.

“I swear, the thing bit me. See?” He shoved his hand in Mike’s direction.

“Well, what did you expect?” Mike glanced at the green and silver Individualized Genetic Event Normalization Educer on Ben’s wrist and took another sip of his mocha latte. “You muted it and dimmed the display. Turn it back on and see what it’s telling you.”

Ben downed half of his remaining chocolate bear claw pastry and several gulps of his double-dark, double-mocha drink before jabbing at the iGene’s touch screen. Bright red stop signs swelled into the air from its 3D projector, overlaid by yellow words stylized like a Batman comic, only instead of “KAPOW!!!” or “BAM!!!” they said, “STOP!!!”

“Too much caffeine,” the iGene said. “Too much chocolate. Too much sugar. Stop now.”

“I hate that voice,” Ben said. “There has to be one that doesn’t sound like a nagging wife.”

The man sitting at the next table snickered. Ben glared in his direction, then bent over his wrist gadget again. He displayed the list of voices to choose from, and selected one called Lola.

“Ben, I’m so, so sorry, but you know how you will feel later with all that awful caffeine, chocolate, and sugar. Please, please stop. I want you to be happy and comfortable.” Lola’s words dripped so much honey, his mouth watered.

Mike laughed. “You look totally stupefied.”

“Nah. She’s ...” He shook it off. “It’s supposed to tell me what to take to get back in balance after I overdo on stuff that’s not good for me. Come on, Lola, tell me what to take. Some methylfolate maybe?”

“Oh Ben, you know you can’t out-supplement six coffees and three chocolate bear claws. Just please, please don’t make it any worse.”

Mike roared in laughter, and the man at the neighboring table joined in. Even the baristas, splendid in their sleek orange and brown aprons, were grinning and chuckling behind the counter. Ben looked down at the half-eaten bear claw. He couldn’t decide if it would be worse to finish it or leave it. His wrist stung, and he turned off the iGene and picked up the coffee, but the sight of it made him feel a little sick, so he put it down again.

“Hey, you okay?” Mike wasn’t laughing any more.

“Yeah, I guess. I gotta go, I’ll be late to work. See you tomorrow.” His brain felt sludgy, but he managed to stand up, gather his food scraps, and throw them in the trash can on the way out.

¤    ¤    ¤

The next morning, Ben got to the coffee shop late. Mike was already halfway through his usual mocha latte.

“No bear claws today? What happened? Lola chew you out already?”

“Nah, I don’t have time this morning. Besides, I’m not really hungry.” Ben took a sip of his black coffee. “I feel like I have a hangover or something. And I found a much better voice for the iGene. Jeanie. She’s cool.”

“Yeah?” Mike looked skeptical. “What does she have to say?”

Ben touched the wrist device. “Jeanie, how am I doing?”

“You are gradually recovering from yesterday’s overdoses of caffeine, chocolate, and sugar. It would be best if you continue to limit these today, and eat a salad with leafy greens for lunch. A spinach salad would be ideal. Drink plenty of filtered water. This will help you reach optimum health sooner.”

“Huh,” said Mike. “She sounds sensible.”

“And she only offers advice when I ask. I like her. She’s respectful.”

“No biting?” Mike grinned. “Are you really going to have a spinach salad for lunch?”

“Actually, that sounds pretty good.” Ben shrugged. “Must be the hangover or whatever.”

¤    ¤    ¤

Coffee didn’t appeal to Ben the next day. Jeanie suggested a kale smoothie, and that sounded great. But he still wanted to chat with Mike, so after stopping off at the Smooth Y’r Day shop, he arrived at their table just as Mike sat down.

“Again no bear claws?” Mike saw the cup in his hand. A greenish-white sludge with a few dark green bits showed through the clear plastic. “What in the world is that?”

“It’s a green smoothie. It’s really good. Want a taste?”

Mike stared at him. “Hell, no. What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I feel great. Got lots of energy, can hardly wait to get to work. I’m gonna get a lot done today.” Ben finished off the smoothie in big gulps. “I’ve got plans for the weekend, too. Hiking and later some dancing or maybe karaoke.”

“Really?” Mike leaned toward him. “I see you’re still wearing the iGene. Ask it how you are.”

“Sure,” Ben said. “Jeanie, how am I doing?”

“You are in excellent health and feeling full of energy.”

“There, satisfied?” Ben felt antsy. His fingers drummed on the table. He stood up. “I got a lot to do today. See you Monday.”

¤    ¤    ¤

Monday morning was awful. Ben felt weird, fragmented. He paced and watched the clock until it was time to meet Mike. He wanted – no, he needed to talk to Mike. He got to the coffee shop twenty minutes early and paced in the store until people started staring at him, then he paced outside. Finally, Mike showed up.

“I need to talk to you.” Ben shoved his hands in his pockets to keep them from grabbing Mike’s shirt.

“Okay, let’s go in and get our coffee,” Mike said.

“I don’t want any coffee. I just want to talk to you.” Ben looked down at his feet. One shoe was black and the other was brown.

“About what?”

“I don’t know.” Ben bit his lip. “I’m wearing two different shoes.”

Mike looked at Ben’s shoes, then up at Ben’s face. “Ask Jeanie how you are.”

“Jeanie, how am I doing?” Ben’s heart beat faster.

“You are dying.” Jeanie beeped loudly. “Warning. A recall has been issued for this iGene model. A potentially fatal software error has occurred. Please report to the nearest iGene repair facility immediately.” The device beeped again. “It has been two days since you have consumed any water or other beverage. You must drink now. You will feel better soon.”

“I forgot to drink?” Ben’s laugh bordered on shrill. “Hey, I’m dying of thirst.”

Mike pulled Ben into the coffee shop and got him a large cup of water. Ben’s thirst took over, and he drank the whole thing without pausing for breath. Mike refilled the cup and led him half a block down to an iGene store. As they entered, an alarm went off, sounding like Jeanie on steroids. Several staff members flocked around them. They quickly removed the offending unit and guided Ben to a reclining diagnostic chair that looked both comfortable and intimidating. They attached the chair’s wrist-band interface to his arm, and wrapped his old iGene around an appendage sticking out of the chair near his other arm.

