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The Phrase:
“guess this is [ ]” (this can appear anywhere in the story)
The Judge’s Prompt:
Kurama no Hi-Matsuri / the Kurama Fire Festival

[Note:  I wasn't really going so much for a story so much as tribute to the hostess for the final contest entry.  I didn't win a badge but I did have a lot of fun.  I've made minor edits from the original version.]


Festival of the Last Days
By Wakefield Mahon

“Guess this is the end Larry. We done cleaned out old Jake’s pawn shop, we only have two cases of shotgun shells left with a horde-o-zombies that don’t seem to want to slow down no matter how much lead you give them.”

“We’ll give them what for Darryl. We ain’t going down without a fight. I’ll tell you that right now. Hey what happened to that wife of yours? She didn’t…?”

“Naw, she’s just on the phone with her girlfriends like the world isn’t coming to an end. They got them fancy satellite phones, expensive as hell but they’re still chattering away. I swear I couldn’t shut that woman up with a whole roll of duct tape.”

Yuki stopped talking.

“She’s looking right at the back of my head isn’t she?”

“Yup, and I reckon it’s a good thing she ain’t got a shotgun in her hands but the look in her eyes.”

Darryl took a deep breath and turned around. “Yuki I don’t mean no disrespect but do you think you could stop talking to your friends long enough to help me hold off the coming apocalypse? Them zombies will be here any minute. I promise you ladies can go shoe-shopping all you want, later – in what’s left of the mall … if we survive that is.”

Yuki rolled her eyes and went back to talking on the phone.

“Ooh that woman.”

“Aww, let her have her fun Darryl. We probably ain’t going to make it out of her no how.”

“You got that right, Larry. Did you see them creatures? I swear I saw one – pretty sure it used to be a lady – she had purple hair, what kind of horrible zombie disease can that be?”

“Well you know, some folks dye their hair bright blue or purple on purpose.”

“Are you two boys finished gossiping?”

“Huh?” The two men stared blankly as they saw Yuki standing over them, a torch blazing in each hand.

“Snap out of it. They’re almost here!” The rhythm of drums filled the air.

Larry and Darryl leveled their shotguns. “No, not like that genius; do you want to end up like your other brother Darryl? Take these torches and get ready for the procession.”

“What in blazes are you talking about, Yuki?”

“I was on the phone with my cousins. It’s October 22, right? It’s not Yuki-jinja but I’m pretty sure First Baptist on Oak Street will work.”

“Still, not following you.” Darryl twisted his face.

“The Kurama Fire Festival to help the departed find their way to the other side? I swear you don’t listen to a word I…”

“In Kyoto, where you were raised, near the forest of Cherry Blossoms where the cicadas used to drive you crazy, I remember.” Darryl reached for the torches. “Sounds like as good a plan as any, just tell me what you need me to do baby.”

A smile rounded Yuki's surprised expression.  "I have a feeling everything's going to turn out just fine."


Let me just say, while I'm here, a huge thank you to Cara Michaels who has inspired legions of writers with her #MenageMonday contest and #WIP500 program, not  to mention the help and friendship she's offered to me personally.  You are so very appreciated Cara!
 
A flash of steel and the first thug slumped to the ground.

"For the love of all that is good, Rik, don't kill them!  The shining one teaches us life
is precious."

“Relax, Dudley.  I didn’t do any real damage, he’s just unconscious.”

“Tank no kill, Tank smash.”

The second thug dropped to the ground.

Tank frowned, his fist still hanging in the air.  “Him too weak.  No Fun.”

Lin glared at the barkeep and stowed her dagger while Dudley knelt to make sure the two men were unconscious and not seriously injured.  Satisfied the men would be alright, Dudley placed the cost of dinner and two extra copper coins on the table.

“You’re seriously going to leave a tip?” Lin asked.

“It is common courtesy,” he said glanced at the tavern owner, “Even among heathens.”

The EverGrim glared back with enough hatred to make Dudley shiver.

Once they were a few hundred feet away from the tavern, Rick chortled.  “What kind of name is Bartender Bob EverGrim anyway?”