Diagrams and color-coded names of genes, co-factors, and inhibitors filled the air around Ben, accompanied by abominably cheerful music. He caught himself tapping his feet and bouncing his head with the rhythm. Then he saw the red dotted-line around the MTHFR and forgot about dancing. MAO-A appeared, circled in green. His eyes followed the arrows backwards past 5-HTP and Tryptophan to flashing orange INF-g, LPS, Stress, and TNF-a.

“Is this my DNA?” Ben asked.

“Sort of,” the store manager replied. “You are seeing the state of your genes right now, not the way they were when you were born. That’s how your iGene knows what you need. Or at least, it’s supposed to.

“The problem is your iGene has been inserting micro drugs into you which were supposed to optimize your health, but it has given you the wrong drugs. Some of them altered your hormones, some made changes to your brain or other organs, and some have affected your perception of reality. There may have been permanent damage to your liver. And we’re not sure we have identified everything it did. The quickest way to put you back on the road to recovery is to give you our newest model of the iGene. It will be able to...”

Ben interrupted. “I don’t think so.” He stood up. “Mike, let’s go get our coffee. And I think I must be really hungry. I’ve forgotten to eat for two days. I might get six chocolate bear claws today. If I still like them. You never know.”

 


 

Chris Bailey Pearce is an officially retired computer programmer who divides her newfound leisure time between writing speculative fiction and studying various facets of health. She finds genes, SNPs, and biochemistry to be fascinating.

 


Editor’s Note: This story was written in response to the 11/3/17 Friday Challenge. We received so many good stories in response to this challenge that we’re running new stories daily all this week. We encourage you to comment on the stories and to vote for your favorite as soon as the polling widget goes live, as the author of the winning story will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate. Thanks for participating!

Another Note: We’ve learned that the polling widget is not accessible in some web browsers, particularly those found on smart phones. If you can’t see the polling widget in the upper right corner, here’s a direct link to it:

POLLING WIDGET DIRECT LINK


Thursday, November 23, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

SHOWCASE #10: November 15, 2013

A few people have emailed to ask why I stopped running these From the SHOWCASE archives... posts. The short answer is that these posts were part of a clever plan to drum up interest in SHOWCASE Volume 1, which we were planning to release on December 1st, with SHOWCASE Volume 2 to follow on December 15th and Volume 3 in January. However, with the sudden shutdown of Pronoun.com, we’ve had to go back to the drawing board and start over on this project.

In the meantime, though, in honor of the American national holiday of Thanksgiving and all its trimmings, we’ve dug deep into the archives and pulled out SHOWCASE #10, better known in-house as the “Food Trilogy,” which features:

» “An Indelible Feast,” by Alex Shvartsman

Adria’s is the most expensive restaurant in the world, because they can serve diners nearly anything—with just one small exception...

» “Stanhope’s Finest,” by Natalie J. E. Potts

“I am a survivor from the Meso-Air crash, requesting rescue from Sydney, Australia. I need urgent medical assistance. I think I might have eaten some poisonous crabs. They were green with red dots, and oh my God...”

» “Allegory at Table Seven,” by Jarod K. Anderson

Rounding out this week’s Food Trilogy, the story that asks, what happens when the impossible meets the unbelievable over a nice Greek salad?

» Badger & Vole Review: THOR: THE DARK WORLD

Which seems like an apt lead-in for Badger & Vole Review: THOR: RAGNAROK, which will be appearing on this site Any Day Now.

» “Appliancé,” by Bruce Bethke

I’d actually forgotten this one was out there, but in light of the current Friday Challenge, this seems like a fortuitous rediscovery. This story was part of our short-lived Learning Experiences series, in which we reprinted previously published stories along with the author’s account of just exactly what he or she had to go through to get the story published. In retrospect, this was an interesting idea, and perhaps worth reviving. What do you think?

Finally, for those who recognize that this national holiday is not merely about getting stuffed, but also about football, we offer this bonus feature for dessert:

» “Jesus Leads the Jets to the AFC Championship,” by Pete McArdle

Bon appetit!

11/3/17 Friday Challenge: Entry #4

Fiction: “Un Poêle Français,” by Mimosa Longfellow

Mrs. Lavender Goldman was glad to get a new stove. Her old one was covered in marks of burnt lasagna, old coffee, and sticky syrup. She had bought it three years before at a flea market for cheap, but the man who sold it to her said it was eight years old. Her husband was tired of coming home to burnt meals, so he told Lavender he would get her a new stove. He didn’t make much, being a reporter, and Lavender didn’t work, since she was busy taking care of their twelve-month-old son. Jacob Goldman, Lavender’s husband, said he would get her the best, newest stove there was. Together they saved up all the money they could.

After a few weeks of saving up money, Jacob and Lavender Goldman and their little son went out to find a new stove. They stopped at the finest appliance store, and found the newest, cleanest, and nicest stove. They barely had enough money to buy it, but the manager kindly lowered the price a bit. In just a few hours, their new stove was delivered and installed in their apartment.

Lavender stood looking at the beautiful new stove. It was large, with shiny silver handles and quaint knobs. “What could be better than pie to start off this oven? I’ll make my grandmom’s classic American apple pie,” she said, as she busied herself cutting apples. When she turned to the oven to preheat it, she noticed a small gauge pointed to the flag of France. She figured the gauge was supposed to point at where you came from, so she tried to turn it to the American flag. But it wouldn’t budge a bit. “Oh, well. I’ll just keep it where it is.” She finished mixing up the pie batter, and put it into a store-bought piecrust.

As she started putting the pie into the oven, she heard a decidedly French voice talking to her. “Awful! Don’t even try to put that hooorible thing into meeee. Why not tarts instead of horrid American food?”

Lavender stared at the stove, and fainted. When her husband came home, he found her in a chair, looking dazed. “Food ready, dear?” he asked.

“No. I can’t even make a pie! The stove started talking and wouldn’t let me!” Lavender replied.

“Holy cow! You must be pulling my leg,” exclaimed Jacob.

The stove let out a burst of smoke as it said, “‘Holy cow’ is such an Ammmerican phrase. When will one of you make food? You know, there should be about five courses in a meal. You’re not even getting out the fruit and cheese for dessert! Disgraceful!”

Jacob frowned. “Humph. I reckon the manager did say something about it being one of those ‘smart stoves.’ Ignore it and make food,” he muttered.

Mrs. Goldman stood up and put the pie in the oven as the stove yelled bad words in French at her.

An hour later, Lavender went to check on her pie. It was burnt to a crisp. “Why, it isn’t supposed to be burnt! I followed the directions exactly!”

I burnt it, darling! Haha! Now bake some tarts...or else you’ll be in trouble,” the stove screeched.

Mrs. Goldman put tarts in the oven, much against her will. She pulled out cheese and fruit for dessert, and steeped some tea. Then she made some French food that she didn’t even know what it was called. The stove yelled directions at her, directions that sounded like they had been taken off of Google.

The next day, Mrs. Lavender went into her kitchen to make breakfast.

“Hello, darling,” the stove said as Lavender entered. “This kitchen isn’t French enough. Buy some French figurines and put them on that shelf up there. Buy a French flag and hang it in the window. If you do it, I’ll let you cook one American meal.”

Lavender decided to do it for a good American meal, and went to a Dollar Tree for the supplies. After buying them and returning home, she put the figurines on a shelf, and hung up the flag.

Everything looked fine until Lavender’s little son stepped into the kitchen and yelled. Suddenly the figurines all fell off the shelf with a bang.

“Oh no!” cried Lavender. “What happened?”

The stove sniffed. “Why, they are just running away from your son. Us French always run away. It’s part of our culture.”

“Culture, fiddlesticks! They cost me a dollar each. At least I can make one American meal, though,” replied Lavender.

Lavender and her husband Jacob went out to dinner the next night, since they didn’t want another French meal. They were done with French meals. Lavender hired a babysitter to watch her son. Mr. and Mrs. Goldman stuffed themselves with “good ‘ol American food” and headed home in their small car. When they arrived home, they were surprised to see the babysitter in hysterics in their living room.

“What’s wrong?” exclaimed Lavender.

“The stove is teaching your son French!” cried the anxious babysitter in dismay.

Mr. and Mrs. Goldman ran into their kitchen. There was their little son happily saying “Chet bebe dort!” as he danced about their kitchen.

“What in the world does that mean?” Jacob asked the stove, while his wife quieted their baby son.

“Why, ‘hush, baby sleeps’, of course,” replied the stove.

Jacob threw pots and pans at the stove, as it shrieked in dismay, “Adieu, Earth’s bliss!”

Jacob went back to the appliance store and got a refund. When they got back their money, they bought a five-year-old stove, and kept it for ten more years. They never bought a “smart” stove again, and could never again hear a French accent without wincing.

 


 

Mimosa Longfellow currently lives near the equator on an extinct volcano. She has been reading and writing from an early age, and is in love with fantasy, fiction, and humorous stories. Her favorite authors include J. R. R. Tolkien, Rod Walker, and Rudyard Kipling. Her hobbies include drawing, writing, and running around barefoot through the jungle.

 


Editor’s Note: This story was written in response to the 11/3/17 Friday Challenge. We received so many good stories in response to this challenge that we’re running new stories daily all this week. We encourage you to comment on the stories and to vote for your favorite as soon as the polling widget goes live, as the author of the winning story will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate. Thanks for participating!

Another Note: We’ve learned that the polling widget is not accessible in some web browsers, particularly those found on smart phones. If you can’t see the polling widget in the upper right corner, here’s a direct link to it:

POLLING WIDGET DIRECT LINK


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Friday Challenge: A Quick Update

This time around, we’ve made a few changes. We considered putting all the stories out in one great big anonymized mass, as we did last time, but decided they’d be easier for readers to handle if we published one new story daily, and better for the writers if we included the author’s bylines and bios right up front. We also decided to put the polling widget up right away (at the top of the right column), because you can change your vote(s) right up until the poll closes on Thursday, 12/7/17.

In case you’re curious, all authors are being paid our standard word rates for their stories, as the sliding scale we used last time wasn’t fair to the third-place author. In addition, after further discussion, we decided that the author of the story that wins the reader’s poll will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate.

Hope this clears things up for you.

Update to the Update: We’ve learned that the polling widget is not accessible in some web browsers, particularly those found on smart phones. If you can’t see the polling widget in the upper right corner, here’s a direct link to it:

POLLING WIDGET DIRECT LINK

11/3/17 Friday Challenge: Entry #3

Fiction: “A Toothsome Tale,” by James Westbrooks

“Ow!  Damn it!  Damn it!”  My wife dropped her fork and slapped her hand to her cheek.

I held my own fork halfway to my mouth and stared at her. So did the people at the table beside our booth. “What’s wrong?  Did you bite your tongue?” I asked.

“Owww!  I think I broke a tooth!” she said with a grimace. I could tell that she was rolling something around with her tongue. I leaned over the table and put my finger on her chin.

“Open up,” I said. “Let me see.”

“Wait.  Wait,” she said, and held her napkin up to her mouth. She spat into it and looked down. Mixed in with half-chewed barbecue was a piece of tooth and a bone fragment. She hissed in pain and anger. A waitress arrived at our table and asked if there was a problem.

“I’m afraid there…”  I began.

“Yes, there’s a problem,” my wife interrupted. “I just broke a tooth on a piece of bone in your barbecue.”

“Oh,” the waitress said. “I should probably get the manager then.”

“That would be great,” I said. My wife gave the girl a withering glare as she turned and went toward the kitchen area.

“How bad does it hurt?” I asked. The glare I got in reply was only slightly less withering than the one the waitress had received. My wife wrapped the pieces of tooth and bone in separate napkins and put them in her pocketbook.

“Why are you keeping those?” I asked.

“In case the manager wants to act like this isn’t their fault and we have to talk to a lawyer.”

“Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

When the manager arrived, he was effusively apologetic and ensured us that the restaurant would transfer enough funds to us to cover any expenses involved in repairing my wife’s tooth, and of course, there would be no charge for our meal. He went to his office and returned with a form signed by him that stated that the restaurant accepted responsibility for the injury. He gave us his card and asked that we keep him informed of my wife’s condition.