“He’s not that bad.”

Rik spun around hand crossbow drawn.

The singer from the bar raised her hands.  “Easy there fella, I’m not out for revenge. I just want to talk to you.”

Dudley closed then opened his eyes.  “If she’s wicked, I can’t sense it.”

“Thanks for your vote of confidence.  My name is Melody.  I make my living performing at Bob’s Tavern.”

Lin eyed Melody coolly, keeping her hand near her dagger.

“As I said, I mean you no harm.  I’ve actually come to ask your help.”

Tank blinked.  “Oh yeah, pretty singing lady from food place.”  He grinned in self-satisfaction at placing her face.

Melody smiled.  “Thank you, sir.  I’m guessing, by your garb, that the four of you are mercenaries.”

Rik lowered his crossbow but not his guard.  “Perhaps, why do you ask?”

Melody bit her lip and started to turn back away.  “Maybe this was a bad idea.”

“Melody wait,” Dudley said.  “My friends and I are waiting on a mission from the church.  Or rather I am waiting and these brave souls have agreed to travel with me in exchange for…”

“Money,” Lin interrupted.  “Scrolls and other magic supplies can cost a pretty penny.”

“I have my own reasons,” Rik seemed to look through Melody.

“Tank get to smash things.”  The boyish grin sat out of place on his hulking frame even more so his jagged lower teeth which passed for human only from a distance.

Melody stared at the ground for a few moments before speaking.  “Bob used to be a good guy.  He’s been acting so strange lately.  I’m afraid he’s gotten tangled up with the wrong people.”

Lin’s expression softened slightly, which given her childhood in the Gray Elf community signified much.  “I understand your concern, but if he’s getting into crime, why not find another place to work.  You sing well enough.”

“I would,” Melody said.  “The problem is that Bob is… my father.”

 
A slight hooded figure, no more than five foot tall, pushed open the doors to the tavern.  “Why is it that every time we meet up, it’s always in a Pub?”

“Because Rik, a man gotta eat, don’t he?”  Tank’s accent was guttural but hard to discern with all the food in his mouth.

“Oh Tank, you eat enough for the four of us.”  Lin’s Elfish lilt was different but as sweet as Rik’s.

Dudley chimed in.  “I rather think Lin’s reason lies more in the imbibing of spirits.”

Lin leered at Dudley.  “A woman needs refreshment.”

“I suppose.”  Dudley back away slightly.  “Personally, I can’t understand the attraction of a pastime that causes one to lose control of their senses.”

Rik flashed an easy grin. “Well, it does help drown out the pompous words of the holier than thou, eh?”

Lin lifted her glass and shouted “Hear, hear!”

 Rik laughed and pulled down the hood of his cloak.  Silver hair cascaded over his sharp obsidian features.

“Hey!”

The young woman in the corner of the room stopped singing and every eye in the room turned toward the man behind the bar.

“We don’t accept your kind in our establishment!”

Annoyance flamed in Lin’s eyes as she twirled her dagger dangerously.  "What kind? Elves?"

The barkeep hesitated.  "N...Not all of you, just the dark ones."

"Take it easy, barkeep, " Dudley waved his hands.  "I'm sorry what's your  name?"

"Bob... Bob EverGrim."

"Well you see Bob.  Rik here is a follower of Eilistraee. He's one of the good ones so if you'll kindly apologize and get my friend a drink..."

Bob glanced at something then seemed to get his courage back.  “Say what you want, Paladin, the only good Drow is a dead one.”

Dudley sighed.  “I can personally vouch for this one, sir.”  An almost indiscernible grin creased Dudley’s expression.  “I check him for evil daily.”

“Well then the lot of you can leave. Scram all of you before I call the sergeant of the guard in here to teach you a lesson.”

"Why you think we need lesson?"  Tank stood up to his full massive height.  "You think we stupid?"

"I should have known there was something off about you.  You’re one of those filthy disgusting half-breeds, worse than a pure-bred Orc if you ask me!"

“Now sir, The Shining One does not tolerate racist hatred.”  Dudley rested his hand on his war hammer.

“It’s alright Dudley, I’m used to this treatment. Let’s go.  They probably have rotten food anyway.”

Tank raised a hairy eyebrow.  "Food not rotten.  Food tasty!"

The rest of the party laughed and they all made ready to leave.  But four burly men with clubs stood in front of the exit.

“You’re not going anywhere.”

 
Song Stories
We received a few new submissions for Song Stories this week.  The results were a mixture of rewrites and, unfortunately, rejections.

Flash Circuit:
I entered four contests this week.  I didn't win any prizes but I did receive some positive feedback.  Best of all I had the chance to think about the Full Moon City setting.  I'm hoping to finish editing before this years NaNoWriMo
#MenageMonday - The Road to Nowhere
#TuesdayTales - Desiree
#55WordChallenge - The Longest Train Ride
#ThursThreads - In His Hands

Research
I've continued to study the TVTropes website.  I believe this is an invaluable tool in helping young writers understand what's been done before and some of the pitfalls with particular plots, settings and characterizations.  I wrote an article sharing some of what I learned recently.

Graduation

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I released Graduation on Amazon this week.

The Messenger
By Wakefield Mahon


Gary will journey across space to make things right.

Gary Jackson want to reunite with his children more than anything, but a bitter ex-wife and a commute that is literally out of this world, have hampered his efforts so far.
Tommy is graduating from the first High School on Mars. This may be Gary's last chance to make things right with his children, land a job with the only company on Mars and find a way to start over again.

Boeman

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I decided to opt out of KDP Select after the first 90 days.  The first book released to Smashwords and eventually, the other major markets will be Boeman, from "State of Horror: Pennsylvania"

Boeman
By Wakefield Mahon


Tia and Mike take a weekend trip into Lancaster County but getting lost in Amish country at night is more terrifying than either had ever imagined. While good little Amish children are snuggled in their beds, the Boeman lurks in the darkness beyond the house.

Pending Submissions

Ordinary Dreams - Shimmer Magazine
Draconian Measures - Crowded Magazine
 
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In His Hands
By Wakefield Mahon


“I realize it’s silly to feel anything at all after so long”
“I swear Tyrell, why can’t you have a normal mid-life crisis? Write an autobiography, buy an old-fashioned sports car. Hell, have an affair, I don’t care.”
Tyrell raised his eyebrow.
“Okay, you’re right; I wouldn’t go along with that one. I’m just saying, of all of the fixations you could have you chose that one?”
“Hey, I was really good when I was a kid; one of the best Springfield had ever seen. I can’t help that I miss it so much.”
“There are a hundred Springfields with a thousand Tyrells, besides that was a theoretical kid’s hobby, a game. The real thing is far more expensive.”
“Babe, you’re making light, but I know you’re worried about what happened to Zeke.”
“He blew up half the neighborhood, Tyrell.”
“Yeah it was a heck of a big bang, but he was using a short-cut, tried to do the whole thing in one day. I’m going to take six days and do one step at a time.”
Tyrell’s wife shook he head and sighed. “Just be careful and make sure you rest afterward.”
Tyrell waved her off. “I know, I will. Let me get started now.”
“What are you calling this little creation of yours?”
“Don’t know yet but I’m thinking of making a little garden and itty bitty people who look like us.”
“Well, at least name the garden after your long-suffering wife.” Eden chuckled as she walked away.

Check out this week's #ThursThreads entries!

 
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The Longest Train Ride
By Wakefield Mahon


Morty stared at the window as the train rattled past places steeped in childhood memories.
He shuffled impatiently then glanced at the withered old conductor. He said, “This ride is depressingly long. When do we get to the station?”
“The name of this here train is Charon, Mister and I don’t reckon she ever stops.”

Check out this week's #55WordChallenge winners!