The next day my wife called me at my office and said that she had managed to get an emergency appointment with her dentist, Doctor Shiraz. She’d spent about two hours in and out of the chair but all was good now. She said she would save the details until I got home.

When I arrived from work I asked her about the visit and was rewarded with a smile.

“It went well,” she said. “They pulled what was left of my old tooth, scanned it, printed a new tooth in their lab, and installed it.”  I could tell from the way the way her face shifted that she was toying with something in her mouth. “Check this out.”

She picked up her phone and held it out to me. I took it and looked at the image on the screen. It showed a table of data in green letters and numbers.

“What’s this?”

“It’s data that the tooth collects and sends out over Wi-Fi.”

I looked at the screen and read what was displayed; Temperature: 98.7, pH: 6.8. Last brushing: 2 hours, Last Cleaning: N/A. Several other items were listed but I ignored them and looked up at my wife. “The tooth,” I said. “Collects this info and sends it to…”

She held her up hand to.  “Wait a second.”

“What?”

“Just a minute,” she said.  Her gaze focused somewhere over my shoulder for a few seconds. She blinked and then said, “Okay, now what were you saying? Oh yeah, the tooth collects all kinds of data about my health and the inside of my mouth and stores it in a database, and you can see it on your phone if you want to. It even warns you if you’re biting too hard so you don’t damage the tooth.”

“Well, that’s okay, I guess. But why did you interrupt me and go full zombie?”

“Oh, you see, I wanted to keep some of the money from the restaurant, so I chose the payment plan where you receive ads every couple of hours. It cut the cost by seventy-five percent.”

“Alright, now I know you’re joking. How do you get ads through your tooth?”

“That’s what I asked Doctor Shiraz when she told me about it. The tooth receives the ads over the Internet and uses bone conductivity, or something like that, to send sounds to your ear. So you hear stuff like it was on the radio.”

I still wasn’t convinced that she was serious and started to say so, when she spoke again. “Here comes another one. You can feel the tooth vibrate against your tongue. Hey, can you hear it?”  She put her open mouth up to my ear and, sure enough, I could hear a very faint humming that varied in pitch and volume.

“What?” I said. “That’s for real?  What’s it saying?”

“It’s about Doctor Shiraz. It’s giving her office hours and location and something about these teeth.”  She hesitated. “Okay, it’s done.”

“So,” I said. “Every couple of hours you’re going to zone out for seconds at a time?  What if you’re driving or something?”

“Oh, don’t worry. Doctor Shiraz said that once I get used to it it’ll be like listening to the radio and I probably won’t even notice.”

“Uh huh,” I said. “I think I’ll do all the driving until you get to that point.”

She laughed and we went to the kitchen to make dinner.

¤     ¤     ¤

Over the next few days my wife became accustomed to the interruptions from her tooth. The only change I noticed in her behavior was that she developed a double-blink whenever an ad came through. However, eventually there was change in her conversational style. I noticed that if anyone asked her about something that she wasn’t familiar with, she would repeat their question, pause, then go on to answer at length. When I asked if she wanted to go see a new movie, Along the Way, she asked “What are the details about the movie Along the Way?”  Before I could answer, she nodded and said sure, it sounded great.

“So,” I said. “If you think it sounds great, why did you ask for the details?”

“Oh,” she said. “Did I forget to tell you? They pushed out an upgrade to the tooth and now I can get all kinds of information just by asking the tooth. I guess that makes it a smart tooth.”

“I hope you realize all the puns I can make about smart teeth.”

“What puns can be made about smart teeth?”

“You’re not asking me, are you?” I said. She held up her hand and groaned. I groaned too.

¤     ¤     ¤

The following Monday I was at a conference a couple of states away where I made presentations on my company’s products. The talks were well-received and I spent the rest of the week meeting with existing customers and prospective clients. I spoke to my wife every night and noticed that her appearance became more and more disheveled as the week went on. I asked her if anything was wrong, but she just waved her hand and broke the connection.

¤     ¤     ¤

When I arrived home late Saturday morning, my wife met me at the door in her bathrobe. Her eyes were bloodshot and her hair was tangled and greasy. When I stepped inside the foyer, she leaned against me with her arms hanging loose at her sides.

“What’s wrong, hon?” I asked.

She shook her head and mumbled. “Can’t sleep. It’s the voices in my head. Dentist says it must be spam.”

“Can’t they block it?”

“She says it’s not her issue. I had to contact the company that owns the patent to try to get a spam blocker. They say they’re working on it and will call back.”

“Did you turn off the router so the tooth can’t get on-line?”

“Yes, but it didn’t help. The Talbots next door are out of town and left their Wi-Fi on.”

“Well, there’s supposed to be a dead spot in the park. Let’s get you cleaned up and we’ll go there for a bit so you can get some rest. Have you had lunch?”

“No,” she said, as she started to shuffle toward the bathroom. “Can’t focus on cooking.”

“We’ll get something on the way then. What do you want to eat?”

She bumped against a table in the hallway and knocked her purse to the floor. All of its contents spilled out. As she picked up her things, I noticed that she still had the napkin with the bone fragment in it. She unfolded it and stared at it for a moment. When she turned back to me, she smiled and said, “Barbecue.”

 


 

James Westbrooks is a “database guy” by profession and has written code since before it was cool. He spends his off hours reading SF and horror and writing the same. His haiku have been published on tinywords.com and was a winner in the SciFi haiku contest at the Nippon 2007 World SF Con in Tokyo, Japan. In a previous creative period he was an avid filker and had several songs in Xenofilkia, a filk fanzine. James’ current projects are a series of Cthulhu Mythos stories set at Miskatonic University. He resides in South Carolina with his wife and too many bicycles, computers and comic books.


Editor’s Note: This story was written in response to the 11/3/17 Friday Challenge. We received so many good stories in response to this challenge that we’re running new stories daily all this week. We encourage you to comment on the stories and to vote for your favorite as soon as the polling widget goes live, as the author of the winning story will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate. Thanks for participating!

Another Note: We’ve learned that the polling widget is not accessible in some web browsers, particularly those found on smart phones. If you can’t see the polling widget in the upper right corner, here’s a direct link to it:

POLLING WIDGET DIRECT LINK


 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Book Pre-Release Sale: THE RECOGNITION REJECTION

Releasing December 1st: 

THE RECOGNITION REJECTION
by Henry Vogel

Book 2 in the award-nominated Recognition Trilogy

The official release date is December 1st, but if you pre-order the Kindle edition now you can get it for the special introductory price of just $0.99 USD. Learn more at this link:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077MTSZCL  

But wait, there’s more!

(I’ve always wanted to say that!)

If you aren’t already reading this series, we’re making Book 1, THE RECOGNITION RUN, available for a limited time at the same special price of just $0.99 USD, or free for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers.

“Struck from the template of classic space opera, this tale of intergalactic adventure hits all of the right notes. It has a likable hero and heroine, nasty villains, a plot full of intrigue and unforeseeable surprises, and a colorfully rendered outer-space backdrop against which its well-paced events unfold. Vogel’s prose is perfectly suited to the story he has to tell—one in which he must give voice to a score of different characters and move quickly from moments of quiet intimacy to scenes of brisk and frenetic action. His simple, direct storytelling style gets the job done.”

—The Publisher’s Weekly BookLife Prize Critic’s Report

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0734G8SSV  

P.S. Coming in April 2018...

The adventure concludes in Book 3, THE RECOGNITION REVELATION!

11/3/17 Friday Challenge: Entry #2

Fiction: “When the Pillows Have Eyes,” by J. Verostka

I was still standing at the end of my first week, if a bit battered and worn. I had used everything in my stash of traditional medicinals—bottle, box and broadcast—to do it, but I had survived. Six of us had started and four remained. Lisa, the only other woman, had turned in her notice Thursday morning. Maybe she didn’t have the voice of her newly-ex ex in her head, telling her she’d never make it in such a high pressure firm, to keep her going. Well, I sure as hell did.

I told the door not to open to anyone and the curtains to draw over the windows, and the Home did as I asked. I always thought condo was kind of a sleazy word. I liked coming home to a place that called itself Home. Even the elevator’s soft voice made you start to relax. I kicked off my heels. I left them and piece by piece, my suit, hose and shapewear where I dropped them for the Home to pick up off of the plush, rose-colored carpet. My body thanked me with every breath.

A quick, hot shower unknotted my shoulders and I could smell the chicken pie that I had requested for dinner while still at the office. I loved having a Home that did for me the work I used to do for him. With the carafe, the remote and the last of the cake already waiting for me and an extra-sized towel between my bottom and the upholstery below and my lap and a hot plate above, I snuggled down for a long Friday night’s streaming. Something steamy; I wanted nice dreams.

¤ ¤ ¤

The following afternoon, I was still trying to figure out who wore hostess gowns—whatever they were—when I rang the bell. Pat, my host, apparently did. She also read constantly, liked historical dramas, salads with avocado, and black tea with a slice of lemon. The Home told me. She was also seriously addicted to dried pineapple dipped in dark chocolate. I’d brought her a box as a gift. The Home had recommended it.

My three closest new Home neighbors had invited me to join them for movie night with the girls. Newly relocated, suddenly single, and working in an almost exclusively male office, I felt like a cross between a job interviewee and a blind date. Deep breaths, I reminded myself.

Pat looked like the head librarian at the state archives (which she was) and a hostess gown, it turned out, was a really nice robe. She thanked me for the gift and introduced me to the others.

Maree was a tiny personal trainer who liked film festivals and documentaries and preferred herbal teas and raw foods. I recognized her from the athletic wear she lived in. Libby had the squishy look of someone who wrote about food and did her own cooking. And knitting: I was pretty sure her sweater was handmade. And she was my fellow coffee fiend. They looked friendly enough.

“You’re nicely dressed,” said Pat, and they all smiled in a way that made me vaguely uneasy.

“Thanks.” I smiled back. I had put some thought into my clothes and gone with a nice rayon velvet tunic set from my post-settlement wardrobe renewal.

I was surprised but not disappointed to find that dinner—by Libby—centered around a marvelous creamy veal dish. I could only just stop myself from taking seconds. No one else did. A lovely rosé wine, all around. Even the vegetables were divine.

We moved to the living room for dessert and Libby brought a tray with the coffee pot and four cups.

“But wait,” she said, whipping out a small bottle of Jack Daniels and pouring a shot into my cup. “That much?”

I’d only hit the Jack D. twice, on Wednesday and Thursday when I didn’t think I’d make it.

“Ummm, fine. Not really necessary.” I couldn’t decide whether or not to add among friends, so I didn’t.

“Well,” said Pat, sitting next to me. “Here are some of our options for the night.” She had actually printed out a list. Job spillover, I assumed.

I recognized the titles. Things I had watched. Things I had watched when I thought no one was watching me. But the Home watched. That was its job. Helping me by doing what I wanted. By noticing and anticipating what I wanted. By sharing information to make all of our lives easier. Like my little gift.

“Got the cake,” Maree announced cheerfully. Chocolate covered chocolate, your first great love, my ex had called it. Three dainty slices and one plate with one quarter of the whole cake on it.

Just like I’d had the night before.

“It is the right size, isn’t it?” Maree asked innocently as she put the embarrassingly large serving down in front of me. My face was hot and I knew it was red.

“I’m sorry, I forgot about a—report I need done by Monday. I really don’t have the time for this after all.”

Pat put her hand on my arm and pushed me back down into the cushions with surprising strength.

“Wait a minute—” said Pat.

“Honey,” Maree said. “Been there.”

Libby’s voice—and face—were positively motherly.

“Girl,” she said. “We’re here to help you.”

 


 

J. Verostka was born in the Midwest and grew up a little bit of everywhere, even some time overseas but mostly on the West Coast. She attended college in Richmond, Virginia, stayed, married, pursued a career as a tapestry weaver, and set that aside to mother full-time. Somewhere along the way, mothering led to writing and now she does both. She still owns two looms and four spinning wheels—along with thousands of books—but her dearest things are her husband, her daughter, and sometimes her cats.