 
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Desiree
By Wakefield Mahon

Desiree lounged, basking in the desert sun at the ranch just Northwest of Folmun. Her very existence was an affront to God, an anathema, even in the dark and twisted place called Full Moon City. She’d be headed there soon enough to take revenge for her sister.
“Lupe Martinez and Jaxon Morris,” she let the names roll around on her tongue, unable to decide which tasted more exquisite. But for now, Desiree was simply enjoying her surroundings. She took a deep breath and exhaled. One by one, the horses and other animals shriveled into desiccated heaps. “I’m coming for you!”

100 words
From the world of Full Moon City
@Wakefield Mahon

Check out this week's #TuesdayTales winners!

 
Two years ago, I sat down to write a gut-wrenching auto-biographical story to express my frustrations with a life event.  The first beta reader quickly responded with “I hate the main character.”  I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly.  Now it’s entirely possible that I am actually the worst person who ever walked the face of the earth.  However, it’s more likely that I failed define my character properly.

A reader needs to have a reason to root for your MC or at least against your villain.  Tvtropes.org has a great article on character-centered plot building.  I’m not going to rehash the entire Dramatica storyform theory here.  But I do want you to think about a few concepts:

What is your MC’s goal?

Your MC either needs to start doing something or stop doing something.  They might need to change themselves or they might need to change the world.

What is your MC’s motivation?

What caused your MC to realize their goal.  Even if they MC doesn’t recognize their goal, there are events or conditions behind their actions.  How do they go about pursuing that goal?

Do the other characters in the story support the MC’s goal?

Separate from how they feel about the MC and the villain.  Supporting characters have motivations of their own.  Do they want the hero to succeed or fail or is there a third option?

Are they opposing or supporting the MC?

This is not the same thing as supporting the goal.  Every character described should have an impact on the MC the Villain or both.

By giving thought to these questions, you will find the depth of your stories filling out and you might even see a way to resolve a plotline that has had you stumped.

What are some of the tools that you use to develop your characters?  Keep writing my friends!

 
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No one takes Southwest Avenue out of Folmun. Legends say it literally leads to nowhere. Even the decrepit billboard over the highway reads Nothing. Jaxon would love to attribute the rumors to superstition, but he’d grown up in “Full Moon City” where supernatural was passé.

His sometime girlfriend Sergeant Lupe Martinez had sent him to follow up on a lead while her squad handled “real” police work.

“That’s me, private investigator for hire. Got a job that will probably get your guys killed? Send the black guy in.” Jaxon reconsidered choosing a red shirt that morning and laughed. “I hope you’re right about this one Lupe.” Jaxon stepped on the pedal and pulled onto the highway.

A few hours of desert mesa, with little only the occasional cactus for scenery had Jaxon ready to turn around, then he saw the sign.

The End of the Road. “Who, in their right mind, would stop at a diner with a name like that?” He passed a life-like statue at the front door, then another, in a pose of absolute terror – stone pieces of his heart on the floor.

He dialed Lupe.

“I see them,” Lupe said. “Hang tight, I’m sending backup.”

200 words from the world of “Full Moon City”
@WakefieldMahon

Check out this week's #MenageMonday winners!

 
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Man vs Machine
By Wakefield Mahon


The machines had taken over. All around him mindless souls wandered. Once brilliant minds fully absorbed in pseudo-entertainment. It’d be months, perhaps years, since anyone opened book. He tried preaching, but his words fell on deaf ears. He tried to engage the devices, but he felt himself drawn in and quickly backed away.
Grandpa, who came from a time before the machines, stood alone with a secret weapon and a decision. He knew a thing or two about gadgets, but could he really take such a drastic measure? Would everyone turn on him? He took a deep breath and pressed the button.
“Aw man, my iPod’s broken!”
“Mom, something’s wrong with the game system!”


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“Just a moment children, my computer is acting up.”
Grandpa cleared his throat.
“Dad? Did you …”
The worry wrinkles faded as a grin erupted across Grandpa’s face. “Don’t worry darlin’ it’s a carefully calibrated low-impact EMP, your toys will straighten themselves in a few hours or so. How about we sit down to dinner at the table together? Then we’ll play some music and read a story afterward.”

Honorable Mention along with
Kel Heinen | @Aightball & Susan Hayes | @capricia13

Winner was Cara Michaels | @caramichaels