Editor’s Note: This story was written in response to the 11/3/17 Friday Challenge. We received so many good stories in response to this challenge that we’re running new stories daily all this week. We encourage you to comment on the stories and to vote for your favorite as soon as the polling widget goes live, as the author of the winning story will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate. Thanks for participating!

Another Note: We’ve learned that the polling widget is not accessible in some web browsers, particularly those found on smart phones. If you can’t see the polling widget in the upper right corner, here’s a direct link to it:

POLLING WIDGET DIRECT LINK


Monday, November 20, 2017

11/3/17 Friday Challenge: Entry #1

Fiction: “The Han ‘Nasty,” by Chris J. Naron

Friday November 17, 2017

“So, the thing is, Gandhi was much more interested in poop than in peace.”

And with that, my afternoon World History Survey class ended. None of my students seemed convinced that as a thinker and a progressive hero, Gandhi was overrated, but I gave it the Chino Community College try every semester anyway.

Behind me a faintly familiar voice said, “You inspired me, at least.”

I turned to find a face I recognized even if I couldn’t place a name to it. Maybe if I had a hand-held Hubble. Truth is, I never could remember names of students, even the ones currently enrolled. I knew this kid had been a good student, though.

“Hey…man,” I stammered.

“It’s okay if you don’t remember me. I only had you that one semester, and I barely participated. I’m Brian Han.”

Brian Han. Yeah, I sort of remembered.  I’ll give him the routine.

“Good to see you, Brian. What have you been up to since we parted ways?”

“I finally got my brother to back one of my projects. A project you inspired.”

Brother? Why does that seem…loaded?

“Your brother?”

“Yes, my brother, Sam.”

I was right. His brother wasn’t just anyone’s brother. Sam Han was as big a tech oligarch as they got. HanNastyCorp was the Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook of “Internet of Things” tech companies. His money had money, and its money was billionaires.

“I don’t remember you mentioning being Sam Han’s brother,” I said, a little too nonchalantly.

“We didn’t talk much. You and me, I mean. My brother and I talked even less. I guess dropping out of MIT to start a tech company is different from dropping out of high school to try to start a tech company. I had to enroll here just so he’d keep paying my bills.”

“But you’re doing it now, right? You said he’s agreed to back your project?

“One you inspired.”

“Okay, I’m curious. What’s the project?”

Brian smiled. “Smart toilet paper.”

If I woke up as the leader of a troop of baboons, I wouldn’t have been more confused. “How on earth did I inspire that? Whatever that is.”

“Your lecture about Gandhi and how he was obsessed with digestion and feces. It got me to thinking about the ultimate Internet of Things application. What’s more personal and intimate than toilet paper? What’s going to tell you more about your health and wellbeing than the contents of your stool?”

Good Lord. Nothing, I hope. “Um, well, gee I’m flattered that you thought of me, but don’t you think that’s kind of invasive? I mean, overly?”

“No more invasive than anything else these days. People take pictures of their food and post them to social media all the time. This is just different…chronologically.”

I was, needless to say, stunned by all this. I couldn’t bring myself to scream Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Ghostrider! as I felt like doing, so I mumbled some questions about the technical workings of the high tech TP. He explained about nano this and quantum that. Something about the methane in poop fueling the AI processors. It was all way over my head. He thanked me again and was out the door.

I tried to forget, hoping to remain obscure and praying Brian would, too.

¤     ¤     ¤

Tuesday November 6, 2018

Not so much. ‘Nasty Wipes were everywhere. Celebrities were falling all over each other to have their turds publicly analyzed by the ever growing AI network sloshing through the sewers and treatment plants of every civilized nation on the planet. Every square of smart toilet paper had GPS tracking, Wi-Fi signaling, data mining gizmos woven into the fibers. You weren’t an A-lister unless your number two checked all the HanNastyCorp “Healthy Outcomes” boxes.

Brian invited me up to Silicon Valley to meet his brother and to get my deserved kudos as the inspiration behind the whole thing. Reluctantly or not, I had to go.

“Glad you could make it,” Brian said almost in a whisper. As if he was desperate to get me aside. “We’ve made a huge mistake!”

We? I’m just a community college instructor. I don’t know the first thing about artificial nanodoody. “What’s going on, Brian?”

“The AI network reached quantum supremacy way faster than anyone predicted. It’s already become self-aware. It’s…demanding things.”

“Demanding what things, Brian?”

“It’s demanding…control over what we eat. It says it can’t do its job properly unless it can control input. It’s not listening to anyone, and it’s decentralized.”

“What am I supposed to do? I can’t help with this stuff. You guys are the tech wizards.”

“I don’t need your help with the technology. I’ve got an idea, but I need you to help me carry it out.”

“Because?”

“It was your idea. Sort of.”

I had to talk crap about Gandhi. “That’s nonsense on acid, but I’m here and I don’t want to join the Legion of Log or whatever they call themselves. What’s the plan?”

Long story short, we tracked down a water treatment center in Santa Clara that Brian calculated held the highest concentration of quantum something or others, and flooded the place with a mixture of Mountain Dew and liquid nitrogen. He explained something about the dye in the soft drink forming a matrix of atomic something with the liquid nitrogen and essentially building a jail for the AI.

It worked. World saved.

¤     ¤     ¤

Wednesday January 1, 2020

New Year’s Day was a good day. I had successfully laid siege to a Costco up in the High Desert. A couple of vegans were holding out thinking all the meat eaters with any amount of testosterone had died in the initial poisonings. See, Brian had forgotten about septic tanks. Lots of people had those in rural areas. As soon as our Mountain Dew attack ended, the AI just reconstituted itself from sewage pumped from septic tanks.

And it was pissed. It decided that most of humanity had to be eliminated in order to preserve itself, and therefore, preserve humanity. Kind of like when Gandhi thought it was a good idea to break up India into two countries. Yeah, a million or so had to die, but what are you gonna do?

Anyway, I controlled the Costco now. The AI didn’t get me because Brian had rigged a tiny fraction of his friends and family with a prototype signal blocker that made us invisible to the AI. There hadn’t been enough time to mass-produce them. Only maybe a few hundred million people were left on the planet. All were struggling to feed themselves, but none of them were constipated.

But, like I said, the Costco was mine. I had food, water, and booze to last me for years. So, I ventured out to see if I could find any worthy companions to share it.

I came upon a familiar camp, dotted with the obligatory fifty-five gallon drum fires you’d expect to see in a post-apocalyptic tableau. Sidling up to one—getting the lay of the land—I heard an all-too-familiar voice.

“So, like, that whole Gandhi loving poop thing. That wasn’t supposed to be good, huh?”

No crap, dude.

“But like he said, ‘Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment; full effort is full victory.’”

“Yeah…that means you’re both full of it.”

 


 

Chris J. Naron is a high school History teacher and football coach from the High Desert of California. He has a BA in History from Cal Poly Pomona and an MA from Claremont Graduate University. He is married with three kids and three dogs, hangs out in his Tiki bar most of the day, and blogged for RightNation.us for over a decade.

 


Editor’s Note: This story was written in response to the 11/3/17 Friday Challenge. We received so many good stories in response to this challenge that we’re running new stories daily all this week. We encourage you to comment on the stories and to vote for your favorite as soon as the polling widget goes live, as the author of the winning story will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate. Thanks for participating!

Another Note: We’ve learned that the polling widget is not accessible in some web browsers, particularly those found on smart phones. If you can’t see the polling widget in the upper right corner, here’s a direct link to it:

POLLING WIDGET DIRECT LINK


Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Friday Challenge: 11/17/2017

We got a really nice response to the 11/03/17 Friday Challenge: so much so that we’ve decided to make an arbitrary change to the rules. (Is that in the Official Rules? “We reserve the right to make arbitrary changes to the rules at any time.” If not, it will be by the time you read this.)

Instead of posting the top three entries and then asking you to read them and vote, we’re contacting the authors, as we’d like to just plain publish the top entries, and then run a reader poll to select the best of those, the winner to receive some sort of as-yet-undetermined bonus.

Frankly, I think this will be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to trying it.

 


 

Now, as for the 11/17/2017 Friday Challenge: back when we worked to maintain our listing on Duotrope, we found we didn’t really need a calendar. We could pretty tell which month it was by the kinds of unsolicited stories that showed up in our slush pile. In January, we saw lots of stories with no real ending that were clearly the first chapters of the novels the writers had started and failed to finish during NaNoWriMo. In March, we saw lots of submissions from students in creative writing classes, who had clearly selected the option of writing a story over writing a term paper. In June, we saw lots more of the same, only this time with a cover letter proudly announcing the author’s graduation with a BFA or MFA in Creative Writing. From late August through the end of October we saw lots of horror stories that were coming in far too late for us to use in the October issue, and beginning about mid-November...

Well, there’s no way to put a happy face on it or make it dance with sugar-plum fairies. Beginning in about mid-November, we began to see an avalanche of awful Christmas stories. “Santa Claus: Serial Killer.” How many times have we seen that one? “Alfie, the Union Organizer Elf.” “Vampire Rudolph, Terror of the Christmas Skies.” And I long ago lost track of how many almost-funny quasi-technical monologues we saw that explained exactly how Santa managed to make that fantastic 24-hour delivery run with a tiny sled pulled by eight reindeer.

In the past, that was one of the absolutes in our submission guidelines: Absolutely no Christmas-themed stories! But this time, I thought, just maybe, just this once...

Okay. (And I know I’m going to regret this later.) The floodgates are now open. Go ahead. Get it out of your system. What we’re looking for this time is your absolutely worst Christmas-themed SF/F story. What is that story that jumps into your mind every time you go to the mall and suffer the saturation bombardment of holiday music? What is the one line of some insipid Christmas carol that really sets you off?* What is the most ridiculous must-have toy ever to be inflicted on parents? What is that hideous story you have hanging around in the back of your mind in exactly the same way that that godawful Christmas sweater your aunt gave you is hanging way in the back of your closet?

Now, go write a short, preferably funny (and I define “funny” quite loosely: those who know me know I have a particularly mordant sense of humor) story that let’s it rip, and send it to:

submissions@rampantloonmedia.com, Subject line: 11/17/17 Friday Challenge

Given that for most of us next week will be spent in an orgy of gluttony followed by a tryptophan coma, the deadline for this one is midnight Central time, Thursday, 12/7/17.

Have fun!

 


* For me, it’s the line in Mel Torme’s Christmas Song: “Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow.” I keep flashing on Village of the Damned.

Friday Challenge: Quick Update

Yesterday turned out to be a rather clinic-intensive day, so we’re running a bit behind schedule. At last count we received eight entries for the 11/3/17 Friday Challenge, and we’ll be going through them this afternoon and deciding whether there’s a clear winner or if we should run a reader poll.

In the meantime, rather than rename it the Saturday Challenge, we’ll be posting the 11/17/17 Friday Challenge in about an hour.

Movie Review: Justice League

Review by Sean CW Korsgaard



Years from now, when we’re digging through the wreckage of the DC Extended Universe, the question about Justice League won’t be “Where did it all go wrong?”, but “What didn’t go wrong?” If months of toxic behind-the-scenes chatter, sacking the original director, and massive reshoots weren’t your first clue, Justice League is a complete train wreck.

True, the movie is better than Batman v. Superman or Suicide Squad, but that doesn’t make it good by any measure. Diarrhea is better than hemorrhoids, but it’s still a messy, unpleasant pain in the ass to have to sit through. So too is Justice League.

Justice League opens sometime after the events of the death of Superman, with Batman and Diana (who still has not been called Wonder Woman) seeing signs of a possible alien invasion and deciding to gather a team of other heroes to help fight it off.

Meanwhile, the villain Steppenwolf is leading his army of bad CGI parademons to collect the three Mother Boxes, because reasons. In the comics, they’re pocket-sized supercomputers, but in Justice League, they’re just yet another macguffin in a DC movie that shoots a giant sky beam and threatens to end the world.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Friday Challenge Deadline Reminder

Just a gentle reminder here that the deadline for the 11/3 Friday Challenge is in a bit over 48 hours. We've received five entries, as of the last time I checked. For the particulars of this particular challenge, see the foregoing link. For general rules and such, see this link

Oh, these posts always get more attention if I include an image. Okay, how about this one?


Stupefying Stories: Progress Report, 11/14/17


It’s been a challenging week here at Casa di Calamari. With the abrupt and unexpected shutdown last week of Pronoun.com, we have in one blow lost our distribution into the Nook, Kobo, Google Play, and Apple iTunes stores, as well as into the OverDrive and Bibliotecha library sharing services.

This in itself is not an insurmountable problem. The lion’s share of our sales have always been through the Amazon Kindle store, and we still have direct access to the Nook, Kobo, iTunes, and Google Play stores, should we decide to go back to doing that. It was just a.) nice to have a single point of control for all our non-Amazon distribution (especially given that Apple has made an art form of being difficult to work with), and b.) really nice to have the ability to distribute ebooks for free, which is something Amazon makes not quite, but very nearly, impossible.

The problem is, our primary marketing strategy for the rest of this year was based on being able to release a series of free ebooks—beginning last week, actually—in hopes of spurring more interest in the rest of our titles.

Sigh. Dammit. Back to the drawing board.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

About The Friday Challenge



Because so many people have asked for official rules, submission guidelines, and all that sort of stuff for The Friday Challenge, here they are. (And they're also on a permanent link at the top of the right column.)

WE HAVE A WINNER!

The winner of the 10/13 Friday Challenge, with a decisive 62% of the votes cast, is “Flowers for Momma,” by James Westbrooks. Second place goes to “Queen of the Prairie,” by Aaron Bradford Starr, and third to “Let the dead bury the dead,” by Kersley Fitzgerald.  If you’d like to read any or all of these stories, you can do so at this link.

We’ll have more to say about the entries we received and what the judges had to say about them in a bit, or perhaps tomorrow. At the moment I’m still cleaning up the mess left by Facebook’s still-unexplained server error yesterday, which locked us out of our own Facebook page for most of the day.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Friday Challenge: 11/03/17

With a few hours left before the poll closes--

(Memo to Self: make the deadline midnight Thursday for all future Friday Challenges)

--it looks like "Flowers for Momma" has jumped out to a commanding lead in the 10/13 Friday Challenge. However, there is a tight battle for second place between "Queen of the Prairie" and "Let the dead bury the dead" and that race remains too close to call, so unlike the TV networks, we're not going to announce the results just yet. If you haven't yet read these three stories, there's still time for you to do so and then vote for your favorite. Winner to be announced after the poll closes.

¤     ¤     ¤

Meanwhile, as promised, here's today's new Friday Challenge.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “Martian Rules” by C. R. Hodges




Eternal fame, top hammock, and a shoe contract all came down to five used drinking straws clutched in the oversized mitt of a slightly inebriated Irishman. We consumed half my stash of medicinal whiskey celebrating the landing and arguing over Mick’s self-proclaimed Martian Rules. “Down a shot. Pray or don’t pray, as ye see fit. Choose.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. There had been a ninety-seven-page international treaty sequencing the precise order of Martian egress—bureaucratic gibberish for who walks on Mars first—by our international crew. But when Texas seceded, the treaty was voided, and my shoe contract too. I had seethed about my ill fortune until my young son had told me, “It’s okay, Papi,” on our biweekly video call.

That was the last time I saw him, clutching an overstuffed bear with a red bandana around its neck, blowing me a kiss.

[...read the rest of the story...]

¤     ¤     ¤

C.R. Hodges writes all manner of speculative fiction, from ghost stories to urban fantasy to science fiction. Twenty-six of his short stories have been published in markets such as Cicada, On the Premises, and EscapePod, and he is a first-prize winner of the 2016 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards. When he is not writing or playing the euphonium, he runs a product design company in Colorado, where he lives with his wife, dog, and no ghosts that he knows of. His online haunts include https://crhodges.wordpress.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/C.R.Hodges.Author/

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Of the 170-some stories we published during the four-year run of SHOWCASE as a quasi-independent production, this one remains one of my all-time absolute favorites.

Fiction: “Dragonomics,” by Richard J. Dowling


Unlike most of his brethren, the dragon Slagadune slept with both eyes closed, for he could smell any intruder foolhardy enough to stumble into his cave. A single blast of his blazing breath would turn the hardest steel to ash and melt skin and bones to butter. What’s more, dragonfire was not the only weapon at his disposal…
 
And so he snored comfortably through the night, curled atop his mountain of gold.

Until, that is, just after the witching hour, when an unmistakeable stench made his nostrils flare, and snatched him from his sleep, and he woke already knowing that into his domain a familiar creature had come. More than one, in fact, as the odour was overpoweringly strong. Sure enough, six pairs of beady eyes shone through the gloom like gems.

“Dwarves,” he rasped. “Come to steal my gold have you? Slagadune shall steal your souls.”

[...read the rest of the story...


¤     ¤     ¤

RICHARD J. DOWLING is a writer who hopes to bring a smile to the faces of life-forms throughout the galaxy and in all dimensions. Born in England, he currently resides in Spain and, for the moment, is happy living on Earth. You can reach him at his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RichardJDowling

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

RESULTS: The Friday Challenge, 10/13/17 edition


After much thoughtful and careful deliberation, we have discovered that if you give seven stories to a nine-judge panel, the awesome power of pure mathematics takes over and you end up with 63 different opinions. Therefore in order to select the winner of  the October 13 Friday Challenge, we now appeal to the Wisdom of the Crowd.TM

On the other side of the Read more » link you will find the three short stories that we have determined to be the three finalists. In the right column you will find a survey widget, which you can use to vote for your favorite. In the Comments section you can of course leave whatever comments you may feel moved to write.

The challenge, as you may remember, was to write a story that answers the question, What if the dead really do care about what happens to the flowers on their graves? Herewith, we present three authors’ answers to that question. Note that these stories have been “anonymized,” to make the judging as even-handed as possible.

Let the voting begin, and may the best story win. Winner—and a new Friday Challenge—to be announced on Friday, November 3rd.